CHI2018

ACM, design, design research, HCI, hci research, Human-Computer Interaction, knowledge production, knowledge tools, research, science, SIGCHI, theory-practice gap

Looking forward to CHI2018 in Montreal, QC, Canada! This year I am humbled to be first author on one full paper and a contributing author on a second full paper. Two full papers! Huzzah! The first author paper examines the concept of the theory-practice gap as a generative metaphor. Here is the abstract:

The theory-practice gap is a well-known concept in HCI research. It provides a way of describing a space that allegedly exists between the theory and practice of the field, and it has inspired many researchers to propose ways to “bridge the gap.” In this paper, we propose a novel interpretation of the gap as a generative metaphor that frames problems and guides researchers towards possible solutions. We examine how the metaphor has emerged in HCI discourse, and what its limitations might be. We raise concerns about treating the gap as given or obvious, which could reflect researchers’ tendencies to adopt a problem solving perspective. We discuss the value of considering problem setting in relation to the theory-practice gap, and we explore Derrida’s strategy of “reversal” as a possible way to develop new metaphors to capture the relationship between theory and practice. (https://doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3174194)

I’m excited to talk about this ongoing project and discussing its potential with other members in the HCI research community. Onward!

doors-1767563_1920

New Citation Analysis Journal Pub

design, design research, HCI, hci research, research, science, Uncategorized

Great news! We sent the final author proof of our article Schön’s Intellectual Legacy: A Citation Analysis of DRS Publications (2010-2016) back to the copyeditors for publication at Design Studies, which is one of the premier journals in the design field.

The article should be online within a week or so of receiving the final proof (yesterday). So, hopefully you’ll soon be able to read the outcome of a project conceived at the 2015 EAD conference, initially published at the DRS2016, and extensively revised and submitted for Design Studies this year.

I’m pleased to add that Refseer, whose origin story begins with Citeseer, was recently rekindled, and we’re going to be exploring ways to apply and expand it within the scope of our citation analysis project.. Onward!

Community Data & Water Quality

design, design research, HCI, hci research, Human-Computer Interaction, research, science, Uncategorized

Most of my blog entries are announcements of publications or generic thought pieces about topics of interest. One thing I’d like to do differently going forward is keeping track of current research projects here at Penn State University’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction (C4HCI) as way of providing some insight and value to folks outside of my network; especially members of community organizations, local government, and industry.

water-2208931_1920

Community Data & Water Quality. A current project underway here at C4HCI has to do with water quality data as a kind of community data around which different stakeholders could organize and act. There are already several groups in State College collecting and analyzing water quality data, and our working assumption is that this data could be made accessible and interpretable to a wider group of residents.

In my view, and in an ideal case, the outcome of such would be a more data literate citizenry confident and capable to engage with local government around water quality (and other) policy and decision-making.

Tonight we held the first meeting of what we hope will be a series of conversations and workshops with folks who work for and with different water quality collection groups in Centre County, including: ClearWater Conservancy, PaSEC, WRMP, and Trout Unlimited. The goal of the meeting was to share our vision for a possible project built around water quality data and to engage in a meaningful conversation about what a collaboration between our groups could look like. The meeting was great. Our group learned a lot about the kinds of data these different organizations collect and about some of the barriers to sharing/using the data that we had not yet considered. We even identified a possible opportunity for supporting (one of) their efforts to build out an online resource for community members to learn more about water quality issues.

Looking forward to more!

Writing/Thinking

design, design research, HCI, hci research, Human-Computer Interaction, SIGCHI, theory-practice gap, Uncategorized

This year was a good one for CHI rebuttal writing. I say that not knowing whether our rebuttal swayed any of the reviewers one way or another. But we took a different approach for this year’s CHI reviews than we have in year’s past. This year, we made changes to our paper as we wrote the rebuttal. Changing the paper became a way to think through the viability and possibility of each critique, and the rebuttal became (primarily) a record of changes already made to the submission. It may not be an approach for everyone, but I totally recommend trying it to see whether and how it works. And, I’d be curious to hear from others who take this approach when writing rebuttals (with short turnaround times) about how it has worked!

the Echo as a pain point

design, design research, HCI, hci research, Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction Design, User experience, UX

i just got an email from Amazon letting me know what’s new with Alexa! I read the very first sentences,

Life is unpredictable. Let me help.

, and i wondered whether Alexa (and other things like it) might be slowly chipping away at my capacity to deal with unpredictability. Do I cope with it less effectively? Do I get more frustrated when things don’t go according to plan?

IASDR 2017

art, design, design research, HCI, hci research, HCI/d, Human-Computer Interaction, knowledge production, knowledge tools, Uncategorized

Some additional good news to report. I submitted an abstract for a short paper to the upcoming IASDR conference in Cincinnati about some early-stage research that I’m working on with Erik Stolterman, and the abstract has been accepted! So now we’re writing the short paper and creating a poster to present at the conference.

