|DIS 2010 - Appendix|
|SAP's Presence at DIS 2010 in Aarhus, Denmark – A Photo Story|
|SAP's Presence at UPA 2010 in Munich, Germany – A Photo Story|
|INTERACT 2009 – Research & Practice?|
By Gerd Waloszek, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – October 13, 2010
DIS (Designing Interactive Systems) is one of the smaller design conferences, typically held every other year, and intended to "address design as an integrated activity spanning technical, social, cognitive, organizational, and cultural factors." The conference announcement continues: "It brings together professional designers, ethnographers, systems engineers, usability engineers, psychologists, design managers, product managers, academics and anyone involved in the design of interactive systems." As these statements sound quite ambitious, I have included a reality check of them in my very personal DIS 2010 report, which was written from a UI design practitioner's perspective.
Figure 1: Logo of the DIS 2010 conference
DIS 2010 was held in cooperation with ACM SIGCHI in Aarhus, Denmark, at the Aarhus School of Architecture from August 16–20, 2010. Workshops were held on the first two days of conference, while the following three days comprised the "real" conference. This was the first time I had attended the DIS conference, although the first DIS conference took place in 1995. Once again it was a special conference visit for me: For the first time, I was not merely attending the conference, but I was also supporting SAP UX's recruiting efforts.
With about 250,000 inhabitants, Aarhus, the city in which the conference was held, is the second largest city in Denmark. It is located on the Baltic side of the Jutland peninsula, and is home to a large university, which has a long-standing usability tradition.
Figure 2: Aarhus cathedral
As in my previous conference reports, I am unable to cover all aspects of the conference, so I will focus on personal impressions. As this was a small conference, at most two session tracks ran in parallel, which made choosing a session track easier. However, as in Uppsala, I sometimes found it difficult to choose any paper sessions at all that looked interesting to me as a practitioner. Therefore, I tried to be as open-minded as possible with my selections – and I was also disciplined enough not to miss any session track.
DIS 2010 offered two keynote presentations: Richard Coyne held the opening keynote and Yvonne Rogers the closing keynote. The latter did not really close the conference because it was held in the morning.
Richard Coyne from the Department of Architectural Computing at the University of Edinburgh, UK, had obviously based his keynote on his new book Tuning Metaphors and the Design of Pervasive Digital Media, which was also the title of his presentation. Starting with his own domain, architecture, and the tuning of musical instruments, Coyne applied the tuning or calibration metaphor (both were used more or less as synonyms and involve small repetitive incremental movements or adjustments) to interaction design, particularly for mobile devices, ubiquitous computing, and public spaces. He noted that clocks allow us to synchronize human actions and added that, like clocks, modern mobile technology can be used as a tuning device to synchronize human actions, such as the organizing of spontaneous public gatherings. Thus, according to Coyne, we are moving from the synchronization of schedules to the "tuning of social relations." Finally, Coyne maneuvered his talk into the direction of the democratization of innovation, crowd sourcing, a gift society, and the reconfiguration of the private-public realm, thus ending up in a utopia (illusion?) of mass creativity and innovation that will be made possible through all kinds of future digital devices (see also Bruce Sterling). I found myself gradually tuning out of the keynote, which, at times, appeared to me like a loose association of new and not-so-new ideas and more of an intellectual exercise rather than providing insight – but that was probably the effect of my tuning out.
Figures 3-4: The keynote speakers: Richard Coyne (opening keynote), and Yvonne Rogers (closing keynote)
About one year ago, Kia Höök's (University of Stockholm, Sweden, and Mobile Life Center) keynote presentation Mobile Life – Body and Interaction at INTERACT 2009 marked my first contact with "interaction in the wild." At DIS 2010, I once again attended a keynote about this topic: Yvonne Rogers from the Open University, UK, talked about Designing in the Wild. Both Höök and Rogers investigate the impact of design artifacts in real-life settings and do so "in the wild," that is, in the real world, not in the lab. While Höök focuses on "mobile life," including interactive mobile games, Rogers' work is more in line with the tradition of British design schools and investigates how people adopt and appropriate digital technology in various social settings. I will briefly mention two of her projects below.
