The late Stephen Toulmin would have turned 91 today—and he came pretty close, making it to 87. And as an inspiration to us all, he remained very active through most of his life, released an updated version of his seminal book The Uses of Argument in 2003. The book has never been out of print, and its ideas have influenced researchers in areas from rhetoric and communication to computer science and engineering.
At the heart of his argumentation methods is the notion of a claim, a statement that you are seeking to argue is correct. The subtle but important part of that definition is that a claim is falsifiable, in that one can argue successfully for or against a claim. And, the “truthiness” of a claim may vary as we learn more things—consider, for example, claims about the age of the universe or the intelligence of dinosaurs. I provide an extended look at how the notion of claims evolved in human-computer interaction in a previous post. Or, you can read my Making Claims book for the long story about claims in HCI!
But on his birthday, we should celebrate not only his work but his his life. Toulmin was born and raised in England, and he released his seminal book in 1958, when he was still a young researcher. But when his ideas were not well received in England, he moved to the United States. He spent time on the faculty at Brandeis, Michigan State, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and the University of Southern California. In the paperback version of his book, released in 1963, he was defensive of his ideas. He certainly didn’t rest on his accomplishments though—in many ways his 1992 book Cosmopolis provides a more historically-grounded view of his philosophy (and he comes across as much more comfortable with his ideas). The updated version of his book came out in 2003, and it, like much of his work of that time, reflected both a more confident and grounded philosophy while embracing his life position as a dissenter.
In many ways it would be hard to emulate his career track, as much of his highly-cited work was books and not papers, reflecting a different era in research. But his career focus and ability to evolve ideas is worth studying. And our current era has its own advantages–I can instantly post a blog entry on his birthday to initiate a small celebration and reflection!
ASSETS is the flagship conference for the ACM special interest group on accessible technology (SIGACCESS). Unlike many such flagship conferences like CHI and SIGGRAPH, they are a single track conference, keeping the numbers of attendees down under 200. That makes it easier to get a sense of the major players in the community and details about the (self selected) set of most important topics for this community—important for a first time attendees like me.
A great many of the papers were rooted in human computer interaction, drawing on approaches like personas, user modeling, and participatory design, and leveraging evaluation methods common in HCI (though generally without the large number of participants in the studies, due to the difficulty in finding people with cognitive disabilities). Many of the papers seemed to apply well-known HCI method, but some seemed eager to break new ground—notably an HCI linguistic markers paper by Kalman and his colleagues. Other computing disciplines were well represented as well, like image processing and information retrieval. One thing lacking: I was expecting a greater presence from the socio-technical crowd—there was one session that focused on crowdsourcing, but there seems to be great need and opportunity for communities of people with disabilities to connect with each other.
Virginia Tech had a good presence at the meeting. In addition to my poster on mobile interfaces for job placement, Yasmine El-Glaly took part in the doctoral consortium and presented a poster on her spatial reading system for the blind, VT alum Walter Lasecki was part of several papers, and VT REU alum Chloe Fan presented a paper based on her masters thesis work at CMU. The biggest presence was from UMBC, where new faculty Shaun Kane really pushed for a large presence from there—much as VT did with CHI starting a few years ago. Other places with a significant presence include the University of Colorado, the University of Rochester, CUNY, the University of Washington, and IBM. The most highly visible leaders included Andrew Sears, Clayton Lewis, Shari Trewin, and Richard Ladner, but there were many many important contributions from a great many other people.
A few presentations stood out. The keynote speaker, John Gardner, provided an inspirational story of how his life as a physicist changed after blindness as an adult. He built a number of tools to help him in his equation-rich highly-visual profession. More recently, he started a company, ViewPlus, that markets Braille printers, tactile and audio software, and a graphing calculator. Chloe Fan presented a paper on technologies (e.g., FitBit) that encourage physical activity in older adults. Her presentation was highly visual and very engaging, leading to many questions. Shari Trewin’s paper explored search by older adults through a series of experiments. She did a great job presenting—and especially answering questions—on search strategies, click times, reading approaches, and lots more. And David Flatla provided a highly entertaining presentation on ways to simulate personalized color vision deficiency, leveraging his own experiences.
So who should go to this conference? Lots of regulars whose primary interest is assistive technologies. But I would guess that the primary interest of half (or more) of the attendees is in something other than assistive technologies—they were applying their expertise in some other field to accessibility problems. It’s wonderful that this community is able to establish an open and inclusive environment that maintains a core set of regulars while welcoming other contributions. I’m hopeful that they will continue these effort as interest in the area grows.
In celebration of my Fitbit Ultra eight-month anniversary—four months in Colorado, four in Virginia—I wanted to capture my motivations and experiences with it.A Fitbit combines an accelerometer, an altimeter, and Wi-fi access to collect data on step count and floors climbed, then it calculates information like miles traveled and calories burned. There’s a sleep monitoring mode that tracks how well you sleep, which I used enough to learn that I sleep pretty soundly. You can also log things like workouts, biking, and meals to help track calories, which I’ve not felt the need to do (beyond trying it out).
