The CREATE 2009 conference took place on Weds & Thurs this week, and once again lived up to its reputation as a small, sociable conference on HCI, with an emphasis on creative arts & design. Highlights of the event for me were the talk by Jo Reid from HP Labs on the development of a number of location-based experiences, in collaboration with various colleagues from the worlds of dramatic arts and and game development. It was good to renew the acquaintance with HP – it turns out that Jo and I share colleagues in common all the way back from my RAE Secondment there in 1996.
Also memorable was the Andy Budd‘s presentation, who made great use of visuals and offline analogies in outlining what he saw as the key principles of Designing the Experience Curve. Interestingly, I’d come across details of Andy’s presentation only the week earlier, as part of some research into the role and value of personalisation in eCommerce.
I also gave a talk on UI Design Patterns for Search and Information Discovery as part of the same session (BTW I hope to make the slides available shortly). It raised some interesting responses, but I can’t help feeling that Create wasn’t quite the right conference for my sort of talk. Essentially, what I presented was a documentary narrative on the process of creating a pattern library, supported by some analysis of the role and value of patterns in addressing particular design problems in search and information access. By contrast, the majority of other papers were much more speculative in nature, often consisting of opinion pieces and thought-provoking explorations of what happens at the intersection of art, technology and design.
So, I’m wondering where all this leaves us. On the one hand, I think it is great that the Ergonomics Society supports events like Create, as it keeps HCI firmly on the corporate agenda and pushes us in a direction that we’ve rather under-resourced in the past. On the other hand, the particular flavour of HCI that Create represents does not (as currently understood) reflect what I see as an approach characteristic of the Ergonomics Society, which would more naturally gravitate toward harder disciplines such as science & engineering.
Perhaps my perception is somewhat biased – after all, I trained in science and engineering, so my natural instinct when considering other ideas is to judge them on their scientific merit, i.e. the presence of an interesting hypothesis, the execution of a rigorous experimental methodology, the application of appropriate analytical techniques, reflection on the results and their wider implications, etc.
This is all a long way from the methodology and focus of Create. Moreover, the direction Create is taking reflects wider changes within the HCI community – I’ve felt for many years now that the emphasis within HCI has been moving away from science and engineering to design and creative arts as the primary source of inspiration and development. Certainly, a cursory review of the content and editorial balance of publications like Interfaces over the last few years would seem to bear this out.
So I wonder whether Create is really the right vehicle for the Society to express its commitment and support for the wider HCI community. Perhaps it is time to ask the question: are there are other topics that represent a more natural balance between the unique perspective of the Society, the interests of partners such as the BCS, and emerging themes within the wider HCI community?