Friday, October 17, 2014

HCI Presentations at Grace Hopper Celebration 2014

Caitlin Colgrove presenting on extremes in mobile design.
Of the 6 HCI talks presented on the last day of GHC, 3 were website-related and 3 were mobile device-related. I know these two areas (websites & mobile devices) have a strong presence in our everyday lives and there’s still much to learn and actually execute in terms of their usability – especially as technology continues to evolve. However, I would have liked to have seen at least one presentation related to some other type of human-computer interaction – automobile dashboards, airport kiosks, gas pumps, etc. Rather than try to cover all 6 presentations in this post, I’ll focus on my favorite and then end with my biggest takeaway from each.

The 3 website-related presentations were:

  • Designing for a Digital City: Advancing the Online Presence for a Municipal Government, by Carolyn Pang
  • Accessible Web Sites Are Always Ugly and Other Myths by Christine M. Ingalls
  • Web Accessibility for Everyone by Ramya Sethuraman

The 3 mobile device-related presentations were:

  • Hitting Authentication on the Nose: Using the nose for as an alternate authentication input, by Ann-Marie Horcher
  • Distractedly Intimate - Your Users on Mobile, by Cate Huston
  • Everyday Extremes: Designing Mobile for Anyone, Anywhere by Caitlin Colgrove

My favorite presentation was Everyday Extremes by Caitlin Colgrove because she touched on HCI concepts I find most fascinating: context. She encouraged us not to view mobile as “just a miniature version of a desktop” and to consider the extreme conditions that mobile users encounter on a daily basis. The case studies she brought up highlighted the importance of observing how environment impacts usage. One great example was when her team was tasked with deploying an interface law enforcement officers would use in their cars. They noted the laptops in the officers’ cars had hard-to-press, pressure-based touch screens that were even harder to press when the vehicles were moving. They noticed that officers would brace the screen with their one hand (usually right hand) and use their thumb to press. So, they designed for this, putting the interface’s navigation controls in the upper right.

Another great example – which became really relevant to me immediately following the presentation – was the issue of designing for slow and no internet connectivity, not just good and great connectivity. She discussed the need to:

  • let users know what’s going on when tasks aren’t responding due to a slow connection
  • enable users to do something offline when there’s no connection
  • allow users to take action during a slow connection or to recover from a lost connection (allowing retries or cancellations, setting reasonable timeouts, etc.)

She also advised us to check out the blog post “Design for Realtime” by Dominic Nguyen.

This hit home when, following the presentation, I decided to continue my note-taking outside where it was warmer. I kept my laptop open, walked out the closest door and sat out front of the convention center. I finished up my notes in the wiki, hit Save and … eeek … a “no connection” screen. I didn’t realize that I’d lost connection to the conference center wifi went I walked outside. I hit the Back button, but it was too late – all my notes were gone. Luckily, I’d done an earlier save of my wiki notes into a Word doc so I was able to repost everything.

My top takeaways from the other talks:

  • We have a dominant nostril that changes several times a day. From the quite interesting and entertaining talk "Hitting Authentication on the Nose" by Ann-Marie Horcher.
  • The discussion of the Couple app (which I loved using during my 2 years of long-distance dating my now husband!) and how it allows you dedicate a “space” on your device for the person you love, similar to how you might dedicate a particular ringtone. From "Distractedly Intimate" by Cate Huston.
  • When we think about making websites more accessible, imagine we’re fixing a site for Stephen Hawking or for our future older selves. Great perspective from "Web Accessibility for Everyone" by Ramya Sethuraman.
  • There are a lot of myths in accessibility design! From the very digestible and insightful talk "Accessible Websites are Always Ugly and Other Myths" by Christine Ingalls
  • Cities are only just now exploring how digital technologies can connect them to their citizens. From "Designing for a Digital City" by Carolyn Pang.

