CHI and DIS. We all love an acronym, right?
I’ve had a busy and exciting couple of months travelling to Austin, Texas in May for CHI and Newcastle in June for DIS. I presented at both conferences as I was lucky enough to have a paper accepted to alt.CHI and a short paper accepted to a workshop at DIS on fashion in sustainable HCI. Presenting was nerve-racking to say the least, but worth the effort. Special thanks to my supervisor Nadia Berthouze who coached and calmed me.
CHI was especially interesting as I had never been to an academic conference before and in HCI, it is the biggest and most prestigious. The days were long and jam-packed, for every one talk you saw, you missed about five others. The evenings were full of networking, thunder storms and good food, (highlights being Second Bar and Kitchen and Torchy’s Tacos).
Of the talks I saw, here are some highlights:
- What should we expect from research through design? William Gaver. I was drawn to this as a fan of Gaver’s work and because I had tried my hand at design research for my MSc thesis project and also used his ideas about ambiguity in design in my project. I liked his suggestion of thinking about design theories as annotations to design research and his assertion that design is not a science and shouldn’t be treated as such. Quite the call to arms at a conference like CHI.
- Uncomfortable Interactions. Benford et al. This caught my attention as a disruptive way to design. He gave examples of using discomfort for entertainment, via thrills and suspense; enlightenment via empathy and sociality via rites of passage. He described discomfort as being visceral, intimate, cultural and tied to control.
- Designing social translucence over social networks. Eric Gilbert. This talk introduced a topic that was new to me, social translucence. This is a concept which I have since repeatedly referred to in my work as a UX designer, unlike much academic HCI theory. Gilbert explained that translucence increases visibility, awareness and accountability. He also discussed the ‘invisible audience’ on Twitter, where a follows c, c follows a, b follows both a and c and so b gets to read what a and c discuss. This is usually interesting where you can read discussions between two friends, but this week I noticed it between two of my friends who were from completely different social circles. It turns out they are cousins. This wouldn’t normally have come up in conversation and I never would have guessed they were cousins so it was a nice serendipity, something that I only became aware of due to social translucence over a social network. Small world.
This Saturday I attended the fourth Design Jam London, my third time at such an event. This time the brief was to design a system to help people find clothing for a special event. I got quite excited about this topic having just finished my MSc project about crowdsourcing an emotional wardrobe and recently designed and built a menswear ecommerce site with some friends.
The day started with us forming teams using index cards stuck to a window, each stating our skills and what we wanted to learn. This time I didn’t want to choose a team, so I quickly stuck my card up to be the first member of a new group. After introductions, we settled and got down to brainstorming some questions so we could get out into the wild and start hassling people on the street about their shopping habits. I was sceptical that we would get anyone to stop and talk to us, let alone get any useful insights, but it was surprisingly easy to accost people if we immediately mentioned that we were “doing research into fashion at the nearby university.” Once on Upper Street we quickly conducted seven guerilla interviews, hearing some useful anecdotes about outfit planning.
Back at base camp we analysed our interview data and started getting an idea of the problem we should try to solve. At this point we had to present our progress to the group and Al did a great job for our team. I found this stage to be particularly useful as each group had the same brief and had gathered similar research data. We could share and use each other’s findings to get an even wider range of data to base designs on. I kept in mind an insight from another group later in the day; people at events with friends want to stand out and wear something new, whereas at events with strangers they want to wear something familiar and comfortable.
Over lunch we created a persona, who was mostly based on one of our favourite interviewees, with a additional quotes from others to flesh out her scenario. By this point we finally let ourselves talk design ideas in the form of technologies we could use and features we could include. We then clustered these and prioritised and our system quickly started taking shape.
At the rapid design stage of our day we split up to work individually: sketching a storyboard, sketching prototype screens, making prototype screens in Axure and creating our final presentation. This worked well as we all had a good grasp of our idea, so things came together smoothly.
The day ended with every team presenting their designs to the group. I especially liked team 4 and team 7, both having systems based around a great quote which emerged from one team’s research: “I’ll know it when I see it”.
Does neuromarketing work?
I attended a talk last night at The Royal Institution regarding neuromarketing with YahnyInLondon. It began with a persuasive pitch by Dr Pradeep of Neurofocus regaling the wonders of this new field. This was followed by a quick summary of a neuromarketing comparison of New Scientist covers by the magazine’s deputy editor Graham Lawton. Finally cognitive psychologist, Dr Mike Page, debunked pretty much all the assertions made earlier on. The sceptic’s view won out for me in the end.
An interesting example from Dr Pradeep was that pictures of tortilla chips and salsa produced the most brain activity when they depicted a chip just dipped in salsa, about to be eaten. The most evocative picture was that of anticipation of flavour and crunch: the moment between moments. However, an audience member later questioned that if the neuroimaging can test sets of images or package designs, how can we extrapolate to predict and generalise results? My hearing of the argument was we probably can’t, those predictions and generalisations would be guesses based on past experience. We would probably get similar or better insights from being an expert in a particular field anyway, learning from past product launches rather than product tests. Dr Pradeep’s counter argument here was that testing with real products was too expensive. This is where dealing in the digital realm is an advantage, we can quickly iterate and test using multi-variate testing comparatively easily.
Another aspect of neuromarketing that rang alarm bells for me was the measure of emotion. Having just finished my MSc thesis regarding emotional reactions to clothing, I have read about reliability of emotional measures. My reading lead me to conclude that a mixture of objective measures such as neuroimaging or heart rate, combined with subjective measures of emotion self-report, result in a more useful indication of emotion. The neuroimaging measure of arousal is pretty useless if you do not know if a particular high arousal was a positive or negative valence: was an advert loved or hated. Dr Mike Page gave a funny example of a particular ad that always gets his attention, he remembers it vividly and he gets emotional about it. However, none of his reactions are positive, instead he is put off the product by the advert.
The measure of attention may be also flawed. Attention can be drawn from interest, annoyance, confusion or other reactions, not all positive. If participants paid attention to a QR code on an ad, would that mean they were thinking of scanning it, or thinking ‘what on earth is that black and white thing’?
Neromarketing is an interesting field in its infancy, but I worry about the amount of money being spent on it for what cannot reasonably be seen as a way to actually see what people are thinking.
My hand sketches from UX Sketch Club July 2011. We did a few exercises including drawing without looking at the paper, drawing the hand in negative and then using shapes only.
Interactivism ‘Echoing’ in action