First and extremely importantly, we have more lab celebrations. Gareth popped back to Brighton from his new job in Shanghai this week to mount a successful defence of his thesis! Definitely worth making the trip. There were some bubbles shared after the event. Huge congratulations to Gareth.

So from a departing lab member today we turned to a new lab member. Marianna Obrist joined at the start of October, and today she gave us a little more of an introduction to her previous work and where her research is heading. She joins us after spending two years with the Culture Lab in Newcastle as a Marie Curie fellow and prior to that Marianna was an assistant professor for HCI and Usability at the University of Salzburg. This has allowed her to work on a wide variety of projects, of which Marianna described just a handful.

The first project she talked about was the Citizen Media – Social Change project, which ran from 2006-2009. It focussed on engaging communities in user-generated experiences (of the type that we are now, thanks to smart phones, extremely familiar with) and how to use those to allow the communities to change things in their areas. One of the big things that Marianna took from this experience was that engaging with and building interest in a local community for research purposes was really interesting, but dealing with that community at the end of the project, when there is no further funding and the researchers are moving on, is difficult.

She  was the lead of a module in the Christian Doppler Laboratory on contextual interfaces. One of the main aims of this module was to examine the way that traditional HCI methodologies carry over into less traditional settings – e.g. in the case she showed us a clean room environment. Clean rooms are kept as free of contamination as possible, with all objects coming into and out of the clean room needing to be carefully controlled. This precludes the use of paper, making note-taking rather difficult.

Then there were a couple of games that Marianna has worked on. One of these is called Ludwig. This is an Austrian game looking to teach people about renewable energy sources and other ideas in physics. This has moved on quite a lot since Marianna worked on it, and is being integrated with the Austrian school curriculum. The other game that Marianna told us about was the Emotional Flowers (“EmoFlowers”) project, which used the facial expressions of players as the game mechanic. This was a result of a participatory design process with groups of children.

When Marianna became a Marie Curie fellow she had more space to define her own research projects. She noted that almost all of her work so far, and in fact in HCI in general, focusses predominantly on visual and auditory channels. She started to wonder about the other sensory channels, such as touch, taste and smell. How can we study these areas? So last year she started with touch, and found that a language for discussing the different sensations was needed. Different haptics designers and engineers needed a shared language for different sensations, and an understanding of how those sensations could be generated. So Marianna worked with a neurophysiologist (where another shared language needed to be developed!) to identify the different receptors in the skin and to design ways to stimulate these receptors. This device was then used with an explicitation interview technique. The different descriptions were then analysed and the results were published at CHI last year.

Touch work

This year she has been working on taste (gustatory experiences) and smell (the olfactory channel). The research sounds interesting and tantalising, and happily she will be talking about it at this year’s CHI!