DialoguesCover story

XXIX.6 November - December 2022
Page: 24
Digital Citation

SIGCHI at 40: celebrations and aspirations

Andrew L. Kun, Elizabeth Churchill, Tamara L. Clegg, Jonathan Grudin, Kristina Höök, Daria Loi, Yolanda Rankin, Elizabeth Rosenzweig, Kentaro Toyama, Susan Dray

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To celebrate 40 years of SIGCHI, we came together for a panel at the CHI 2022 conference. Conceived by Susan Dray and moderated by Andrew Kun, the panel sought to inspire the SIGCHI community. The panelists—Elizabeth Churchill, Tamara L. Clegg, Jonathan Grudin, Kristina Höök, Daria Loi, Yolanda Rankin, Elizabeth Rosenzweig, and Kentaro Toyama—represented a diverse set of backgrounds and career stages. Andrew prompted them to reflect on the successes and challenges of the past 40 years and to provide provocations: What are the anticipated problems, approaches, and visions for the future of SIGCHI? Our conversation addressed the following questions:

  • Why do we do what we do?
  • What goals should we set for ourselves?
  • How do we reach those goals?


As you read the panelists' perspectives, we hope that you will be inspired to continue to build a strong, inclusive, and productive SIGCHI.

back to top  Why Do We Do What We Do?

Daria Loi: A role for our community that is bigger than focusing on our craft. Daria's breadth of leadership experience and focus on usability lead her to call for the SIGCHI community to take on a bold role at the vanguard of technological and social progress:

The computing sector has experienced an increasingly forceful push to face and tackle its profound representation inequalities and biases based on gender, color, disability, identity, and more. At this critical point in time, the tools, methods, and processes used to define, design, and develop digital technologies are thankfully being questioned and slowly adjusted to be representative, equitable, and just. Within this context, SIGCHI is dedicated to apply HCI tenets to our professional community—to support and strengthen us. Many HCI practitioners also increased their focus in these areas. In facing and tackling inequity and biases, HCI has fared better than other fields of computing. However, our dedication could be pushed to the next level, beyond the boundaries of our craft and well beyond research contexts. As a community, we have a unique opportunity to play a bigger role—perhaps even a bold one. I would like us to lead the way, with a unified voice, to bring meaningful, practical change across the computing sector, especially in the contexts of corporate culture, technical standards, and government.

I would like us to lead the way, with a unified voice, to bring meaningful, practical change across the computing sector.— DARIA LOI

Yolanda Rankin: "Now that we know better, we must do better." Yolanda's work with people who are marginalized and her experience in industry and academia lead her to challenge our community to continue on the path of working for justice:

Recently, the SIGCHI community has begun to acknowledge diverse critical perspectives such as Black feminist epistemologies as being essential to the foundation of HCI. This speaks to progress, but there is more work to do. We are a global community, but not everyone views the world in the same way or shares a similar frame of reference. It is important that we create safe spaces within our community to engage in open and honest conversations, especially with those who have been marginalized within HCI, and learn to embrace diverse perspectives. We must use our power and privilege to work together to dismantle the power structures that perpetuate racial inequalities, gender discrimination, and other forms of oppression that shape the lived experiences of people through the design and use of technology. Now that we know better, we must do better, to reach our full potential as we work together to achieve social justice.

back to top  What Goals Do We Set for Ourselves?

Jonathan Grudin: From a trusting community to a complex world. Jonathan's book From Tool to Partner: The Evolution of Human-Computer Interaction [1] maps CHI's achievement of the idealistic visions of human-computer symbiosis that emerged in the 1960s. The past five years have exposed a crucial oversight in those visions. Jonathan argues:

For 50 years, computing was a small, trusting community. Believe it or not, online anonymity was rare and frowned upon: Why hide from your friends? Then, in 1995, commercial Internet use was first allowed and the Web exploded into view. The Web brought wonders—and a rising tsunami of viruses, worms, information thefts, denial of service attacks, trolls, ransomware, disinformation, and exploitation of the unsophisticated. Today's asymmetric cybersecurity arms race is comparable to the nuclear arms race, draining trillions of dollars and other currencies, consuming intellectual and financial capital that could be focused on other existential threats.

Consider your colleagues. Most of us work in small, trusting groups. We see technology's positive potential and rarely think about how our work will be used by bad actors. Technologies always have unintended consequences, good, bad, or neutral. In the past, they unfolded over decades. Today, they can scale in days. We owe it to the world to frequently and thoughtfully consider all possible consequences of our work, and possible consequences of work that we review.

Kentaro Toyama: SIGCHI can, and should, shape policy and tech. Kentaro works for change in multiple ways, from his work with marginalized communities across continents to informing decision makers in industry and international development to popularizing critiques of an overreliance on technology [2]. He calls on the SIGCHI community to translate our research for the public:

The digital world has changed dramatically since the early days of SIGCHI. Our work is now more relevant than ever. But, for society to really benefit from our work, we must do a better job of getting our collective knowledge out there, beyond research papers, and even beyond the products we influence. For our designs and critiques to have real impact, we have to influence decision makers: those who make policy and set corporate strategy. Both, in turn, are affected by public opinion, at least to some extent. I would love to see SIGCHI as a community work toward public statements and policy engagement.