Great talks overall. I've posted my notes and look forward to seeing the speakers provide slides. Maybe next year, I'll have to be the one to present my observations on gas pumps!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

HCI Invited Tech Speaker Elizabeth Churchill at Grace Hopper 2014

Elizabeth Churchill discussing how all good things evolve.
Elizabeth Churchill's talk at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing wasn't what I expected. As she is the Director of HCI at eBay, I was expecting to hear about all the sexy research going on at eBay. I didn't hear about that and, in the end, I was glad.

It turns out her talk wasn't what she expected either. She came to the conference prepared to present a talk titled "Foundations for Designing User-Centered Systems," based on her new book. After arriving in Phoenix and chatting with conference attendees, she changed it to "Journeys and Destinations." What followed was so in line with my interests, she could have titled it "This Talk’s for You, Keita."

Technology is social

One of the four things she’s been reflecting on is this:

“All technologies & technological practices are sociotechnical, inherently social in their creation by us, adoption by us and adaptation by us, toward us and with us.”
I've been recently reviewing literature related to that concept so I found her thoughts on this particularly relevant. I’m intrigued and motivated by the socio-technical gap as discussed by Mark Ackerman in The Intellectual Challenge of CSCW (2000), the morality of adoption as discussed in Beyond the User: Use and Non-Use in HCI (2009) by Christine Satchell and Paul Dourish and the requirements of meaning exchange as outlined in The Social Requirements of Technical Systems (2009) by Brian Whitworth. She showed one of her favorite art pieces, a 3 1/2 minute video called "The Shy Picture" to illustrate true "interactivity." In the video, a photo that would normally be static instead reacts to the viewer which, in turn, changes the viewer’s reaction.

The Shy Picture from Narinda Reeders on Vimeo.

Distance collaboration

While she didn't specifically use the term "distance collaboration", Churchill spoke about her work on the YeTi project  – a community bulletin board developed to overcome some of the challenges of being in Palo Alto and trying to collaborate with people in Japan. It created a connection between personal space, online space and public space (this was in the days before MySpace). About 3 years ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Judith Olson at UC Irvine and became very interested in the research her and her husband Gary Olson had been doing in the area of distributed collaboration. So much so, that my original thesis topic was on devising ways to improve system support for partially-distributed learning environments where some students are in one location with the instructor and one or more students are located elsewhere. I enjoyed hearing about the various social and environmental learning that went on as Churchill and her team iterated on the design of the bulletin board  – playing up the scribble feature when they saw how artists used the interface in a cafe and adding video capture so others could "observe" you while you were making your post.

Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA)

Whoa! I didn't see this topic coming. But had I done even a simple Wikipedia search on Churchill, I would have known that she's known for her work on Embodied Conversational Agents (ECAs). 3 years ago, I took an independent course during my Master’s program to specifically study the concept behind ECAs (see my class paper titled "The Credibilty of Embodied Conversational Agents" and to build a conversational agent. I may have even used her book in the class. She talked about the humanizing of technology and encouraged us to read the 1996 book "The Media Equation" by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass, and to decide for ourselves how much of it still stands today and how much has changed.

It was refreshing to see these things talked about at Grace Hopper. It's what drew me to my first Grace Hopper conference in 2010 in Atlanta when they first introduced the HCI track. These social and contextual research concepts are what fascinate me about HCI but that I don't see discussed much out in industry practice where much of the focus is on interface concerns: UI design patterns, wireframing, prototyping and user testing. Which brings me to another reflection that Churchill mentioned and that I think is perfect to end with:

The interface is always more than a screen. Focus on usage, not “the user.”

Monday, October 6, 2014

GHC: An Antidote for Imposter Syndrome

Wouldn’t one think that a building with thousands of the world’s smartest tech people is the LAST place an "intellectual fraud" should spend a few days? That it would trigger spontaneous combustion of some sort? Not true. In fact, the opposite happens for me. I’ve been reflecting on this for the past few days and here’s why I think events like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) should be an annual booster shot for any tech woman prone to fits of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome (also known as fraud syndrome) is said to be found most often with gifted and high-achieving women. They feel undeserving and fake and feel they've deceived others into thinking they're competent. They may dismiss their success as luck.


