Hola! / Hello! / Fit like?!

Imagen031I am Sergio Sayago. As of September 2019, I am a faculty member at Universitat de Lleida (UdL), based in its new (2018) Campus Universitari Igualada – UdL. I hold a PhD Cum Laude in Computer Science / Human-Computer Interaction by Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF, 2009). I hold two degrees in Software Engineering by UPF (2002, 2004). I have worked thus far at five universities: University of Barcelona (2016-19), UdL (2014-16; 2019 – now), UC3M (2012-14), University of Dundee (2010-12) and UPF (2004-10). I am a Computer Scientist with a strong interest in the human side of digital technologies.

RESEARCH: My principal research interests are in Human-Computer Interaction / Digital Technologies and Ageing from an Ethnographic approach. My vision of Computer Science is about what people (can) do with computers. Computers are no longer only just for computation, and end-users are the key measure of the success or failure of most of those digital technologies designed to be used by humans. Hence my interest in Human-Computer Interaction. Despite the central role of users in Human-Computer Interaction, an ever-increasing  ageing population, and the fact that all of us will eventually grow older, older people have largely been overlooked in Human-Computer Interaction until relatively recently (2000s, approx).  A key tenet of Human-Computer Interaction is to know your user/s, the task/s they carry out and the context/s where users interact with technologies. Ethnography, which is is widely seen as a research method – I see it more as a way of knowing, doing research and living – enables us to develop a profound understanding of these three key issues.

RESEARCH CONTRIBUTIONS: Within Human-Computer Interaction, we always strive to have an impact on people – beyond citations. My research, which adopts an ethnographic approach, has contributed to improve some aspects of the lives of most of my participants. By teaching (in Barcelona, Dundee and Madrid thus far) older people interested in technologies how to use computers  over extended periods of time, I have enabled them to feel (and be) more social and digitally included. By observing and talking to them while using digital technologies, my participants have shaped my research agenda, taking on a central role in my activities and contributions. My research has introduced a change of paradigm (from Human Factors to Social Actors) and a methodological approach (ethnography, which has become more mature over time and evolved into a ‘turn to community’) to Human-Computer Interaction research with older people. Much research in this field regards older adults as individuals with a set of declines in need of help, and has typically been conducted in laboratory conditions or by using surveys. After years of ethnographic research in adult educational centers and computer clubhouses with active and motivated older people with different cultural backgrounds, my research has introduced an alternative view of older adults in HCI. Older people might aspire to be active, ordinary, social and independent computer users. These contributions are mostly ‘theoretical‘ or conceptual, which are of paramount importance to frame the design and development of technologies, and understand technology use and surrounding issues. These contributions have thus far paved the way for worth playing digital games, in which older people can both play and create their own games, and suggestions for improving  guidelines and techniques for web accessibility.

RESEARCH PLAN: My long-term research goals are to understand and improve ageing (and living) with existing digital technologies, and to bring insights developed from ethnographic studies to help in the design of technological tools that will be a good fit for people who use them. I aim to keep pushing the boundaries of HCI research with (and for) older people. I am currently looking into (a) Conversational User Experience, mostly (embodied) voice assistants and chatbots; (b) Computer Programming for All, programming learning experiences; and (c) Human-AI interaction, exploring AI as a design material and trust. I also aim to understand better the role of ethnography (in its different versions: sensory, online, …) to understand technology use by older people and make methodological contributions to HCI. To achieve this goal, it is my conviction that interdisciplinary research is of the utmost importance. I am very fortunate to be able to collaborate with colleagues from different areas, from Computer Science and Sociology to Psychology and Communication, at the universities of – I intend to keep this list growing – Abertay (Scotland), Monash (Australia), UPF, UOC & UB (Spain), College Dublin (Ireland). I am also open to collaborations and very willing to work with other user groups, as doing so can (and should) allow me to achieve my research objectives, and satisfy my scientific curiosity.

