What is wrong with CHI for Deigners (was RE: Fwd: alt.chi 2007 - first call for submissions)

29 Nov 2006 - 2:28am
7 years ago
1 reply
538 reads
Dave Malouf
2005

Both Jon and Alex have good cause to take me to task and ask for more
details about my comments about CHI. Many people on this list and in the IxD
community work hard to bring the CHI conferences to life and criticisms
should not be left to be random or ambiguous and I apologize for doing so.

My "data" is qualative in nature and the sources are indeed not
comprehensive and possibly may not be generalizable. It is what "I'm
hearing" from those I'm speaking with in my "little universe"; but that
being said, I do maybe vainly put a lot of value in my "little universe"
being what it is and whom I have contact with. So here goes ...

Jon points to technical and review processes and while I did have personal
(and heard from others about) problems in both these areas, they were either
minor in the case of technical, or they were unfortunate or subjective in
the case of the review process.

My main complaint is actually in submission process/format. It is still
completely geared towards the academic format. While I do not know yet if my
Experience Report will be accepted yet, it was an arduous task to fit my
presentation into the experience report format.

But even before I got to the point of doing that, I had to find out that the
ER format was the right one for me to submit under and even then I did so
without a lot of confidence. Jon, as you know I contacted you with my idea
and you and discussed in detail how I should go about submitting it. In that
conversation you did not give me a clear answer at all, but 3 suggestions
for possible format types. This left me with the "What?????" feeling that I
think shouldn't be there for anyone submitting.

I have heard from other designers that due to their schedules of being
practitioners that the formats just don't work. They are too restrictive,
too detailed oriented, and the review process surrounding them are still
grounded in academic rigors that don't make sense for practitioners.

This alone has stopped way too many people I've spoken with from even
attempting to submit. Good people. Some might say famous
designers/practitioners who the CHI community are loosing out on an
opportunity to hear from.

To create a true "design community" Jon, you have to reformat the community
track to fit the needs of those you want to bring in. You can't use the same
sructures, same enticements (publication), or the same evaluation processes
as the other communities and slap a content category on it. There are severe
cultural differences in place here.

If I compare this to the IA Summit <disclaimer: I'm on the planning
committee> it is night and day. To submit to the Summit, you put in a 150
word abstract and follow a very flexible template for proposals (new this
year for the first time; previously the abstract was all that was
necessary). This in my experience has led to a much more open barrier of
entry and appropriate format for the practioner community that the IA Summit
focuses on.

Anyway, that is my response.

I have been speaking with Jon a lot over the last few months and I believe
his call for public explanation was appropriate in light of my ambiguous
public "critique" of something he has put a lot of work into (as many others
in this community). At first I wanted to heed Jared's warning to "not go
there" on this list in public, but felt that would not be fair.

I would request though that maybe the best direction for this discussion
would be the creation of a committee of those people who are deeply invested
in the CHI format/culture/community such as Jon and those like myself who
feel estranged and even outside of it, but still feel that creating strong
bridges between UX disciplines is an important part of our practice as UX
professionals. The goal would be to help create an even better Design
Community/Track for CHI2008 or maybe even a supplemental "event" that maybe
could even have a shared IxDA/SIGCHI (add other UX org if necessary)
sponsorship/organizing effort.

<disclaimer: I am not speaking officially for the IxDA in this suggestion.>

-- dave

Comments

29 Nov 2006 - 10:10am
Jon Kolko [SCAD]
2005

Hi,

> Jon points to technical and review processes and while I did have
> personal (and heard from others about) problems in both these
> areas, they were either minor in the case of technical, or they were
> unfortunate or subjective in the case of the review process.

I'm not going to go out of my way to defend "peer review", because quite
honestly, I think it's a horrendous way to run conference acceptance; I also
think it's hilarious (in a terrible, off-color sort of way) that so many
people's jobs (ie, research, academic, tenure, etc) depend on the flawed
peer review process. That, however, is a rant for another thread.

> I have heard from other designers that due to their schedules of being
> practitioners that the formats just don't work. They are too restrictive,
> too detailed oriented, and the review process surrounding them are still
> grounded in academic rigors that don't make sense for practitioners.

I both agree and disagree. I agree that there are some designers who don't
operate well with the written language, and that a 6 page paper is not
something they are terribly excited about completing. That's unfortunate,
and I certainly think CHI is losing out on a tremendous set of skilled
designers in that respect.

