CHI Conference 2019 – A Retrospect

Jürgen Baumgartner
Jürgen Baumgartner, 26. Juli 2019

This year I visited the first time the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. It took place in Scotland in May and was the biggest CHI ever, with almost 4000 participants. During 4 days, I enjoyed various talks, poster sessions, workshops and Scottish hospitality in the city of Glasgow.

Attending a presentation at CHI means one thing: decision difficulty. There were up to 13 paper session tracks with various topics simultaneously, and further activities such as courses, poster presentations, etc. Therefore, ‘you must choose, but choose wisely’ before going to a talk. Especially for the smaller locations, it was sometimes not possible to enter when full capacity was reached. Nevertheless, you get used to it after the first day, and then you start to plan in advance.

Since CHI is a paper conference, presentations are typically based on studies or presentations of new technologies/prototypes. So my impression was that it is rather a conference for researchers, and less for practitioners, although some presentations were practice-focused, too. I felt very comfortable there because I am also a bit split somehow, since I work as a practitioner at Puzzle ITC/We Are Cube and as a researcher at the University of Fribourg.

In between the conference, I participated in a one-day course for ethnographic methods in HCI. Frauke Möhrike from the TU Berlin did a great workshop with lots of hands-on exercises and critical reviews of what we did. Especially the observation and interview parts were very interesting. I already had a base knowledge due to my studies in psychology and my job but learned a great deal concerning the attitude as an observer/interviewer, and that subjectivity is not that much of a big issue if you are aware of it and try to estimate how much it biased your insights. Furthermore, I learned that trust in such activities is a crucial topic that should not be underestimated when doing research with a specific user group. It’s the ground for a good ethnographic study. All in all, I was very delighted with having participated in this course.

But I was not only at the conference to attend and consume (knowledge), I also had to deliver. I presented in one of the sessions a study of how we developed a pictorial questionnaire that measures usability. It was a project that was powered by the University of Fribourg, and Puzzle ITC/We Are Cube. My co-authors and I sent in an article last year and luckily made it. Thus, I had the honour as the first author to present it directly at the CHI conference. It was live-streamed, and to my surprise, we also got an honourable mention at the end of the presentation. Thanks to Puzzle ITC, we could publish it as an open-access article, truly in the spirit of Open Source thinking.

All in all, I am very happy and very thankful that I was given the opportunity to go to CHI. And as far as I heard, CHI 2020 is in Honolulu (Hawaii), which begs just one question: who is going to support me next year? Aloha!

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