Putting Yourself Out There

My sister convinced me to do it. Speed dating. It was over a series of texts one evening when I was, I will admit, feeling rather sorry for myself. We signed up a couple of weeks in advance, which gave me plenty of time to bounce between regret, amusement, horror, and curiosity.

Finally, I decided the only way I could reconcile my mind to the idea of speed dating, I would write a report about my experience. This is that report, a week or so after the event.

Social Stigma

There is a stigma against speed dating, much as there is against online dating. The latter’s stigma is losing steam simply because so many people spend a lot of time online in the first place; it’s how they interact with friends and family around the world. It is making more sense to people that they can find a significant other through this method.

Speed dating, I feel, continues to carry a rather heavy stigma because people are portrayed as desperate; the cattle-like shuffling as people switch from table to table, wondering if the next person will be interesting enough to carry a six minute conversation.

Why do it?

Honestly, why not? I am a young professional who keeps herself extremely busy. I’m a workaholic in most facets of my life and very accomplished because of it. The odds of me meeting someone while I’m doing one of my many activities, and them having the guts to speak to me, grows smaller all the time.

You have no idea how often people have told me, “You’re kind of intimidating.” I’ve been hearing this since the 10th grade. Rather annoying, that. So speed dating, I figured, is one way to level the playing field.

The Experience

My sister and I entered the restaurant and were led to a back area that had tables and booths lined up. We were given name tags with a number on it which designated where we should sit, and sheets of paper with numbered rows so we could take notes about the men we spoke to.

The coordinator instructed us to have fun, be open, and use the sheets of paper to remember who we spoke to. I sat down and smiled at my first interviewee.

Which really, when you think about it, that’s all speed dating is: speed interviewing. Within a minute of sitting there asking questions and answering them, I realized that I felt comfortable because this is what I do for a living. As a usability analyst, it is my job to establish a connection with my test participant as quickly as possible so that they feel comfortable critiquing the design I put before them. I’m not testing them, I’m testing the design.

Well, with speed dating, you are testing them, but in a subtle way. How are you doing today? Is this your first time doing this sort of thing? What do you like to do? What is your favorite color? What are your hobbies? What is your job? Your education?

These are factors that I ended up using to determine if this person was…

  1. Interesting
  2. Able to answer questions
  3. Socially awkward (allowing for the environment, of course)
  4. Educated
  5. Someone I would want to continue speaking with later.

I had worked a ten hour day interviewing five participants during 1.5hr sessions. I went straight from work to the event with no time for food. As such, I was still in interview mode. Which paid off quite nicely in that I wasn’t nervous at all. I was awkward, but no more than normal. I admitted this was my first time attending an event like this, and people gave me pointers.

Honestly, it was no more than a two hour extension of my work day. But I wasn’t getting paid for it. Unless you count the idea that I might have met The One that night. Not likely, but a possibility anyway.

At the end of six minutes, the coordinator rang a bell. The gentlemen picked up their coats, drinks, and clipboards and shuffled to the next table. Us women scribbled notes on our sheets of paper, marking down whether we found anyone interesting. There were nine couples there, and by Person 7, I was flagging hardcore. I pushed through, forcing myself to stay smiley and enthusiastic.

By the end, I circled two men who were interesting enough to continue the conversation. I figured I might as well… I had paid to sit there talking to people when, a year ago, I did that sort of thing for free because I was in school and exposed to new people every day. The grad student in me resented the expense even though I could afford it.

Conclusions

Speed dating is not as bad as people make it out to be. I may be thinking this because it’s my job to interview people and make connections. Or because one of my strengths is conversation. Or because I knew I’d get a story out of it, and I’m always looking for new fiction ideas.

Or maybe because my heart wasn’t really in it, but my curious nature couldn’t help but try it out. I didn’t put pressure on myself because I didn’t believe I would meet anyone super interesting. Do you know how difficult it is to be interesting in under six minutes?

