Blog: Pensive Moments at CHI 2012 Conference
I was invited to attend the CHI 2012 (Human Factors in Computing Systems) Conference as semi-finalists for the Student Design Competition for project fridgeTop. It was my first conference that I have ever attended for user experience research and design. It was a phenomenal experience, an eye-opener, but really, a wake-up call, that reminded me that as a young ambitious UX professional, I have so much to learn from. This reminded me of a quote by Richard Saul Wurman from “Information Anxiety,” which I kept very dear to my heart as a designer, and that is: “Our discipline takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master.” Truly. This multi-disciplinary field encrypts and takes insights from a mix of eclectic fields, that just by changing a perspective, will open up more design opportunities for new problem spaces.
One of the highlight of this conference was the half-day course that I registered for called “Inspiring Mobile Interaction Design,” taught by Matt Jones and Gary Marsden from the United Kingdom. I was expecting a crash course on how to design better mobile applications. Instead, the course, like its title, was about challenging yourself with current mobile phone mediums and to break out of the conventional approaches to mobile design. One of the stories that Jones walked us through was a story of a daily interaction he had with his daughter. Everyday, his daughter would build legos before she goes to bed. Jones would ask his daughter to disfigure her lego before going to bed. As any child did, she moped, but obediently, disfigures her lego. One day, Jones asked her daughter to put away her lego again. That night, she did something different. She reached into Jones’ pocket and snapped a picture of the lego with his phone, and went to bed happily, without a word of dispute.
The point of this story was that the interaction wasn’t about the act of taking a picture. It was about mediating an experience between an object to a medium. It was about building a relationship using the medium. It was about an experience that took away the anxiety of losing something, but building a channel in extending that experience. I thought it was a nice little story to remind me what experience should be. A contextual moment of interwoven events.
One of the most valuable component of this conference was the eclectic and diverse background that people brought with them. There were usability experts, interaction designers, user experience researchers, industrial designers, just to name a few, who had attended the conference. Having attended just a handful of talks from these speakers, I know the claim that I will be making in a minute will be unjustified generalizations of the limited exposure I had. Anyhow, take my insights light-heartedly and as reflective food for thoughts. Listening to these speakers, I found that these UX professionals embodied their unique continental perspectives of human-computer interaction.
Speakers from Japan had a lot of innovative enthusiasm, where they explored futuristic problem spaces, such as robotics and pervasive interaction design. Speakers from Europe had an artistic, seamless approach in designing interaction. I’m not sure how to put it in words. But it was a different kind of approach from my exposure to the industry here in the United States. In the states, we place a lot of emphasis on usability, efficiency and in maximizing results from our user research. A lot of times, it almost feels as if we are mass-producing our user research. Which really prompted me with the thought of studying abroad at Europe in learning their perspective to user experience design. This action item would take another couple of years for me to get to, since I just finished school and am excited to go out to conquer the world. But I’ll put a pin to this one for sure.
In the end, I want to reflect on one of the most inspiring moments of this conference that almost brought me into tears. It was the closing remark made by Dr. Hugh Herr on his dedicated research on real muscle machine actuation. There were too much biomechanics in this talk for me to regurgitate, but the essence of his talk was about developing high functional prostheses that considers the understanding of human behavior from the ground up. In the midst of his talk, the “moment” for me was when he rolled up his trousers, exposed his prosthetic legs, and closed the talk with these profound words: “This is not tool used. This is embodiment.” Beyond brilliance.
As paraphrased from Herr, design should be found from nature, not through the advancement of technology or digital mechanisms – but fundamentally, design as a core from understanding people. The innovation of his design was not the individual mechanical parts of the device. Sure, every component has been explored to its fullest potential, but the success was not from a breakthrough in a new technology, the breakthrough was from understanding the human anatomy of the person. It was about how people interact with their own limbs. It was about how the device worked together with the human.
At this conference, I have constantly felt like an ant gaping up at this world. And have felt my confidence crushed. And to feel like I know nothing that I should know of. But that’s okay. It’s a good thing actually. Because one day, I’ll stand side by side with you all. A pin to this one too.