CHI2013: Impressions and a Reading List

Bruno Latour CHI2013

The CHI conference, the main Human Computer Interaction conference in the world, was in Paris this year, and I went there! I had a wonderful start of the conference by attending the workshop Methods of Working with Teenagers in Interaction Design, where I presented my paper. It was a great way to meet and get to know people, something I appreciated even more when I realized the vastness of the main conference, with over 3400 attendees.

The whole experience was so overwhelming, full of great lectures, workshops, courses and panel discussions, and with 16 (!) tracks, there was no way I could see it all. I attended a selection, and resolved to read some of the things I missed.

I will put up a separate post for each day with my notes and reading list. Links are below.

In general, my first CHI was inspiring, humbling, and educational. I found some of the presentations very original and captivating, but some of the concepts I already heard or read about, as they were published before. Also, 20 minutes in general is very short to convey all the intricacies of the work, and I am probably not skilled enough (yet) to fully appreciate the complexity. I was really inspired by most of the work I saw however. Especially the keynotes of Paola Antonelli and Bruno Latour will stay with me.

The conference spurred a lot of thought about my Master’s graduation project, and I began to realize my project was set up too broadly, and perhaps also too optimistically. Some of the things I had planned to do were somebody else’s complete PhD research, for example the reviewing and categorization of existing co-design methods. Also, I was aiming to become an expert on co-design, when in reality I am just starting to learn about it. I believe my project will eventually benefit from a more precisely defined scope. So back to the drawing board it is!

CHI2013: Thursday May 2

The last day of CHI, but not by any means the least. Possibly from all the lectures I saw this week, today were some of the most interesting. Why this is? Perhaps I was able to understand the concepts better through the things I had heard in other lectures. Perhaps I chose more wisely.


In any case, my day started with Papers on Design for Developers, which wasaltogether a bit more technical than I expected. I found it engaging to hear how Piorkowski et al. described the behaviour of programmers by comparing them to foraging animals, and was very intrigued by the possibilities offered by Kumar et al. (who had brilliant shoes by the way), of finding websites through their design features and how you could then use these features to build something new.

In the afternoon, again there was too much to choose from and I had to skip two excellent papers in the tracks Different Perspectives and Case studies: In the Wild:

All so I could see the great Design Strategies paper session with Marc Hassenzahl talking about his ‘punch-pillow’ project, Jayne Wallace showing her thoughtful and beautiful cultural probes, and Bill Gaver with his experiences with distributing little indoor weather stations to people’s homes.

Design Probe Wallace

And then, finally it was time for the closing keynote by Bruno Latour. He spoke from a sociology standpoint, explaining that sociology is not about the social, not about people, but it is about relations. Relations between ideas, between things, between people, between the person and the world.

In trying to understand these relationships, we always want to see ‘the whole’, the overview. Instead, Latour said “there is no overall collective, there are only collecting practices”, playing on the difference between the noun and the verb.

“The ‘indiviual’ is not an atom that stands on its own, it extends as far as all the entities”. There is no such thing as being unconnected, there are always connections to other entities, and this influences the individual.

“There are as many phenomena as there are collecting devices”

Latour CHI2013 PDF slides (thank you Tamara Peyton!)

Bruno Latour CHI2013

CHI2013: Wednesday May 1

The day started out with Papers about Food and Health, with the last talk the most interesting: Rita Orji showed us the effect of different elements of serious games, on various gamer types. I found it intriguing to see that rewards, for example, can motivate one player to change their behaviour, while it actively discourages another to do so. It seems that there is only one positive element for all types of gamers: self-efficacy (feeling ownership, pride, optimism). There is a table in the paper giving a complete overview.

Alt.chi: Ethics was a diverse and highly entertaining section, with talks on HCI studies with animals (ACI?), an attempt to replace public toilet graffiti with micro blogging, and the unique Kirman et al. with their talk from the perspective of the computers: how do they see HCI? As it turns out, the computer overlords are pretty satisfied with several developments that make it easier for them to control the humans and make them work harder. They even managed to bridle us with google glass. How efficient!

Then the last Papers session of the day: Design for Children. I was especially inspired by the beautiful work of Fenne van Doorn, who made a class of primary school children her ‘co-researchers’. They would design a toolkit and questions together, and then the kids would go out and interview the elderly in their community about a shared playground for elderly and children. The children also processed their findings in a persona template. The children were motivated to help, because they were working on improving their playground. Can this model also work in other situations, where the benefit for the co-researchers is perhaps not that obvious?


I also have to take a look at the work of Walsh et al., they have collected existing co-design techniques and evaluated them. This can provide some scaffolding for creating new techniques.

CHI2013: Tuesday April 30

Too bad I wasn’t in the Netherlands for the coronation of our new king! But instead, I got to go to the CHI Women’s Breakfast. There were some inspirational stories, chaired discussions and a fluffy Android animal for everyone. I see how HCI can be a man’s world, when you look at the programmer’s side of it, but in general I have the feeling that it is pretty balanced.

Today another load of entertaining, inspirational and educational events. I started the presentations at alt.chi: Experiences. Alt.chi is a part of the program for promising contributions methodologically far afield, or critical of accepted practices, so there were some entertaining performances.

