My 3rd trip to CHI

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Two years ago in Portland I first experienced the craziness that is the annual meeting of the Special Interest Group of the Association for Computing Machinery in Computer-Human Interaction, otherwise known as CHI. My time there was dominated by my participation in the Student Design Competition. Erik, Matt E., Will and I wrote a paper, tossed a hacky sack around to get our game on, talked up our poster, and cheered for our friends. We also felt the floor shake at the Crystal Ballroom, followed Matt’s bloodhound nose wherever it led, danced in a metal bar, left some beer for the housekeeping staff at our hotel, and walked back across the bridge at 2 in the morning after the trains had stopped running. Those were good times, and they all live in my head, as those were the days before my blog was born. Ahhhh….

Last year I was a student volunteer in Montreal, and I got a new camera right before the conference so I took a hella lot of pictures. I also blogged about it some (scroll down past this entry). It was a very good time, and it was perhaps the point wherein the idea that I was becoming a part of an academic and professional community much larger than myself first sunk in.

This year was a test of sorts. I have graduated. Traveled around. Worked in hotels and bars. Formulated new ideas about the scope of my work. Taken a consulting job. Moved to Portland. It wasn’t until quite recently that it was even clear that I was going to be able to go to CHI this year because it was uncertain whether my company would pay for it. And it was strange to not be a student. It was strange to be able to go just for the sake of going and seeing what I saw.

Most of what I saw were people. Dear old friends whom I have been away from for too long. Glorious new friends who remind me that you never know what gifts lie around the next corner. Acquaintances and colleagues who charm me and inspire me and make me glad to be doing what I do.

I have come to an interesting sort of peace with conferences, in that I find them to be very stimulating spaces even though I am often not that interested in the details of the presentations that I see. Somehow the energy is contagious. The sense of accomplishment gets under my skin. The newness of the place and the excitement of networking and the break from routine puts me in a different zone, and I have some good ideas.

This year I took very scattered offline notes, but then a comment from Erik prompted me to come up with an idea for an online prompting/drafting/notetaking system to allow me to build my thoughts up as I go. So I’ve been working on that some, and I hope it bears fruit soon.

In the meantime, here are some highlights from the land beyond words:

Grass, napping, wheelchair

Robot-Richie Interaction

The kids' table

The best of the series

Imposing presence

My partners in mischief and merriment

industrial design and hci

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

what i thought this panel was going to be about:

what it was about:

why the difference matters:

interesting snippets:
difference between design and engineering – design looks at the whole picture of a product and decides what to build, engineering figures out how to build the actual pieces.

jesus endorsement site

are they saying we should become industrial designers? is it more about the impact of hci on id?

yeah, they’re talking about thinking about how interaction designers have to think like product designers because products are becoming the interface.


got that one.

but what about the dialogue with industrial designers?
i should have listened more closely to the kodak guy. i think he was talking about that.

into and out of and into the void again

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

i’m tired, so bed is calling, but first, here’s a quick blitz through the past couple days:

the last day of the conference (thursday) was the best yet, in many ways. we ran design club all day, cranking out flipchart sheet after flipchart sheet of sketches and getting a lot of positive attention from passersby. we were exploring the area of social networking at the conference, and both an enthusiastic ixDa member and the conference chair for next year urged us to write up our findings and ideas.
we didn’t get quite as far into an actual prototype as we originally hoped, but we got a lot of good work done, and had a lot of fun. it was a good feeling, and a nice way to wrap up the week. more there soon, i’d expect.

in terms of official events, i saw the best presentation that i’ve seen yet, and it was by a georgia tech student who interned with google last year. something about the fact that she kicked so much ass just struck me as really awesome. i was excited about our generation of budding practitioners, i guess, and i got a warm fuzzy for the goog.
i also really enjoyed the closing plenary, which was given by scott mccloud, who i already knew that i liked. he was an excellent speaker. really funny and personable, with illustrative, engaging, and nearly textless slides. he talked about the evolution of comics in the digital age, and for the second year running i was impressed with chi for bringing in a thought-provoking closing speaker whose relationship to hci is not immediately clear.

meanwhile, over in sv-land, tiffanie was the day captain and she was awesome.
yay tiffanie!
after everything wrapped up at the conference center and we had a little nap, we had the final sv party, which was free dinner (pasta and shellfish aGain?!), free drinks (woohoo!), and what turned out to be a pretty darn good dj. quite a crowd of us danced until they kicked us out, which was awesome. i joined tiffanie, brian, jonathan, some folks from intel, and some other svs whose names i cannot recount in a journey to another bar after that, and so we finally tumbled back to the hotel about 4, which is quite respectable.

