Designing to support Mobile Work with Mobile Devices

  • Christina Nielsen


This PhD dissertation deals with how to design mobile technology to support mobile work. More specifically, I have worked with the following three connected components: design (as process as well as tool), mobile work (specifically on process plants), and technology (mobile and stationary and the relationship between them).
I define the relationship between these three components based on the action-oriented research approach known as the Scandinavian tradition for systems development, which has grounded and shaped my research method. Cooperation, active user involvement and experimental development of methods and techniques are key elements in this approach, and are elements I develop further in a mobile work environment. Another influencing factor on my approach to the mobile work domain is the current technical development: of the staggering number of microchips produced annually, only a small fraction is being used for Personal Computers the rest are used in mobile and embedded technology. Thus we are dealing with an entirely new range of technology, possibilities and limitations, and consequently new user interface challenges.
Based on this, I see the following key connections to design of technological support of mobile work in a process setting: the design process and the usability methods we use create an understanding of the work practice and the work situations we are trying to support with new technology. The work practise and specific tasks set the boundaries for what we support and how we go about it, and particularly in a mobile work context it is important to understand the heterogeneity in the work: the work tasks and the available resources change in relation to where you are (at the home office, at the site of a client, amongst the machines in the plant) and the users' needs for technological support and access to information changes accordingly. These relationships must be reflected in the technology we design, and it is thus often in a mobile work context more relevant to create a selection of different technological tools for the users to choose between as their needs change, than by replacing one technological approach or device with another. This bears particular importance in relation to mobile technology as the handheld device often supports the mobility but sacrifices the sense of overview because the physically small screens are unable to support it as well as a large PC monitor.
Consequently, the relationship between the three elements is an important aspect of my PhD dissertation. I deal with how mobile work makes new demands on the technological devices we design to support it, thereof mobile technology. I also deal with how the mobile artefacts demand new thinking in relation to the user interface design and functionality because we are dealing with a new type of technology, not just a very small PC with limited screen and next to no peripherals. Finally, I deal with how this new area of research (and the development of HCI and usability in general) sets new demands for the usability methods, how and to what degree we involve users and other professionals in design, how we take advantage of the use environment and utilise the use context actively in the design process.
As a collective concept for the development of mobile technology to support mobile work, I introduce the `web-of-technology' concept that requires we create an understanding of which role the new device should play in relation to the already existing technology in the specific work domain. By placing the new, hand-held technology in the existing `web-of-technology' you are forced to analyse which relations the mobile device should have to the other technological devices in the work context and whether the mobile artefact should be strongly, weakly, or not integrated with the other technology at all. The degree of integration between technologies affects the design of both the functionality and the user interface; strongly integrated devices demand a large degree of visual and functional consistency across devices. It is thus essential that we clarify these questions of the technology that is and the technology that will be early in the design process, just as naturally as we examine how the work practice affects the development and design.

Author Biography

Christina Nielsen
How to Cite
Nielsen, C. (2002). Designing to support Mobile Work with Mobile Devices. DAIMI Report Series, 31(565).