Joe Marshall dutct-taped himself to a table to show how you (don’t) interact with technology when cold-water swimming.

Schmettow et al from Twente University showed the audience we were mostly geeks (there is a checklist in the paper), and en passant gave a great reason why you should do user research: most users want interaction to be smooth, easy and enjoyable. Geeks however, love to solve puzzles, and get a kick if they master really inaccessible interaction.

Marc Hassenzahl reiterated the basics of experience design: you design the opportunities to experience, from anticipation before the actual use, to the possibility for reflection and storytelling after. While I know the work of Hassenzahl quite well, it was good to get a tune-up.

experience design

Panel: UX Management, Current and Future Trends. A discussion between high-rollers from the ranks of Google etc. The necessary term-throwing: UX, Agile, Scrum, A-people.

Papers: Embodied Interaction. A variety of talks about different ways to research the balance between being and ‘being represented’. How does it effect our interaction with artifacts and each other?

Eva Deckers presented her research on perceptual crossing and how to make this happen between human and technology. Perceptual crossing is when I see you, and I know you see me; and you see me seeing you. Some attention points for designing for perception are:

  • Focus on the senses
  • Explorative behaviour
  • Subtleness of movement
  • Reaction to the external
  • Reflection of contextual noise
  • Recognizing explorative behaviour of something/one else
  • Remember and anticipate on perception


When perceptual crossing happens between an artifact and a person, the interaction becomes more meaningful, but I thought also a bit more intrusive. It is nice when you can perceive that someone or something is watching you, so you can adapt your behaviour. But what if you want to escape being seen? It really got me thinking about the future of HCI. Eva Deckers went on to receive a Cum Laude PhD at the TU/e two days later.

Unfortunately I could not attend the  session on Design Research, but here is a list of the most interesting papers from that:

And I would not want to hold back Benevolent Deception in Human Computer Interaction – Adar, Tan, Teevan !

CHI2013: Monday April 29

paola antonelli chi2013 @luiciolfi

Plenary opening by Paola Antonelli of MOMA New York. A great lecture, pity the video is not online yet. Will post a link when it is! She said a few great things that will stay with me.

  • Design is about improving the world, almost like a hippocratic oath to try and make the world better, not worse. You have a responsibility.
  • Want to change the world? Don’t talk so much about it. Start working and we’ll see.
  • Good aesthetics is a form of respect for the user. It is a civil right.

Posters of works in progress. I talked to Mac Hassenzahl, my favourite researcher, who helped me with a few tips for my graduation project:

  • Most IT companies do not care too much about Experience Design, instead use ‘UX’ as a word for aesthetics
  • After involving the user, there has to be someone who takes authority and deciddes what to do with the outcomes. This could be a designer, but could other people also take this role? How?
  • I need to specify my research question and try to solve a smaller problem

My reading list includes:

  • An Interaction Vocabulary. Describing The How Of Interaction – Diefenbach, Lenz, Hassenzahl
  • Letting Go: Working with the Rhythm of Participants – Coles-Kemp, Angus, Stang
  • CONTRAST: Gamification of Arm-Hand Training for Stroke Survivors – Jacobs, Timmermans, Michielsen, Vander Plaetse, Markopoulos
  • A Trip into the Countryside: An Experience Design for Explorative Car Cruises – Knobel, Hassenzahl, Schumann, Lamara, Eckoldt, Butz
  • “My Mobile Health, My Mobile Life”: Methods for Designing Health Interventions with Adolescents – Peyton, Poole
  • Using Design Thinking to Empower Ethnic Minority Immigrant Youth in Their Roles as Information and Technology Mediaries – Fawcett, Fisher, Peterson, Bishop, Magassa

experience vocabulary

Papers: Co-Design with Users. I was inspired by the experiences with co-design on a big library project from Dalsgaard et al, saying how important it is to develop routines and standards when co-designing, and set up a uniform way to document and analyze the material.

Vines et al talked about the mechanics of co-designing, how pre-configuring the participants can also configure the outcomes. We need to think about which co-operation forms are native to the users, not the researchers. We need let users define the materials and setup. And: “Passivity is also a form of participation”. Hmm.

  • Large-Scale Participation: A Case Study of a Participatory Approach to Developing a New Public Library – Dalsgaard, Eriksson
  • Configuring Participation: On How We Involve People in Design – Vines, Clarke, Wright, McCarthy, Olivier

Special Interest Group (SIG): Enhancing the Research Infrastructure for Child-Computer Interaction – Read, Hourcade. A discussion group where everyone participated to discuss research methods and plans for the future.

Other interesting paper: Playing with Leadership and Expertise: Military Tropes and Teamwork in an ARG – Peyton, Young, Lutters

CHI2013: Saturday April 27


On Saturday there was a workshop on Methods of Working with Teenagers in Interaction Design, where I presented a paper: Adapting Co-Constructing Stories to the Mindset of Teenagers. Other papers from that workshop include:

These and other papers will also feature in the next issue of the new International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction.


Paper: Adapting Co-Constructing Stories to the Mindset of Teenagers

Check out my latest publication!

Adapting Co-Constructing Stories