I’ve read that one of the best ways to overcome imposter syndrome is to recognize that it exists. GHC to the rescue. I first heard the term at the 2010 GHC where it was considered important and relevant enough to dedicate a plenary session to the topic. I was astonished to hear the extremely accomplished women on the panel expressing some of my same feelings and to learn some of the causes and why it's so prevalent among women in science and tech fields.


Another popular recommendation for overcoming imposter syndrome is through a support system. I think GHC excels here. It’s truly a coming together of women not only to discuss all things tech, school, and career, but also how they cope with real-life challenges. There’s a feeling of community at this conference like no other that I’ve been to. I’m not much of a mingler and yet at each conference I’ve attended, I’ve made lasting friendships with women who truly get me and where I am in life.


If you think you’re an intellectual fraud, you need to know that a mistake does not tell the story of YOU. You don’t need to sell yourself short because you screwed up or because you want to deflate the balloon in advance of screwing up so you can avoid hearing that "pop!" I’m inspired at GHC when I hear the stories of twists, turns, and setbacks that ultimately resulted in a person, career, or lifestyle that I admire.


Finally, another treatment I’ve heard prescribed for imposter syndrome is to "focus on the value you bring." I think GHC gives plenty of opportunity for that. Volunteering as a Hopper, blogging as a community evangelist, facilitating a lunchtime table topic, becoming a speed mentor, and becoming a Syster buddy are just a few of the ways you can appreciate the value you offer and give a reality-check to that imposter side of you.

My kudos to all you self-labeled imposters who’ve chosen to attend GHC 2014 anyway – I’m anxious to meet you and hear your experience.

You can learn more about imposter syndrome, particularly as it relates to students, on the Caltech Counseling Center's Imposter Syndrome page.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How to Plan a World Usability Day Event

About a year ago, Frank Garofalo and I founded Esri’s User Experience Group — a grassroots team of people passionate about evangelizing the glory of great user experiences with the goal of sparking innovation and developing a more user-centered mindset in every employee. This year, we hosted our first World Usability Day (WUD) event and I’ll share what we did and some tips you can use for planning your own.

Our Event

Our 1-hour lunchtime event consisted of 2 activities:

Usability Brilliance & Bombs (25 min)

Description: A photo slideshow of employee-submitted examples of usability greats and quirks from work, home and out and about, with commentary from one of Esri’s User Experience professionals.

Our Preparation:
  • Invite employees 2 weeks ahead of time to email us with photos & description
  • Select top 20 photos
  • Compose a PPT slideshow of the top 20
Special Supplies Needed: none


SpeedGeeking on UX (35 min)

Description:  More rewarding than SpeedDating, this is a fun, interactive way to get quick, 5-minute earfuls from 6 speakers on a variety of user experience topics. Choose the topic you want to hear first, then speedgeek your way through our speakers toward a broader understanding of user experience.

Our Preparation:
  • Email a call for speakers 4 weeks or more ahead of time
  • Create and send speakers guidelines for their 5-minute lightning talk
  • Create a topic sign for each speedgeeking table
  • Create numbered slips of papers to hand attendees as their starting table assignment
Special Supplies Needed: cowbell, timer