The Fitbit web site provides several views of your data, defaulting to your daily info but allowing you to focus on any continuous set of days. They show cute little badges for reaching nice round numbers, like 25,000 steps in a day and 8,000 floors in a lifetime of fitbiting. And they have some calculated stats that I don’t quite understand–like active score??? There’s a social component to Fitbit as well—they allow you to connect to friends via Facebook and other social networking tools to compare step counts. Of course, any time there’s a social component, there are opportunities for a little too much sharing. Unfortunately, after their too-much-sharing scandal, Fitbit has shifted too far in the other direction, restricting some of the more useful social networking aspects like mileage and floor count leaderboards, alas.
To maintain my usability engineer cred, I’ve gotta point out a few weaknesses. Their tracking page isn’t the best example of web creation out there. Actions like looking at the step count for a previous day and switching to a week view require reloading the entire page—time consuming given their slow servers and unnecessary given that most of the information on the page is repeated. And selecting date ranges (i.e., to view step count for the last n days) is a bit awkward from an interface design perspective. Their mobile app for Android is even worse; it leaves out lots of the info I want, and since the Fitbit’s Wi-fi capabilities only syncs with the base station (though soon that will change!), I don’t see the motivation for using their mobile interface as it is. Any time Team Fitbit wants to sign up for some usability engineering advice, I’d be happy to oblige for the right price!
The positive encouragement from my Fitbit is definitely a good thing—it certainly pushes me to walk instead of drive, to take that last walk in the evening when my step count is low. And it’s nice to be able to see how my activity levels have dropped since moving from sunny Boulder to variable-weather Blacksburg. But there are some negatives as well. After my first Fitbit broke in late February, I lost motivation even to do things I otherwise would have done. And alas, it took over three days to get a response to the web problem report I submitted about my Fitbit. They posted on the submission site that it would take a while due to post-holiday traffic…but what holiday is that? Christmas 2 months previously? Valentine’s Day? (Not sure about the message you’re sending if you give your true love a Fitbit for V-day.) The good news was that once they isolated the problem as a hardware one (a flaky altimeter), they shipped out a new Fitbit free of charge.
In all, I’m pretty happy with my Fitbit, and probably hooked to the point that I might get this new Fitbit One when it comes out (or when mine craps out). I’m not as interested in their cheaper Fitbit Zip since they left out the altimeter. And I don’t see a need to buy their scale or other products. But overall, they seem to have plugged into some good ideas, well worth the somewhat steep price tag.
Together with Clayton Lewis, I hosted a workshop at the DIS 2012 conference titled Designing for Cognitive Limitations. We pulled together a great group of eight researchers and practitioners with interests in design and cognitive limitations (mostly cognitive disabilities). A full description of the workshop, including the call for participation and the position papers, is on the workshop web page. My thoughts on the workshop are summarized here.
First off, I was thrilled to get an impressive group of participants for this workshop. I’m not sure if a design-centered conference like DIS particularly attracts people who care about diverse populations such as those with cognitive limitations, or if that’s true of any HCI-related conference. And, despite the overlaps in communities and research areas, there were fewer connections between the people than I expected—not a lot of overlap in prior experiences together (though there certainly was some). An overview of the participants:
- Joshua Hailpern is at HP Labs and has interests in aphasia emulation, empathy impact, and linguistics. His recently completed Ph.D. dissertation focused on , and he’s got a long list of papers at CHI, DIS, and ASSETS on the topic. His HP job is about modeling people and language, and will hopefully include aspects of accessibility.
- Doris Hausen is a grad student at LMU in Germany. Her research looks at peripheral interaction as a sub form of multitasking, with a focus on lessons learned from usage, learnability, and modalities.
- Young Seok Lee is one of nine people at the Motorola Mobility Research Center in a group that focuses on television and the TV experience, trends in TV wrt sociality, transmedia, participatory experiences, and similar topics. He gave as an example of the area Dan Olsen’s TOCHI 2011 sports viewing experience.
- Justin Brockle of Therap Services has been exploring methods of knowledge capture and sharing, privacy issues, and maintaining data centers. His company has been working in electronic documentation for cognitive disabilities for a while, and they are interested in possible partnerships with universities and other groups (e.g., on NSF grants and such).
- Margot Brereton is a Professor at Queensland University of Technology. She has a child-focused approach to supporting speech for diverse groups, including children with cognitive development issues, living well with HIV, and others. Her research approach is rooted in participatory design (profiling kids, designing interactions with kids, e.g., encouraging kids to take pictures through the day and reflect on them when they get home with dad by creating a photo album of experiences).