Here is the abstract we submitted:

Scholars in a variety of academic disciplines have studied the peer review process. There are examinations of the biases that pervade peer review (Lee, Sugimoto, Zhang, & Cronin, 2013). Other studies propose tools or methods that might be useful for improving or standardizing the peer review process (Hames, 2008; Onitilo, Engel, Salzman-Scott, Stankowski, & Doi, 2013). Still others examine the kinds of criteria that ought to be relied upon in peer review processes, and in some cases these criteria are widely known and agreed upon. In the natural sciences, for example, we might say that there is a relatively stable set of criteria that can be used to assess the rigor, relevance, and validity of a scientific knowledge contribution. In this paper, our aim is to examine the process of peer review as it pertains to research through design. We aspire to build an understanding of the criteria scholars use when a design or prototype is the main contribution. How do reviewers evaluate designs as knowledge contributions? Is there any uniformity or stability to the review criteria? Are criteria from other fields (e.g. scientific criteria) used to evaluate designs? Toward this end, we report the outcome of a survey conducted with a group of meta-reviewers (n=15) from the design subcommittee for the 2017 Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference, which is the flagship conference in our field of expertise. The design subcommittee reviews papers that “make a significant designerly contribution to HCI [including but not limited to] novel designs of interactive products, services, or systems that advance the state of the art.” Our findings suggest that there is little agreement on a common set of criteria for evaluating research through design.

I look forward to sharing more as this important project moves forward!

On the Amazon Echo

design, design research, HCI, hci research, HCI/d, Human-Computer Interaction, Uncategorized
Note: This is an old post that I guess I never published. Hence the 2016 Labor Day reference.

 

Over labor day weekend (2016) I had some trouble with Alexa. But that’s all I know. I don’t know anything about the cause or anything about possible solutions. Here’s what happened.

On Sunday morning I asked Alexa to tell me the weather. The blue ‘listening’ light appeared and bounced around for a few moments longer than usual and then.. nothing. No ‘flickering’ lights to indicate that she was processing my request and no telling of the weather. What the heck?

And then an ominous red ring of light pulsed a few times and Alexa spoke. Something about how the echo had lost its connection followed by silence followed by “I’m having trouble understanding right now, please try again later,” or something along those lines.

No matter what I requested (or when I requested it) this same sequence of events played out so many times during the day Sunday and Monday. And I have no idea why! I opened the Alexa app on my phone to see if there might be anything helpful there. Nope. Nothing. The app gave me every indication that the Echo should be working. While it was frustrating enough that things were going wrong, it was even more frustrating that the most straightforward way I had of finding out what those things might be (the app) contradicted the fact that there was even a problem.

I use the Echo mostly for banal stuff like getting the news, weather, playing music, and adding items to digital shopping lists. I do have it paired with a smart thermostat, though. What if the Echo were an integral part of how I manage my day-to-day life and what if I had it paired with other smart devices (lights, a fridge, a car). It would be like multiple colleagues being out of the office without having giving any reason thus requiring you to change your schedule and take on a bunch of tasks that you no longer do. Not cool.

I don’t know what the takeaway is here: feedback is important, it’s better to know than not know, the Amazon Echo gives poor feedback, nodal point amenities (I’m making this up this stuff as I go along..) can make day-to-day life just a little bit better but when they fail they can induce anxiety and stress. Somehow I think this relates to the concept of faceless interaction. In the middle of the day on Sunday, staring at that broken cylindrical speaker in my kitchen, I wished, oh how I wished, for a screen.

Adolescence as a Metaphor for HCI

design, design research, design theory, HCI, hci research, HCI/d, Human-Computer Interaction, Informatics, theory, theory building, theory development, theory-practice gap

Early in the book HCI Theory, Yvonne Rogers takes a few pages to establish that research in the field is rapidly expanding/diversifying and that it’s difficult to pin down just what kind of field HCI is and what kind of research academics who identify as “HCI researchers” do. Somewhere in those first few pages, she characterizes the field as being in its adolescence and there are other bits of language that support this metaphor (e.g. she describes its “growing pains” etc.). It’s not part of her aim to spend time examining the metaphor of adolescence in any kind of depth, but some of the key ideas in the book make exploring the metaphor seems like a good use of time.

Consider the concerns she expresses over the weakening theoretical adequacy of the field. For now let’s assume this means the degree to which HCI has developed theories that explain or describe its core objects of study. Let’s also assume HCI knows/agrees upon what it’s core objects of study are. Is it reasonable to expect that a field born in the eighties to be theoretically adequate? No. But this strikes me as a totally reasonable adolescent expectation!

I don’t think HCI researchers know what their core objects of study are (or should be), but, riffing on the adolescent metaphor, why should it? Is it because we indulge an almost mythical narrative about how life is supposed to unfold? Should we expect to have our core interests “defined” or “figured out” in our adolescence? I don’t think so, but I know that’s a dominant mental model… in Western culture at least.

