April 26, 2006

SIG - CHI Design Community

Wednesday, April 26, 16:30 - 18:00

The CHI design community is concerned, in one way or another, about the question of how to better incorporate a meaningful and productive dialogue about design work into the conference culture of CHI. There was a general vibe of frustration in the room regarding the difficulty of getting design work accepted in paper form, and this led to questions about whether the current reviewing panels really include enough people who know enough about design to offer a fair and informed critique. David Gilmore and the other committee representatives charged the people in the room to step up to that challenge, saying that they had an incredibly difficult time finding designers who were willing to serve as reviewers this year, so pointing the finger at CHI is not entirely fair.

This challenge seemed to be fairly well received, but other issues arose, including

The key questions here are ones that have come up over and over at panels, SIGs, and dinner tables throughout the week. As HCI grows and really comes into its own as an interdisciplinary field, it becomes more difficult to handle that interdisciplinarity in a way that doesn't splinter us apart. Each of the subdisciplines of HCI have their own questions, passions, and problems to hash out, and they need space with each other where they can really get down to business and figure out what needs to be done. But we also need channels of communication between the disciplines, which involves making an effort to both show our work to others and look at work that others are doing, even when it might not seem to apply at first glance.

Several of the participants in the Design SIG spoke to the power of CHI as a place to spur new ideas, build new collaborative relationships, and just generally step back and see what else is out there and what lights people up across the community. This sort of bridge building seems to be the strength of CHI, but for it to work, everyone needs to feel like they are able to bring their own work on their own terms and also get the feedback of their closer peers. There seems to be a fear on this front among designers - they feel like the hurdles for submitting to CHI are often too great, and that the guidelines are not well grounded in the reality of their work experience. As a result, designers are feeling nudged out of CHI even as design itself is becoming more of a central focus in conversations about the future of HCI. Some fears were expressed that, if CHI doesn't make more of an effort to reach out to a broader array of designers, including members of organizations like the IDSA, who may or may not even know that CHI exists, CHI will be in danger of becoming something of a dinosaur, tromping along without really acknowledging the realities of the work that has evolved from its earlier days. No one really seemed to prefer this outcome, but there was a rather pronounced air of uncertainty and confusion in the room.

David's main response was to encourage feedback to the conference committee. The calls for next year have not gone out yet, so designers who have suggestions for ways that their work might be better supported should contact the planning committee. A few ideas were thrown out, including a "Practitioner's Competition" in the spirit of the Student Design Competition, where practitioners are given a problem at the beginning of the conference and charged to come up with designs to present for review by the end. Something similar to this was apparently tried in 2000 or so, with mixed success. The idea seemed to strike a chord with the audience, however, so perhaps it is worth another chance. Another idea was to build in more support for something like a two-year submission cycle, where practitioners submit exciting work in a more deliverable-oriented form, and then researchers take up the opportunity to test some of the methods and ideas in papers for the following year. This collaborative spirit is something that David says that the Experience Reports are meant to encourage, but it is not yet clear whether that will happen without further inducement.

All in all, the issues raised in this SIG seem widely applicable to the community as a whole, as we all work to both refine our own practice and enlarge our field of vision by keeping up with the work that like-minded people are doing in other areas. Doing our best to make CHI a place where this kind of juggling act is facilitated, and perhaps even eased a bit, seems a daunting yet vital goal.

Posted by sv9 at 02:18 PM | Comments (2)

April 24, 2006

International Usability Evaluation: Issues and Strategies - Session Notes

A summary of discussions by Apala Lahiri Chavan from Human Factors International, by Aaron Marcus from Aaron Marcus and Associates, and from the participants.

Apala Lahiri Chavan, Human Factors International, India
- We cannot apply first-world usability techniques to other cultures.

- Users experience a much more emotional response to technology.
- Storytelling is often much richer than surveys.
- Participants need to be put in a more natural setting, such as a bazaar or a movie.

Aaron Marcus, Aaron Marcus and Associates, USA
- Culture is an extremely ambiguous idea with a multitude of prominant factors (Hofstede, Schwartz).
- All the same, we need to note and remember cultural differences.

Future Possibilies
- Formalization of cultural dimensions
- Development of more appropriate diagramming tools
- Creation of "culturebases," to enable wider communities to collaborate on culturally-informed solutions

Comments from Participants
- Users from Asia are much more reserved about providing critiques.
- In the case of Singapore, multilingual surveys are required to get the riches data from participants.
- We need more formal and informal dialogue within the international usability community.t

Posted by sv1 at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

International Usability Evaluation: Issues and Strategies - Commentary

In this SIG, practitioners will discuss challenges they faced in selecting and customizing methods for international usability design. Facilitators and then participants will contribute experiences, case studies, and helpful multicultural contacts.

Emilie W. Gould
Aaron Marcus
Apala Lahiri Chavan
Huatong (Hannah) Sun

"You are stationed in Ahmedabad for a short consulting stint, miles away from your home in New Delhi. Late one evening, your partner rushes up to you in your hotel, clearly in a state of panic, and cries out the following story:

I'm doomed. My parents have just called; they want me to go back to Delhi because there is a boy just arrived from America who wants an Indian bride, and they think we would be the perfect match! You know I love my boyfriend in Bombay. We've been together so long... but I just haven't been able to tell my parents about him. What am I going to do? My life is over!"

Is this a classic scene from Bollywood?
...Or an elaborate scenario for usability testing in India?

Actually, it's a bit of both. Apala Lahiri Chavan from Human Factors International, India, and Aaron Marcus from Aaron Marcus and Associates take us on a roaming tour of how Western standards of usability standing are built on a precarious platform of cultural assumptions.

Take think-alouds, the classic, first-order approach to getting inside the user's head. A typical Westerner might have no problem with a usability analyst metaphorically "peering over their shoulder" into the volcano of his mind; but in India and China, where class and caste are so embedded in the day-to-day social interactions of people, the mind is a much harder nut to crack.

Users will squint and sweat their way through yellow text on red backgrounds, and at the end report that, "the interface was very pretty."
They'll see a website crammed with meaningless links, pictures, and boxes, and say, "Wow, you must have spent a lot of time on this!"

So we need to think outside of the box. We need to remember to put users in an environment in which they are not afraid to express the best and the worst of their opinion. Sometimes this means bringing in the youngest, least experienced usability professional to conduct the interviews. Sometimes it means ditching the Likert scale in favour of "happy dolls" and "angry dolls" to rate a feature.

And sometimes, it means turning to Bollywood.

Posted by sv1 at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)