Experiences from the Human Computer Interaction International 2013 (HCII2013) Conference in Las Vegas

Tobias Komischke / Thursday, August 08, 2013

Miao and I attended the 15th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction which was held in Las Vegas from July 21-26. To get it out of the way, I lost $100 in European Roulette and won $0.10 in slots.

1,660 presentations were given, spanning pretty much the whole universe of usability engineering, visual design, user experience, and HCI. I can’t think of a topic that was not touched. But then, I only attended a tiny fraction of all those talks, because there were so many running concurrently. I still have to plow through 90 papers that I marked interesting just based on their titles. 2,300 participants from 70 countries attended. From my impression, the largest groups of people were from the US, Japan and Germany. It’s always great to see how different the presentation styles are, based on the cultural background of the presenters.

I gave a talk about the 9/11 Memorial Guide smartphone app that we designed and built. There was a good discussion with the audience after the presentation. In the same session, there was another presentation that I really liked, because I had talked about the same topic in a presentation I gave at World IA day earlier this year. The presenters were from Fraunhofer Institute in Germany and their talk was about the role of transitions between screen states and the need for designing and documenting them. They came up with a comprehensive inventory of transitions used in the various mobile operating systems. For each transition they had a short video that demonstrates it and they invented a notation scheme that allows designers to not only select the right transition at the right time during a flow, but also documenting it on sketches or wireframes.

In another session the topic about fusing user-centered design with Agile development was addressed by several presentations. I felt it was a little bizarre: people mainly talked about their experiences in successful projects and unsuccessful projects and tried to derive generic process implications from those anecdotes. For example, one presenter recommended that visual design should be done by developers, which in my humble opinion is … not exactly best practice. Also, most presenters tried to assign all UX design work to the individual sprints, with no prior holistic UX consideration. I shared my doubt that it’s possible to run a successful user-centered agile development project without a holistic UX design involved. When does that happen? At the beginning. Do you mean up-front? Yes! One participant was so shocked by that statement that she confronted my during the lunch break: “Are you the guy who said we need big design up-front (“BDUF”)? I couldn’t believe it and even tweeted about this.” I then explained that I believe there’s a need for “big picture” design up front and that I don’t consider it big, especially compared to the overall development effort. So “DUF" yes, “BDUF” no. The point is to be clear and verbal about that need for some up-front design, because project owners and managers need to know that resources have to be planned for this appropriately. It took a while, but in the end we agreed on things. I wish there had been more time in the actual session to discuss things with everybody.

I’ve attended each HCII since 1999. It has always been a bi-yearly event. From now on though they’ll hold it yearly (next year in Crete, Greece). I’m not sure if I can keep up with that pace. But they said the decision was made due to popular demand, so there seems to be a lot UX work going on in the world to be shared – not a bad thing.