Elisabeth Rosenzweig: Toward a world of usability. Elizabeth is the founder of World Usability Day, a United Nations Initiative that aims to affect all of humanity. The goal of the initiative is to bring together HCI/UX/UI/UCD and related organizations to connect on projects related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals) and to put World Usability Day (https://worldusabilityday.org) on the U.N. calendar of international events. Elizabeth offers a simple, yet deeply transformative, vision for the SIGCHI community:

I have always felt that SIGCHI was my home base, and that it allows me to branch out and come together with many other disciplines. I want all of us in SIGCHI to take this message to heart—we have to work together, to come together as one, with other disciplines. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We are at an inflection point in history, and the skills of SIGCHI community members are needed more than ever. Together with researchers and practitioners from other disciplines we are strong. It is time we all work together.

back to top  How Can We Reach Our Goals?

Tamara Clegg: The SIGCHI community should adopt additional research methods. Tamara is steeped in both computer science and the learning sciences. Comparing these fields, she argues for expanding the list of research methods that the SIGCHI community typically uses:

Coming from two fields, HCI and the learning sciences (education), I have always been deeply inspired by the creativity and innovation in the SIGCHI community. If it can be dreamed up, the SIGCHI community will create and study it! Participatory methods, especially, have transformed my work and I have seen how these methods have been used to develop tools, systems, and sociotechnical systems that go beyond the purview or perspective of any one group. Yet what I often find missing in HCI that is so rich in education are the theoretical, community-based, and longitudinal approaches that emphasize understanding systemic issues such as oppression, racism, and violence. These methods use critical lenses that often require slow, in-depth work. I am excited to see how researchers in the SIGCHI community, including Yolanda Rankin, Kentaro Toyama, Sheena Erete, Christina Harrington, and Tawanna Dillahunt, have begun to embrace these approaches and bring them to the HCI field with a bang. However, methods that are common in education are often not valued in our community. We have to think about ways in which systems in our field, such as reviewing expectations and researcher evaluations, pose systemic barriers to utilizing such methods. This is critical, because using these approaches will allow the HCI community to better tackle our grand societal challenges such as racism, sexual oppression, xenophobia, and other systemic injustices.

Kristina "Kia" Höök: Designs to deepen somatic awareness. Kia's work currently focuses on soma design—designing with the body [3]. She sees the SIGCHI community as a force for good—a community that dares to declare our commitment to sustainability, equity, democracy, security, and what makes us human:

We find ourselves surrounded by a palette of smart and adaptive technologies that aim to connect digital information seamlessly to the physical world. Wearable biosensors, augmented garments, and shape-changing user interfaces are unleashing new opportunities in our day-to-day interactions. Design around the body increasingly relies on data collected from sensors, interpreted through specialized tools such as movement or facial recognition and biosensor data analysis. But these tools tend to isolate measurable units from their surrounding context. If we use them in an attempt to capture somatic experiences, we risk making single interpretations, objectifying our bodies, and, further, disengaging with our own corporeality, rather than catering for personal interpretation and coproduction of experience. Our field needs to find paths to probe which designs lead to: deepened somatic awareness; intercorporeal empathy with others and how they are affected by technologies; enactments of bodily freedoms rather than limitations; uncovering and questioning norms as they are enacted on our corporeal selves; engaging us in a nondualistic stance, where the plurality of bodies becomes inescapable; and, perhaps most importantly, making us realize how we are more than human bodies—inseparable from our environments, other organisms, and the world.

We are at an inflection point in history, and the skills of SIGCHI community members are needed more than ever.— ELIZABETH ROSENZWEIG

Elisabeth Churchill: All technology courses should start with ethics and usability. The focus of Elizabeth's message is that we need to make computing technology usable and accessible for all. Technology visionaries and entrepreneurs, product managers, developers, and builders need to know how to explore the potential unintended consequences, both negative and positive, of their envisioned platforms, products, and features before they build and launch. With her background in industry and academia, Elizabeth proposes that we combine idealism and pragmatism to achieve this goal:

SIGCHI came into existence four decades ago. The focus at the time was making computers more usable. This is still a major focus today—and, with many significant contributions, we have expanded our ideas about what usable means to have a much deeper understanding of areas where we can improve access, use, and utility as well as delightful engagement. Now we need to insist that all courses that focus on teaching skills that lead to careers in technology design—computer science, software engineering, product design, and more—should start with classes in ethics, HCI, and usability (in the broadest sense of the word). The questions we need to answer are: 1) How do we teach people to ask critical questions about the value of a technology in the world in the long as well as the short term, before they start coding, building, and launching? 2) How do we support the next generation of leaders in the technology world to be as versed in ethics and human-centricity as they are in the potential market and profit benefits of what is built and launched? and 3) How do we turn curricula around to have courses in ethics, human-centered design, usability, accessibility, philosophy, and social science topics including social economics be taught first?