- Mathew Kipling is a grad student at Newcastle University. He was helping out with the workshop, but he also acted as a participant. His interests are in photo recording and annotation, looking at ways to automate some recording use RFID tags and prototype devices.
As is often the case, a good part of the workshop gravitated to the introductions, but we did have two activities: a cognitive walkthrough and a claims-based prototype creation. The cognitive walkthrough (led by Clayton Lewis, who pioneered the technique) asked workshop participants to explore the ways that people with cognitive limitations would use (and have difficulties with) cameras on mobile devices like phones and tablets. Cognitive walkthroughs encourage people to use their expertise in an area (e.g., with respect to a cognitive disability) in using an interface; thereby experiencing the interface as a person with a cognitive limitation would experience it. People seemed to really get into the activity, discovering at each step of taking a picture what the user (not the workshop participant) would seek to try to do and how they would try to do it. And importantly, the workshop participants got in a mindset of thinking like the target users—important for the second activity.
The prototyping activity asked the workshop participants to create tools for people with cognitive limitations. Each group used one of three different card sets as a prototyping aid: the PIC-UP card set for notification systems, a Cognitive Claims card set as identified by conference participants, and the Context Cards from HaptiMap. Participants divided into three groups, each with a different card set and each with a different target system.
One group prototyped an aphasic support tool for the tablet, for which there was a tailored list based on where the user was and who the user was with (e.g., if the user was in the kitchen, then show kitchen words and pictures; if you’re with friends, give cues related to common interests). A person with aphasia could use this tailored set of words to help with recall. This group used the PIC-UP card set, though mainly just at the beginning to consider possible ideas for the system.
Another group built an interface for a non-residential senior center, to help seniors identify programs of interest and to raise awareness of future programs. They created a design for mobile phones and large screens that would detect people and highlight friends’ activities. They reported that the Cognitive Claims cards were helpful as a checklist to remind them about needed functionality for the system (to make sure they weren’t forgetting anything).
The final group built a system to help conference attendees find their way around a university campus (where the conference was taking place). The group considered a typical day at the conference, helping users find the important campus venues. This group used the Context Cards, primarily as a checklist near the end of the design process (though the group did flip through them at the beginning of the prototyping activity).
It was somewhat surprising that none of the card sets were heavily used—mainly just to gain some early inspiration or to serve as a checklist late in the prototyping process. It reminded me of some of Christa Chewar’s early findings in building a claims repository, in that providing knowledge without explicit guidance does not result in significant usage of the knowledge. In retrospect, it seems essential to provide much more explicit activities to a design team on how to use the design cards; e.g., a card sorting task, or card-based storyboarding, or by using cards as heuristics.
The workshop closed with group reflection on future directions for designing with cognitive disabilities. Clayton Lewis shared opportunities and directions with NIDRR and RERC, delving into topics like profile-based interaction design and the very great need for mobile phone evaluation and (perhaps?) standardization. It was pointed out that everyone wants a simpler phone but nobody will buy one–thus the shift to an app-based model where you can extend your phone’s capabilities.
An underlying analogy that I took away from the workshop: design is experiencing a shift much like medical treatment is experiencing a shift—away from a symptom-based model toward a behavior-based model. That is, rather than stating that all people with aphasia require some technique, designers are looking at the techniques with promise for people with aphasia. Often that might lead a designer to look at techniques useful for people with autism, or people with brain injuries, or people with some other cognitive disability. And that’s where a claims library (and appropriate accompanying tools) can connect communities of designers and practitioners in diverse fields—allowing them to get new ideas, to share their own ideas, and to create products that are far better because of their connections.
I attended the workshop on Visual Thinking and Digital Imagery at CHI 2012, led by Eli Blevis and a collection of others. Unfortunately, Eli couldn’t be there in person, so he Skyped in. Lots of time was spent presenting images and image sets that were meaningful in the design process—my group presented an image-based claims set featured in many papers (most extensively a Human Technology journal paper, but with the best usage report in a DIS conference paper). There were lots of other image sets presented; the workshop page has a complete set of position papers and image sets from the participants.
But one idea stood out from the group discussions at the workshop: The organizers boldly sought to rethink what a professional paper could look like—centered around images as a means of communication. One thought was to create a paper that was mostly images, perhaps 80% or more! The images would encourage thought, support comparisons, and provoke emotions. The text would not so much explain as guide. The thought was that such a paper might be accepted, but more probably it would be rejected…but perhaps leading to a panel or other avenue to shake up the “normal” way of doing things.
Images as a primary communication mechanism are popular but not widely used or understood. For example, the full-page photos in the ACM Interactions magazine provoke thought and discussion, but do not attract many submissions. But it is worth considering whether images should be shoehorned into an established format like a professional paper—or whether there’s another format that could gain greater acceptance.
