How do you describe your lab to visitors? The Human-Centered Interaction Design Lab (HCIDL) is a leading Korean institution that focuses on planning and developing human-centered interactions using in-depth research to tackle physical, cognitive, emotional, and socio-cultural aspects of the human being. The lab is embedded in the Department of Industrial Design at KAIST, one of the most prestigious design schools in Korea and among the top 30 design programs worldwide, as selected by BusinessWeek.
What is a unique feature of your lab? Our lab has substantially contributed to the development of design research and design knowledge in Korea. The laboratory’s activities began with the implementation of simple usability testing aimed at minor improvements and moved on to innovation in the design of a comprehensive user experience. Thus, our core competences have focused on design planning, human-centered interaction design, designing with mass-collaboration, emotional design, experience design, service design, and cross-cultural comparative studies that reflect the user’s socio-cultural characteristics.
Since its foundation, our lab has focused on user studies that enable designers to access and apply a user’s latent needs to design, while maintaining a structured design process. We have developed diverse design tools and customized software solutionssuch as remote usability testing, mouse tracking, and wearable camerasthat have been integral to our user studies. These simple prototypical tools have led to various original methods, such as “Wish Prototyping,” and “Pocket Stories,” which helped us understand users in deeper ways.
Our laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including a usability testing room, gaze analyzers, and a portable ethnographic tool kit for user observations. Current research includes the exploration of new techniques that complement or go beyond conventional user-centered design.
How many people are in the lab, and what is the mix of backgrounds and roles? At present, our laboratory is made up of six full-time Ph.D. candidates and two master’s degree students. In addition, there are five part-time Ph.D. candidates, who are active university professors. Most of our lab members have a background in industrial design. Some also have experience in other domains such as industrial engineering, graphic design, or architecture. Those different specialties have proven to be helpful during theoretical inquiries and practical project works, as they widen the scope of research. Our laboratory is especially proud of its cultural diversity represented through our Korean, German, Canadian, and Chinese colleagues. This cultural blend reflects our research activities, since the understanding of various cultures is essential to our studies. Our international profile is rounded out by visiting scholars from France, the Netherlands, Germany, as well as Japan, Malaysia, and India, who frequent our lab to exchange knowledge.
Professor Kun-Pyo Lee, our lab director, serves various positions including secretary general for the International Association of Societies of Design Research, fellow of the Design Research Society, and an editorial board member for Design Studies and the International Journal of Design. Currently, he is also the executive vice president of LG Electronics where he is responsible for all of the company’s design around the world. He brings design methods and thinking from the academic area to the real world.
Briefly describe a day in the life of your lab. A working day in our lab usually starts with an informal meeting at 9AM. We have a joint breakfast, in which we share important lab matters and plans for research. After this meeting, we proceed with collaborative industry projects that involve working with companies such as LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, or Volkswagen. We usually dedicate our time to these projects until late afternoon. Team work is emphasized in every phase of the design research process by ensuring that all members are assigned to productive roles. Moreover, we seek a close relationship with our industry partners, who regularly join us during work meetings. Although lab-based team efforts, as such, account for most of our activities, we also strive to balance our schedule to find time for individual work that focuses on personal thesis research. Thus, in the afternoon and evening, students have the possibility to discuss their studies with their colleagues and professor to get valuable feedback.
What is one feature of your lab you could not do without? Stickiness. Social gatherings and familiy-like organizational structures ensure the strong bond among lab colleagues. Ph.D. candidates are assigned to advise the master’s students.
What is one feature of your lab that you want and don’t have? A feature we strive for would be a robust and explicit knowledge-base that extends across the 20 years of our practical research. As we are one of the leading laboratories in Korea, which conduct user experience research, we have developed many methods and tools for understanding users. Yet, many of those only exist in the form of the lab members’ episodic knowledge. Lack of time makes it difficult to explicate, organize, and merge that knowledge. Currently we are developing the “HCIDL Wiki” website, a “Wikipedia” for UX research. We also have plans to publish books making it possible to share our full knowledge with other researchers.
How would you describe the interaction in your lab? The interaction among our lab members is essentially determined by the given physical space. Our laboratory consists of two rooms: one is a large shared space that is much more flexible and open, and therefore ideal for group interactions and meetings; the other room provides more secluded spaces for personal in-depth research and allows for privacy.
The large shared space ensures vivid interactions among the students by accommodating breakfast meetings and casual gatherings, where we share research plans as well as official lab seminars to present and critique research progresses. Moreover, due to its open atmosphere, the large room also serves as a forum for students from other laboratories and departments as they frequently visit HCIDL to share opinions and insights. Since our department of industrial design belongs to the engineering school at KAIST, we often collaborate with other engineering laboratories. Currently we are conducting a project for designing and developing organic user interfaces with the department of computer science and electrical engineering. In this project, we develop user-defined gesture sets for a new interface prototype that the other labs have created.
On the other hand, the smaller private spaces allow students to “get things done efficiently” by allowing them to focus on defined tasks and individual styles of problem-solving, and to “dive deep into a problem” by offering them a comfortable space of their own to think without disturbances.
In addition to the physical space, all lab members interact with each other in the virtual space of the Internet. Currently, our laboratory utilizes smart phones for real-time communication through social-networking services. This significantly contributes to the interaction between lab members inside and outside of the lab.
Finally, in terms of interaction between doctoral and master course students, we have a mentoring system, in which each doctoral student is assigned to advise and guide a master’s student regarding her/his thesis research. Mentors support the students not only in their research but in everyday lab life.
What is the one thing you see as the most important about what you do here? Among many other types of research, the development and the testing of tools and methods is one of our key areas. Ultimately, we aim to humanize interaction design methodologies. We strive for innovation of user research methods by focusing on more natural ways to interact and communicate with devices, exploring how users in the design process may contribute with their creativity, and modeling a theoretical background for the communication between users and designers.
Sidebar: Recent Projects
Analyzing the Relationship of Content Use and Communication Activity to inform the User Experience Design of ICT Devices (Research Partner: Samsung Electronics)
ICT devices enable the access of large amount of contents and utilize various ways of communication with other devices. The goal of this project was to develop models of communication activities and user interactions with digital contents that would result in UI guidelines for the design of ICT devices. This research helped to understand how users deal with contents, communicate with other users, and how both activities relate to each other.
Unified User Experience of Home Appliances (Research Partner: LG Electronics)
Companies have made recent attempts to unify user experiences of products to pursue consistent brand identities in a large scale; in turn our laboratory has explored the essential user experiences of LG Electronics home appliances and conducted a six month longitudinal user research with a group of housekeepers. As a result, we have delivered a theoretical model of brand experience and a practical design guideline for home appliances, through which we enabled in-house designers to uphold the identity of LG products and unify their product experiences. Not only graphic and product designers, but also interaction designers can reference this guideline.
User Manipulation of Deformable Displays as Input Devices (Research Partner: Korean Government)
This study aimed at understanding deformation-based user gestures by observing users interacting with artificial deformable displays with various levels of flexibility. We collected user-defined gestures that would help with the design and implementation of deformation-based interfaces, without considering current technical limitations. We found when a display material gives more freedom from deformation, the level of consensus of gestures among the users as well as the intuitiveness and preferences were all enhanced. This study offers implications for deformation-based interaction, which will be helpful for both designers and engineers who are trying to set the direction for future interface and technology development. (Published in CHI 2010 Proceedings)
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