An “intellectual turn” at CHI´13?—Paris and the philosophy of interaction

Authors: Mikael Wiberg
Posted: Mon, April 15, 2013 - 10:51:56

CHI´13 is just around the corner now. In a couple of weeks from now the global CHI community is coming together, not primarily to meet the Spring in Paris, but to meet up, hang out, and continue discussions on where HCI is going and how to push HCI design and research forward. Arguments will be made, results will be presented, and new interactive systems will be demonstrated. This is for sure enjoyable and important, as the arguments, the results, and the prototypes show concrete examples of how we are advancing our field on a practical and concrete level.

Still, and even more important, CHI also serves as a node for the thinking in our field. While we do have practical results to show, I always think that the coolest thing is to listen to a presentation at a conference where a new idea, perspective, concept or critique is made through arguments, results, and demonstrated systems. After all, a scientific conference should be about new ideas, right? And great presentations at CHI typically manage to present new ideas in really cool ways. So, do we have what it takes to advance ideas in HCI to the next level, i.e., to initiate the work of linking ideas, presented through technology, into something bigger and more long-term and fundamental? I am thinking about the potential for the philosophy of interaction for HCI.

Paris is a city of culture and history. It is also a symbol for many of the great French philosophers, and we should take this opportunity to let the city atmosphere of Paris influence our community and our thinking. This year we even have a great established philosopher for the closing plenary at CHI´13—Bruno Latour! But how can we prepare ourselves for this unique opportunity of having a great philosopher such as Latour as closing plenary speaker at CHI? Latour has for sure presented novel ideas that describe how our social and technical world is entangled, but more important, I think that we can learn from Latour when it comes to the practice of thinking in HCI. However, to seize this opportunity we need to prepare ourselves, and we need to formulate questions for the closing plenary. 

So, here is my proposal. Let’s take the CHI´13 conference as a starting point for thinking about how we can better and more precisely appreciate, advance, and critique the fundamental ideas and concepts being presented at CHI´13. This means to not only focus on the studies conducted and the interactive systems presented, but also more fundamentally to think about how these studies presented and systems demonstrated advance ideas and ways of thinking in our field. 

While the philosophy of science is concerned with all the assumptions, foundations, methods, and implications of science, and with the use and merit of science, I see a similar potential for the advancement of the “philosophy of interaction.” There are already established philosophies of science, language, mathematics, and so on, and some people in our field have already suggested this notion of philosophy of interaction (e.g., Dag Svanæs) while others (e.g., [1]) have suggested that we should advance our field through explorations of “strong concepts” or through “concept-driven” HCI research [2]. Still, to make these idea-driven agendas happen we need to take this on as a broad challenge and opportunity across the whole CHI community. At CHI´13 we have one such great opportunity. If we reflect on the presentations made at CHI from an ideas perspective, and if we think about critical questions to ask from an “advancing ideas” perspective during the presentations, and to Bruno Latour at the closing plenary, then the discussion will hopefully circulate around two important levels of discussion at CHI—studies, results, and novel systems on the one hand, as well as ideas, notions, and concepts on the other hand. I see these two levels of discussion as fundamentally intertwined in HCI, not only as an opportunity, but as a necessity. Still, HCI calls for its own tradition and its own philosophy of interaction. While we do have well-developed theories in our field related to our object of study, I see the advancement of the philosophy of interaction as this meta-level foundation for how ideas can be advanced in HCI. Further on, I see this as an opportunity for an “intellectual turn” in HCI. A philosophical point of view will provide us with the opportunity to think about our profession and what we do not only as interaction design but also as “interaction thinking.” From my perspective, one such “thinking through design” practice can be found in Jonas Löwgren and Erik Stolterman´s [3] ideas of “thoughtful interaction design,” and it might help us in pushing our field forward and in seeing our past through new eyes. 

Travel well, and I look forward to our discussions and reflections in Paris!


1. Höök, K. and Löwgren, J. (2012). Strong concepts: Intermediate-level knowledge in interaction design research. ACM Trans. Computer-Human Interaction

2. Löwgren, J. and Stolterman, E. (2004). Thoughtful Interaction Design. The MIT Press.

3. Stolterman, E. and Wiberg, M. (2010). Concept-driven Interaction Design Research. Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Vol. 25, Issue 2, pp. 95-118.

Posted in: on Mon, April 15, 2013 - 10:51:56

Mikael Wiberg

Mikael Wiberg is a full professor in informatics at Umeå University, Sweden. Wiberg's main work is within the areas of interactivity, mobility, materiality, and architecture. He is a co-editor in chief of ACM Interactions, and his most recently published book is The Materiality of Interaction: Notes on the Materials of Interaction Design (MIT Press, 2018). [email protected]
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@Dag Svanæs (2013 05 12)

Thanks for interesting blog entry. “Philosophy of Interaction” was actually a term Mads Soegaard came up with as the title for my encyclopedia entry on phenomenology and interactivity for It is a nice and concise term. (I presented a TOCHI paper at CHI 2013 on the same topic: ). Yes, we need more theory at CHI! Why are there so many Scandinavians on your reading list?