When I teach user interface design, I always come to a point about 2/3 of the way through the semester where I show the students this picture. It’s a picture from circa late 70s or early 80s of someone sitting in front of a Xerox Star. I tell them this was the dawn of the desktop computer / GUI era, and this picture illustrates many of the assumptions that were implicit in this area. Then I ask the students to tell me what they notice about the picture.
Maybe you want to try it before reading any further…
OK, you’re back?
The students notice lots of interesting stuff, but a lot of what I want to point out they usually don’t notice: it’s too obvious to notice, like: the user is an adult, a man, can see, can read, has no motor disabilities, is white, is a white collar worker, which means he’s probably educated, is working (not having fun), is alone, etc.
Then I say that all of these assumptions are false for many (or most) human beings and for many (or most) human activities.
Well, at CHI 2009, I was finally convinced that the CHI community has definitively got that. Now, many CHI’ers have gotten this long ago. Maybe it’s just me noticing this is true about the field. In any case, there was great stuff about topics like: tabletop devices, social media, and, my favorite, designing in the developing world.
My absolute favorite event in this vein was Jan Chipchase’s presentation. Jan Chipchase has the coolest job in the world. He’s a researcher for Nokia, and he travels all around the world observing practices related (veeeeeeery broadly) to mobile phone use and coming up with ideas for new Nokia designs and products. By “all around the world”, I don’t mean North America, Europe, and Japan (although he certainly spends lots of time there). I mean Ghana and Uganda and Afghanistan and Vietnam, among lots of other places. He does contextual inquiry in monsoons, participatory design in shanty towns, and lofi prototyping in villages. His talk consisted of showing a large number of slides and telling stories. It was great. If you’re interested in learning more about what he does, check out his web site referenced above. He has lots of interesting blog entries and posts his slides for all or most of his slides.