Considerations for Planning Your World Usability Day

  1. Will you follow the WUD theme? Check for the current theme and decide if you can work it into your event. This year's theme was "Usability of Financial Systems" — a good theme for sure, but we hadn't the slightest notion of how to work that into what our company does so we ditched it.
  2. What’s the takeaway for attendees?
    What do you hope the attendees will get out of your efforts? Awareness? Education? Knowledge about your products / services? Respect for your commitment to the user's experience? Sign-ups to your group? Keep your goal in mind. Our main goals were awareness and education.
  3. Will it be a public or private event?
    Is this something you want to open up to people outside of your organization? One of the obvious benefits of doing so is publicity for your company and for the fact that you care about the user experience of your products. Another benefit is the purely non-selfish one of spreading the UX gospel out to the masses. Some downsides are logistics, funding and time. We decided right away the downsides would quickly bring down our first event … so we opted for an employee-only event.
  4. Will you host event on-site or off-site or neither?
    Whether public or private, are you going to host your event at your organization, another venue or virtually? This could depend on what type of event you choose to do and the reach you want. Or it can drive the type of event you do. Lack of time and budget to manage an off-site event made us go for on-site.
  5. How will you pay for it?
    Speaking of budget, where will it come from? If you have a central UX team, then you probably have your own UX budget. If you’re a grassroots team from all over the company like we are, then funding could be an issue. Our Plan A: approach our Sales director. He'd said several months back that he liked the idea of our UX group and ever since we'd unofficially dubbed him as our corporate sponsor. So we'd try to go all official with it. Our Plan B: approach each director the team members reported up to (about 4 or 5 directors) and ask if they’d share the cost. Our Plan C: reach into our own pockets. Plan A worked really well. Some costs you may need to consider:

    • site or room rental (don't forget to book a rehearsal day, too)
    • speaker fees
    • promotion (signage, fliers, newspapers)
    • food or snacks (a great time to get rid of previous week's Halloween candy!)
    • equipment
    • support staff (event coordinator, A/V, network)
    • materials (handouts)
    • giveaway swag

  6. Will you have attendee participation?
    Instead of just having a speaker present to the audience, you might be considering an event where the attendees can have active participation either before the event (submitting photos, treasure hunt), during the event (quiz show, "hallway testing") or after the event (follow-up surveys). Those are fun ideas but they may require more planning and prep time than you have available.
  7. How far ahead should you start planning?
    Do things get done quickly or slowly in your organization? Do the coveted conference rooms or nearby venues get booked months in advance? Do internal announcements and company-wide emails take a long time for approval? Is this a volunteer effort where planning team still has their normal work to do that takes priority? Is anyone in the planning group well-connected with key people who will get things done quickly just for them? Consider your answers to those questions as you plan your timeline.
  8. Is your audience UX-savvy?
    Are you preaching to the UX choir? If so, you can raise the level of your presentation and pack it full of UX jargon, abstraction and inside humor. But if you’re trying to indoctrinate UX newbies, keep it light and stay out of the weeds. Everyone can relate to a bad user experience, use that as a starting point.
  9. Finally…

    • Designate a main coordinator or two
    • Check current and past WUD events for ideas
    • Brainstorm and refine ideas based on your goal, audience, venue, time and budget
    • Make backup plans in case of speaker no-shows, equipment failure, venue/room hijacking, hurricanes, etc.
    • Make a task list and an asset list with names, dates and times
    • Rehearse
    • Arrive early
    • Remember the goal
    • Have fun
    • Take pictures
    • Thank your sponsors

Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Introvert's 7 Prep Steps for Grace Hopper

Solitude recharges me. In meetings, I listen and observe more than I speak. Those are traits of an introvert. There are more traits but suffice it to say that if introverts exist, I am one. But being an introvert doesn’t stop me from being bold, being a skilled collaborator, being adept at multi-tasking. It doesn’t stop me from leading a department, a business, or a culture shift (I’ve done a pretty good job at all three!) In fact, introverts sometimes make the best leaders (see why in this Forbes article).

And it doesn’t stop me from me being thrilled to join over 2,000 women at the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 2 days. The GHC is a unique event – hundreds of women of all ages, cultures and academic disciplines gathering in one spot to inspire and be inspired, to learn and to teach. So how do I make the most of every minute? How do I make sure I resist any urges to over-indulge in solitary recharging?

  1. I volunteered to work as a Hopper. True, I just love the idea of helping an event like this be a success. And I like the free conference registration. But the bonus: for at least 8 hours, I am now required to be somewhere doing something. And because I don't pick my exact assignment, I may get to meet some women I may have otherwise missed.

