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CHI 2001 - Anyone (Karsten). Anywhere (Seattle)

By Karsten Erxleben, SAP AG – June 29, 2001

German version

This article is one of three articles about the CHI 2001 in Seattle, Washington. The CHI's motto was "anyone. anywhere." Let's see what mottos three of SAP's user interface designers found for themselves.

CHI 2001 logo

"Satisfying the passion of collecting" was my first user goal that I wanted to accomplish at the CHI 2001 in Seattle, WA. During the last years, I had each time colorfully cheered up the gray-beige SAP cabinets with "call for participation" posters for the CHI and other conferences. But the 2001 poster was still missing in my collection.

My question at the registration counter on the workshops' eve was, however, not crowned with success, as the CHI staff had not yet started selling any stuff at that time. Nevertheless, the registration aroused pleasant anticipations because the great number of prepared counters boosted by that time already my estimates about the size of the conference and the masses of visitors to come.

These expectations were indeed confirmed on the first workshop day: Jared Spool entertained a rather large and rather crowded hall in his rather personal way. The topic was "Usable Websites", combined with a little "Jakob bashing" (Jakob Nielsen), which has become quite fashionable these days. At the end of the following and final workshop day, however, I would have been willing to actively take part in a "Jared bashing": On a three-hour evening workshop, he presented, together with two team members, exactly the same content as on the preceding day - boiled up again, and spiced with identical jokes and anecdotes, so that the menu was indeed very tasteless. This second brew became really cheeky by the fact that on the preceding day he had "guaranteed" that there would be no overlap between the contents of the two workshops. With this announcement he had in fact "fueled" the demand for the evening workshop. On the positive side, this was a living example of business acumen or self-marketing on the "guru" level. In the long run, however, this "business policy" will prevent me from visiting Jared Spool's presentations again.

Apart from this waste of time, the workshops were a positive and fruitful experience for me, as I had selected workshops on topics with which I had not been confronted before, such as Ben Shneiderman's "Information Visualization" workshop. Here, my user goal "widening the horizon" was really accomplished. Actually, there were too many interesting topics offered in parallel, so that I always had the "pain of choice" - a phenomenon that turned out to be the guiding principle for the following days.

On Tuesday morning, my tense expectations were once again heightened, as masses of visitors rushed to Bill Gate's opening plenary, and the huge conference hall of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center filled up more and more. We were lucky and sat within eyeshot with Bill Gates. So we were able to read his lips and even take a few photos of him.

Bill Gates    Bill Gates together with Bill Hill

Figure 1 and 2: Bill Gates during the opening plenary, on the right together with Bill Hill

The content of the speech wasn't that important (he told about the rocky, but of course promising route of the usability department at Microsoft and was supported by project leads when demoing the digital book and the tablet PC). More important was the feeling, to at least sit together with the famous "grands" of the usability scene in one room. In addition, my pleasant anticipations that the show finally was to begin were even more important! The co-chairs of the conference also comforted me by emphasizing that from now on each of the more than 3.000 participants (that was a new record!) would be "part of a huge family, namely of the SIGCHI".

Having the "community building" also taken into account, the conference could indeed start with all its panels, papers, short talks, SIGs, etc. At least for the first day, each time-slice in my practical, spiral-bound "conference program" had at least one marker, highlighting the respective topic out of a selection of up to nine parallel topic areas as a favorite of mine.

The spiral-bound conference program

Figure 3: The spiral-bound conference program

For the preparation of my conference visit I was guided by the preferences and experiences of Gerd Waloszek, who preferred visiting the panels. Looking back, it was the panels that impressed and taught me most. The panels always comprised an effective mixture of practitioners and more research-oriented panelists. And whenever it was hard to get a controversy going because the panelists were too close in their opinions, the auditorium introduced a fresh breeze by adding comments and asking nasty questions. I personally appreciated the two panels "Ethics in HCI" and "Methods and Modeling" most.

Brenda Laurel

Figure 4: Brenda Laurel was one of the panelists in "Ethics in HCI"

Another main area (focus) - and sometimes chaotic - highlight for me were the Special Interest Groups (SIG) because here a more intensive exchange of ideas between the organizers of the SIG and the participants was possible. The SIGs in fact mirrored the daily needs, concerns, and chances of practitioners. In addition, experiences could easily be exchanged across company or topic borders, here.

The paper sessions were disappointing: The summary titles in the conference program for - in each case - three half-hour presentations looked always very promising ("Structuring Software", "Communities and Collaboration", "Designing with and for Others" etc.). The respective topics of the presentations, however, did not come up to the promises because they mostly reported highly specific research results, where I was at the utmost interested in one topic only. So, to my opinion the one-and-a-half time slice was better invested in a panel… Nevertheless, I took part in one complete paper session in its full epic breadth on Thursday, which was the last conference day. And it was quite interesting, too, because the topic was "information scent", and Stuart Card and Jared Spool who took part in the discussions made some funny jokes.

All in all, my experiences with paper sessions let me draw the conclusion that I can spare/save the time needed for the presentations and read the respective articles in the conference proceedings, instead. Altogether, I gained more from the poster sessions since I could stroll along without worrying about any time schedule and take a closer look at interesting posters, if I wanted to.

So, there were overtones of melancholy, when the big parting began, filled with accolades, presentations of prizes, and a closing plenary about "Accessibility". However, desire for more was also aroused, for the CHI 2002 conference in Minneapolis presented itself in an amusing advertising film. In the film, the governor of Minnesota, an ex-profi catcher played a punchy role and also heartily invited the "family" to the CHI 2002 conference. Anyway, I for my part came to like the family in Seattle and would have no objections to this kind of family reunions!

award winners    governor of Minnesota

Figure 5 and 6: Closing plenary - the award winners (left) and the governor of Minnesota welcoming the audience to the CHI 2002 in Minneapolis (right)

By the way, my search for a conference poster remained without success, despite all my inquiries at the "merchandising" counter (where they offered T-shirts, cups, and other "fan" articles and at the conference administration. Whoever has a poster of the CHI 2001 conference to give away, will find a glad taker in me

Photos by Carsten Erxleben and Gerd Waloszek.


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