RESEARCH IMPACT: Since 2010, when I published my first journal paper (indexed in the Journal Citation Reports list), I have published 15 journal papers (12 Journal Citation Reports, 3 Scimago) in the Science Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index. I am the first or second author of 14 of them – 7 of them in the last 5 years (2015 – 2020). Since 2010, I have published 9 book chapters published by Springer (LNCS) and Routledge. I am the first or second author of all of them. In the last 5 years (2015-2020), I have edited 2 books – one of them as the main editor, with over 6K downloads since March 2019, published in Springer Human-Computer Interaction Series – and a special issue. I have co-supervised 3 PhDs to completion. I have over 8K reads in ResearchGate since 2014. The number of citations (in Google Scholar) is now 912, which is a modest number as compared to other much more established, and older, research areas. Yet, this number of citations is important in my area, I am among the top 40 researchers in the category ‘older people’ in Google Scholar. The number of citations is also important within the context of an interdisciplinary research, which is difficult to achieve (for example, with papers published in the journals of Games and Culture and CoDesign, and chapters in books published by Routledge). I have also published in ACM conferences, such as CHI, CHI PLAY, MobileHCI, W4A, and CUI. I have also published in Interacción (Spanish CHI conference). I have published all these papers while taking part in 10 EU projects, coordinating the work package of evaluation of 6 of them, and doing UX research in the other 4. I have managed to secure approximately 500K euros for my universities in competitive calls for funding (WorthPlay: 245K euros, digital games and older people; Life 2.0, 200K euros, independent living; AGORA 4.0, 50K euros, 3D printing and programming with vulnerable people at risk of social exclusion, funded by FGCSIC-la Caixa, UE, and Barcelona City Council. I have not coordinated any project because being the IP is very difficult (if not impossible) when you are a post-doc.

LECTURING: I have been lecturing over 15 years. I have lectured at 4 different universities in degrees of Computer Science. The total number of lecturing hours is over 1.500 (both theory and laboratories). I have coordinated 8 undergraduate courses (Data Structures, 3 courses; Object Oriented Programming, 1 course; Software Management and Quality, 2 courses; Interaction Engineering, 1 course; Databases, 3 courses; HCI, 1 course; User Experience, 1 course; Software Engineering, 1 course), most of them mandatory, and 1 post-graduate course (Design and Evaluation of Interactive Products, 1 course). Undergraduate lecturing is more extensive than postgraduate lecturing because I have been asked to lecture in those courses where my universities needed more help. The assessment of my lecturing activities by my students is very good – excellent. I care about them and take very seriously their comments and criticisms. I have supervised approximately 40 students’ dissertation projects on HCI / CS topics with several user groups (web, mobile apps; young and older adults, children, professionals…). I organized the first workshop (in January, 2020) on learning technologies and methodologies at EPS-UdL (Igualada Campus). I have published 2 papers in CIDUI (International Conference on University Teaching and Innovation).

LECTURING PROJECT / PHILOSOPHY: My lecturing project for the next 5-10 years aims to explore the role of potentially more human technologies (e.g., voice assistants) and  methodological approaches with an active participation of the students (e.g., peer teaching and assessment) in teaching Computer Science in the classrooms of  universities of the 21st century. I have highlighted classrooms because I consider that much of the value of higher education and universities lies in the interactions between faculty and students. I believe that higher education is deeply intertwined with digital technologies, and the classroom of the future should make the most of them. Society changes and universities should change accordingly. We no longer live in the Industrial Revolution. I also consider that students should play a central role in their own education, and therefore my courses are for my students, not for me (the lecturer). I also believe that ‘teaching is to learn twice‘. Hence, I introduce activities in my classes wherein students play a very active role, such as ‘teacher for a day’, or engage in activities within the context of the flipped classroom – to make the most of my interactions with my students in class.

CAREER: I have developed my academic career at 5 universities (4 in Spain, 1 in Scotland), with two competitive post-doctoral fellowships (Beatriu de Pinós, acceptance rate 25%; Alliance 4 Universities, best young doctors to four top Spanish universities – UC3M, UAM, UAB, UPF. I have also worked as a visiting lecturer (6 years) in 3 universities. The international mobility could have been wider without the teaching load associated with temporal contracts.

SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY AND OUTREACH: My contribution to the scientific community is growing – and I would like to contribute more in the future. I am Associate Editor of International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. I am PC member of ACM Intelligent User Interfaces (IUI)  and ACM Conversational User Interfaces (CUI). I was member of the Organization Committee of ACM Mobile HCI 2018 and First Lego League Igualada 2019. I have also served as the external examiner of two PhDs (Portugal, Australia). I was member of the advisory board of the (EU) BRAID project, external reviewer of the FP7 Value Ageing project, and meta-reviewer of ACM-W4A 2012. I have reviewed papers for ACM-CHI and HCI journals. I contributed to set up, and review applications for, UPF-CIREP (ethics review board). I have also organized workshops on programming to introduce students in secondary education (in Spain, 14-16 years, approx) to aspects of Computer Science and Software Engineering.

OTHER INFORMATION: I am accredited as Lecturer (Assistant Professor) and Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) by The Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency (Agència per a la Qualitat del Sistema Universitari de Catalunya / AQU Catalunya) and ANECA (The National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation of Spain). I am also accredited as a Lecturer at Private Universities by ANECA. If you are not familiar with the Spanish university system, there are two main accreditation bodies (AQU – for Catalonia; ANECA – for Spain). I work hard to achieve an important professional objective for me: to get a more permanent position. The academic climate has in general become very disheartening and crazy – I don’t know how it was 20 years ago. I speak from 2010 onwards. I hope the future will provide me with an opportunity soon, because I have a passion for what I do and a strong appetite for learning and teaching.


Welcome to my blog!

In this blog, you can find up-to-date information about myself, my research and lecturing activities, and whereabouts. You can also find further information and material in the links below:

Accepted paper in ACM CHI PLAY 2020!

Abstract: This paper presents work in progress that informs current understanding of intersectional themes (age, gender, and digital games) that are important, but under-studied, in the player- computer interaction community. This paper draws on a 4-month participant observational study of game play and interest among active older women (aged 63-83, N=14). The results show how gender and age shape digital game interest and play among the participants. For them, being an older woman now means keeping up with the times, being active and helping others. They disregarded digital games that clashed with this identity. When the digital games projected it, their play was fun and productive, recommending the games to others. Current and future work research activities are outlined

Authors’ Accepted Version

Reviews scores: AC = 30/34. R1 = 33/34. R2 = 29/34. Acceptance rate: 60%.

Accepted paper in ACM Mobile HCI 2020 – Late breaking results!!

Title: Voice Assistants as Learning Companions: An Initial Exploration With Computer Science Students

Abstract: With the hands-free and mobile interaction capabilities, and conversational potential, Voice Assistants (VA) like Apple Siri and Google Assistant can become ubiquitous learning companions that students wear in their pockets. Yet, studies addressing the potential and challenges of using VA in education are scant in Human-Computer Interaction. To begin filling this gap, this paper is an initial, qualitative exploration of how smartphone-based VA like Apple Siri and Google Assistant play the role of learning companions of Computer Science (CS) students. Without having been designed for this purpose, there is room for thinking that neither Apple Siri nor Google Assistant can play this role. Yet, the results of a participant observational study conducted over a semester in two modules, show that Apple Siri played the role of a convenient and motivating collaborator, who also clashed with, and changed, students’ perceived use of VA. Open-ended questions prompted by this study are raised.

Author’s accepted version: available MobileHCI2020-SIGCHIEA-AAV

Please note that some changes will be made in the final version to incorporate reviewers’ comments and suggestions.

Special Track @ DSAI 2020

Submissions are open for this Special Track! EXTENDED DEADLINES

Conference: International Conference on Software Development and Technologies for Enhancing Accessibility and Fighting Info-exclusion (DSAI 2020). DSAI 2020 will be virtual this year.

