Kidd, A. (1994). The marks are on the knowledge worker. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 186–191

Summary: seeing knowledge workers surrounded by papers, notebooks, etc, it’s easy to treat these as the focal point of the worker’s information. But in fact, these are just temporary artifacts: “the valuable marks are on the knowledge worker rather than on the paper.” The paper’s work is done once it has formed the knowledge worker.

Q. What does the author mean by the title?
A. Information acts on a KW by changing them. The marks on paper are just a vector; the effect that matters is the marks made on the KW.


A study of twelve knowledge workers showed that their defining characteristic is that they are changed by the information they process, Their value lies in their diversity - companies exploit the fact that these people make different sense of the same phenomena and therefore respond in diverse ways. Knowledge workers do not carry much written information with them when they travel and rarely consult their filed information when working in their offices, Their desks are cluttered and seemingly function as a spatial holding pattern for current inputs and ideas. My explanation is that ==once informed (ie, given form) by some written material, these workers have no particular need to retain a copy== of the informing source. However, ==if a piece of written material has not yet informed them, then they cannot sensibly file it== anyway because its subsequent use or role in their world is still undetermined. I conclude that ==the valuable marks are on the knowledge worker rather than on the paper== or on the electronic file and suggest how ==computer support for knowledge work might be better targeted on the act of informing rather than on passively filing== large quantities of information in a “disembodied” form.

Last updated 2023-07-13.