Home > Professional activities > CHI 2012: Workshop on Cool ax–Continents, Cultures, and Communities

CHI 2012: Workshop on Cool ax–Continents, Cultures, and Communities

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!

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