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VI.2 March/April 1999
Page: 43
Digital Citation

Conference preview: CHI 99 conference on human factors in computing systems

Jennifer Bruer

back to top  CHI 99 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
May 15 – 20, 1999

A whirlwind of change, with more and more content being delivered on the Internet and the Web, presents new challenges to the human-computer interaction (HCI) community. Some of these challenges are technological, but important new issues concern external forces. Demographics play an increasingly important role: the population as a whole is aging, yet at the same time younger children increasingly use computers and the Web. Politics and differing societal goals come into conflict with changes in media, resulting in challenges to free speech and access to information. Usability and aesthetics collide when designers attempt to cope with torrents of information combined with limited Web bandwidth to the user.

To look into these and many other issues, the strong technical program from previous years continues. Invited speakers from outside the HCI community will discuss important issues, such as legal attacks on the Web. CHI 99 will also provide new formats for presenting information and encouraging debate from a wide variety of perspectives, including the distant future, with the return of SciFi at CHI.

New this year is a series of moderated conversations between experts in the HCI community. Clement Mok, Founder of Studio Archetype and a graphic designer with roots in advertising and product design who is currently influential in Web design, will join Web guru Jakob Nielsen, a Principal at Nielsen Norman Group, to discuss issues in Web site design. Since Nielsen comes to the Web from a very different background than Mok, their combination of insights should produce some fireworks. Richard Anderson, with Usability/Design/Discovery Adventures and Studio Archetype, will conduct these interviews.

Mok, with his background spanning conventional design to creating one of the most innovative products for the Web, NetObjects Fusion, insists that the Web provide the user with a rich experience, one that has an emotional feel and that provides some "brain candy" for the user. He hopes to build bridges to the HCI community and feels that the Web requires a happy marriage of both the graphic design and technical communities. Nielsen, coming from a background in computers and human factors, emphasizes function over aesthetics: "it is a mistake to sacrifice fast download time for the sake of appearance." Nielsen notes that in his opinion, "the current balance is tilted toward the look of pages" leading to excessively slow performance for the vast majority accessing the Web over modems. Richard Anderson organized this new format for CHI 99 in order to "get inside people's heads in a unique way." Conversation is a way of thinking through issues: "we should expect some surprises from the interviewees in these sessions."

There will be three additional interview sessions. Bill Buxton, Chief Scientist at Alias | Wavefront Inc. will converse with Clifford Nass, Associate Professor, Department of Communication at Stanford University; Wayne D. Gray, of the Human Factors & Applied Cognitive Program at George Mason University will speak with Bill Gaver from the Royal College of Art; and Donald A. Norman of the Nielsen Norman Group will join Janice Rohn from Sun Microsystems.

Several years ago, Web users experienced a serious legal attack, the Communications Decency Act which was passed by the US Congress. Ann Beeson, a staff attorney for the ACLU National Legal Department and principal in the successful fight against the Act, will speak at the closing plenary. Beeson is a specialist in the area of civil liberties in cyberspace, with the ability to translate the language of high technology to concepts persuasive to the courts. The CDA is an example of what happens when new technologies collide with existing law and custom — something that regularly occurs whenever new technologies are introduced. However, according to Beeson, "the Web should be entitled to greater (rather than less) protection than other media because of its free-speech enhancing characteristics." Beeson also points out that the issues in this case were not so much technical or legal, as they were about the people creating content and using the Web, and the compelling nature of these uses. Beeson emphasizes that "what convinced the courts to overturn this legislation was the important nature of what people were doing on the Web, and the potential harm the Act could do to these activities." Marian Williams, Professor at the University of Massachusetts and General Co-Chair for CHI 99, points out that "among the limitations to the work we do, some are external. It is important to understand how people who don't understand technology can hurt the HCI community."

SciFi at CHI returns after a seven year hiatus. Aaron Marcus will moderate this panel discussion about the future of human-computer interaction as part of the opening plenary. Joining him will be Bruce Sterling, author of Hacker Crackdown and Distraction; Michael Swanwick, author of Jack Faust; Professor Vernor Vinge of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at San Diego State University and author of Deepness in the Sky (to be published in 1999); and Professor Elliot Soloway at the University of Michigan. Sterling notes that times have changed: "there is no electronic frontier now, the digital revolution has been tamed." He is currently interested in the convergence of computers and biotechnology, and is at work on another non-fiction book about the evolution of media over time.

According to Marcus, in many of their writings these authors present distinct visions of future advanced user interface scenarios. SciFi at CHI was a very popular event at CHI 92, and promises to be equally interesting this year. Mark Altom, Manager in the Integrated User Experience Department at Lucent Technologies and General Co-Chair for CHI 99, adds: "who better to speak about the future of HCI in 1999 than those who write about their visions of a future society? Science fiction has in the past been often prescient, as well as entertaining."

One of the strongest features of CHI 99 is the program of 32 tutorials, with presenters from North America, Japan and Europe. Tutorial attendees can acquire practical knowledge unavailable elsewhere, as well as hear from world-class researchers about their latest work. A small sample of coming attractions ...

