HCI and the challenges of mass communications

XI.2 March + April 2004
Page: 65
Digital Citation

Can HCI deliver on its promise?

Andrew Zolli

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Each of the articles in this issue of interactions presents an area in which the HCI community could have a significant impact. The question is: Will it?

Unfortunately, in informal discussions with many mass-communications stakeholders, the answer, at present, seems to be: "Not likely." Five factors seem to be holding the HCI community back from realizing its potential in this domain:

Awareness: Unlike the application or Web development world, the HCI community has a less established disciplinary presence in the mass media and communications industries.

Timeliness of Results: The HCI community is seen as taking far too long to validate results; its academic tenor "bottles up" its insights and impedes its own progress.

Business Model Sensitivity: The HCI community is seen as being insensitive to business issues. For example, HCI factors, as much as "content" will play a significant role in determining successful mass-communications brands, yet few HCI practitioners know how to speak to marketers.

Humane Factors: The model of the abstract, task-oriented, dispassionate user that dominates many HCI-oriented investigations may work for certain, limited domains such as application software. But the mass communications "end user" is driven as much by emotion, narrative, and aesthetics.

Reverse Orientation: The HCI community is often perceived as testing, rather than inventing, new ideas. It looks at what has been, not what could be. The field must overcome this orientation in order to lead beyond its walls.

The good news is that each of these five challenges can easily be overcome with leadership, evangelism, and training. The HCI and Mass Communication development consortium at CHI2003 was an excellent first step.

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Andrew Zolli is the lead partner of Z + Partners, (www.zpluspartners.com) a foresight and design think-tank. He is a forecaster, design strategist, and author working at the intersection of culture, creativity, technology, and futures research. He specializes in helping people and institutions see, understand, and act upon complex change. Andrew is also the Contributing Futurist at Popular Science magazine, and a regular contributor to Wired Magazine and NPR's Marketplace. Andrew currently curates the annual Pop!Tech conference, (www.poptech.com) which explores the social impact of technology.

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