  2. I booked a room with an extra bed. At my first GHC last year, I shared a room with 2 women I’d never met before. It turned out to be one of the best parts of my trip and I still keep in touch with them. So this year, I wanted to make sure that option was still open for me. Good thing, too: at the last minute I was able to offer my extra space to someone inquiring about rooms on Twitter. Turns out she's an HCI professor at a university in Ghana and is also a presenter at this year's GHC - pretty good luck for a recent HCI grad who's looking forward to presenting someday. (If you get a roommate be sure to read @lexyholloway's Do-Over #4 in her blog post Five do-overs since my first Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing.)

  3. I used Twitter to do some pre-conference networking. I followed other attendees whose GHC comments peaked my interest so now I have some faces to look out for.

  4. I'm using the GHC mobile app to connect with anyone I remembered from the last conference, anyone I've been communicating with on Twitter and any company reps that have contacted me. So if you see my name in your GHC mobile app's Contact list, it means I would love the chance to say hi in person!

  5. I'm reviewing this great presentation by Whitney Hess. She presented this on the last day of the recent UPA conference and I remembered thinking it should have been presented on the first day. It's useful for any field, not just UX. If you don't have 48 minutes to listen to it - take 3 minutes to click through the slides - they're very digestible:

  6. I'm reviewing this must-read for introverts by Sacha Chua. Great networking advice for introverts and for shy people. Also very digestible - takes just 3 or 4 minutes to go through the slides:

  7. I'm letting my music move me. I'm spending today with piano solos by Philip Wesley and George Winston so I can relax, center myself and think about my goals for this trip. Over the next couple of days I'll progress through motivational songs like Katy Perry's Firework to inspirational tunes like Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror to chill-icious, bold beats like Run-DMC's Sucker MCs to gutsy ballads like Melissa Etheridge's Brave & Crazy. By Tuesday morning I'll be ready to Raise My Glass (of iced tea!) with Pink in the ultimate too-school-for-cool, underdog anthem. Look out, Portland.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How's the User Experience at Your Bank?

I loathe my Bank of America user experience and I'll recount a recent, laughable yet typical encounter with them to illustrate why. You probably don't need my anecdote, though. Were you already identifying with me just reading "I loathe my Bank...", not even needing specifics of which one or why? I wouldn't be surprised if there are millions who feel the same way, either about Bank of America or some other bank. Was it always this way? Did so many of us hate the service from our banks in the days before ATMs, online banking, and mobile banking? While technology has made access to financial facts and transactions more convenient, it has both created and neglected the most important aspect of my new, 24/7, pervasive banking experience: an insistent need to know the why behind those facts and transactions.

Usability vs User Experience
I know the financial industry didn't sleep through the UX movement. I'm guessing most of their UX efforts are focused on designing the usability of their banking sites and apps. In addition, it seems all the "personal service" touted by the larger banks really just refers to the extent to which you can personalize their banking apps. But, all the UX "rockstars" in the world won't deliver a top-notch user experience if they, and the majority of the UX budget, are all focused on external product development with nothing left over for internal systems and processes. You might get a hot product, but I doubt I need to remind anyone of how fleeting and undependable product hotness can be.

All We Know are the Facts, Ma'am
My problem with online and mobile banking and all their instant notification capabilities is that they can't tell me why something happened - only that it did, indeed, just happen.

My problem with banking personnel, particularly at Bank of America, is that they usually can't tell me why something has happened, either. At least not accurately. Nor quickly. And by quickly, I mean "2011" quickly. I mean "my-phone-alerts-me-of-a-transaction-before-I've-even-left-the-ATM" quickly.