In adolescence we experience what HCI has been experiencing — a proliferation (in both volume and speed) of information. Tons of different things to study and different ways of studying them. One result of this is the anxious self reflection that our research doesn’t seem to fit or that everyone else seems to have their role and contribution figured out “except me.” And it can be (and obviously is, for some) overwhelming.

I had a good chat with some colleagues recently about trying to pin down a reading list of canonical HCI texts. But the truth is that there probably isn’t (a) canon nor can there be (one). But a canon is exactly what an adolescent craves because a canon provides identity and, through identity, stability. In other words, a canon provides reassurance that when the time comes, we’ll be able to point to it and say, “This is the foundation of our field.” We know who we are and where we come from and maybe even where we’re going. This arc is reflected in how Rogers organizes her book. Just read the abstract and table of contents. She wants to provide this!

And this, again, is what most need when they’re young (myself included).  The world can seem a complex and scary place without the presence of a few useful frames to make sense of it all. And when it all comes at you so fast and in such high volume, maybe it’s quite a reasonable reaction to retreat and reflect. To try and find the core. The foundation. But things only seem/appear/feel dim if we focus on the parts of the metaphor that Rogers’ brings into focus.

Incidentally, the same thing happens with the theory-practice gap metaphor. We focus on what’s not there and as a consequence we never look elsewhere to see what’s going on.

For the adolescent metaphor (and its apparently generalizable ‘identity crisis’) we don’t stop to think, “Huh, well, what comes after adolescence?” Potentially a lot of really excellent deep insights and cool theoretical work! In fact, lots of cool stuff like this happens during adolescence, too. That much is also clear from Rogers’ text even if it paints an unsettling picture to begin with.. So, sure, the short term might — and I’m really emphasizing the might here — might seem like a confusing mix of questions, approaches, and contributions coming so quickly that we feel validated in our concern that the field is spinning out of control. But, that’s what adolescence is for most folks.

There is a ton of interesting theory work going on in the field! We’re developing theories originating in other fields and we’re developing our own! Check out the theory project page for some good citations. I can understand why someone might choose to frame the field in terms of weakening theoretical adequacy even though I disagree with it. Its negative charge is too strong. It strikes me as a “let’s be reactive and protect against this outcome from happening” instead of a “Let’s cultivate the good theory work that’s already happening.” Yvonne Rogers framing can be read as a warning and so I think it skews towards the former. However, the latter is in my view morally superior.

Adolescence brings with it enough anxiety. We don’t need to be fearful of possible future outcomes. That only subtly undermines our ability to do good work now.

About The Theory-Practice Gap

design, design research, design theory, HCI, hci research, Human-Computer Interaction, Informatics, Interaction Design, knowledge production, knowledge tools, theory, theory building, theory-practice gap, Uncategorized

I’ve been spending some time looking through the CHI best paper award winners from the past five years — all the while continuing to think about the theory-practice gap. And now I have a question. How is it that we distinguish between theorists and practitioners? Who is creating the knowledge that seems to lack practical utility or accessibility?

Just looking at the best papers, one might be struck by the volume of publications using theory, models, frameworks, etc. to do design work. And judging from the author credentials, there is quite a lot of industry collaboration, which makes me think that practitioners (if an academic/industry credential could be casually used to make this distinction) are not only using theory but they are in some cases actively contributing to it.

The theory-practice gap is simple, useful metaphor in the sense that it has guided researchers to ask interesting questions and pursue intriguing and insightful projects — think about things like intermediate-level knowledge objects — but the metaphor has been used for quite a long time (in HCI and in other disciplines) and I’m curious to know whether it has outlived its relevance in spite of its apparent utility.

The Problem of Problem-setting

design, design research, design theory, HCI, hci research, HCI/d, Human-Computer Interaction, knowledge production

One of the more interesting and recent questions I’ve been thinking about has to do with the theory-practice gap in HCI research. Now, I have very little interest at the moment in bridging the gap. And really there are plenty of folks in the field working on this problem. I’m more interested in the theory-practice gap itself.

I’m especially interested in the fact that when the gap appears in the literature it does so without much criticism or reflection. I haven’t come across any examples yet (in HCI literature) where the gap is discussed as an interpretation of data. Whereas other folks in different disciplines (nursing, for example) have discussed it in this way.

Some HCI practitioners report lacking time and other resources to spend on theory. Others disengage (or do not engage in the first place) with conferences like CHI or DIS because they are too theoretical. These sorts of ‘facts’ have been reported in journal and conference publications, and they have fueled characterizations of theory and practice as separated by a gap, as uneasy bedfellows, and even as seller and buyer.

Each of these ways of framing reality has implications for the kinds of questions researchers ask and the kinds of knowledge they generate in response to the problem. This is important. The problem is set. It’s made. It’s not given. So why don’t we as a discipline spend more time thinking about that?