Special Track: Ageing, ICT, Accessibility, and Inclusion: Past, Present, and Future

(Accepted papers will be archived in the ACM digital library)

Organizer: Sergio Sayago (sergio.sayago@udl.cat)

Overview: Population ageing—the increasing share of older people in the population—is poised to become one of the most significant social transformations of the 21st century, with implications for nearly all sectors of society. Population ageing is occurring in a context in which digital technologies are having a profound influence on the world. Successful use of technology by older people is a complex mix of design, socio-cultural, psychological, and physiological factors that are highly dynamic in nature. Stereotyped views of older people, and questionable assumptions of what they need, want, and should be given, threaten a future where technology has the potential to enrich later life. There is also a pressure to develop and design new technology that does more, and in new ways, making it harder to focus on delivering inclusive solutions that provide a quality user experience for ‘extraordinary’ users. The aim of this special track is to reflect on the past and present of ICT & Ageing, and provide new perspectives on this exciting field, by exchanging ideas, experiences, best practices, and software projects intended to create a more inclusive, ageing society.

Paper submission: Please send the paper directly to me via e-mail (PDF)  – via the DSAI conference system – by Sept 4 2020 –  September 15, 2020. You can send your paper before this deadline. Information regarding the length and format of the submissions (up to 8 pages, English, ACM) can be found online

Peer review: Authors will be asked to review one or two papers. I believe that peer reviewing is very important to achieve high quality publications. I estimate that you will have approximately 40 days to review the paper/s I assign to you. The review period will be from Sept 5 to Sept 25September 15 to Oct 25.

Notification of acceptance: September 30, 2020October 30, 2020. The special track organizer will make the final selection of papers for the session, based on the reviews of the papers.

Registration: All authors accepted for the special track are required to register and provide full payment by the conference registration deadline. See the Registration Page at the conference’s website.

Camera ready papers and registration: November 15, 2020

Conference dates: December 02-04, 2020

I look forward to reading your paper, talking to and working with you in this special track!

Further details about the DSAI conference can be found online.

I will keep this page updated with the list of accepted papers, authors, discussion, etc.

Reimagining Communication with Conversational User Interfaces

Abstract: Conversational user interfaces (CUIs) like Amazon Echo and Apple Siri are revolutionizing the way we interact with a range of applications by enabling us to “talk” to them. This chapter discusses two important open issues, anthropomorphism and conversational user experience, in the CUIs community. Although current voice assistants look nothing like a person, we are prone to anthropomorphize them. How does anthropomorphism – implemented in anthropomorphic design – facilitate our interaction with them? We no longer need to click on or tap any element on a computer screen to send emails, set the alarm clock or listen to a song. When the interaction metaphor is natural human conversation, how do we design conversational user experiences? In this chapter, the authors review seminal and recent studies, and present their ongoing research aimed at addressing anthropomorphism and conversational user experience. CUI is a fascinating growing field, one in which its members have much to contribute to reimagining communication at the beginning of the 21st century

Reference: Sayago, S., Blat, J. 2020. Reimagining Communication with Conversational User Interfaces: Anthropomorphic Design and Conversational User Experience. In Michael Filimowicz, Veronica Tzankova (Eds). Reimagining Communication: Mediation. Routledge: London, 287-302. ISBN: 978-1-351-01543-1

Available at Amazon and Routledge

Authors’ accepted version available upon request.

Two papers accepted in the 11th International Conference on University Teaching and Innovation (CIDUI 2020)

The following two papers have been accepted for publication in the 11th International Conference on University Teaching and Innovation (CIDUI). Both papers report on innovative teaching experiences introduced in two of the courses I coordinate in the Degree in Digital Interaction and Computing Techniques.

Introducing Teacher of the Day in the Databases Course of the New Degree on Digital and Computing Interaction Techniques at Universitat de Lleida. A pilot study, by Sergio Sayago


This paper discusses the lessons learned from introducing teacher of the day, a variant of peer tutoring, in an undergraduate course of the new Degree of Digital and Computing Interaction Techniques at Universitat de Lleida. Teacher of the day fostered a learning environment wherein students engaged in active learning over a semester, playing new roles for them (peer teaching and assessment). Students rated the activity as excellent and reported learning about academic and non-academic aspects.