I have to disagree with you, however, with your comments about the
restrictive, detail oriented and rigorous process. With all respect, these
do, and should, make sense and resonate with practitioners, and maybe we are
beginning to hit on what is wrong with practitioners. When I take off my
academic hat and put on my professional one, I've worked with some amazing
talent - specifically, at Trilogy - who were detail oriented, rigorous, and
thorough. But I've also started to see the opposite edge to this; the
democratization and the publicity our field has gotten has created a number
of "designers" who are sloppy and lack the empathetic rigor and passion
required to successfully follow through on work. The idea that a
professional can somehow be sloppier than an academic is ridiculous, but I
fear that the overall quality of our professional delivery may be heading
south.

> To create a true "design community" Jon, you have to reformat the
> community track to fit the needs of those you want to bring in. You
> can't use the same sructures, same enticements (publication), or the
> same evaluation processes as the other communities and slap a
> content category on it. There are severe cultural differences in place
> here.

In this particular case, you are preaching to the choir. We tried; we tried
hard to allow professional designers to submit to CHI in any way they
wanted, and we would try to make it work. Our attempts continually ran into
a wall of tradition, and I agree with you: CHI is an academic conference
first, and it will always be an academic conference first. I'm beginning to
think, however, that this isn't so bad. Let me compare my experience at a
strictly professional conference (at least up until 2006) - IDSA - to my
experience at CHI.

I've always been blown away by the networking opportunities at IDSA. One can
literally walk out of the conference with anything: new clients, new
partners, new lovers (!), new anything. The entire thing is almost always
sponsored by Bombay Sapphire, and there's a level of continuous party that
goes on through the entire conference. I have a great time at IDSA.
Unfortunately, I rarely learn a thing. In my experience, the content is
usually lagging industry by about five years, and the speakers often
reiterate what they have said in their last book or public speaking
engagement; you end up with speakers who "do the conference circuit", which
gets real old, real fast. I'm also echoing the sentiments of my professional
colleagues, who tell me they pay the $1000 conference fee "in spite of the
content" because the networking is so damn good.

CHI, on the other hand, isn't a party. They have meet and greets, and
there's a certain amount of boozing that goes on, but the emphasis is, and
from what I can understand, always has been on content. I go to CHI to
learn, and I walk away knowing more. I guess that is inherently "academic",
but I love it, and I loved it when I was a practitioner, and I loved it when
I was a student.

Judging from the responses to the post-conference questionnaire in 2006,
attendees agree with me, and I'll share some data with you (I haven't posted
entire responses here, but I certainly could if people find it interesting).

This is from a _voluntary_ post questionnaire to the CHI2006 conference,
administered to all 2000+ attendees via email/web, with a response of
n=1165.

- "Was CHI2006 worth your time and money?"
Yes - 89%
No - 11%

- "What is the value you received from attending CHI 2006? (please check all
that apply)"

Get new ideas and inspiration - 83%
Learn new material - 76%
Meet new friends and colleagues - 75%

- "Which of the following best describes your profession? (If you are a
student enter the professional discipline you are studying.)"

Designer, Interaction - 10%
Designer, User Experience - 13%
Researcher, Academia - 29%
Usability Engineering - 8%
Information Architect - 2%

- "Select from below the best description of where you work:"

Software Development - 15%
University/research institute - 43%
Education - 9%
Consulting - 5%

I deduce some things from this data. First, the audience is primarily
academic, but a close second total population being practicing designers
(not engineers, or usability people - designers). Second, the audience is
looking to be inspired, and, judging from the responses, the conference is
following through on this promise. And finally, the core audience of CHI is
still academics, which means that - to follow a user centered design
approach to the conference - the various policies and logistics should
probably mimic and cater towards what these people expect and desire. That
certainly doesn't mean it has to happen at the expense of the others,
however, and that's what we've been trying to change this year.

I think we've succeeded, to some extent. You seem to have had a negative
experience with the conference thus far this year, and for that I apologize.
However, CHI has never seen such a large number of submissions; the
submitted work looks great; the speakers already lined up are fantastic; and
the city is the middle of the valley, making it pretty damn exciting.

I think I'm okay with there being a number of conferences, and each having a
distinct personality.

Thanks for engaging in dialogue. That's about all my productivity for a
Wednesday. :)

Jon Kolko
Professor, Industrial & Interaction Design
Savannah College of Art and Design

http://facultypages.scad.edu/~jkolko
AOL IM// jkolkoSCAD

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