14. 05. 16
Created: 16 May 2014

Research Statement

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) has expanded rapidly since its establishment as a field, not even half a century ago. Today, it is concerned with almost every conceivable topic that deals with humans (or animals even) and technology. My research contributes to this eclectic endeavor by the creation and study of novel interactive devices, services, and interaction techniques, designed to support specific needs. These needs are often articulated by marginalized user groups like people with disabilities (in particular, in my more recent work for my habilitation), the interactive artifacts are often smart tangibles incorporating embedded systems, and the design process is regularly employed as an epistemological device for inquiry (“design-led” or “practice-based research” or “research through design”). That is, the whole human-centered design circle, from ideation to prototyping to evaluation, is used to unravel insights into design and related social phenomena by drawing on design’s capability to “pose questions” and to alter situations by the introduction of designed artifacts. In this course, rapid prototyping iterations allow the users or participants to receive first-hand experiences of novel artifacts or services and to further appropriate them according to their needs. These appropriations and the way people make use of the artifacts, again, constitute intended learning opportunities to contribute to design knowledge.

At the end of the first decade of the new century, mobile phone usage picked up momentum, and this now ubiquitous technology came along with an enormous impact on people’s life and society. For example, people started the everyday habit of creating an astonishing amount of digital photographs, only to leave them unattended on the storage space of their mobile devices and to never revisit them again. In my dissertation, I took a design-led and interdisciplinary route to explore ways people can capture valuable digital resources for remembering, which go beyond conventional (digital) photography. Facilitated by recent advancements in technology, I created a number of interactive artifacts for capturing media content like photos, videos, GPS coordinates, etc. with mobile phones. For example, my application “2sidez” triggered both front- and back-facing camera of mobile phones at the same time, resulting in digital photos with literally speaking two sides (back-side showing the photographer and front-side the motif). It was downloaded more than 250.000 times on Android devices, and this “experiment” led to a fruitful resource for people for dwelling in and reminiscing about the past as well as for conducting PhD research about people’s experiences with novel media formats to support remembering. Drawing on primarily qualitative research methods like “Thematic Analysis”, I synthesized the findings of the “2sidez” deployment and insights form my additional design interventions into a framework, supporting designers of digital memory systems in analyzing, understanding and exploiting digital memory retrieval cues (e.g., photo, video, audio, etc.).

In sum, the dissertation led to eight first-authored publications at established international conferences and journals. All of them explored how media content could be captured, related to each other, and experienced in innovative ways: (1) “Getting more out of your images: Augmenting photos for recollection and reminiscence” presented first work-in-progress at the British HCI Conference 2011. (2) “Capturing rich media through Media Objects on smartphones” and (3) “Through two different lenses: A tool for new perspectives into context” were both presented at the Australian HCI Conference 2012. The latter paper won the best paper award and was based on the “2sidez” app. (4) “Of unkempt hair, dirty shirts and smiling faces: Capturing behind the mobile camera”, presented at the Nordic HCI Conference 2012, and (5) “Duography in the classroom: Creative engagement with two-sided mobile phone photography” published in the International Journal of Mobile HCI 2015, were further publications about “2sidez” in different application areas. The remaining three of eight articles all explored how different media content could function as memory retrieval cues when combined with further contextual information: (6) “Making sense of rich data collections on mobiles” was presented at the European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics 2014, (7) “Digital archives on mobile phones with MEO” was published in the iournal of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 2015 and (8) “De+re: A design concept for provoking meaningful interactive experiences” was presented at the International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia 2015.

My more recent research and my work for the habilitation connect to the dissertation work through the use of digital photography. There are a great number of marginalized user groups that can benefit strongly by means of digital photography and from communication technology, for example, to overcome social isolation or to spur their experience of self-efficacy and overall autonomy. Thus, taking a practice-based approach again, I created several design artifacts aimed at people with motor disabilities or at older people who are not used to information technology. Among other artifacts, I designed easy to operate digital cameras for capturing photos and sharing them online including associated digital photo-frame devices for receiving and displaying these images. This work led to several first authored publications (e.g.,” Making space to engage: An open-ended exploration of technology design with older adults” in International Journal of Mobile HCI 2015) and to the winning of the UINQA/ÖAR Design Competition for “A monitoring Device as assistive Lifestyle Technology: Combining functional Needs with Pleasure” (presented at Augmented Human International Conference 2013). I continued this strand of research by focusing on the theme of autonomy and by exploring how marginalized people can be supported by technology in living autonomously. Currently, a first-authored manuscript named “An autonomy-perspective on the design of assistive technology: Experiences of people with Multiple Sclerosis” is to appear at CHI'19. This EU-funded work investigated what the notion of autonomy meant to physically disabled people and what they thought technology could do for them. Moreover, I had the opportunity to advance my design and research by working with children with Autism as well as visually impaired children in a number of nationally funded projects. Especially, the latter project resulted in a series of publications at excellent conferences, which I authored or co-authored. In this work, we investigated the design space of occupational therapy (e.g., “The use(fullness) of therapeutic toys: Practice-derived design lenses for toy design” at Designing Interactive Systems 2018) and how novel interactive toys could be employed to build up competencies in affected children in order to strengthen their autonomy (e.g., “Interactive and open-ended sensory toys: Designing with therapists and children for tangible and visual interaction” presented at Tangible and Embodied Interaction 2018). Methodologically, I continued the use of qualitative research methods (e.g., by studying and employing “Grounded Theory” methods) and associated interpretative approaches to epistemology. While most of the dissertation design work was based on mobile phone and tablet applications, my newer artifacts are increasingly based on digital fabrication technologies like 3D-printing and laser-cutting. Those techniques enabled the above-mentioned design of interactive therapeutic toys or additional smart devices like toolkits for customizing accessible Internet computers (e.g., see my publication “Tailor-made accessible computers: An interactive toolkit for iterative co-design” presented at Tangible and Embodied Interaction 2018).

In conclusion, my research is characterized by practice-based interventions to support people with innovative, often smart and networked technologies. From a practical perspective, I make use of tools for digital fabrication like 3D-printers or laser-cutters for creating physical designs, and I complement this with higher-level programming frameworks like Arduino or the Android API to implement interactivity. Theoretically, I mostly draw on qualitative research methods to understand people’s experiences of their social world and of the technologies that surround them. This understanding in combination with own experiences made during iterative prototyping processes is the resource for my contributions to advancing design knowledge. Currently, I prepare the newer body of my work, in particular the research about technology, autonomy, and the need’s of marginalized user groups, for submission as my habilitation thesis.