Starting this week with the news updates, the HCT lab is part of one of four larger sub-groups within the Department of Informatics at Sussex. Until recently this group has been known as Interactive Systems, but Judith reported a proposal to change this name going forward to “Interactive Design and Applications for Society”, or IDeAS. This met with general approval from the lab group members, and we will wait to see if it is adopted by the larger group.

Ben reported that he has been made “President-elect” of the International Society for Artificial Intelligence in Education, with his term of presidency due to start in 2015. Much kudos and congratulations for that, and we’ll have to hope the power doesn’t go to his head.

The lab meeting this week was used as a reading group, with Judith leading the discussion on “Uncomfortable Interactions“, by Benford et al*. This paper discusses the role of uncomfortable interactions within HCI, making the point that traditionally HCI has sought to reduce the pain of interactions whilst in other areas (notably art, films and occasionally education) painful experiences can be extremely powerful. The authors identify different kinds of discomfort – physical yes, but also cultural or control. This is an idea that some of the members of the group working on the African Farmer Game are becoming more familiar with, as the game does tug on some emotional strings of the players, frequently leaving them in a less-than ideal situation. Without this outcome, the power of the gaming experience for the entire group of players would be much reduced.

The discussion covered a many points. The perception of what is discomforting varies wildly from individual to individual, whether via an interface or in a social situation – e.g. the group’s experience of working with children on the autistic spectrum with their needs for calm and predictability may cause something to be an extremely uncomfortable experience for them. This in turn leads to questions about the ethics of the situation, which were covered in the paper but obviously sparked many personal viewpoints within the group.  We also noted a lack of the educational examples – the authors appeared to be firmly embedded in the performance side of uncomfortable interactions, but as mentioned above there is a lot of scope for a controlled level of discomfort in learning situations. And finally, the group felt it would be good to get a clearer view of the type and sense of discomfort that was being designed, and how those aims have influenced the interface design decisions made.

Overall, the group agreed that this was a very well-written paper that began to explore some very interesting points.

*Benford, S., Greenhalgh, C., Giannachi, G., Walker, B., Marshall, J., & Rodden, T. (2012). Uncomfortable interactions. Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – CHI  ’12, 2005. doi:10.1145/2207676.2208347