Rogers started her keynote with a history of "turns" in HCI: to the social (participatory design), to the home, to design (Winograd, Crampton-Smith), to emotions (Norman), and recently to fun and experience (user experience? - Shedroff). She proclaimed that now there is a turn "to the wild": Doing things in the real world, going from the lab to outdoors. This new trend has been made possible by the technology of ubiquitous computing, or ubicomp in short. According to Rogers, researchers and designers make this turn for a number of reasons:
Rogers illustrated each of the reasons with projects from her own and her colleagues' work (Pervasive Interaction Lab). For "behavioral change," she mentioned the "Persuasive Ambient Displays" (persuasive, not pervasive!) and the "Tidy Street" projects, both of which aimed to reduce people's energy consumption. In the first project, an ambient display was installed to persuade people to use the stairs instead of the elevator in a multi-storey building. The display consisted of bands of lights in the floor, which led to the elevator and the stairs and flickered in different colors. The "Tidy Street" project set out to reduce energy consumption at street level: Public indicators attached to the houses displayed the relation between household energy consumption and a more global standard such as the average energy consumption in the country. The first project revealed, among other things, that "in the wild" studies can lead to conflicting findings. The latter demonstrated the "boomerang effect", including an intervention to prevent it: People whose consumption was below the standard tended to increase their consumption instead of maintaining their low level. However, rewarding them with smilies prevented the boomerang effect.
Although, or because, the projects presented had little in common with my daily work, I found this keynote very inspiring. I expected Kia Höök to pose the first question, but she did not. (I have even forgotten whether she asked any questions at all.) Last but not least, this keynote was peculiar for another reason: The audience was not allowed to take photos of the presentation slides. Rogers argued that she was unsure whether her colleagues who took part in the projects would agree with all her statements.
The topics of the conference session tracks and papers are a good starting point for a reality check of the first statement about the DIS 2010 conference. My selection of paper session tracks included the following topics – with a few additional topics listed in italics that I did not attend but that fit quite well into the scheme:
The DIS 2010 conference covered a couple of other topics, but these would not really affect what this list demonstrates: The conference had a pronounced bias towards interaction design in social settings and on design itself. However, despite this bias, I find that the statement describes the range of covered topics quite well – so this part passes my reality check.
Secondly, the design artifacts that were presented were generally not software applications, which is my own domain as a UI design practitioner, but physical objects that include embedded digital technology, which, at least in part, determines their interactive behavior. The term "physical object" can mean:
Figures 5-7: Some physical objects (ambient light, TacTowers, another ambient light called SnowGlobe; more photos in the appendix)
This emphasis on physical objects underlines that DIS 2010 was not a typical UI design or HCI conference. Both the topics and the artifacts indicate indicate that interaction design and UI design do not seem to have much in common.
As the conference was held in Scandinavia, a lot of the attendees and presenters came from that region. But the British impact – visible in the influence of British design schools – seemed to me to be stronger. However, the conference appearance of people from the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Pittsburgh, USA, left the greatest impression on me. CMU was represented by the researchers Jodi Forlizzi, John Zimmerman, Eric Paulos, and Mark Gross, as well as their students Stacey Kuznetsov, Will Odom, and James Pierce, to name but the most visible ones. These researchers also represent a research direction that I had not come across until I attended DIS 2010 (shame on me!): research through design (RtD). John Zimmerman's presentation about RtD was a real eye-opener for me and helped me make sense of a large number of presentations that appeared so different to me from what I was used to (that is, different from the "classic" HCI research tradition). Here are the basic statements from Zimmerman's slides about what RtD is:
Accordingly, quite a number of conference papers presented explorations of prototypical devices "in the wild" (and not so wild) and were typically students' projects. Sometimes, the presenters reused their findings for redesigns, or at least for offering some design recommendations in their presentation. In other cases, however, nobody seemed to be willing to or interested in pursuing the projects any further, particularly not in the direction of creating real products (a few conference attendees demanded this in the discussions). I will refer to the lack of agreement below.
Keeping this in mind, I will now mention some presentations and presenters that stood out for me – all of the presenters are from CMU:
There was also something like a "CMU slide presentation style", which seemed to be defined by full-screen colorful images and lots of slides with little text – a disaster for people who want to take photos of the slides.
