British HCI ’97 Trip Report

Mary Czerwinski



British HCI ’97 was held in Bristol, UK this year at the University of West England. The conference started out with a full day of tutorials, followed by Industry Day, after which began the conference proper. Below are my notes from various talks and keynote addresses that I thought would be of some interest to the group.


Darrel Rhea, Keynote Speaker, Cheskin+Maskin/ImageNet, CA

A market researcher who uses primarily qualitative techniques to guide design, packaging and marketing efforts for his big name clients (including Microsoft) gave this talk. He discussed the importance of individual target end user interviews, focus groups, 2nd-party interviews (experts on the target end-user), surveys and photographic market profiling techniques.


Designing for Attention: Looking at Text and Pictures—Peter Faraday and Alistair Sutcliffe, City University

Peter used eye-tracking data in multimedia, medical displays to provide guidelines about how to design for mm. To analyze the eye tracking data, he used each individual subject’s data coded as a state transition diagram (hence, he used VERY small N’s). He has a tool that describes the attentional demands of a mm design, and where a designer might want to focus on potential problems. The full paper is available from his website:


Towards Interactive Environments: The Intelligent Room—Michael Coen, MIT

Movement of people in these rooms (yes, they have several and are building more in the new CS building) is verified via vision systems that can track up to 4 users at a time. They have static "person" identification systems currently on line. The person tracking systems guide the embedded tracking mikes that are all around the room (they aren’t very accurate) so that sound quality is high. There was a lot in this talk, and Michael ran out of time, leaving us with the proverbial, "It’s all on my web page…" Here’s the url:


Keynote address: Affective and wearable computing--Rosalind Picard, MIT Media Laboratory

Rosalind’s talk was very interesting, as usual. She’s really moved away from wearable computing and is focusing much more on adapting the wearable UI toward affective feedback from the user. She has a book entitled, Affective Computing, due out next month. She is using GSR to look at user frustration—she claims that the strongest results are in the field—so that she can provide intelligent emotional response to the user. Apparently, getting the intensity of the emotion is easy—getting the valence (positive or negative) is very hard. Hoping to couple this with vision systems that do facial recognition, etc., to tackle the valence problem. Didn’t get any ideas as to HOW she’s adapting the UI to user affective states, though. She mentioned Peter Lang’s work at UCSD as very influential.


The impact of marginal utility and time on distributed information retrieval—Chris Johnson, U. of Glasgow

Chris applied utility theory to UI design, especially information retrieval problems on the web. He didn’t have time for all of the information he wanted to present, either, so his talk wasn’t very informative, although the paper itself is. Here’s his paper:


Explorations in Sonic Browsing—Mikael Fernstrom and Liam Bannon, U. of Limerick

Mikael presented a starfield display of audio information for Celtic musicologists. It can play up to 15 sounds at a time while a user is browsing the space. It’s a little like walking through a hallway and hearing conversations in rooms as you go by. In the visual channel, he used the dimensions of size, color, shape and number to distinguish parameters of interest to the searcher. The browser can also be used as a musical instrument! He used a ucd approach to designing the software and is currently collecting usability feedback and tracking usage logs. He will make the software freely available off his website in approximately one month.


Keynote: Re-inventing the workplace: the impact of information and communication technology on buildings and work-settings—John Worthington, U. of York

I didn’t like this talk, because I like my office. Apparently, I’m not alone but the workplace designers and top-level managers in John’s circle are convinced that they can change our attitudes. Here are his main ideas:

Bottom line, you lose you office, your desk, any workplace stability whatsoever but you get lots of cool toys in the future.


Oh, yeah, Kevin Larson and I gave a paper at the conference (in the same session as David Caulton and Ken Dye). Our session was heavily attended, and we got lots of good feedback. Here’s a link to the paper: