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I’ve opened up an OnCourse assignment for your submissions. There were a few questions about the due date so I just want to clarify that final papers will be due Thursday, April 25th at 11:59PM.

Please note that I will be traveling to CHI and might not have access to email after ~11am that day. I’m happy to answer any questions or meet with you before then, though! Feel free to post your writing to the blog – even if it is just a work-in-progress still!

Happy Writing!


Today’s class reminded me of a few things and I wanted to share in hope that they will start a discussion and helps your design/research projects.

Generalizability vs Transferability

Colorado State university has this guide to understanding Generalizability and/or transferability

It might help clarifying the similarities and differences between the two terms? They definitely aren’t mutually exclusive, it seems like a fairly subtle difference.

Relationships and Action Research

A while back, Shaowen suggested I read the book “The Action Research Dissertation”  [2] for my own research. There are a few visual which have really stuck with me that I wanted to share with you, especially as you move forward in capstone and other design projects. The following two images and citations are paraphrased from this book:

The first is the four squares of knowledge, which helps us see where we position ourselves as researchers/designers. this was originally introduced by Luft [3]. If you are in III, you are positioning yourself as an outside expert, rather than a collaborator and placing yourself in a privileged  power role. This renforces having insiders place themselves and stay within quadrant II, undervaluing their professional and vernacular knowledge and experiences. However, quadrant IV is where action research comes into play.It helps to reduce the tendencies of people in II and III in order to reach an understanding of a topic mutually and collaboratively (Quad I).

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 1.45.07 PM

The second is seeing the different types of relationships and participation levels between researcher/designer and local people (participants/user group). It is taken from Cornwall [1].

How do you generally frame your work with those for whom you are studying?

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 1.44.52 PM

It’s a great book and I’m happy to talk more about it! I really liked the 3rd column in this chart;  it made me think about my own work and how I view my role. Reflexivity and self-awareness, FTW!  🙂


[1] Cornwall, A. (1996). Towards participatory practice: Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and the participatory process. In K. De Koning & M. Martin (Eds.) Participatory research in health: Issues and experience (pp 94-107). London: Zed Books.

[2]Herr, K., Anderson, G. 2005. The Action Research Dissertation. Sage Publications Limited. Thousand Oaks, CA.

[3] Luft, J. (1963). Group Process: An Introduction to group dynamics. Palo Alto, CA: National Press Books

I wanted to put a bunch of ACM formatting resources in one place for you. As we write the paper, these might be helpful! If you find other helpful resources add them to the comments!

Templates, Formatting, and Writing Guides

ACM paper template (MS Word)

ACM Citation format

Purdue Online Writing Lab

Finding Resources

HCI Bibliography

ACM digital library (Connect on campus or VPN in for access)

Top HCI Venues according to Google  (blog post by Dr. Lana Yarosh with some useful HCI venues)

Top Journals in HCI 

Google Books is also extremely helpful when looking for book chapters. I’d also suggest talking to lots of people about your topic. Inevitably, someone will know of related papers that you have yet to stumble across.

Citation Management Software

This page has a list of criteria for choosing your software as well as a large list of links to different products

Today’s class and readings focused on cinematic editing and the directorial voice. I thought this tied into some up-and-coming social media tools.

Vine is an app that allows users to create 6 second videos. The launch post from the company introduces their product as:


Posts on Vine are about abbreviation — the shortened form of something larger. They’re little windows into the people, settings, ideas and objects that make up your life. They’re quirky, and we think that’s part of what makes them so special.

We’re also happy to share the news that Vine has been acquired by Twitter. Our companies share similar values and goals; like Twitter, we want to make it easier for people to come together to share and discover what’s happening in the world. We also believe constraint inspires creativity, whether it’s through a 140-character Tweet or a six-second video.

Other sites such as VinePeek (site disclaimer: This stream is coming straight from Vine and is unmoderated. You have been warned”. I have only seen one inappropriate video pop up). Create a stream of these 6-second videos.

With the constraint of only 6 seconds, how do themes and concepts for this weeks reading map to this app and the videos produced? Does the fact that it’s perpetuated by social media change any of that? Have you used this before? How and why did you edit videos the ways you did? I want to hear all about your thoughts on vine!

Seriously, I wasted way too much time on VinePeek the other day. It’s pretty cool.

Today in class, there were a lot of questions about the 6 evaluation activities (description, contextualization, clarification, elucidation, interpretation, and analysis). I was also pretty confused at parts and having a hard time wrapping my head about how they would work, particular in the context of HCI. While listening to the questions being asked in class and reading the blog discussions, I drew a strange parallel in my head that helped me think about these things.
I’m going to “stick my neck out” a bit since this is not the same way Carroll presented the content, but it might be a different way to think about them.

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While going over the readings for this week, there were a few passages in the Reynold’s introduction for The Great Gatsby that really stuck out to me. Although the book takes place in 1922 and this reading in 1993 (guys, that was 20 years ago?!) some of the concepts matched up well with some from HCI and the technological culture of today.

I want to share a few of these with you and my thoughts, just for fun and maybe for some discussion:

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In her paper Feminist HCI: Taking Stock and outlining an Agenda for Design, Shaowen Bardzell makes the claim that “feminist HCI entails critical perspectives that could help reveal unspoken values within HCI’s dominant research and design paradigms and underpin the development of new approaches, methods, and design variations.” She states that “feminist approaches can integrate seamless and productively in all stages of the design process including user research, prototyping, and evaluation” [1]. I’d like to explore this idea of revealing values through feminist HCI by leveraging the idea of defamiliarization, particularly in user research.


“Academically, feminism is often seen as a domain of critical theory that examines ‘the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforces or undermines the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women'” [1]. Interaction design is a cultural production and is ubiquitous in this digital age.

At it’s core, feminism is rooted in the idea of challenging assumptions and power relationships between groups. Feminism takes into account agency, fulfillment, identity and the self, equity, empowerment, Diversity, and social justice.” Feminism is often focused on gender, however it has qualities and aspects that can carry over into marginalized users, or users in general.

Shaowen also discusses feminist standpoint theory. Much of this deals with gender but I’d like to pull out a few general ideas from this theory. The theory “begins with the supposition that all knowledge attempts are socially situated and some are better than others as starting points for knowledge.” it also “advocates for the use of women’s viewpoints and experiences as an alternative point of departure for social science research” [1]. I was particularly drawn to this theory and will expand on it later on in this post.

Shaowen also proposed 6 use qualities for feminist HCI: pluralism, participation, advocacy, ecology, embodiment, and self-disclosure.


In the foundations to HCI course, we read a paper by Genevieve Bell, Mark Blythe, and Phoebe Sengers titled Making by Making Strange: Defamilarization and the Design of Domestic Technologies.  The historical, social and political issues surrounding the home are also often coupled with gender roles, so domestic technology is an area where feminism seems like a naturally applicable theory. This papers argues that making things that are familiar (such as the home) seem strange can open the design space to designers. Feminism is actual brought up several times in this paper including using feminism to critique domestic technology, the design process, and the “means of gathering the data that informs design.”

Defamiliarization can be seen in literature as “a literary device that compels the reader to examine their automated perceptions of that which is so familiar that it seems natural and unquestionable” [2]. It’s also been used in anthropology  particularly within ethnographic practices.

This paper calls for the “need to find strategies to identify and break out of the cultural metaphors dominating current […] design” and claims that “by questioning the assumptions inherent in the design of everyday objects that HCI has always up design spaces, pointing towards better and more innovative designs.” Ethnography is one method used to do this as well as using extreme personas to see other perspectives of a user.

The authors claim that defamiliarization is not explicitly a scientific method, but rather a lens to see design practices in a new way. The article suggests that defamiliarization can provide “alternative view points on assumptions in the design itself.”

Defamiliarization & Feminism

Defamiliarization is all about taking a new, fresh perspective in order to question what you thought was natural, unquestionable, and assumed. Things that are taken for granted and assumed to be understood are questions and reexamined from a different view point. This is an example of the afore-mentioned feminist viewpoint theory which talks about the use of women’s (a marginalized demographic in many cases) perspective as a different starting point for knowledge in social science research.

The Contrarian  Model

The Contarian Model came about through a project done with Robert, Sam S, and Ravi for Erik’s Design Theory Course. We were given the task of coming up with a design process model. Our team focused on brainstorming and concepting through a method involving looking at your problem from a completely different perspective. An example of this model might illustrate it best:

A team of 3 designers is designing a concept trying to encourage college students to walk more. They have collected data on college students through surveys, ethnographic observation, and interviews. From this data they collected insights about what motivates and discourages people to walk as well as some of the issues with types of transportation around campus. The team all has a common understanding of these researching findings and insights. They are at the stage in their design process where they are going to begin concepting. Over the course of the project, a few of the designers have had concept ideas and made rough sketches of them but little to no formal brainstorming or sharing has occurred.

The team gathers in a room with whiteboards and markers. They have set aside around an hour to do some brainstorming using the Contrarian Model. The team works together to quickly list out some of the key findings, insights, and design requirements they have considered so far in the project process. The team works together to throw out these ideas and record it on the board. They take about 10 minutes to do this activity. The outcome is a list of short phrases and words on the side of a whiteboard.

Next, each of the team members take a marker and starts to come up with a list of insights and design requirements that are contrary to the previous list. They start doing this individual for a few minutes (around 5 ) then take another 5-10 minutes to discuss and brainstorm a few extra contrary requirements. The team knows that the key goal  here is to flip the previous knowledge and in a way, defamilarize themselves with what they know and some of the concepts they have already developed through the research and insights phase. The team has a lot of fun with this, citing things like chairs that make sure you don’t need to move at all from the movie Wall-E and other enjoyable. They laugh a lot and try to come up with requirements that would make the lives of walkers awful and encourage people to be sedentary.

The team breaks as individuals, sketching ideas based on the contrary requirements on whiteboards and on paper/in sketch books. The team takes about 15 minutes to come up with out of the box concepts. Some of the concepts included ways to punish walkers, to discourage walking, to encourage non-active modes of transportation, and to make driving in cars around campus more enjoyable and convenient. There is a lot of joking and some sharing of concepts, even though the sketching is occurring individually. Two of the team members bounce funny concepts off of each other as they sketch variations of the same general idea.

The team has around 15 minutes left of their meeting. They each share their contrary concepts with one another pointing out features and which of the contrary requirements each concept addresses. At the end, they notice that patterns developed and the team noted that they should be sure to avoid these in their designs. The team works together and brainstorms a few concepts which are contrary to the contrary concepts. One member  jokes that this is one of the few cases where “two wrongs make a right”. These new concepts address the issues of the original list of requirements and insights derived from the data. However, because they have used this method of contrary concept development they were able to see  (and avoid in their concepting) some previously unforeseen issues. They were also able to come up with very creative and out of the box concepts which they wouldn’t have other wise thought of based on this activity.

The team proceeds with concepting. In a few cases they refer back to their contrary concepts as a tool to find issues in their concepting logic as well as to get new ideas flowing within the group. One team member comes up with a really good concept but then decided to take it one step further and design a contrary concept. This allows him to see some flaws in his concept so he re concepts his idea, improving on his first.

The team decides on a concept and proceeds with the design process.

In a previous post, I talked about my capstone and how I’m using a form of participatory design. I’m researching adults and children who are adjusting to a divorced family situation. This is often an emotionally charged and complicated situation for all of the family members – it’s a sensitive subject and, as I try to recruit, I find that most people don’t want to talk about something that is not very pleasant to discuss. I’m using a variation participatory design as one of my methods. Rather than have participants design an ideal system to help manage co-parenting, I’m having participants design the worst possible system ever. My rationale behind this is that I can see key issues in the scheduling process based on what they find to be the worst solutions. I can find these insights without having to ask for personal antidotes that may be difficult or uncomfortable for the participant to discuss. By taking a Contarian approach to the research method of participatory design, I’ve encouraged users to defamiliarize themselves from a situation, much like the designers who would use this method to brainstorm.

So, what?

In the Barnard book, there are several strengths and weaknesses of feminism. One of the weaknesses is that “a gender-based approach is reductive.” [3]. By using defamiliarization, which is already a feminist approach, with participatory design as a research method, you can get past this weakness of feminism as reductive. Instead, I think a researcher can gather more emergent data but through a feminist lens.


[1] Bardzell, S. (2010) Feminist HCI: Taking Stock and Outlining An Agenda for Design

[2] Bell, G, M. Blythe, P. Sengers. (2005). Making by Making Strange: Defamiliarization and the Design of Domestic Technologies.

[3] Barnard, Malcolm. (2001). Approaches to Understanding Visual Culture. New York: Palgrave

I want to expand on my previous post about Etsy Gifts. I’ve been thinking about this some more and I want to pose the argument that Etsy gifts is a mediocre gift suggestion system because it is based in structuralism, when the best gifts come from a phenomenological understanding of a persons lifeworld or a relationships fusion of horizons.

We’ve explored phenomenology over the course of this semester. Phenomenology as an approach to studying culture“stresses the role of the individual consciousness in understanding. Here understanding is either something that individuals do or something that happens to individuals :either way it is the product of specific, intentional, historically and spatially located individual awareness.” It “principally concerned with the elements of human experience” [1]. Barnard discusses how the interpreter as well as the artist (author) both have intentions. These intentions are the “beliefs, hopes, fears, and desires about the world and its contents an individual has at any one time.” [2]  These intentions are all different for each individual. They change and are dependent on an individual’s context. Each individual also has a lifeworld of their own; a set of horizons which are constructed through an individuals experiences.

Giving a gift is a phenomenological action because it requires the giver to interpret and understand the lifeworld of the gift receiver. This is wrapped in context, interpretation, subjective understanding of a person, and awareness of the other individual. If we related gift giving to Gadamaer’s explain of understanding in a hermeneutic perspective, it is a “mediation, a fusing of the horizons” [2].

Etsy gifts fails to take a phenomenological approach because it does not take into account that the computer doesn’t recognize the lifeworlds of me and Jeff. I am a student he is teacher. It doesn’t consider that he is male (earrings). It does not take into account that toilet paper with Obama’s face on it was not meant for someone who supports Obama. The application removes context from the item being presented, the meaning of a search term (supporting Obama vs not), and the relationship between the giver and receiver of the gift.

We’ve also discussed structuralism. Barnard discusses this in terms of the mind saying that the mind “operates in terms of categories. These categories, sets of distinctions and oppositions form structures. These structures may be used to understand the external world. Consequently, they may also be used to understand the culture that is itself using them. These categories, these structures, are not under the control of individuals. They are a product of mind, or consciousness, but they are not the products of individual minds or consciousness” [2]. Facebook uses these structures and categories to help users construct a profile or online identity of themselves. You can select if you are a part of the population that identifies themselves as a swimmer (or not), singer (or not), shopper (or not), etc.

A friend’s profile consists of terms that create an identity of themselves. What they are interested in or like, what they see as important to share and represent, etc. In a way, the actual creation of this profile is somewhat hermeneutic because they have determined what information is important to share or not. They have selected the language used to describe themselves. However, the profile itself is situated in a structuralist way through the links created by Facebook. Clicking on “swimming” will go to a swimming page which connects everyone in the “I like swimming” category. The same thing happens when an Etsy seller posts an item. They use “tags” to assign labels to each item. These tags categorize and group certain items together


It is this profile information that provides Etsy Gifts with the information for the gift recommendations. When Etsy Gifts gives a user recommendation, they use these categories of interests to search for items. Each interest just becomes a word or a phrase, but does not take other pieces of information into context. Barnard stated “These categories, these structures, are not under the control of individuals” but these structures have been created by developers of the Facebook API and the Etsy application. They have completely left out social context, and rather based the recommendations on word or phrases.