tonight, i am sacrificing a bit of that respectability because i opted for a return to the hotel after dinner rather than a last, ostensibly low key visit to the pub, but i’m really feeling the “i need a bit of solo time” thang, and i want to get up in the morning to seek crepes in old montreal for breakfast and visit notre dame before we leave.

so i’d better turn in, to help those goals along.

while we’re on the subject of goals, i’ll tell you that we also need to procure maple syrup and ice wine, and then we should be all set, since today i got socks with moose on them and a coaster that doubles as a matchbox, so we can check those off the list.

then back to vermont we go, into the air we rise, and into capstone madness i descend…

that other blog is up and chugging

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

just fyi, my technical difficulties with the student volunteer blog have been resolved, and i posted that rather lengthy essay on the ischools there, as well as something about the design community sig that i went to this afternoon.

so read up, if ya fancy.

there’s a backchannel discussion going on amongst the sv bloggers because some of the first posts were Boring As Sin ™, and i am of the opinion that this is because they told us to blog without using the first person, which almost made my brain explode because it was just too much of a computational challenge to reconcile that request. i wrote what i hope was a nice little email about it, saying that it saddened me to think that we would pass up the chance to let blogging do what it does best.

josh (of the family evnin) and i joked about it, and we agree that a place where a few students post stuff like “omg! i just sat next to jakob nielsen and he, like, looked at me for more than a half-second, i swear!” would actually be kind of awesome, and wouldn’t do anywhere near the harm to our reputations as i think that people fear it would.
but even if we agree to put on a slightly more official tone, isn’t there clearly some middle ground between talking about the bad bagels (and let me tell you, these are some bad bagels) and writing dry notes that seem like dictations or transcriptions of the slides?
i think the answer is decidedly yes, there is a middle ground, and we need to stick flags in it, proudly, at risk of seeming more oblivious to the realities of our field than we would if we discussed the bagels.
this is blogging, after all, and blogging is powerful. we need to own that.

so i was torn, upon arriving, about how to approach the whole thing. i decided not to completely ignore the objectivity request (by which i mean that i decided not to post things like my little revelation about the 10% milk), but i just couldn’t figure out how to keep my sense of style and perspective while still trying to sound objective, so i sought something in between.
then i was totally overwhelmed by my schedule, and i had the computer issues of yesterday, and i couldn’t post anyway, so it didn’t matter as much, and other bloggers raised some questions and a few emails were bounced back and forth and we were told:

I would be loathe to believe that anyone thought ALL they were
supposed to do here are verbatim reports. The initial guidelines were
to support ways of communicating *your* take on the session, in
tandem with live reporting, but thtat *your* take be situated in a
non first-person way.

whatever that means.

anyway, i ended up just taking the approach of writing thoughtful reports that aim to give the gist of the session and some wider implications and connections that i see. i avoid extraneous first person references, but i don’t leave them out entirely.
let me know how you think i’m doing.

at the moment, it still seems pretty boring out there to me, and i’m a little sad about it, but i’m also too whisked up in the conference to give it much mind. i’m meeting people, thinking about my work, and trying to squeeze in time to write my thoughts to you…. so i suppose i shouldn’t complain.

we’ll see what happens on the flipside.
now i need to get some sleep.
tomorrow we are doing design club, and we need to be on our game.

The flyer we made for design club.  Where

congrats tammy, mona, anne and shunying

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

as many of you likely know by now, chick clique won the student design competition, bringing IU’s record up to 2 for 3.
health view also made us proud, really
it’s a bit of a warm fuzzy we’re-doing-something-right feeling, though i don’t envy the teams who will be burdened with the pressure next year. hopefully we can continue to channel it so that it helps us step up and churn out good work, rather than making us cocky or giving us ulcers. that’s a good kind of challenge to have.
another challenge, i must admit, is also presenting itself this year, and that is in keeping the sense of cross-program support alive and strong as we bring more and more people to CHI and start to fill more and more roles. last year, every one of the students who attended was an HCI student taking part in the design competition, and there was a really strong sense of being a part of something bigger. this year feels a little different, and part of it, i hate to admit, seems to come from the fact that we have such strong cross-program representation.
it’s a busy place, this conference, and when we don’t already have patterns of hanging out with each other, we don’t really form a lot of new ones.

