India HCI 2019, into its 10th year, is being organised at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad from November 1st-3rd. HCI stands for Human-Computer Interaction, a well-established research domain that is concerned with a wide variety of issues at the interface of humans and computers, such as, the usability of digital devices, the appropriateness of digital interventions and social impact of digital technologies.

Visit the conference website to register here: https://www.indiahci.org/2019/

User Experience (UX)

In the Information Technology (IT) industry, these concerns are commonly described under a similar term-User Experience, or simply UX. If you are part of the  urban post-millennial, who is better exposed to the domain of computing, it is quite unlikely to not have heard this word. For those wondering, it is very much a recent phenomenon, more recent in India than the western world. It has largely to do with things that define the second decade of the twenty-first century-smartphones, start-ups and the growing scarcity of patience. Simply speaking, UX is ensuring the ‘wow’ factor in products and services. Given that the understanding that a customer (or better, user) can afford to have multiple choices than earlier means that his wow factor is now important. While earlier the utility (read sundar, sasta, tikau) would have sufficed, it does not work that way today. These things are taken for granted. Is the smoothness of use that becomes apparent when your charger fits snugly in a wall socket? The millennial user wants more. Now, the competition is happening in what is called  an Experience Economy . That means the act of going to a film is not just about the film. It is about the whole set of experience that starts the moment to step  in the multiplex and ends when you step out.

How does a company making products or services arrive at optimum user experience? There is a team of professionals who are termed as UX designers. These are not engineers. These are the ones who tell the engineers, and their business managers, what exactly to make. The language of a UX designer is markedly different. They would talk about things such as Customer Journey Maps, Persona, A/B testing etc. Their tools are different. They would be sitting in a user surrounding, observing and taking notes as their users did their routine activities or moving around a wall-full of sticky notes.

Quite interestingly, the tools and techniques that the UX designers employ are much older than their newfound limelight. It has come from a simple question, “How to make computers easy to use?“. When this question came to a group of researchers, computers were different. They were as black and white screens spewing lines after lines of text. The quest gave birth to first Graphical User Interface (GUI) based computers where you could manipulate windows with a pointer. As computing evolved (and became faster, cheaper and lighter in weight) questions became more complex. Can the same system will be used equally easily by two different users? How to help multiple users sitting in a different part of the world to work together? How does gender affect computer usage? How can we design a computer for less educated people?

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

These questions could not be answered by one set of professionals. It needed not only computer scientists but also cognitive psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, ergonomists and sociologists. Then there were also needed practitioners who translated the academic research into practical do-ables. In time, this umbrella of research came to be known as Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Though it may seem that HCI is concerned with computers, in actuality, it has outgrown the usability concerns of computing. Now, it concerns itself with broader concerns like ethics, contextuality and social impact of digital technology. Given the fact that computing has become a defining element of our world, many of these concerns have a wide-reaching impact. This is also accentuated by a quick pace of technological innovation. Many new technologies on the horizon would come before we could even think about how they are going to change our lives. The (renewed interest in) Artificial Intelligence is an example. Do we know how our privacy will be affected or what will be the meaning of education be?

India HCI

It may sound strange, but India is a country who has remained contemporary in the HCI arena. It is some sort of a leader when it comes to HCI for Developing World. 99 Dots is a good example of HCI research. It is a basic mobile phone-based solution to help with medication adherence in TB patients. India’s stride in HCI was possible due to a large pool of highly talented young people. At the same time, the development issues are all around which makes the professionals contemplate about them.

This quite evident at IndiaHCI, the Indian conference on HCI, of which the author has been a part since its inception in 2009. As, year after year, academicians, professionals and decision-makers get together to talk about HCI, they cannot help looking at the unique Indian perspectives. They are asking questions such as:

1. Why WhatsApp became the preferred messaging application in India?
2. How low-income families use voice-user interfaces
3. Gender and HCI: whom technologies are designed for and in what ways?

As the new technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), are promising to disrupt our worlds, the debate around HCI is evolving. It is needless to say that such debates need to be situated in Indian contexts. With this perspective, India HCI 2019 has focused on the issue of agency ship in the era of AI.

The issues that are going to be discussed this year are contemporary as well as contextual. Some of the questions that may get raised are:

  • How to enhance users’ trust in sharing-economy platforms? For example, should a user opt for the next cab-share?
  • The role of power in electronic records? Who has control over users’ data? Whose perspective is more important in the interpretation of user data?
  • How to conduct Contextual User Studies, needed to understand the context of technology usage, when there are constraints on resources and time?
  • How can we help users prioritise attention in times of information overload?
  • How to design for the ‘Emergent User’ – the one who is not well-educated, urban, able-bodied and young?

If you wish to be part of this discourse, then visit the conference website and register:
IndiaHCI 2019
November 1st-3rd, ISB, Hyderabad
Hosted by the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad.

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Written by Devanuj K Balkrishan and Pranjal Jain.

Devanuj is a design educator and researcher. A Ph. D. in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) from IIT Bombay, he has also worked in the area of Artificial Intelligence (AI). His research work frames many important issues pertaining to designing for the next billion users. He is an Outreach Chair at India HCI 2019.

Pranjal Jain is a Research Associate (Design) with the Future of Finance Initiative at Dvara Research in India. He is trained in Human-centred Design and works as a Design-Researcher. His research interests are broadly in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and User Experience (UX).

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