Author’s Accepted Version

Are Voice Assistants Good Learning Companions of Generation-Z students of Computer Science in the Classroom? A pilot study, by Sergio Sayago


This paper investigates whether Apple Siri and Google Assistant, two of the most used Voice Assistants, can become good learning companions of Generation-Z students of Computer Science. Based on a participant observational study conducted over a semester in two courses, we show that beyond cheering students up by adding fun to exercises, Siri and Assistant were not useful learning companions, as they did not behave as competent human tutors, and were seldom used by our students in class.

Author’s Accepted Version


Challenges and Opportunities of Leveraging Intelligent Conversational Assistant to Improve the Well-being of Older Adults


Recent advancements and economic feasibility have led to the widespread adoption of conversational digital assistants for everyday work. While research has focused on the use of these conversational assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa, by young adults and families, very little work focuses on the acceptance and adaptability amongst the older adults. This SIG aims to discuss the use and benefits of these conversational digital assistants for the well being of older adults. The goals for this SIG are to (i) explore the acceptance/adoption of voice-based conversational agents for older adults. (ii) explore anthropomorphism in the design of conversational digital assistants. (iii) understand triggers (scenarios of use) that can initiate the process of reminiscence thus leading to meaningful conversation. (iv) explore conversational User Experience. (v) explore the co-existence of non-conversational use cases.

Organizers / authors:

Korok Sengupta, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany

Sayan Sarcar, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Alisha Pradhan, University of Maryland College Park, MD, USA

Roisin McNaney, University of Bristol, UK

Sergio Sayago, University of Lleida, Spain

Debaleena Chattopadhyay, University of Illinois, Chicago, USA

Anirudha Joshi, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay

PDF – Authors’ Accepted Version of the SIG

The Vestigial Heart. A novel of the Robot Age (my notes)

In February 2020, I read an article in a national (Spanish) newspaper about education and university. The title of that article could be translated into English as “Neither science nor humanities: a global approach in higher education”. The article pointed out that there is a need for higher education to adopt a more holistic approach. This need is prompted by recent, and complex challenges (and opportunities) at the beginning of the 21st century, such as IA in our everyday lives and ethics. In order to effectively understand and deal with them, it is argued that universities should provide students with a more holistic education by, for instance, mixing science, technology and humanities. I agree. I teach HCI in a CS degree. I think HCI is one of the few courses in a CS degree in which students can deal with human aspects of technology design. The book entitled “The vestigial heart” (in Catalan, la mutació sentimental) was cited in the article. The book dealt with IA and ethics, a recurrent topic in many conversations. I decided to read it.

The vestigial heart is really interesting and thought provoking. Imagine you wake up in a world you do not recognize. In this highly technological world, you are the only human – in this case, a girl, called Celia. She was frozen in the 21st century and unfrozen in the 22nd century. You are surrounded by robots. People rely on robotic butlers to do absolutely everything. Many human emotions are extinct. At school, you are instructed not to think – you have a personal assistant to do so for you! You are asked to employ search programs. Companies protect their intellectual property by erasing (every day) the memories of their employees. Employees do not suffer any pain. Companies strive to create more creative employees and citizens (all of them robots, of course); the key issue is how to do so. And you, human, with your emotions and creativity ‘by default’, are in the middle of this world.

For some – in the book, the ‘technos’ – this is an ideal and unavoidable world. For others – in the book, the ‘anti-technos’ – this world is a nightmare. Overprotective robots create spoiled people, leaving humans towards extinction. Perhaps, there is a middle (and difficult) ground: making the most of the robots to enable humans to leave better lives. Is that possible? If so, how? The novel is easy to read and raises some very interesting and timely questions. A number of them are outlined in the Annex, which can be used with your students at class. For example, what should the relationship be between robot teachers and human teachers? How should work be organized to optimize human-robot collaboration? Should public trust and confidence in robots be enforced?

Like Silvana, a character in the novel, I strike up a balance between technological optimism and catastrophic views. I believe robots have a place at society. What is this place? This is the key question for me. Silvana develops a view similar to mine (or is my view similar to hers?) throughout the novel. She started off thinking that…and Leo, another important character in the novel, who works for CraftER, too. They did not see eye to eye with each other. Why? What made them change their views? Was it Celia? You must read the novel! It is very good.

The best present my students can give me: their learning!

‘Publish or perish’ could be the best (informal) expression to define the current academic climate at university, especially those like me who are seeking tenure / more permanent positions. Yet, I still believe that a very important part of my job, in addition to doing high-quality research and publishing good papers, is to foster learning. My students gave me yesterday the best present a lecturer, in my opinion, can ever receive: their learning.

Yesterday, the second-year students of the Degree in Digital Interaction and Computing Techniques presented the projects on which they had been working during the second half of the Database courses. The ‘instructions’ I gave them were simple: I want you to develop a desktop-based application using Java Swing, SQL and JDBC to manage the database we have used in the course. Make decisions, organize yourself, learn to learn, and work under a tight deadline. That is. The overwhelming majority of the projects and presentations were, in my opinion, excellent.


(my students granted me oral permission to include screenshots of their presentations / applications)

Some groups developed dynamic searches, allowing the user to query every table and field in the database in a single JDialog. Others focused on inserting, deleting, searching, and updating several tables, creating several windows and pop-us windows to show confirmation / error messages. The projects showed creativity in their designs, and followed good practices in user interface design, such as low fidelity prototypes. The projects were also functional – they showcased their projects during the presentations. All the students made their presentations within the time limit (7 minutes) I had established and reflected on the strengths and limitations of their projects.

Taking into account that no student had previous experience of programming in Java Swing, SQL or JDBC at the beginning of the projects, the projects proved that they learned all these aspects very quickly, during approximately one month. More importantly, students acknowledged that they had “learned to learn”. This was my main objective. I gave them very little instructions. I wanted them to develop skills I consider essential nowadays (aka 21st century skills). All of them reported that they had learned mostly on their own, using the tools available, with my support, of course. They appropriated the project; they made it their own.

My students gave me the best present I can receive: their learning. Well done, GTIDIC. It was difficult and a lot of work, but you guys did it! Keep it up! A happy lecturer 🙂

Ageing & ICT: a digital coffee in Igualada

Today I have participated in a “digital coffee”, which I would define as an informal meet-up about digital technologies and related topics. The meeting was held in the wonderful Adoberia Bella, in Igualada. The event was organized by TICAnoia.

In the digital coffee, I addressed a number of topics related to current research on Ageing and ICT that I consider might be of interest to people who are keen to improve the digital social inclusion of older people in the city of Igualada and Anoia. I addressed games, virtual reality, smart (and ageing-friendly) cities, digital fabrication, social robotics and conversational user interfaces, and programming. This was an excellent intellectual exercise, as I had to catch up on my readings. This exercise confirmed my idea: current HCI research with older people on these topics is very little conclusive and there is room for doing a lot more research.

In the digital coffee, I also also discussed a number of challenges and opportunities, based on my own research. Attendees, who were a mix of older people, volunteers, and professionals (e.g. designers, programmers), got excited by the idea that “ageing = illness and technology is the solution in the current or most predominant discourse”. This might be provocative, and sad, but I think this is how ageing and technologies are seen nowadays. All of them agreed and shared personal experiences. They also showed a lot of interest in the “turn to community”, which encourages us to see older people as social actors embedded in their community. Designing only for older adults might not always be the best approach.

The presentation is available on my blog. The presentation is in Catalan and includes a number of references so that the reader can follow them up.