so i don’t know if it’s a bad thing, but it’s on my mind.
it seems to mimic the larger cross-disciplinary communication issues that keep coming up all across the conference, so it’s something to watch.

design communication communication

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

i just walked in late to the panel on design communication, which i’ve been looking forward to.
we’re late because we branched out and walked through some of old montreal for lunch, and found a lovely little polish place, which was fun.

now i need to clear my head and focus, because right now i’m having a hard time picking out the key points that the design communication communicators are trying to communicate.
the final slide of the intro is still up, and it’s kind of boring, and the people are far away, and they seem to be talking in circles, and it’s just after lunch…
pay attention, kynthia!
perk up!!

jonathan doesn’t like the name “informatics”

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

so the other night at dinner i had the second conversation in my life where a european expressed complete alarm and not-very-cloaked disdain at the adoption of the word “informatics” by the english-speaking community as a way of describing this field we are shaping with a slightly more human focus than tends to come to mind when we think of “computers” or “information science”.
this is because “informatique” is already a word, and it is pretty much synonymous with computer science in europe. so the argument that “we needed a name that isn’t already laden with techie connotations” just holds absolutely no water at all.
i’m not saying this is the biggest concern facing the field, and it seems quite possible to just make the argument that shaking things up in the english-speaking world is a step in the right direction even if we have to think of another word elsewhere, but it also seems good to acknowledge that it confuses some people. yesterday the brit at the ischool panel said something like “we like the word ‘informatics’ because it doesn’t really mean anything, so we can define it however we want”, and that’s funny, but people also do take it to heart in a way, and it was a bit jarring to me because i had been talking the night before with someone just a hop over to the continent from that guy who had a very different perspective.

whoa it took 74 light years to post this, because the internet went down, and then it was lunch.
woohoo, lunch!
more on that in a bit.
this post is too old, already

the little things: item a

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

the little creamer cups that they have here for the coffee amuse me.
they say “2%” or “10%” and my first reaction to the latter was “whoa!! TEN percent?!”
and then i realized that it’s just half and half, and that’s quite accurate.
methinks they do not present this information to americans because it would Freak Them Out as they pretend health consciousness with their coffee and egg mcmuffin.

good form

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

for some folks who are a bit better at the as-we-go conference blogging than i am, check out:
i’m sure there are seventyteen unofficial blogs going on out there, in addition to the official ones, and it would be a good project to give a snapshot of that, but in the meantime, we do what we can…

and as i do what i can, i like reading that one of the presenters at the tagging panel RIGHT NOW is worried that his voice will be too hoarse because of a hangover.
we’re so trained to think that we shouldn’t ask and tell that stuff, but doesn’t it just make you want to go listen to him and cheer him on?

i would, except i’m cheering on the student design competition, so away i go

Panel: Institutionalizing HCI – What Do I-Schools Offer?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

This panel was a discussion of the trend towards the formation of “I-Schools”: schools of Information, Informatics, Information Science, or some similar derivative of the “I” word, and the issues that this trend raises for the CHI community as a whole. As HCI matures and becomes more institutionalized, we need to consider what sort of institution we want to be, and this panel was about exploring that question. The panelists were representatives of I-Schools from around the world – John Carroll (Pennsylvania State, US), Paul Dourish (University of California – Irvine, US), Batya Friedman (University of Washington, US), Masaaki Kurosu (Soken-dai, Japan), Gary Olson (University of Michigan, US), and Alistair Sutcliffe (University of Manchester, UK).
The main ideas that the panelists raised were that:

  • I-schools explicitly focus on the intersection of information, people, and technology, which leads to a more central role for HCI than is usually the case in schools of Computer Science or Engineering.
  • I-schools are interdisciplinary in nature, which:
  • provides a supportive and rich work environment within the school itself
  • encourages faculty and students to take a broad perspective — asking a wide range of questions, drawing on a wide range of theories, and reaching out to other areas of the university in order to deepen their work.
  • As independent units within the university, I-schools have a high level of autonomy, which gives HCI an institutional clout that it usually does not have when it is a less central component of a larger school.
  • I-Schools raise questions regarding the evolution of the relationship between HCI and CS, and not all of these questions are easy or pleasant.
  • (more…)