CHI 2013: Louvre Pyramid Reflections

© copyright 2012, ACM SIGCHI

I have just returned from the CHI 2013 Conference in Paris and after such an inspiring week, at what is widely considered the most prestigious conference in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), I am now reflecting on my experience. I was delighted to open the workshop “Made for Sharing: HCI Stories of Transfer, Triumph and Tragedy” bright and early on a Saturday morning. During the day we  discussed how methods that designers (practitioners) use to develop and evaluate the user interfaces of technology, are largely conceived and perceived as  ‘recipes’ to be followed (Woolrych et al., 2011), but are more usefully considered as approaches comprising of resources, or ‘ingredients’ that practitioners adapt between their diverse use contexts e.g. technologies, organisations and projects. Key discussions surrounded design resources that are in the public domain, such as checklists for evaluating interfaces or schemas for writing personas, and the many types of transfer that can occur when methods are used in local contexts. For example, Heli Rantavuo reported Nokia’s adaptation of heuristic evaluation for the mobile phone interface (a transfer across devices) whilst Valeria Gasik from Tallinn University (lean design) and Heli Väätäjä from Tampere University of Technology (psycho-geography) utilized approaches from other disciplines. All the papers from the workshop can be downloaded on the workshop website.

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Jakob Nielsen demonstrating the link between management support for usability work and the design and evaluation methodologies used within organisations.

My workshop paper provided a final opportunity to receive feedback on the work I have carried out for my EngD and it proved a timely reminder of the ‘bigger picture’ of my PhD that I need for my thesis. The workshop was invaluable for my understanding of how to write about my work and has clarified for me the contributions it makes to the academic literature. Importantly, after an extended period of solitary work, it has given me confidence that the wider academic community is interested in my work and the central story that has emerged from my thesis: a longitudinal study of the introduction of user-centred methods to an organisation. I was encouraged that Jakob Nielsen, founder of the “discount usability engineering” movement, chose to remark on issues surrounding the introduction of user-centred methods into organisations in his ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ talk, alerting me to his previous work on “usability maturity”.

I also benefited from meeting people, notably from Scandinavia, who have done related work. Particularly useful were conversations with Mikael Johnson, who recently obtained his PhD from Aalto University, on the challenges of publishing case studies within HCI, and Timo Jokela, about the ethics of designers asking users how they want their system designed when they are not trained to design Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). These discussions raised important questions for me to address in my thesis.

From my own perspective I find it ironic that discussions about the users of user-centred methods have struggled to be heard in the HCI community, which more commonly discusses methods from a scientism worldview, for example in terms of their clarity, completeness, precision and simplicity (Cockton, 2012). It was, however, encouraging to see presentations during the main conference continuing the themes of the workshop, from the very first session on Monday morning (Craig MacDonald from the Pratt Institute presented on the need to develop methods for evaluating systems in modern (and future) use contexts) and throughout the week (Helen Petrie of York University on think aloud and Gilbert Cockton of Sunderland University on changing the vocabulary used to evaluate and assess methods). I hope to have the opportunity to further these conversations with the HCI community at future CHI conferences.

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