Figures 6-9: Some of the presenters from CMU (John Zimmerman, Stacey Kuznetsov, ditto with Jodi Forlizzi, Will Odom, and James Pierce); Kia Höök in the audience (more photos in the appendix)
Looking back at the presentations and projects that stood out for me, I might be tempted to ask whether I had entered a playground for adults instead of attending a conference. As a matter of fact, it turned out that for at least some of the presentations this impression is spot on: I had encountered instances of "ludic design" (not lucid design, as I originally thought). This term was coined by Bill Gaver (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK) who described his approach in an interview. In my own words (and much shorter), this approach means designing for human activities that are not goal-oriented, that is, not oriented toward performing tasks – they are done merely for enjoyment and pleasure. (Neither does this refer to game design, as one might assume.) Furthermore, Gaver does not use traditional methods to analyze his data. In the interview he states: "... we tend to just live with the results of the probes that we've got and leave them around and kind of use them in new combinations and new ways; find new meanings for them; sometimes just pick out one or two that are particularly striking and allow things to be a bit more flexible, a bit more loose." I do not know whether Gaver and other members of British design schools can be counted among the proponents of RtD (Zimmerman interviewed a number of them, but did not reveal their identity), but there does seem to be some striking similarities.
All in all , the conference offered many more interesting presentations, covering, for example, projects with elderly people, various sustainability aspects (mostly located in Shedroff's "reduce" category, that is, helping people reduce their energy consumption), and ambient displays – regrettably far too many to mention them all here.
DIS 2010 was special in one more aspect: During the lunch breaks (after a little delay), discussions on design topics, called DISCourse, such as the role of design, were organized in the entrance area of the conference building. Typically, these were started by more prominent researchers, but everybody could join in – at least in theory. As I also had to keep an eye on our booth (although my colleagues were there), I attended the discussions at irregular intervals and only briefly. In addition, many participants talked at length. All this contributed to the fact that I was not able to really follow the discussion threads (they were recorded and commented on Twitter, but I am neither a Twitter user, nor did I find a link to the recordings).
Figures 10-12: DisCourse (Alex Taylor speaking, audience; more photos in the appendix)
There was one incident at DISCourse, however, that became ingrained in my brain: Mark Gross from CMU (Computational Design, School of Architecture) took the microphone and expressed his desire to see some progress [in the design field] at the conference. My sentiments entirely! But disillusion soon set in: A young Swedish woman eagerly grabbed the mic and stated that she WANTs to see all the new trends at the conference. There definitely, seemed to be a generation gap between the younger and older conference attendees. So, do we need separate conferences for old and young designers? If so, the young ones can get excited about new trends, whereas the older ones, who have already observed dozens of trends come and go, can debate about whether there has been any progress. Hopefully it will not come to this.
To sum up, the great interest in DISCourse demonstrated that it was a valuable addition to the conference.
Figures 13-15: Research question panel (panelists, Kia Höök quarreling with Olav Bertelsen, audience; more photos in the appendix)
The DISCourse discussions were continued in the research question panel at the end of the conference. The panel took place in the exhibition hall, directly in front of our recruiting booth – this time with about half a dozen official debaters and the conference attendees that were still there as the audience and co-debaters. (A short talk from co-chair Olav Bertelsen closed the conference.)
As in DISCourse, the topics covered the key questions: What is design, and what is the role of design and designers? It became evident that the designers at this conference saw themselves more as artist/researchers than as engineers/craftsmen. This self-image implies that they feel responsible for social issues and for designing the future, asking: "How will we live in 20 years' time (assuming that in the industry the time horizon is much more narrow, and the focus is on the present)?" Many designers take a social or political stance, which the panel reflected by asking the question: "Is design political?" For most of the attendees the definitive answer was "yes". At least, Olav Bertelsen dared to play the role of devil's advocate and quarreled with Kia Höök about this question. Thus, interaction designers from design schools and universities seem to exhibit a more pronounced political attitude than designers of software applications. Does this mean that UI design is not political? As always, the answer to this question depends on what you mean by "design" and "political." Simple design decisions and even the daily bread-and-butter work may not count or be perceived as "political." But as soon as we move into the design of work and workplaces, we are immediately in social, and thus – if you like – political realms. In my opinion, it is more the intention behind the design work than the practical work itself that can be regarded as "political."
