back Stories Overview

User Experience at SAP



Conference Reports

Future Scope


CHI 2001 – A Personal View

By Sylvia Barnard, SAP AG, SAP User Experience – April 27, 2001

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


From March 31 to April 5 2001, I was fortunate enough to attend the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Seattle. I would first like to give you a short introduction to the city and its surroundings. In the second part of this article, you can read a summary of the conference's program.


Liquid Sunshine in Emerald City

Seattle is all about Microsoft and mountains, and stunning scenery. Also, the opening of the first Starbucks Shop in 1971 launched the nation's craze for specialty coffee. Then there is water - everywhere you look - in freshwater lakes, canals, Pudget Sound, and the ubiquitous drizzle that optimists like to call "liquid sunshine."

Bill Gates, Seattle's best-known man, grew up in Seattle and attended the city's most prestigious private school. During high school, Bill Gates met fellow student, Paul Allen. They went on to found Microsoft in 1975, which still has its world headquarters in suburban Seattle.

As for the mountains, the Cascade Mountains rise to the east, dominated by snowcapped volcanoes: Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, and greatest of all, the 14,410-foot-high Mt. Rainier. To the west lie the rugged Olympic Mountains.

Other fascinating features of Seattle are the 300 and more parks. Trees, parks, and gardens are all around you, and when they are at their best, you can imagine why Seattle is called Emerald City. Benefiting from its maritime climate, the city is full of colorful blossoms by the end of March.

The city's weather, especially the rain -- the average number of clear days per year is 56! -- has been the target of jokes for who knows how long: "Seattle is a moisturing pad disguised as a city" is one of the most popular ones. As if unable to make up its mind, the city can be dark and gloomy in the morning and sparkling by afternoon or vice versa. So the first thing I did after arriving was to buy an umbrella. After I had paid my $17, the shopkeeper told me that this is the worst thing you can do in Seattle. Most Seattleites -- yes, that is what they really call themselves -- simply ignore the weather. Except for a few transplanted Californians, Seattle residents hardly seem to notice the drizzle and rarely let it slow them down. True natives secretly scoff at those, like me, who take shelter under umbrellas or shut themselves indoors at the first sign of rain. Well, I am not a resident of Seattle and I can tell you that I used my umbrella quite a lot while I was there.

Seattle is a city for outdoor freaks: many clothing manufacturers produce sportswear and have their headquarters there: You can, however, also find a lot of other important industries, like aviation (Boeing) and the computer industry (not just Microsoft).

Besides that, I should mention the University of Washington and the cultural life. There is the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Opera, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and last but not least, the Experience Music Project, a new rock 'n' roll museum, which was a gift from Paul Allen (a Jimi Hendrix fan) to the city. Jimi Hendrix, incidentally, was also one of the most famous inhabitants of Seattle.

So, if you plan a trip to Seattle, pack your opera glasses and hiking boots, throw away your umbrella, and prepare to do Seattle like a native!

Downtown Seattle

Figure 1: Downtown Seattle from the observation deck of the Space Needle, Seattle's most recognized landmark (Photo by Sylvia Friedrich; click the photo for a larger version)

After my two days spent running around and sight seeing, the conference started with its two-day tutorial program, so I had to concentrate on more serious things than when the next bus goes to the Woodland Park Zoo.


The Conference

One of the tutorials I visited was "Web Sites that Work: Designing with Your Eyes Open" by Jared Spool, Matthew Klee, and Christine Perfetti. It was all about Jared's book "Web Site Usability: A Designer's Guide" including new testing results and new examples. At the end of his tutorial, Jared Spool admitted that usability is still very much in its infancy. In his many years of web sites testing, he never found one perfect site, which means that there is still a lot of work waiting for us.

Tuesday started with the of Bill Gates' keynote speech at 9:00 am! I thought that it would be sufficient to arrive at 8:30 am to get a good seat just in front of the lectern. My hotel was just a few meters from the Convention Center, where the conference took place, and I was heading towards the entrance when I realized that everyone wanted to catch a good sight of Bill Gates and I had to join the queue, which was already several hundred meters long. Nevertheless, I got a perfect place and then, there he was: Bill Gates! His speech was all about the pervasiveness of information technologies in the context of advancing the user experience. Wow! After the speech, life returned to normal and so began the main part of the conference with its workshops, demonstrations, design expos, panels, papers, plenary sessions, and so on.

It was quite interesting to discover that user interface designers all over the world struggle with the same problems. In a special interest group about "Information-rich User Interfaces: Embedded Help Content and User Experience Design", I learned that other usability experts try to convince developers to implement their design, that information developers are not integrated in projects at the very beginning - as this should be -, but at the very end, and that different departments within one company find it difficult to communicate with each other.

On Wednesday evening was the hospitality reception evening from the champion and contributing sponsors in the Sheraton Hotel. The Microsoft reception was overcrowded from the beginning; their buffet was excellent, but the drinks weren't for free. If you arrived early, like me, you got two drinks coupons. Another event was the reception of Morgan Kaufmann Publishers on the 35th floor of the Sheraton. The view over downtown Seattle was magnificent and the atmosphere was very relaxed.

On Thursday afternoon, Gregg C. Vanderheiden, a Professor in Industrial Engineering, who directs the Trace R&D Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, closed the conference. His speech focused on future perspectives and research directions in standard mass-market products and systems. He spoke about how future products could be used anytime and anywhere, by young and old alike and by people with certain disabilities. This was the first time that the CHI attracted over 3,000 attendants, and it is obvious, that usability is slowly but steadily becoming more important within the software industry. The next CHI 2002 will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the slogan for this event will be: "Changing the world, changing ourselves"

All in all, the conference is the right place to meet other experts, to build up your personal international network, and to learn everything about the latest research and new trends.


To top top