Sustainability highlights (and lowlights) of CHI 2015

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Sustainability workshop: Expanding the boundaries

On the Saturday before the conference I attended a workshop with the SIGCHI HCI & Sustainability group. The workshop was building on the work from last year’s workshop at CHI and one of the themes of the workshop was how to increase the societal impact of the research we do. We discussed the importance of actively seeking cross-disciplinary collaborations, both in projects and teaching, and one very concrete example of how to scale up research results was to involve consultancy firms in the research projects. Since consultants typically work with many different organisations, both public and private, they are good actors for spreading and making use of new knowledge. In the end of the workshop we came up with ideas for what to do after the workshop, individually and collectively:

next steps


It was encouraging to see that the title of the opening keynote was “Crossing: HCI, Design and Sustainability“. Unfortunately the speaker, Lou Yongqi, dean of College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University, taked about sustainability in a very superficial way. He did mention the planetary boundaries and the seriousness of the situation but at the same time, as an example of how design can support sustainable behaviours, he mentioned an experiment where people chose to take the stairs instead of the escalator when the stairs were made into piano keys and made sounds when stepped on. I really do think design can make a difference in many ways, but to me this is a very simplified example that doesn’t say much about the long-term changes required for sustainability. Would people still prefer the piano stairs after a week or if they were everywhere?

Another keynote worth mentioning, because it completely lacked sustainability thinking, was by Donghoon Chang from Samsung Electronics who presented “UX Design in the IoT Era”. We were shown a video of the “future city of your dreams” where coffee is automatically prepared after the alarm clock goes off in the morning, you can go for a run indoor on a floor screen that makes it look like outdoors, you can take a swim in an augmented reality pool, and when you are out walking and want to cross the street the crosswalk automatically appears – just for you. There was a strong focus on individuals and the speaker didn’t have any good answer for how this would work in a city full of people.

Paper sessions

I attended a few different session with themes related to sustainability. The presentation I found most interesting was a paper with the title “Beyond the Individual: The Contextual Wheel of Practice as a Research Framework for Sustainable HCI”. There was also an interesting presentation of a paper about renewable energy forecasting on an island with limited access to energy. The authors proposed a change from energy feedback to energy forecasting for this specific context and in their study they found that people felt an “energy instinct” and were willing to adapt their energy use although there were no financial incentives to do so. Adapting the energy use to limitations, such as the access to locally produced energy, I think could be relevant for many more places in the future if we are going to increasingly rely on renewable sources of energy.




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