Triangle User Experience Professionals Association (TriUXPA)

Trip report: CHI 2006

06 May 2006 5:00 PM | Richard Phelps

I attended CHI 2006 in Montreal from April 24 - 27. CHI is the major conference for HCI research (in the broadest sense, ranging from input and interaction techniques to field studies of complex work situations). It also attracts a large community of practitioners, particularly from the major software and hardware companies. Attendance was estimated at 2,400+, which is up significantly from the past few years, implying a relatively robust tech industry, along with growing interest in HCI and UX. Recruiting was notably robust. Microsoft had so many job postings they needed a 3-ring binder to hold them all. Google, Yahoo, eBay and SAP also had large recruiting presences. Some thoughts from the sessions I attended: The Route to the Sea for User Value This panel, with managers from Oracle, Intuit, World Savings Bank, and Sony/Ericsson, addressed the perennial challenge of integrating effective UX work into product development processes. Jeremy Ashley (Oracle) argued strongly that "we [UX professionals] have to have influence"--we must work with and persuade complementary groups (such as documentation and performance engineering) of UX's importance. More broadly, we must assume accountability for UX, "no matter what." Blaming other groups for not accepting the UX perspective is self-defeating. Perhaps the best approach, said Janice Rohn (World Savings Bank), is to "start in the boardroom" by understanding executives' goals. The challenge is that while "nobody in the corporate world says usability isn't important, they don't understand what it entails." The range and depth of work required to create great user experiences is still widely unappreciated. UX practitioners need to build relationships with engineering and product development executives to help bridge this gap. Ultimately, the goal is to make UX practices ubiquitous, so that "it's not just UX saying it's important to improve the navigation, it's the business saying it's important to improve the navigation." Until we reach that product-development utopia, said Lisa Anderson (Intuit) it's critical to "follow through on your passions." Don't give up on what you believe is right for users, despite the obstacles. Human-Information Interaction This panel addressed the provocative question of whether studying human information interaction (AKA behavior) should be separate from (but complementary to) HCI. Peter Pirolli and Stu Card made strong arguments for focusing on deeper theoretical issues such as what information structures best support people's cognitive functions, and how to represent information in large "information landscapes." Research needs to address these fundamental issues instead of just developing and testing new types of interfaces or interaction styles. (So, if anything, HCI should be a subset of HII). Tagging An example of HII research might be tagging and social bookmarking practices. A large panel featuring Josh Schacter of and George Furnas of Michigan debated the purposes and uses of tags. Definitions of "tag" included: "annotations," "loose associations," "rich ways of linking disparate objects" and "nicknames for groups of things." While many interesting ideas were proposed (including the idea that tags are the harbinger of widespread growth of communities around metadata), I had the sense that our understanding of how tags are used is still limited. Discussion focused on recall (AKA refindability) and "distribution" (social sharing of tagged information). But answers are missing to the broad questions, What are tags used for? and Are tagging systems effective? So, developing a deep understanding of tagging practices and what underlying information problems these practices are addressing could be a significant contribution to "HII." This contribution, in turn, would support the develop of new interfaces for the creation and use of tags. Some recommended readings:


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