Ridiculous Hold Times, Musical Departments, and General Cluelessness
These conditions still reigned when I called Bank of America a couple of weeks ago to find out why my overdraft protection had not kicked in on a particular business checking transaction. I was transferred from checking to credit cards and back to checking - each team insisting the other was the one I needed. After 25 minutes, I finally hung up. The next day, I tried again. This time, I didn't even want an answer to why. I just wanted to resolve it - to transfer money from my B of A credit card to cover the overdraft and then re-activate the overdraft protection which seemed to have been quietly de-activated at some point. Apparently those were challenging requests for B of A, not at all everyday and common requests - this "transferring of funds" and "activating overdraft protection" - as I might have stupidly thought prior to calling. After another 25 minutes on the phone and being transferred between departments I finally spoke with a woman who contradicted all the information I'd been given thus far plus told me it would take several days plus the mailing of a paper form to get things straightened out. O_o .... wow, could you please transfer me to one of your speedy apps? Better yet, I'm done with you.

When Your Own Technology Mocks You
My point in relaying this is not to bash B of A but to point out a major flaw in my user experience with them that I feel is partly caused by the technology they put out there to "improve my user experience." It seems internally their customer service capabilities can't keep up with the speed and gratification standards set by their external-facing systems thereby making their reps look inept and their processes look outdated and inadequate. If you text me about a problem at 9:00 pm, then I want to talk to you about it at 9:01 pm and have it resolved by 9:06 pm. Your apps have "trained" me to wanna roll that way! In addition, online banking systems have made us privy to all sorts of nuances on our financial accounts that we didn't have access to before. Informative yes, but have you noticed it stops just short of being transparent? That prompts questions and instigates a quest for clarity, context and, sometimes, troubleshooting. (Could this be what led ordinary people to discover their banks were processing items in the order that profited the banks most, not the order they came in?) And that's where it all falls down.

Closing the Loop on the Banking User Experience
Make acting on the information as easy as getting the information. Get a UX team to work on that in parallel with website and product usability so that the user's experience is consistent, rather than frustrating. Realize that as you push more info at us, we can become more curious about what we see. And the more your capacity to present information surpasses your capacity to clarify that information, the more leery and intolerant I become.

And About those Phone Systems...
  • B of A: you already asked me to key in my account number at the beginning of the call so I expect you to actually use that information to route me to the correct team rather than have an agent tell me 10 minutes into the call that he can't help me because I'm calling about a business checking account in California and that's a whole different team. Gah!
  • Arrowhead Credit Union in Redlands: I wanted to give you a shot at my business but when 4-1-1 transferred me to your phone number, I was immediately subjected to 4+ minutes of music and "we appreciate your business" before I finally hung up. Anyone who has spent precious lunch breaks in B of A's holding queue is far too trodden upon to tolerate that.
  • Chase Bank in Redlands: thank you for having a real person answer the phone after the 2nd ring (on a 4-1-1 transfer, as well) and for offering me a personal banker who won't shuffle me around endlessly. You're on the right track, I think.
And, lastly...Affordances 101!
Make getting out of your bank as easy as getting in. Note to Chase Bank in Redlands: I have watched people struggle with exiting your bank. Certain kinds of door handles afford pulling, no matter what you print next to them. (Especially if on the way in the bank, they worked by pulling!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where to Study HCI

Three years ago, when I decided on an advanced degree in Human-Computer Interaction, I couldn't find local schools. Good grief - I live in Southern California, not...Iowa! Yet, there seemed to be many HCI programs on the other side of the country. And yes, even in Iowa. When nearing completion of my degree (from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, thanks to options allowing us humans to join class via a computer - a rarity in Human-Computer Interaction apparently), I joined the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) but found only two local UPA chapters. So, when I got the opportunity to try ArcGIS Online, a system that allows anyone to build and share intelligent maps, I tried this small project. The map confirmed what I suspected...West Coast crickets for HCI.

View Larger Map

As of this writing, the map is for the United States only and includes the following layers which can be turned on or off (bring up the larger map to control layers, view the legend, see nicer pop-ups, etc.):

  • schools offering degrees in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) or Human-Centered Computing (HCC)

  • schools offering degrees with an HCI track/concentration
  • schools offering HCI-related degrees

  • UPA chapters

  • SIGCHI chapters

I'd also like to build a slicker map and overlay some other interesting things...perhaps companies with full-fledged User Experience divisions. If you notice something missing or incorrect, let me know.