I call on us to work toward helping the next generation of HCI scholars and practitioners understand they have the purview and the responsibility to address human-centered technology issues, from interaction to institution and from pixel to policy.

back to top  A Call to Action: Why, What, and How?

As we left the stage in New Orleans at CHI 2022, we were truly inspired by the future of SIGCHI. We see a community that will continue its awesome momentum toward a better world. Here is our call to action to the SIGCHI community:

First, we must remember that we are working to make a better world. Why are we in this business? It is not simply to conduct experiments or publish papers. It is to make a difference in people's lives.

Second, what we do is consequential, locally and globally. We need to engage in focused efforts of research and development that positively affect our immediate environment, a particular application domain, or a population, while also anticipating and preventing possible negative uses of our work. We must also seek roles that make our work relevant to a global audience and to real problems.

Third, we must meet the challenge of improving how we work. We must continuously learn to integrate our work with other disciplines and organizations, and work to train and educate our community to meet new sociotechnical challenges. We must help move our community, and all of humanity, toward love, generosity, inclusion, and decolonization. It is especially important to focus on early training and education, and to align these efforts with organizational incentives, such that making a difference in people's lives is something our community is trained to do, and is also rewarded for doing. We must focus on not just analyzing and criticizing what we already have but also on building something new that can make a difference in people's lives; not only build technologies but also engage society through policy and discourse. And in all of this we must strive to incorporate contexts and capacities that are representative of our global community.

back to top  Acknowledgments

We are grateful to CHI 2022 General Chairs Simone Barbosa and Cliff Lampe, who envisioned this panel to be a plenary panel of the conference. We also want to acknowledge Shaowen Bardzell, who worked on forming the panel. Finally, our thanks goes to Neha Kumar, who helped formulate the theme of the panel, worked on forming the panel, and edited the text of this article.


back to top  References

1. Grudin, J. From Tool to Partner: The Evolution of Human-Computer Interaction. Morgan & Claypool, 2017.

2. Toyama, K. Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology. PublicAffairs, 2015.

3. Höök, K. Designing with the Body: Somaesthetic Interaction Design. MIT Press, 2018.

back to top  Authors

Andrew L. Kun is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of New Hampshire. His research focuses on in-vehicle user interfaces and user interfaces for the future of work. He serves as SIGCHI vice president for finance. [email protected]

Elizabeth Churchill is director of UX at Google and visiting professor at Imperial College London's Dyson School of Design Engineering. She is a member of the SIGCHI Academy, an ACM Fellow, an ACM Distinguished Scientist, and an ACM Distinguished Speaker. She has honorary doctorates from the University of Sussex and Stockholm University. [email protected]

Tamara L. Clegg is an associate professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, where she codirects the Youth eXperience (YX) Lab. Her research focus is on designing technology to support STEM-related learning. Specifically, she is interested in technology for learning that leads to achieving personally relevant goals. In this work, she focuses on supporting groups that are underrepresented in STEM. [email protected]

Jonathan Grudin (jonathangrudin.com) is a researcher at Microsoft, an affiliate professor at the University of Washington, and an ACM Fellow. He has participated in CHI since the first conference. [email protected]

Kristina Höök is a professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Her work currently focuses on soma design—designing with the body. She is an ACM Distinguished Scientist, editor in chief of TOCHI, and a member of the SIGCHI Academy. [email protected]

Daria Loi is VP and head of UX at Fishtail. She is honorary professor of practice at the University of Newcastle, Australia, an ACM Interactions columnist, and serves on a few boards, including the board of directors for DemocracyLab. Previously, she was principal engineer at Intel, head of design and people experiences at Mozilla, head of innovation at Avast, and senior research fellow at RMIT University. [email protected]

Yolanda Rankin is an assistant professor in the School of Information at Florida State University. She leverages Black feminist epistemologies to codesign technologies with those populations that have historically been excluded in the field of computing. [email protected]

Elizabeth Rosenzweig is an adjunct professor at Brandeis University, director of World Usability Day (WUD), principal product designer at Omnicell, and principal at Bubble Mountain Consulting. She is the author of Successful User Experience: Strategies and Roadmaps. In the early years of the Usability Professionals Association, she was president for three years and went on to found World Usability Day and the World Usability Initiative. Her focus is using intelligent design skills to improve the human condition in areas such as healthcare, voting technology, and education. [email protected]

Kentaro Toyama is W.K. Kellogg Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan and author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology. He researches technology in community development and social justice. Previously, he taught at Ashesi University in Ghana and cofounded Microsoft Research India. [email protected]

Susan Dray has played a major role in the development of HCI and SIGCHI. She is an ACM Fellow, an HFES Fellow, and a member of the CHI Academy and was awarded the SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement in Practice Award and UXPA's Lifetime Achievement Award. She is currently adjunct chair of partnerships for SIGCHI. [email protected]

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Photos by Ben Shneiderman

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