From May 4-9, 2019, the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems took place in Glasgow, Scotland. Called “CHI” for short, this annual and prominent event brings together thousands of the world’s leading researchers, designers, and scientists in human-computer interaction.
Design Lab members walked away with a number of awards for their research. Post-doctoral Fellow Sarah Fox won a Best Paper Award for “Managerial Visions: Stories of upgrading and maintaining the public restroom with IoT”. Honorable Mentions went to Graduate Student Dorothy Howard and Professor Lilly Irani for “Ways of Knowing When Research Subjects Care”, and Graduate Student Sean Kross and Professor Philip Guo for “Practitioners Teaching Data Science in Industry and Academia”.
Graudate Students Ailie Fraser and Tricia Ngoon, and Professor Scott Klemmer also received an Honorable Mention for “RePlay: Contextually Presenting Learning Videos Across Software Applications”. “A lot of the time when you’re working in complex software, you’ll end up searching the internet for some kind of help … but it can be really hard to sift through all the search results, and figure out what parts are relevant to you and your particular task,” says Fraser. “We built a system called RePlay that supports you across different applications as you’re working, and makes it easier to find relevant help.”
CHI attracts people from many disciplines around the world within HCI, giving attendees the chance to interact with different fields of research.
Ngoon participated in a Doctoral Consortium, where students present their thesis work and receive feedback from peers and faculty mentors. “What I liked about it was that you got to hear from these very different spectrums of research, and because it’s CHI and it’s so broad, I don’t think you’d get that elsewhere because it’s a little more niche,” Ngoon says.
This year, some Design Lab attendees chose to focus on talks or sessions from subfields outside their core research areas.
“The first session I went to was on social justice, but the work in that domain is relevant and interesting being that they talked about things like resources for domestic abuse victims, and the design space of how do you help these people. One of the takeaways from that talk was the idea that if we designed for everyone, we couldn’t help anyone [because] services would be flooded and they wouldn’t be able to prioritize anyone,” says graduate student Steven Rick. “I thought that was really nice to think about because in health that’s very much a problem — you only have so much bandwidth, you only have so many resources you can provide. Not only do we want people in rural places to see specialists, but specialists also need to see people who are close to them, and one neurologist can’t see 100 patients a day. So, how do you design to resolve those inherent bottlenecks or even think about those bottlenecks at all.”
Listening to talks from other subfields was also valuable for Ph.D. student Sean Kross. “Even though the talk might be in a completely different field that isn’t directly related to what I do, it’s important to go out and see what other people are interested in and what their discoveries are. I think that those findings do have a major impact on how I think about my work,” he says. “One strategy is you can take a method that other researchers have already validated, and you can apply that to something else. Talks make me reconsider what tools I take for granted in my life that I could translate into something useful or innovative in my research.”
CHI’s attendance has been growing every year; in 2018, the conference surpassed 3,000 participants, and that number is only increasing. Because of the large nature of the conference, workshops are a great way to connect with a smaller group of people.
“I really enjoyed the [live streaming] workshop that I attended because it gave me a chance to do some very interactive, collaborative work with a small group of people,” says Fraser. “This one had around 15 people, so it was very intimate. We spent the first hour or two on presentations, but really the rest of the day was generating ideas, working together and brainstorming, and sticking post-it notes everywhere. So that was really fun; I feel like we came up with a bunch of interesting ideas, and I made a lot of great connections that I hope to follow up on.”
This year marked the first time CHI was held in Scotland. “My last name is Fraser, which is a [Scottish] clan, and my first name is also Scottish, so it was really cool to get to go and see a lot of the culture there and the history,” says Fraser. “I think it was a very welcoming place, which is nice for CHI; lots of bagpipes, lots of music everywhere, and everyone was very nice and very friendly.”
The 2019 conference theme was “Weaving the Threads of CHI,” and CHI has once again proven to be an amazing platform to gather the greater HCI community to focus on advances in interactive technology.
“It might sound a little negative, but you don’t go to conferences to read papers and listen to talks. That’s a nice side effect of the fact that you’re all gathering under a common theme, so you can get together and listen to research and think about interesting stuff,” says Rick. “But at its core, you go for the network. You go to see people, to talk, to do stuff that’s not explicitly tied to the papers that are being presented. Because they’re all going to end up online, and you’ll read them later, and you hope that the talks give you something that’s not in the paper, and the conversations you have after the talks with the authors prompt an idea or thought that neither of you thought of, or build a collaboration or give you access to something that you didn’t have. You’re looking for a mutually beneficial social experience.”
CHI 2019 Design Lab Publications:
Managerial Visions: Stories of upgrading and maintaining the public restroom with IoT, Sarah Fox, Kiley Sobel, Daniela Rosner. May 2019. CHI ’19: Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems