Sept. 18, 2018
My research examines how people interact with digital technologies in order to entertain and educate themselves, accomplish their goals, organize the world around them, do their jobs and communicate with each other. This involves not only watching what people do with technology, but also requires an understanding of how they think and feel about the technologies they are using. I work to understand not just the ‘how’ of their interactions, but also the important ‘why’ of their interactions.
I do this to design better interfaces, systems and applications to support a wide range of human activity. Today just about everything we do has a digital or technological component to it. Even government services and policies, or physical spaces like cities and streets, can benefit from understanding how people need to interact with those designs to accomplish their goals.
This type of research goes by many different names and is accomplished by researchers in a diverse array of disciplines including computer-human interaction, behavioural economics, user experience design, interaction design and information architecture, among others. It is this interdisciplinarity that excites me the most about my research area: I get to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds and I get to work with companies and community organizations with a lot of different needs.
Another exciting aspect of my research is the combination of data and design. New products, software and services must be designed and built using data gathered about actual users. I use a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods to understand the user’s cognitive, social, cultural and behavioural context. Then, I design solutions for their needs in an iterative fashion that allows for rapid prototyping and testing.
As a result of my long career working in this field, I was recently honoured to be among 40 selected international scholars, government officials and technology industry leaders invited by the Ditchley Foundation to take part in a conference to design a better Internet. The Future of the Internet conference was held in June 2018 and was chaired by Vint Cerf, the “father of the internet.” The goal of the three-day conference was to discover how society could maintain the value of the Internet, support cyber security, while reducing unacceptable behaviours and material (with all the problems of definition that implies). The conference attendees also explored how to promote human connection, the economy and innovation. Most of the participants came with backgrounds in cybersecurity, cryptography, information and communications policy, national security and advocacy for internet privacy and freedom.
Although the participants did not reach consensus on answers to these questions and global concerns, the intentional and user-focused design of software was seen as an integral and important aspect of creating an internet that can provide transparency and accountability, while also protecting privacy and freedom. The full report of the event: The Internet: How do we make it safer without losing its vitality? details the outcomes of the conference.
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