The conference attendees and presenters were to a large degree people who would call themselves interaction designers – a "class" of designers that, as I have learned over the years, is markedly different from UI (or UX) designers, who regard themselves as interaction designers as well (see the former "Cooper Interaction Design" company, now Cooper). For me, this difference appeared as a "gulf" at the conference, not as a minor difference in practices and role perception. This difference is also reflected in the acronyms that the two fields use: IxD and UX (or UI): IxD means Interaction Design, while UX means User Experience. UX (UI) is rooted in traditional HCI (usability, field research, UI design, "science," engineering/craft), while IxD has more od an "art wave" (genius designer, "art") soul. I am not the only person who observed this "gulf" between the two designer groups: In an e-mail, Mark Gross from CMU agreed with me that "there is a strange disconnect between the two groups of designers," a kind of "cultural divide."
Another "gulf" extends between research and design. Designers tend to see their role more on the "art" side than on the "research" or even "engineer" side. But not all designers think this way: The proponents of the RtD direction strive to become part of the HCI research community, but without wanting to adopt traditional research methods. Instead, they claim that their own approach, designing physical things, which is a practical skill (or practice), extends knowledge and thus also counts as research. Yet there seem to be reservations regarding RtD in the HCI community. One is definitely the approach itself, and John Zimmerman criticized that the romantic view of the genius designer is still alive in the HCI research community. This is seen as an irrational practice that can taint research – design is regarded as a "black art." According to Zimmerman, this view is destructive in that it leaves no place for design as rigorous inquiry, that is, for design as research. Regarding the observed lack of agreement on what RtD is even among its proponents, Zimmerman rightfully asked: "How can design researchers [including Zimmerman himself] get RtD accepted in HCI when they cannot agree on what it is?" I leave the answer to this question to the design and research communities.
As already briefly mentioned, in the discussions a few people demanded that the research teams put more effort in transforming their prototypes into real products, but these objections were quickly put down. The most prominent objection came from Susanne Boedker, a well-known Danish HCI researcher, during the research question panel discussion. She replied that she was sponsored by the Danish state and proud of not being required to build real products like people who work in the industry. Her statement sounded somewhat arrogant to my "practitioner's" ears – maybe it was just an exaggeration of her real opinion, yet the majority of the conference attendees seemed to agree with her.
As at INTERACT 2009, attendees were addressed as "researchers" at the DIS 2010 conference. Thus, DIS 2010 was not conceived as a conference for UI practitioners. However, many of the researchers were designers at heart and were not classic HCI researchers. There were also a lot of people from design schools. They have a background comparable to academics, but they pursue a remarkably different approach to design. If there were any practitioners from the industry at the DIS 2010 conference, they kept a low profile.
This leads me directly to the second part of the reality check of the introductory statements about the DIS 2010 conference. Its second part, which listed the professions of prospective attendees, failed my check. And if I take a closer look at the first part of the statement, which is the list of topics to be covered at the conference, it also becomes evident why the event was geared more toward researchers and interaction designers than UI designers and usability engineers.
Figure 16: Carpet tiles led the way to the different conference locations
There are many ways to interpret this conference. John Zimmerman's presentation about research through design (RtD) opened my eyes and helped me understand why many of the presentations were done in the way they were. The other distinctions, or "gulfs", that I listed above were familiar to me and helped me complete the puzzle. Having put the pieces together, not only does a more coherent picture of the conference emerge for me – writing a conference report was helpful, too – but I am also ready to watch out for attempts to bridge the gulfs that I observed. The RtD direction can be regarded as an attempt to bridge the gulf between research and design. In the same vein, attending a conference like DIS 2010 as an HCI practitioner from the industry is another attempt to bridge the gulfs between interaction designers and UI designers, and between academia and industry.
After having dealt with all the gulfs, one final question remains: What is the use of a design- and research-oriented conference for an HCI practitioner – apart from attempting to bridge gulfs? Some people may be quick to reply "none", but I do not agree with them. My DIS 2010 visit, even though the presentations had little connection to my daily work, was definitely not a waste of time. Instead, it broadened my horizons, exposing me to new trends and pointing me in new directions in a way that would not have been possible in my normal professional life. We all know that new devices and interaction styles are just around the corner. But take note: They will not pass business software by!