CHI 2012 featured a workshop on “cool”, seeking to understand different facets and contexts of cool, and whether there is a global concept of cool. The workshop built on prior work by organizers Janet Read, Dan Fitton, Matt Horton, and Linda Little, who are maintaining a growing repository of activities related to the workshop available at the workshop site—toward identifying ways to design cool interfaces.
The workshop leveraged three levels of cool: cool stuff, cool activities, and being cool. We talked about what kinds of stuff might be cool for certain populations—things like Wikipedia, iPads, Mac dongles, and online banking—and how the coolness of stuff can wax and wane. Cool activities trump cool stuff; it’s often viewed as cool to go places and meet people and play games and use technology and such. But both stuff and activities are important but not sufficient for being cool.
Several position papers explored how to design for cool. Presenters described several tools for cool, like Ed de Guzman’s reflections on the product reaction cards from Microsoft. And there was a great framework for cool from Ben Kirman, with axes of “users vs product” and “interacting vs acting” that led to user categorizations of hipsters (au), rebels (ap), trendies (ui), and adopters (ip). And definitely the coolest presentation was by Ed de Guzman from AutoDesk, who used a PechaKucha 20×20 (20 slides, 20 seconds each) presentation style in his presentation.
My position paper for the workshop explored the viability of six factors identified by the workshop organizers as contributing to cool: rebellious, antisocial, retro, authentic, rich, and innovative. We asked young adults at Norfolk State University (an HBCU) to reflect on their perceived cool importance for African American youth on a 1 (not important) to 5 (very important) scale. Most of our user experts were just exiting the target teen demographic that we were considering (median age 21), so we were seeking to leverage their recent knowledge and experience of teens. A quick analysis revealed that they rated “innovative” and “authentic” most important to cool, while they rated “antisocial” the least important by far.
Next steps are to explore how these types of ratings could lead to user categorizations and models that can drive the design of cool technology. In so doing, it certainly seems important to collect data more broadly and formally, and to analyze our data with regard to gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, and other factors. (Anyone interested in contributing for some target demographic can contact me for our survey!) It seems unlikely that there’s a universal “cool” user model (except maybe Ferris Bueller), but rather I expect that distinct user types will emerge, associated with some of the names we saw before like “hipsters” and “rebels”. The ongoing work will lead first toward an upcoming special issue of PsycNology (open to anyone who is interested) and hopefully additional follow-up work. Thoughts on any of these findings or directions are welcome!
CHI 2012 featured an invited talk by philosopher Richard Shusterman on the topic of somaesthetics, an approach to design that focuses on improving not only performance but—perhaps more importantly—a positive sensory experience for the entire body. A few examples: the use of glass over plastic that leads to positive reaction about its feel, automatic calibration of a touchscreen based on the user’s touch pressure and style, and interactive wearable art that can change based on perceived mood. Somaesthetics was described with respect to five qualities—knowledge, self knowledge, virtue, happiness, and justice—with obvious connection to the representational (the way a thing looks and feels), but also to the experiential (e.g., yoga, Feldenkrais) and performative (e.g., sports, dance).
Since the talk was given at a human-computer interaction conference, much of it focused on how somaesthetics connects with design of technology. A lot of the focus was on creative design techniques (e.g., sketching) and expert evaluation (e.g., pitched perception). But only briefly mentioned were user experience (UX) and usability engineering (UE)—and then only in the creation of norms that UX/UE practitioners could apply. Building on that, one could certainly envision large case study libraries of positive and negative experiences, or domain-specific patterns and claims, or even simply some tips and tricks to be followed, that could be available to those looking for inspiration.
But another approach is to move from inspirational norms to quantitative metrics, toward creating a measurable experience that could be used as design targets and for comparison purposes. There are lots of body measurement devices and metrics—EEGs, ECGs, eye trackers, blood pressure monitors, and more—that provide information about the way the body is performing. And a practitioner can always observe (or ask!) users to learn about and rate their somaesthetic experiences. However, it’s unclear whether this quantitative approach is in keeping with Shusterman’s conceptualization of somaesthetics—perhaps there’s an element of the mind-body connection that is violated when one tries to capture it quantitatively. Is it valuable to state that a piece of built technology gets a 7/10 for “good taste” or “enhancing enlightenment”? Or can such concepts only be captured through thick descriptions?
This post delves into a few things that jumped out at me about Shusterman’s talk—for a more complete overview of somaesthetics a good starting point is Shusterman’s chapter in the interaction design and the series of commentaries that accompanies it. In particular, one of the great elements of both the talk and the Interaction Design chapter was a pair of rebuttals by Jeffrey Bardell and Thecla Schilporst (Jeff posted his slides and some related commentary for all to enjoy). Others whose work is influenced by somaesthetics include Kia Höök, Thecla Schiphorst, Stolterman (interaction gestalt), and Titti Kallio.