BBC R&D Attends CHI 2014!
This year, representatives from BBC Research and Development attended the international conference of Computer-Human Interaction or ‘CHI’ 2014, held in Toronto. CHI is the premier international conference of Human-Computer Interaction, in partnership with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The conference draws attendees from all around the world; it is renowned as a platform for demonstrating and discussing the design and development of novel ideas, applications and technologies for everyday life. The conference is internationally recognised as a vital space for ongoing dialogue regarding developments in the field.
The department’s presence at CHI was twofold; R&D co-presented ongoing research in collaboration with Manchester University (‘HCI Over Multiple Screens’) and four members of the R&D team – myself (Rhianne Jones), Lianne Kerlin, Jiri Jerabek and Charlotte Hoare attended the conference to gain insights into cutting edge developments and research. Lianne and I are Research Scientists from the User Experience team, Jiri is an Interaction Designer and Charlotte is a PhD Student from Bath University based full time in the department.
This was my first experience of CHI. I attended as a delegate, a co-author on a BBC R&D paper and as a newcomer to the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). As a Sociologist of digital media, I was keen to learn more about HCI issues and approaches as well as feed my 'technological imagination'. CHI did not dissappoint. Throughout the week, I was introduced to a range of innovative technologies, I attended several panels and workshops on key developments in UX research and design practice and I got the opportunity to meet lots of experts and enthusiasts working in the field.
It was great to see so many sessions at CHI that related to current work in the department as well as several recent Connected Studio projects, specifically in areas such as interactive video, the Internet of Things (IoT), the quantified self, haptic interfaces and large interative displays.
My role involves research in a design context so I was particularly interested in papers discussing issues and innovations in research and design practice and I was pleased to see a paper on ‘The Turn to Practice in HCI’. In the Social Sciences, practice theory is a set of theoretical positions that share an emphasis on understanding social life through researching people’s contextual everyday practices - their micro actions, interactions and activities. The paper addressed three key questions; what HCI could take from Social Science theories of practice, what this would mean methodologically for HCI research and what HCI could uniquely contribute to this existing field of work. Beyond papers with a research focus, I was drawn to sessions and panels which considered questions of ‘responsible design’ and designing for public/social good and I was particularly pleased to see debates about big data, privacy, and commerce still receiving critical attention – at least from some.
It is impossible to review all the conference highlights but a couple of talks warrant a mention here. One paper that stood out for me was: ‘Designing for Slowness, Anticipation and Re-visitation: A Long Term Field Study of the Photobox’. This paper drew on the concept of ‘slow technologies’. Slow technologies push back against our current expectations of immediacy and abundance in relation to digital media. Photobox is a technology for people to engage with personal digital archives but has been designed to foster anticipation and reflection. Photobox is an IoT technology that takes the form of a wooden box that is designed to mimic a non-digital material artifact that blends into a person’s home décor. The box is connected to a person’s social media account and prints a small selection of photos, at random, throughout the month.
Image sourced from original paper: Desining for Slowness, anticiaption and Re-visitation: A long term study of Photopbox. Wiiliam Odom et al.
The concept of Photobox and the reaction people had to the technology prompted me to think about alternative user experiences orientated around simplicity, randomness, anticipation, and at materialising the digital in ways that allow for meaningful re/appropriation in a physical context. But most importantly, this type of technology presents an interesting way to think about how we can meaningfully resurface content from vast archives. When the BBC archives go live in 2022, imagine sitting at home and receiving a radio times in your front room from 1984, pointing you towards coverage of the miners’ strike, or on the morning of your birthday being redirected towards the TV schedule for the day you were born.
A second technology that caught my attention was the TPad Tablet, introduced in a paper entitled 'Exploring Affective Communications Through Variable Friction Surface Haptics'. The TPad Tablet is a technology that allows people to add texture to forms of interpersonal communication such as text messaging and image sharing. The BBC is currently undertaking research into kinesthetic media or ‘haptics’ and I was interested in what insights this research might offer for understanding how audiences interact with this type of technology. The researchers reported that people appropriated the haptic affordances of the TPad in several ways; to express the literal texture of an image, denote an action, convey emotional information, engage in playfulness and to provide an enhanced experience or sensation to the recipient of the message.
The TPad technology demonstrates how texture might enhance audiences’ sensory experiences of digital media content. I was particularly excited by the opportunities this might present for future research into accessibility – for example how this type of technology could be developed and used in conjunction with rich audio description. Texture offers the possibility of conveying additional information about narrative elements such as setting and emotion that might enrich the sensory experience of consuming media for people with visual impairments.
The conference ended on a particular high for me. I cannot proceed without a quick mention of the dance to ‘Gangnam Style’, to celebrate the decision to host CHI 2015 in South Korea! But for me, the closing keynote by Scott Jenson (Google) was a notable highlight; it was a measured and insightful discussion that brought the conference to an end.
Scott outlined his thoughts on the shape of Internet things to come as well as providing a considered discussion on the reflexive relationship between technologies, design, practice and society. Scott highlighted what he believed to be inherent problems with the sustainability of the ‘app culture’, instead giving his thoughts on how the web will take shape over the course of the next ten years. He also presented a model of the dialectal interrelationships between technology and social life. Here, the speaker teased out and discussed some of the intricate social, economic and cultural influences and pressures that continue to shape design decisions and practice, illustrating his argument along the way through several considered case studies – my personal favourite being the surprisingly fascinating history of the evolving design of the steering wheel! With a couple of amusing personal anecdotes thrown into the mix, this made for a really interesting, engaging and enjoyable talk. CHI has come to a close for this year, but I have come back from my week in Toronto with plenty to talk about with colleagues and an abundance of insights and fresh ideas to feed back into future R&D projects.