XIX.2 March + April 2012
Page: 10
Digital Citation

A cry for more tech at CHI!

Kia Höök

This is a rant.

And a plea.

And an ad.

With this rant, plea, and ad, I hope to attract more attention to the video and interactivity submissions at CHI 2012. But that is just a means to an end. The result I hope for is to make our field influential in shaping a whole new wave of interactions through technologies, the likes of which we have never seen before.

One day in my lab, my colleagues told me to touch an actuator they wanted to use. As my finger met the surface, it suddenly became extremely cold, and I pulled back in surprise. It was almost painful—and very unexpected. How could this very small surface grow so cold, so fast? My research team smiled at me, recognizing my reaction from their own experiences experimenting with the Peltier element. Apparently, a small current led through the material will make one side cold and the other side hot. When the current is applied in the opposite direction, the cool side becomes the hot side.

ins01.jpg A Peltier cooler assembly.

A week later I got to touch a paper sensor where all you have to do is let your finger hover above the surface. The paper then acts as a button being pushed.

Several months before that, two master’s students of mine had built a game, EmRoll, in which a breathing sensor across my chest was mirrored in the behavior of my character in the game [1]. It was only when I breathed slowly and synchronized my breathing with my co-player’s that we could succeed in making our character swim in the water, avoiding trouble.

These experiences are key to our design processes. Without them we cannot create compelling and meaningful interactions in dialogue with our prospective users. But articulation of these experiences in academic texts is lacking—and sometimes very hard to capture. You can try to imagine what breathing in sync with your co-player and game character would feel like, but that is far from the calming, soothing experience you might have if you got to try the game yourself. The dynamic gestalt of the interaction [2] does not reveal itself to you until you experience it.

New Tech—What Do We Do with It?

There is a whole wave of new technologies and new interactive materials just about to be launched, including printed electronics, organic interfaces, nano-sensors, novel textiles grown in chemical labs, and a whole range of actuators. With these we can, for example, know more about our internal bodily processes. Sensors built into our environment can help us follow and interact with the activities of people, pets, and household appliances, or access location-based interactions. Actuators communicate with us in new ways: through fine-tuned vibrators, hot-and-cold surfaces, and sound environments, providing direct access to digital interactions with objects in the world.

The design opportunities with these digital materials are endless! But what are we going to do with them? And what will it feel like to interact with these new materials?

How HCI Has Thrived on Tech Developments

HCI has in the past been able to shape interactions based on a deep, well-cultivated understanding of technological capacities. If we go back to Doug Engelbart and his innovation of the mouse and graphical interface, Alan Kay and the team at Xerox and their point-and-click interface, Ben Shneiderman and his understanding and contributions to direct manipulation as visualizations, or to Steve Jobs and his development of the Mac and the i-tools, they were all picking up on what software, hardware, graphics, novel visualization techniques, and novel interaction modalities could afford in terms of empowering interactions. These researchers cultivated a deep understanding of their digital materials and how to make use of them in design.

Time to Fix the CHI/Tech Disconnect

But lately it feels as if HCI researchers and the CHI conference are losing the connection to technology. Tabletop interaction was not introduced at CHI—no demos, no papers—until after it was presented elsewhere. Kinect and Wii-motes were not demoed at CHI, and there are many other examples. It is my firm belief that we need to engage with the new digital materials being shaped in the labs in life science, chemistry, and physics.

More important, we must articulate our experiences in forms other than just academic papers. Videos and demos need to be upgraded in academic status. I am greatly impressed by ACM Computers in Entertainment’s inclusion of archival “video articles” (see Löwgren [3] and A video article consists of a short text and a video, preferably complementing one another. The video aims to capture aspects of the interactions that might otherwise have been difficult to express in an academic text. Having videos peer-reviewed and then archived is really what is needed to raise their status. In turn, this will put requirements on us as a community to craft videos with the same finesse with which we craft our academic papers.

CHI should also archive its videos! A first step to increase their status was taken this year by Jeffrey Bardzell and Michael S. Bernstein, who are putting loads of work into the selection and shaping process for videos to help improve their quality.

The Interactivity demos at CHI should also be peer-reviewed, archival material, articulated in some form that captures their interactive capacity. We all know that only when demos are raised in status will we start engaging more with technology and novel digital materials. They need to become a crucial part of any HCI researcher’s C.V. And going to the CHI conference should mean hearing, feeling, touching, and interacting with novel apps and exciting digital materials.

But do not misunderstand me. I don’t mean that it is enough to show off some new piece of tech. As pointed out by Patrick Baudisch, one of the chairs of Interactivity, any such demo must be an answer to, or an exploration of, a research question. As such it needs to be critiqued like any research result.

What Can You Do?

This is a call for taking videos and demos seriously, both at CHI 2012 and in the years to follow. Only when we get more and better quality videos and demos will we be able to argue more strongly for including them in the archival proceedings of the conference.

Furthermore, if you bring your tech to CHI, we might get more HCI researchers involved with the materials and possible interactions of the future. Instead of tagging along behind the developments created by others, HCI researchers should be part of shaping them. We can do so only if we are deeply involved with understanding digital materials’ experiential and interactive qualities.

Bring your tech to Austin! Let us experience it together! In short: It’s the experience!


1. Zangouie, F., Gashti, M.A.B., Höök, K., Tijs, T.: Gert-Jan de Vries, G-J., and Westerink, J. How to stay in the emotional rollercoaster: Lessons learnt from designing EmRoll. NordiCHI 2010, Reykjavik, Iceland, 2010.

2. Löwgren, J. and Stolterman, E. Thoughtful Interaction Design. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005.

3. Löwgren, J. The need for video in scientific communication. interactions 18, 1 (2011), 22–25.


Kristina Höök is the technical program chair for CHI 2012.

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