Jakob Nielsen will present his latest thoughts on user interfaces for the Web. According to Nielsen, "on average, a user will fail when trying some new task on the Web." This is because many sites have very bad user interface characteristics. Many sites are based not on user needs, but on corporate design guidelines; and design criteria have more to do with the look and feel of icons on the pages, rather than that the site information be organized well. Nielsen predicts that in the next ten years there will be major changes in the Fortune 500, based on how companies approach the Web. "Web interfaces must be treated as a core competency."

Nielsen will be joined for this session by Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini of Healtheon and Rolf Molich, a Principal of Dialog Design. Tog has been working on Web interfaces designed to be used by everyone from experts to those who have never user a computer at all. Molich will discuss the internationalization of the Web, with a focus on European Web usage. This tutorial is aimed at those in charge of internet strategy or working on large scale site design.

One of the fields in which HCI practices are under-represented is that of medicine and medical informatics. Dr. John Gosbee, Director of the Center for Applied Medical Informatics at Michigan State University Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, will present a tutorial on how to overcome the practical problems of applying HCI in medical fields. Gosbee has been working in the area of human factors and medicine since 1988. His previous tutorial at CHI 98 was sold out.

In the course of this full day session, Gosbee will discuss the hidden resources that HCI practitioners working in medicine often don't know about, how to get highly paid personnel to participate in field studies, how to overcome roadblocks, and a host of other practical topics. Since the tutorial is scheduled for a full day this year, Gosbee will combine lectures with small group work and presentations. Participants will be working on solutions to a case study he will present to the group. They can expect to learn not only about how to apply HCI ideas, but actually to solve a significant real-world problem during the course of the tutorial.

Participants in another tutorial, Innovation in Design, will learn about design and the process of design; not only how to do it, but how to think about the process itself. Focusing on workplace design, the course will cover such areas as the physical arrangement, economics, ubiquitous computing, networked information appliances, as well as remote collaboration and telecommuting. Charles Kukla, a Research Affiliate at MIT Department of Architecture and Usability Consultant at Compaq will present the course with colleagues from MIT and Danfoss. Innovation in Design is based on a course Kukla teaches at MIT, Introduction to Design Inquiry.

The day will be quite interactive for participants, who will use a research technique called Design Games applied to a real-life problem situation. Kukla comments that "students will experiment with a variety of tools, techniques and methods, and then reflect, analyze, and evaluate their work." Such learning is becoming increasingly valuable, according to Kukla, because businesses are reaching limits to what they can accomplish by cost reduction and similar strategies. Improved techniques of design promise to increase productivity and profits.

Yahoo! is one of the most frequently visited of all Web sites. David Shen, Director of Design at Yahoo!, Inc., will be presenting a tutorial to share some of what the "GUIYahoo!" have learned in the process of building the site. This will be a basic course about the design of Web sites, what works and what doesn't, for Web developers who already have experience. Shen moved to Yahoo! after doing product design at Apple Computer and frogdesign.

In addition to the interviews, invited speakers, panels and tutorials, CHI 99 will present a full program of papers, video presentations, posters, late breaking results, workshops, Senior CHI Development Consortium, CHIKids, demonstrations and exhibits. "This year's conference offers a rich and varied program, providing provocative presentations from both those within and without the HCI community," note the General Co-Chairs Williams and Altom.

If you can attend only one conference this year, CHI 99 should be it. The latest and best work is presented at CHI, and CHI provides a great forum for meeting and interacting with other professionals in the field. CHI 99 will be held from 15-20 May 1999 in Pittsburgh, PA, USA at the David Lawrence Convention Center.

The annual CHI conference is the premier worldwide forum for the exchange of information on all aspects of how people interact with computers. CHI conferences are sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM)'s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM SIGCHI).

back to top  Calender

March 7 – 10, 1999
Learning Technology Online 99: Learning Without Limits
Hynes Convention Center
Boston, Massachusetts, USA


March 13 – 17, 1999
VRAIS '99, Virtual Reality Annual International Symposium
JW Marriott Hotel
Houston, Texas, USA

Contact: Larry Hodges

April 6 – 8, 1999
Computers, Freedom + Privacy 1999
The Global Internet

Omni Shoreham Hotel
Washington, DC, USA

Contact: Marc Rotenberg

April 7 – 9, 1999
The Ergonomics Society 1999 Annual Conference
University of Leicester, UK

May 1 – 5, 1999
AGENTS '99: Third International Conference on Autonomous Agents
Hyatt Regency Hotel
Seattle, Washington, USA

Contact: Jeffrey Bradshaw

May 4 – 7, 1999
17th International Symposium on Human Factors in Telecommunication
Copenhagen, Denmark
Contact: Group & Conference Services

May 15 – 20, 1999
CHI 99: 1999 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Contact: Marian Williams

back to top  Footnotes

Visit the World Wide Web site at:

Or contact the CHI 99 Conference office at:
703 Giddings Avenue, Suite U-3
Annapolis, MD 21401 USA
Tel: +1 410 263 5382
Fax: +1 410 267 0332

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©1999 ACM  1072-5220/99/0300  $5.00

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