Category Archives: Conferences

UX Cambridge: A good debut with Sigma UK

I’ve just returned from the UX Cambridge conference, having had a wonderful time. I attended interesting, high-quality presentations and gave two myself that were very well received. I met fascinating people and had exciting, energizing conversations. All in all, a great experience.

My major presentation was a one-hour tutorial on designing for older adults. Titled “Older adults: Are we really designing for our future selves?“, the tutorial discussed the common slogan “designing for our future selves” and teased apart the two types of issues that people face as they age — challenges due to changes in our bodies, and challenges due to unfamiliarity with newer technology — and discussed the implications that those two types of challenges present for the design process. I used examples from my own experience of aging (I’m just shy of 64 now) to illustrate and personalize the issues. For example, I didn’t need reading glasses until ten years later than most people do, and I’m still using a low-power magnification; but I’m probably a little early with the challenge of dexterity and stability of my hands, as I have both mild osteoarthritis and essential tremor. The tutorial elicited a lot of great questions, and the exercises saw lively discussion among the participants. People said (and tweeted) a lot of nice things about it, and I had some great conversations afterwards. The slides are on the Sigma Slideshare.

The other presentation was one of the “lightning talks” that these conferences run at the end of the second day. At one of the talks the first day, I had asked a question and raised some objections based on the answer, so the organizers asked me to do a lightning talk. Rather than speak about that objection (which would have taken me longer to prepare), I spoke against the oft-stated idea that a product “should be usable with no training”. Here are the slides from my lightning talk. The Sigma team are planning a blog post about it, so stay tuned. This talk elicited some great questions as well.

This was my first foray into representing Sigma at professional events, and I’d say it went rather well.

It was also my first visit to Cambridge, and I think I’ll enjoy living there.

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CHI 2016 poster for my late-breaking work

In my last post I wrote that I had submitted a thing to the Late-Breaking Work venue of the CHI 2016 conference. For some reason I neglected to add a post saying that my submission was accepted. Odd that I would forget something like that.

Transcendhance poster for CHI 2016 (small version)Anyhow, it was accepted. LBWs are presented as posters, and I’ve just finished preparing mine. You can find the “paper” on the “Papers” page of this blog and you can see a larger version of the poster (one where the text is actually legible) by clicking on the smaller version on this page. (I put “paper” in quotation marks because it’s not considered a paper in the CHI sense of a full research paper that gives quasi-maximum kudos and counts toward academic tenure.)

I’m on the schedule for the Wednesday and Thurssday, so if you’re at CHI I hope you’ll stop by and talk to me during the conference reception or one of the relevant coffee breaks. See you there!

Guerrilla IA – a workshop at UCD-UK 2015

I’ve just learned that Adam Babajee-Pycroft and I will be giving a workshop at the User-Centred Design UK 2015 conference (London, 24-25 October). Called “Guerrilla IA: Drafting an Information Structure When You Can’t Do a Card Sort”, the workshop builds on a talk I gave at World Information Archicture Day 2014, in Bristol. (Here’s my blog post about that talk.) While analyzing comments for a paper on YouTube meditation videos, I realized that the technique I was using (“inductive content analysis”) was building me an information architecture, and that it was a technique that could be useful to IA practice. So I presented this idea to a group of information architects (duh! :-) and Adam approached me afterwards to ask a few questions. He told me he was about to begin a project that would be a good candidate for trying it out, and I was excited to learn that my goal of bringing research into practice might bear fruit so quickly (if goals can be said to bear fruit). Well, the technique turned out to work very well on his project, and the two of us have teamed up to create a workshop/tutorial to introduce and teach people how to use it. We will be giving this workshop for the first time at UCD-UK, so come join us! And stay tuned for further developments. :-)

Thoughts on NordiCHI 2014

I may be jumping the gun slightly, posting this tonight when there’s one more day of NordiCHI to go, but my talk was first thing this morning and a lot has happened since then.

