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Thinking Out of the Box

Of Science and Bavarian Beer Receptions – Visiting the “Mensch und Computer 2014” in Munich

Laura Festl
Laura Festl
September 17th, 2014

What is aesthetics and how can we determine it? Can usability tests be performed remotely to save time and money? And what happens to a Facebook profile when its user dies? These and many more interesting topics about human-computer interaction, user experience and usability where subject of this year’s conference Mensch und Computer 2014 (Human and Computer 2014) which took place in the premises of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich.

With the slogan „Moving interactively – design clearances“, speakers from theory and practice presented their work in lectures, tutorials and workshops. The conference combines the scientific symposium Mensch-Computer-Interaktion (MCI) with the more practically oriented track UP14 – Usability Professionals. So, as in previous years, the sessions where divided in a research and a more practical part which was organized by the Berufsverband der Deutschen Usability und User Experience Professionals. As always, the conference was very well attended and provides the German-speaking UX community a platform to outline problems, share best practices and exchange ideas over coffee and snacks.

Liam Bannon spoke about the development of human-computer interaction in der majestic auditorium of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. ©2014 Janine Fischer www.mensch-und-computer.de

Liam Bannon spoke about the development of human-computer interaction in der majestic auditorium of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. ©2014 Janine Fischer www.mensch-und-computer.de

Variety of topics and issues

After the opening keynotes of HCI pioneer Liam Bannon – Honorary Professor at the University of Aarhus in Denmark – and Bill Scott, Sr. Director of UI Engineering at Paypal, lectures dealt with a variety of research fields and industries.  Leo Glomann and Lucie Grudno explained how UX processes are introduced and established at Adidas. They talked about strategies they pursued and difficulties they had to deal with. Siegfried Olschner and his colleagues analyzed if remote usability testing works out compared to standard testing procedures in a lab. Participants of the remote group were asked to solve certain tasks on their own computer without assistance and answer questions online. Implementing such remote tests is time and cost-effective since there is no need for a moderator on-site. Likewise, more tests can be performed. However, the discussed disadvantages seemed to outweigh: Preparing and evaluating the tests is more time consuming for remote tests and the participants missed a contact person. But there are ways to combine the advantages of both methods. Just recently, I conducted a moderated remote usability test with a paper prototype. The paper on the table was recorded and the participants could navigate it via mouse on a shared screen. In most cases, this procedure worked out quite well.

Some of the talks on the conference also showed a greater awareness towards ethical aspects. One very exciting lecture was about digital death and how we deal with it. 10,000 Facebook users die every day – what happens to their online profiles? Agnieszka Walorska and Marie-Luise Jaeger presented a concept for a website that is designed to help people dealing with such issues and taking steps to relieve their survivors. While developing the platform, ethical issues arose such as the recruitment of grieving test subjects for the evaluation of the tool. The design itself was a challenge, too. The website should appeal to both precautionary people who use the platform organizing their affairs as well as those who previously lost a loved one and use the platform to manage his or her digital legacy.

Centigrade was involved in the conference program as well and contributed two talks: Markus Weber (Head of Usability Engineering at Centigrade) held a lecture entitled “User-Centered Design? Sure, but please without users”. The lecture dealt with the causes and arguments of clients who question the involvement of end-users in design projects and ways to react on it as usability professional (download the slides here). Jörg Niesenhaus (Branch manager North-West at Centigrade) drew parallels between game design and user interface design and pointed out what user experience designers can learn from game designers for shaping their processes more creatively or to avoid documentation overhead (download the slides here). Furthermore, Jörg was involved in the organization and execution of the day-long workshop “Press Play? Practice-oriented and scientific perspective on gamification”.

Jörg Niesenhaus holding the talk "Best of both worlds: Game Design meets User Interface Design" in the UP track. ©2014 Janine Fischer www.mensch-und-computer.de

Jörg Niesenhaus holding the talk “Best of both worlds: Game Design meets User Interface Design” in the UP track. ©2014 Janine Fischer www.mensch-und-computer.de

UX close up

During the demo session visitors could experience how new technology is being used in a UX design sense and what kind of products can arise from deploying scientific issues on practical applications. The demonstrations mainly showed the creative use of existing technologies such as a menu for a fast food restaurant that is projected onto a table and can be used with fingertip movements detected and converted into actions by the Microsoft Kinect. A body scanner allowed visitors to create an avatar of their own body in seconds. On that basis, body measurements and dress size could be calculated. Using the Oculus Rift – a head-mounted display for virtual reality – visitors could enjoy a virtual trip above the clouds while hanging in ropes of a hang-glider and been blown at by a fan.

The beer reception in the evening at the Löwenbräukeller really made up for the missing Bavarian Catering “Schmankerl” in the afternoon and the bad weather. In addition to the best paper awards, the winners of the first CSCW Challenge and the fourth Usability Challenge where announced. Both prices were awarded to students of the University of Siegen. The price for the Usability Challenge went there the fourth year in a row incidentally – Congratulations to the winners!

During the demo session visitors could try out new product ideas themselves. ©2014 Janine Fischer www.mensch-und-computer.de

During the demo session visitors could try out new product ideas themselves. ©2014 Janine Fischer www.mensch-und-computer.de

Putting people first

Overall, I noticed the frequent use of the term human-centered design – compared to the similar term user-centered design or the commonly used human-computer interaction. People are being put in the focus whereas computers become less important. Not a technical solution but understanding a problem is our main concern. The abbreviation UUX or U/UX (usability and user experience) also crossed my way several times and seems to complement last year’s discussion about renaming the German UPA in German UXPA – in-line with its American sister UXPA.

Not only the digital world benefits from good user experience design. In his lecture about service design in shopping centers, Olde Lorenzen-Schmidt illustrated that the seven dialogue principles for interactive systems – such as suitability for the task, self-descriptiveness and conformity with user expectations – can be applied to the real world for improving the user experience. For example, more prominent signs help better orientation and assist people to deal with their “tasks” appropriately. This year’s conference shows that professionals in the field of usability and user experience still can learn a thing or two in this regard: Just like other people, UX designers sit down on a bench’s edge in lecture halls for being able to quickly and easily flee in case of boredom. A requirement analysis in the sense of our profession would certainly recommend sitting in the middle of a bench to allow stragglers to easily find a seat and thus promote a positive user experience. So I guess, there are enough topics for next year’s conference out there.

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