Aarhus University Seal


The work at the Computer Science Department on systems development methods and user centred design was given a kick-start in 1974 with the appointment of Kristen Nygaard as guest professor.

In 1975 the Department hosted the first Nordic conference on working practices in systems development, which brought together university researchers, practitioners, trade unionists, employers and users. And in 1976 the research project Democracy, Development and IT was launched in a ground-breaking cooperation between university researchers, trade unions, shop stewards and users. The project provided new perspectives on system development methods with a strong emphasis on workplace democracy. The results provided input to the regulation of IT use at Danish workplaces and to the education of several thousand shop stewards (Kyng and Mathiassen, 1982: Systems development and trade union activities).

In 1980 the group initiated the Utopia project together with Arbetslivscentrum in Stockholm (Sweden), the University of Oslo (Norway) and the Nordic Graphical Workers Union. Originally the goal of the project was to develop new IT systems for newspaper production which emphasised quality of work and product. Through necessity this goal was soon supplemented with work on new system development methods which support cooperation between system developers and workers with domain knowledge (Ehn and Kyng, 1984: A tool perspective on design of interactive computer support for skilled workers). The theme, supporting user/worker participation in design activities, now characterises a research area. The label most often attached to it is Participatory Design (PD).

In 1985 the group organised the second decennial Aarhus conference on computers and democracy. This time the themes included 'system design and workplace democracy' as well as 'tools to support skilled work vs automation of work' (Bjerknes, Ehn and Kyng (Eds.), 1987: Computers and Democracy - a Scandinavian Challenge). The conference was also an indication of the growing international interest in participatory design. At the same time it accelerated the development of the international network of the group and contributed to the broadening and deepening of the scope of its research. The nature of work and the study of work practice came to play an important role as part of the research on systems development (Greenbaum and Kyng (Eds.), 1991: Design at Work: Cooperative Design of Computer Systems). Internally at the Computer Science Department the group initiated close collaboration with the object technology group and the distributed systems group. Together they won contracts for two major research projects funded by the European Union: EuroCoop and EuroCODE, on CSCW, hypermedia and object-oriented software development tools.

The broadening and deepening of scope was also reflected in the third decennial conference held in Aarhus in 1995. The title was Computers in context: joining forces in design, and the conference was an open invitation to all the different disciplines related to IT development and use to share knowledge in the hope of enabling people to use computer technology in new and better ways.

In the last decade, the group has diversifies as a result of the many new challenges to HCI. The group participated in the Danish Research Foundation’s Center for Human-Machine Interaction. It has been instrumental in setting up the Alexandra Institute, and participated in many projects and partnerships with industry and Danish governmental institutions through e.g. Center for Interative Spaces, Center for New Ways of Working and Center for Pervasive Healthcare. The EU project Palcom adds to these activities.

The fourth decennial conference was held in Aarhus in 2005 with a focus on critical computing. The aim was to revitalize the idea of IT-research as critical action, not only as workplace actionism, but also by integrating a broader scope of critical analysis and critical practice. Thus, the papers presented at the 2005 conference covers domains from the workplace over education to family life, and address theoretical issues spanning from political economy to aesthetic theory.

Former senior members and visitors include (since appx. 1985):
Andy Crabtree, Christina Brodersen, Claus Bossen, Ellen Christiansen, Geoff Bowker, Horst Oberquelle, Jakob Bardram, Joan Greenbaum, Jock Mackinley, Jonathan Grudin, Ken Anderson, Kim Halskov, Leysia Palen, Liam Bannon, Michel Beaudoin-Lafon, Mike Robinson, Pelle Ehn, Pete Nuernberg, Peter Axel Nielsen, Peter Ørbæk, Polle Zellweger, Randy Trigg, Uffe Kock-Wiil, Wendy Mackay.