I got up at 4:45 to rehearse a couple of more times for a 9am talk. I made a few mistakes in the talk itself, but nothing earth shattering — and I finished on time. Only one person asked me a question during the session itself, and I was kind of disappointed in that (I figured it indicated relatively little interest), but during the rest of the day at least a dozen people came up to me to say how much they enjoyed it, and most of them asked questions or wanted to talk further. Some of the questions were about imaginary abstracts (which are peripheral to the focus of my research, but useful nonetheless) and some were about techno-spirituality (which is the focus of my research :-). Two people urged Mark* and me to participate in future conferences, one about design for quality of life (in 2015) and the other a science fiction track in a 2016 conference. I said I’d love to (of course :-) and would pass the word along to Mark. (Which I promptly did. And of course he was delighted to hear that. :-) I was also invited to give talks to two groups at Edinburgh University in the new year, and of course I said yes. :-)

Lots of interest, lots of interest. Conferences really do wonders for my mood. I skipped the second session this morning to read the papers that were going to be presented in the session I was chairing during the third session, and while I was sitting there I was approached by a guy with a video camera, who said he was asking people to express their reactions to NordiCHI in one word. Mine came to me right away — “energizing” — and he filmed me saying that. “Energizing!” I suspect they’re going to use the clips in the closing plenary event, which I think is pretty cool.

There’s so much going on in the European academic community. I would dearly love to find a way to remain part of it. Stay tuned.

P.S. I’ll put the slides on SlideShare before long. But before I can do that, we have to indicate the sources of the images we’ve used.


*For new readers of this blog, “Mark” is Mark Blythe, my primary PhD supervisor and coauthor of the three published papers to which I’ve contributed. I’m first author on two of them; Mark is first author on the one I presented this morning.

A bit of catching up on the blog…

…after an overlong gap…

I haven’t written a blog post here in more than three months. Zowie. I can’t say I’ve been any busier than usual, so I really don’t have any excuse. But a lot has happened since my last post. Here are the highlights.

CHI 2014

At the CHI 2014 conference (Toronto, late April – early May) I participated in the Doctoral Consortium, two days of discussion with 13 other PhD students (there were supposed to be 15 of us in total but one couldn’t make it) and six “faculty” members who gave us feedback and other useful information. Most of the presentations were excellent, I thought, and I got some very useful and valuable feedback on mine. Each student had a principal “discussant”, who began the conversation after the student’s 20-minute presentation/summary; after the discussant’s comments the other faculty members gave their feedback, and sometimes other students asked questions or offered comments as well. Each of us took notes for one of the other students. My discussant was Bill Buxton, and his first comment just delighted me: “I had all sorts of questions from reading your submission, but in your presentation you answered them all.” He did go on to make some suggestions for things I might consider, as did the other faculty members. More than one of them sent me emails with suggested readings.

Then there was the rest of CHI. Other than hearing interesting talks and seeing people I care about and don’t get to see elsewhere, the best part was meeting, quite by accident, Nathan Matias of the MIT Media Lab, who is interested in digital pilgrimage (a type of techno-spirituality, no?) and who expressed interest in collaborating with me on such a project. We have yet to set up a time to have a more in-depth conversation about it, but I am confident that the mutual interest is there.

Here’s my PowerPoint presentation to the doctoral consortium. I’ll upload my submission later.

Visit to USA

After CHI, since I was already on the west side of the Pond, I took myself down to the States to visit family (North Carolina) and friends (Maryland, mostly, but also other parts of the DC area). This time I stayed in an AirBnB room — I didn’t want to burden people I’d stayed with before, and almost everyone else I know well enough to ask for hospitality has cats (to which I am, sadly, allergic). I met with my accountant and got my 2013 taxes straightened out. I had dinner(s) with some close friends. I went to CSC Headquarters to talk about how I might fit into the reorganized group to which I have been assigned. And I conducted interviews for my PhD research. I came back to the UK with eleven new recordings and some really good data. (I am still transcribing them.)

Northumbria Research Conference

In late May I gave a shorter version of last year’s DPPI talk, “Meditations on YouTube” at the two-day Northumbria Research Conference. At this venue the technology wouldn’t cooperate and so I couldn’t play clips of the videos, but I think it went OK.

Scottish Unitarian Association

I had been invited to lead the service at the end of the Scottish Unitarian Association’s annual general assembly (I think that’s what they call it), so I drew on what I’ve been learning about awe and wonder in my reading of literature on spiritual/numinous/transcendent/peak experiences and made it about awe and wonder. People said they liked it and it gave them something to think about, so I’m happy. (I will be giving a slightly longer version to the Newcastle Unitarians in October.)

I took an extra couple of days and explored Dundee, where the meeting was held. I stayed with a member of the Dundee congregation, and I feel I’ve made a new friend. She told me I have “a very Scottish face” — a wonderful compliment to receive from a native. (I have noticed that Scots tend to treat me as a native [until I open my mouth, of course :-)], but it’s nice to hear it expressed outright. Now, if Scotland would just go independent and relax their immigration policies to include anyone who can prove Scottish ancestry within the last 300 years… (I do have a Gaelic surname, after all!)

