At CHI? Why? Or why not? -> Summary, etc.

3 May 2006 - 7:49am
10 years ago
1 reply
874 reads
Tom Erickson

A bit over a week ago I asked the list their opinions about the new
CHI program. Most responses from the list were not particularly
substantive (and as far as I can tell, all from people not at CHI),
but as several expressed curiosity about how CHI went this year, I
thought I'd share my two cents (based on my own experience,
attendance at the design SIG, an informal survey of design oriented
sessions, and chats with a lot of people).

The bottom line for me is that the jury is still out, but that
progress is being made.

To my eyes (and those of others) there are a lot more events of
interest to designers and practitioners at CHI. Even long papers,
which is typically not terribly design friendly territory, had some
things of interest, perhaps because of a special effort to make sure
that paper's flagged of interest to the design community were
reviewed by people with both academic and design credentials. I
thought there were some very good experience reports. And, in the
design SIG, there was a lot of interest and discussion about
experience reports and how they are reviewed (it's a different and
much less 'academic' model than papers), and also, to be honest, some
frustration and confusion--I'm optimistic that this is going to
receive a lot of attention in the coming year. Most heartening, there
seems to be significant interest from designers/practitioners in
participating. [And if you're interested in participating, I urge you
to get in touch with the CHI '07 design community chairs, Jon Kolko
of the Savannah College of Art and Design (who posted here just a few
days ago), and Bill Lucas of Maya Design, both of whom seem really
enthusiastic and committed.]

I think the combination of interest and new venues will make CHI
considerably more attractive for IxD folk and other practitioners. In
terms of new innovations, the big hit of CHI appeared to be the "CHI
madness session" each morning, in which each individual presenter of
the day had about 30 seconds to give a summary with one slide of
their talk -- this makes it *much* easier to figure out what to go
see, and gives a very nice sense of the breadth and diversity of the
conference. It's likely that the other new innovations will continue
next year, though some will receive some tweaking. The surveys aren't
in, but the new model of courses integrated with the sessions
appeared well received (judging from attendance). The addition of a
day to the conference is more difficult to assess -- people were
ambivalent about wanting another day's content -- and even with the
CHI madness sessions, the program is complex to navigate, but on the
other hand a lot of people commented that the extra day made it
significantly easier to chat with everyone (that was my experience,
as well). Finally, in spite of the new prices -- which were received
with considerable dismay by some -- attendance was quite good
(including a record number of student attendees).

Personally, I enjoyed CHI more than I have in years.

Thanks to all who sent feedback.


Tom Erickson
IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
Email: snowfall at (preferred); snowfall at confidential)


3 May 2006 - 2:50pm
Jonas Löwgren

Picking up on Tom's thread, I thought I might add a few lines since I
was at CHI. (Well, only for 3 days out of 4, but still..)

Tom's summary matches my impressions quite well. But: I am not sure
about how, or whether, Tom makes distinctions between the design
community and the concept of practitioners.

As a person being employed by a university to do research through
design and research for design (specifically, interaction design), I
found that the number of times "design" was referred to at the
conference paper sessions by far exceeded the actual design quality
of the work being presented in the same paper sessions.

Three main comments, very brief:

- The design quality of the concepts/prototypes presented as
contributions in research papers was variable, to put it gently;
- The reporting of design work frequently lacked rigor and substance
-- in terms of judgments, deliberations, explorations of
alternatives, or rationale for key decisions;
- "Users" and "user testing" are assumed to provide the "right"
assessments by default, even when very few people or the wrong people
are enlisted to use the prototype for a little while in a highly
artificial situation.

It is not hard to see how these three comments relate to each other.

Why am I making these grumpy remarks, anyway? Because I see another
possible role of a design community at CHI (possible different from
IxD practitioners), which would be to engage in design and rigorous
discourse around it as a way to collaboratively construct knowledge.
Like any other academic community does within its field of expertise.
The paper program, the panels, the alt.chi and the experience reports
I managed to catch at this year's CHI still seem to have a bit of
work to do in this respect.

Jonas Löwgren

Arts and Communication
Malmö University, SE-205 06 Malmö, Sweden

phone +46 7039 17854

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