So, again, Etsy gifts is a mediocre gift suggestion system because it is based in structuralism, when the best gifts come from a phenomenological understanding of a persons lifeworld or a relationships fusion of horizons.

What improvements could be made to make this gifting application more phenomenological? Take context into consideration. Look not only for key search terms but also at the relationship between the friends, ages, gender, context of the terms (Obama example), etc.


[1] Dourish, Paul. (2001). Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[2] Barnard, Malcolm. (2001). Approaches to Understanding Visual Culture. New York: Palgrave.

I’ve read Shaowen’s paper on Feminist HCI before – on two different occasions under two different contexts, actually. However, this time around I felt like I “got it” in a different way than before. Perhaps this is because of Interaction Culture, perhaps it’s because I’ve been working on the Etsy project a lot longer since first reading it, or perhaps because as I was reading it this time around I was trying to read it in the context of my capstone.

For those of who you aren’t familiar with my capstone project, I’m focusing on designing a scheduling system for divorced families with children (overview here). In HCI, domestic technology, and CSCW, divorced families have been underrepresented in designs and research. I’d go as far as to say they’ve been pretty much ignored, particularly when you look at the statistics about the number of divorces in the US alone. Divorced families are a marginalized demographic that could benefit from the concepts presented in the Feminist HCI paper.

I knew this going into both my capstone and reading this paper, but I didn’t fully grasp a connection. In preparation for my capstone research I bought a few books on the topics of domestic technology, feminism, and a historical look at feminism per Shaowen’s recommendation; I read parts of them but not very closely. I kind of understood the connection between my capstone and feminist HCI but I didn’t think through it fully. So when I read this paper again, I tried to look at it through the lens of my capstone. Two things really stood out to me: the discussion on marginalized demographics in HCI and the quality of participation.

Shaowen writes, “It would seem that serving existing needs — the traditional approach to HCI — is conservative and perpetuates the status quo.” This quote really stuck out to me. Despite the fact that almost 50% of US marriages end in divorce and 1/3 of children have divorced parents, there were only two articles on HCI and divorce that I could find. There were plenty that focused on a nuclear family, but only two on a topic that affected that large of a population?! Our field is currently perpetuating the status quo, but a status quo that existed years ago when dynamic family structures were taboo. Our society’s view has changed on divorce and as it becomes more prevalent shouldn’t the research shifted as well?

Shaowen also presented a few use qualities, but the quality of participation really stuck out to me. I don’t really remember this from reading it before, or watching her present at CHI (sorry, Shaowen!) but I realized I had been taking this quality and have already put it to use in my research. I’m researching adults and children who are adjusting to a divorced family situation. This is often an emotionally charged and complicated situation for all of the family members – it’s a sensitive subject and, as I try and recruit, I find that most people don’t want to talk about something that is not very pleasant to discuss. I’m using a variation participatory design as one of my methods. Rather than have participants design an ideal system to help manage co-parenting, I’m having participants design the worst possible system ever. My rationale behind this is that I can see key issues in the scheduling process based on what they find to be the worst solutions. I can find these insights without having to ask for personal antidotes that may be difficult or uncomfortable for the participant to discuss. I immediately thought of this when I read the quote, “[O]ngoing participation and dialogue among designers and users can lead to valuable insights that could not be achieved scientifically. A participatory approach is compatible with empathetic user research that avoids the scientific distance that cuts the bonds of humanity between researcher and subject, preempting a major resources for design (empathy, love, care). […] we need to complement [scientific] approaches with participatory processes, especially when considering interaction-related phenomena that are deeply personal and subjective.”

So, there is my example of one the use qualities in action. We’ll see how it works!