Over the last few years I have explored and played with the idea of an analytic turn in HCI research. My reasons for this exploration are several--some reasons are fairly simple and straightforward while others more complex and subtle. The most obvious reason for me to turn to analysis is that I am looking for a more object/artifact/thing oriented approach in HCI research.
The turn in HCI research toward user-centeredness and user experience have in many cases gone too far. This research has strived to become more inclusive of aspects outside of the traditional ones, such as functionality, efficiency, etc. The complete focus on the user has led to wonderful developments in the field that were highly needed and that have made a great impact. At this time though, with the ambition to consider "everything" important, a lot of research in interaction design and HCI is becoming far too broad, leaving a core without concreteness and without any analytical strength that would make sense from a design perspective.
Interestingly enough this expansion of HCI research when it comes to scope is not limited to any particular approach or method. It is possible to see the same effort manifested in highly developed qualitative research as well as in quantitative research. The attempt in both cases seems to be to find ways to capture, analyze and explain users reactions and experiences of interactive artifacts and systems. However, in both cases it has lead to a shift in focus away from the object/artifact/system/thing that the experiencing subject is interacting with.
My own explorations lately have therefore been based on the simple idea that analysis of interactive artifacts can be done without applying any form of use or user perspective. It is an analytic research approach that aligns with a design perspective in the sense that the analysis is directed towards those aspects of the design that a designer can control. After having tried this approach in some studies, I am convinced that it is highly rewarding but at the same time difficult and still far from clear how to do it. I am quite sure however that it is different from both any kind of user studies and interestingly also criticism (which sounds like it could be similar).
I am (slowly) developing an approach or at least a way of thinking, in collaboration with some phd students, that I label "artifact analysis". It is clear that a proper artifact analysis has to be done according to some principles and the process has to be clearly thought out. The results are, in my view, really interesting and in many ways surprising. And what I like the most is that the findings are often counterintuitive and quite challenging. Now you may ask, ok, so how do you do it? Well, I do not have time to write that now, maybe later :-)