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Panic and Pageantry: Conducting HCI Research at Art Festivals

  • Dalhousie University, Goldberg Computer Science Building, Slonim Conference Room (#430) 6050 University Ave Halifax Canada (map)


Public art festivals provide a unique opportunity for Human-Computer

Interaction (HCI) research. They attract a diverse population interested

in engaging in novel experiences, foster a lively crowd dynamic, provide

a variety of interesting public settings, and can be a remarkably

efficient means of collecting participant data. Yet pitfalls abound: for

example, the desire to provide a good experience can trump scientific

objectives, onsite testing can be difficult, and small mishaps can have

disastrous consequences for data collection. This talk reviews six

studies conducted at art festivals, highlighting successes and failures

in each, and then offers a set of hard-won recommendations, useful for

researchers who might consider a similar approach: have concrete

research objectives as well as higher level interests, use agile

approaches to system building, balance audience engagement and feature

simplicity, articulate backup plans when things go wrong but remain

nimble, consider research as spectacle.


Dr. Derek Reilly is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Computer

Science, where he directs the Graphics and Experiential Media Lab, and

is current chair of the Graphics, Visualization, and HCI research

cluster. Derek's research generally explores post-desktop computer

interfaces, particularly their relationship to the built environment and

to human physicality. The work crosses a range of technical domains,

including interactive visualization, mobile computing, mixed reality

environments, interactive exhibits, and whole body interaction.