What are Socio-Technical Systems?
A socio-technical system (STS) is one that considers requirements spanning hardware, software, personal, and community aspects. It applies an understanding of the social structures, roles and rights (the social sciences) to inform the design of systems that involve communities of people and technology. Examples of STSs include emails, blogs, and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The basis of STSs is general systems theory, which describes what the disciplines of science have in common—i.e., that they all refer to systems: sociologists see social systems, psychologists cognitive systems, computer scientists information systems, and engineers hardware systems. In general systems theory, no discipline has a monopoly on science—all are valid.
These disciplinary perspectives on computing allow us to view computing through distinct levels and trace its evolution. Computing began at the mechanical level (hardware devices), evolved an information level (devices + software), then acquired a human level (IT + human-computer interaction), and finally a community level (STSs). A community works through people using technology, as people work through software using hardware. Consequently, social requirements are now an important part of computing design.
While sociologists study the social level alone as if it were apart from physicality, and technologists study technology as if it were not part of society, socio-technology is a distinct field of inquiry on how personal and social requirements can be met by IT system design. As such, STSs seek to merge people and technology, viewing the integration of computers into societal systems as the next evolutionary step of humanity. An STS approach to design raises the cost of development but results in complex systems, like social networks, that have far more performance potential. Exploring a design problem by rising to an STS mindset can reveal further dimensions of a design’s use potential and inspire development.
Literature on Socio-Technical Systems
Here’s the entire UX literature on Socio-Technical Systems by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Learn more about Socio-Technical Systems
Take a deep dive into Socio-Technical Systems with our course User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide .
User experience, or UX, has been a buzzword since about 2005, and according to tech research firm Gartner, the focus on digital experience is no longer limited to digital-born companies anymore. Chances are, you’ve heard of the term, or even have it on your portfolio. But, like most of us, there’s also a good chance that you sometimes feel unsure of what the term “user experience” actually covers.
[User experience] is used by people to say, ‘I’m a user experience designer, I design websites’, or ‘I design apps.’ […] and they think the experience is that simple device, the website, or the app, or who knows what. No! It’s everything—it’s the way you experience the world, it’s the way you experience your life, it’s the way you experience the service. Or, yeah, an app or a computer system. But it’s a system that’s everything.”
— Don Norman, pioneer and inventor of the term “user experience”, in an interview with NNGroup
As indicated by Don Norman, User Experience is an umbrella term that covers a number of different areas. When you work with user experience, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of what those areas are so that you know what tools are available to you.
Throughout this course, you will gain a thorough understanding of the various design principles that come together to create a user’s experience when using a product or service. As you proceed, you’ll learn the value user experience design brings to a project, and what areas you must consider when you want to design great user experiences. Because user experience is an evolving term, we can’t give you a definition of ‘user experience’ to end all discussions, but we will provide you with a solid understanding of the different aspects of user experience, so it becomes clear in your mind what is involved in creating great UX designs.
If you are new to the Interaction Design Foundation, this course is a great place to start because it brings together materials from many of our other courses. This provides you with both an excellent introduction to user experience and with a preview of the courses we have to offer to help you develop your future career. After each lesson, we will introduce you to the courses you can take if a specific topic has caught your attention. That way, you’ll find it easy to continue your learning journey.