NordiCHI paper accepted

Just before CHI, my supervisor and I had submitted a paper to the NordiCHI 2014 conference*, to be held in Helsinki, Finland, in late October. About the end of June, we received word that it had been accepted! Mark is first author on this paper and we don’t know who will be going there to present it, but I do hope it’s me. (He agrees, but it’s not entirely up to the two of us, so we’ll see. Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed!) The paper is called “Chatbots of the Gods: Imaginary Abstracts for Techno-Spirituality Research” (Mark is truly a genius at writing titles), and it combines our work on imaginary abstracts (a type of design fiction) and techno-spirituality with the treatment of spirituality and religion in science fiction. Here’s the abstract:

This paper reflects on the intersection of human-computer interaction (HCI) with techno-spirituality and science fiction (SF). We consider science fiction treatments of spirituality, religion and “the numinous” — a mysterious presence that evokes fascination, awe and sometimes dread — as stimulus for exploring techno-spiritual design through “imaginary abstracts”, a form of design fiction. We present an imaginary abstract — a summary of a paper that has not been written about a prototype that does not exist — to explore possible user reactions to an artificial intelligence system that provides spiritual advice drawn from diverse sacred texts as relevant to the user’s question. We argue that SF is a valuable resource for creating design fiction and may help HCI build a vocabulary for techno-spiritual experiences.

We got some excellent feedback from our three reviewers (I totally adore informed, thoughtful reviewers!) and are now preparing the camera-ready version, which is due next Monday. I’ll post a link to that when I am allowed to provide the publication version (with ACM copyright notice and all).

Tallis Scholars Summer School 2014

Earlier this month I spent a week in the East Midlands of England, in a picturesque and charming town called Uppingham, to spend a week singing the music of (mostly) Thomas Tallis and Willliam Byrd, composers of the middle and late 1500s. This was my second year there, and as I had last year I enjoyed it greatly. On the Friday, the last evening of our week there, we went to Lincoln to sing evensong at Lincoln Minster Cathedral, where Byrd had served as organist for several years. Here are my photos of the cathedral.


*I make no apologies for NordiCHI 2014’s illegible logo.

My biggest challenge in research

One challenge gives me more trouble than any other in my PhD work. (At least, one is in the forefront at the moment.) As I write for submission to a conference (and even more so to a journal, when I get to that point), I simply must keep in mind (and find an answer to, duh) one question:

“What research question does this paper answer?” 

What I learn in my research may be interesting, intriguing, fascinating, new, mesmerizing, etc. etc. … and that’s all well and good. But as I express my thoughts about the paper we’re currently embroiled in writing, Mark (my PhD supervisor and coauthor) keeps asking me what research question my ideas will help the paper answer. I understand this to mean that unless the paper answers a research question, other researchers won’t be interested in reading it or hearing me present it at a conference. And I wouldn’t blame them.

I must keep reminding myself to think of my work in these terms.

“Onward and upward,” as a former boss of mine used to say.


That quote prompted me to google my ex-boss, only to discover that he died less than a month ago. Sad face.

About to present twice at Northumbria Uni

In the next two months I will be presenting at two conferences at Northumbria University. One is the “PGR Conference”, for postgraduate researchers (i.e., research PhD students) to talk about our research. In that one, first- and second-year PhD students who want in get in.

The other one is kind of a big deal: It’s the Northumbria Research Conference, and it’s open to both academic staff (what we call “faculty” in the US) and research students. This one was competitive, and today I received word that my submission had been accepted. As you can imagine, I’m feeling pretty dadgum good about that. :-)

In both cases I will be presenting the paper I gave last September at the Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces conference (here’s a link to my blog post about that). The paper, called “Meditations on YouTube“, is an analysis of viewer comments on YouTube videos for meditation. I had hesitated to submit the same thing to both Northumbria conferences, but I was assured that there will be very few people attending both (probably only the PhD students who are presenting at the larger one), so I did.

I like being in a field that has so few people working in it and so little existing research. I’m not competing for attention with a lot of other people working in the same area, and it’s wide open for research contributions. This doesn’t make me a shoo-in, of course — my work still has to be of good quality — but I suspect it helps a bit.