During the debate, a number of interesting ideas came up. Social isolation was mentioned a number of times. It seems to be an urgent issue for many older people living in Igualada and towns nearby. It was also interesting to see how some professionals reported that “it is our fault”, when talking about not including older people in usability tests, for instance. There was also a great discussion about the need to design technologies that help us be “better adult children that care about their parents” – when are we bothering our parents? What should I say them today if they do not feel well, would a joke do? Clearly, the red button of the Spanish healthcare system is not the best (or only) piece of technology in this sense. Some ideas were suggested too, like organizing a hackathon with and for older adults – it would be great, wouldn’t it?

I made some contacts and I look forward to future collaborations. I also hope my presentation was useful for the attendees. I thank TICAnoia for the organization of the event and willingness to talk about older people and ICT and, perhaps more importantly, to enrich and improve the relationship between older people and digital technologies.

Philosophy of interaction: some thoughts

Interaction is a keyword in Human-Computer Interaction. Thus, the answer (or answers) to the following questions seems to be important: What is interaction? What do we mean when we talk about interaction in HCI? I have to admit that I have not considered these (fundamental) questions deeply enough until now. The seminal concept of ‘interaction as affordance’ introduced by Norman is very interesting and useful. Yet, if we dig, it seems that there is much more, especially from the viewpoint of philosophy. An entry in the encyclopedia of HCI entitled “philosophy of interaction” encouraged me to learn further about this topic.

I have discovered some of the works of Heidegger (Being and Time) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Phenomenology of Perception). I have found both books somewhat difficult to read. This is my fault. I do not read as much philosophy as I should probably do. Yet, I have found – in my interpretation of these works – some ideas and concepts in these books that are very related to the different waves of HCI research (human factors, human actors, UX) and therefore to how interaction is seen and operationalized in our community, providing some answers to the questions posed at the beginning of the post.

Within the human information-processing model (e.g. GOMS), which was very important in the first wave or generation of HCI research, interaction is mostly passive. The user perceives information. This way of operationalizing interaction is, in my view, at odds with the philosophical works of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, especially with the former. For Merleau-Ponty, perception (of objects, colors, etc.) is active, because “experience of phenomena is an intentional analysis (…) the object is made determinate as an identifiable being only through a whole open series of possible experiences, and exists only for a subject who carries out this identification”. From this point of view, interaction can be seen as (active) perception.

For example – this example is mine – let’s say that you own a car. When you are driving your car, your car exists. You are interacting with it. When you are not driving your car – you are in your office and you have left your in the car park (or you have not driven your car during a couple of days) – your car does not exist. You do not interact with your car. You need to think about, talk about, write about…bring your car to your attention so that the car exists. The implication of this way of understanding interaction in HCI is that users are no longer passive receivers of information. When we interact with something, we do it with a purpose (be it explore, kill time, do something…), and this should be considered in the design and study of our interactions with computers. Does it ring a bell – for instance, the seminal concept of Human Actors, put forward by Bannon?

There is another way of understanding interaction, interaction as a tool. As discussed by Heidegger, “in a disruption of reference – in being unusable for… – the reference becomes explicit”. When the tool behaves in an unexpected way, it becomes visible. If you are writing a document and everything goes smoothly, somehow the user interface disappears. You are focusing on the task – writing – and not on learning to use the tool to write your document. In the entry of the encyclopedia of interaction design and in Heidegger, you can find the example of the hammer and hammering. The implication of this for HCI is that the moments of disruption are of the utmost importance. Also, the user interface should somehow be invisible – when you are hammering, if the hammer does not fall apart or you do not hit one of your fingers – the hammer does not really exist.

This is a very superficial understanding of the works of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. Other aspects, such as the relevance of the body and time, which are important topics in HCI as well, are not discussed in this post. Even so, it has helped me see interaction from different perspectives, as active perception, as a tool used, and identify some implications or food for thought. When we talk about interaction in HCI, we are likely to talk (now) about interaction as active perception and as a tool used. When we talk about interaction in older-adult HCI, we should also bear in mind these frames of interaction, beyond operationalizing interaction with this user group by thinking of all them only as passive individuals in need of help.