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CHI 2012: Visual Thinking and Digital Imagery Workshop

May 27, 2012 Leave a comment

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: Workshop on Cool ax–Continents, Cultures, and Communities

May 12, 2012 Leave a comment

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: Richard Shusterman

May 7, 2012 1 comment

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.