And that, I believe, is why people end up distrusting speed dating… six minutes is enough time to determine if you don’t want to continue talking with someone. It’s not necessarily enough time to determine if you do. At best, after six minutes, if you’ve decided this person you’re speaking with isn’t a complete mismatch, bore, etc, all you know is just that. Nothing else.

If you’re interested in meeting people or practicing your conversation skills, try speed dating. At $30 a pop, it doesn’t hurt. But if you go in there expecting to find The One, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself that will ruin the experience.

In the end, the event was worth it because I was reminded that I am good at making people feel comfortable enough that they can open up to me. That I can hold a conversation with anyone. The trick, now, is to find someone I actually want to have a conversation with.

Interactions vs CHI, Oh My!

I’m in the process of absorbing everything I learned at Interactions 11 this past week, but the topic of this post is to address the surprising backlash against ACM’s SigCHI. I’m writing this post because I attended both conferences in the last year,  and feel like chatting about them.

For full disclaimer, I have a masters degree in human computer interaction design from a program that emphasizes the philosophical discourse of experience design, churning out graduates who choose to be user researchers, user experience designers, interaction designers, information architects, the list goes on. I submitted to CHI 2010 and was accepted as a work-in-progress for my masters thesis, an honor for me because I was a master’s candidate only. So I have ties with the CHI community both because of recent achievements and my background in computer engineering.

The first keynote speaker was Bill Verplank at Interactions 11, the man who caused the hoopla that set the tone for the remainder of the conference until Bruce Sterling gave his closing remarks. Verplank’s keynote was a rehash of what he usually talks about…he sketches his understanding of the system that we as designers need to understand: the relationships between people and what they think, feel, and do in the world. Search Verplank and you’ll see a youtube video that is basically the keynote he gave, but with one small difference.

In his keynote, Verplank said that he hadn’t been to CHI in years and wouldn’t recommend anyone go there anymore because the conference was rigid and outdated. Caught up in the moment, I’ll admit I laughed and maybe even cheered a little with the crowd. It wasn’t until later, where I was joking with someone, did his words sink in. He was saying CHI was the hairy old uncle that no one wanted to listen to anymore, because it had history and rules and the like.

Seems to me that an organization who has Genevieve Bell as its opening plenary, one that accepts a paper about empowering personal identity which discusses Steampunk, isn’t quite so old or hairy. I want to be Bell when I grow up. My sketchnotes on her plenary are filled with Bell-loving because she is pushing the CHI community to think about more than just computers. Cue fangirling now.

What is the point of this post? I’m trying to understand why Interactions has such a backlash against CHI. At its heart, I suspect it’s because Interactions is trying very hard not to be CHI. The whole “we’re better because we aren’t you” type thing that defined the relationship between America and the UK, historically-speaking. Interactions needs to assert its place in the conference world and unfortunately, Verplank took it in a negative direction that fed into latent culture clashes.

Here’s the thing: CHI probably isn’t a good venue for most of the people who attend Interactions, but not because CHI sucks, but because most IxDA practitioners don’t have a formal education in interaction design. It all depends on your intent.

For most IxDA practitioners, CHI isn’t going to work. Not because it sucks, but because most IxDA practitioners don’t have a formal, academic education in interaction design. They are primarily DIY and learn-as-you-go.

This is why I feel Interactions attendees won’t enjoy CHI. They aren’t used to academic presentations, which are, admittedly, often very dry. CHI presentations are content heavy; focused on methodologies, rigor, grounding their claims in user research. I think more than a couple of lightning talks at Interactions would have benefited from an academic asking the simple question of, “And why do you say that?” There were a number of claims made that had little support, except that the speaker had been chosen by the Interactions committee to speak.

The great thing about the closing remarks from Bruce Sterling was that he attended the entire conference, and had comments about all the major points made, giving tough love to everyone. He reminded everyone in the room that whether they liked it or not, they came from CHI. They would never escape CHI. Heck, in less than 20 years, they were going to be CHI. No one likes to be reminded that someday, they are going to be that hairy old uncle no one wants to listen to. People went nuts over his statements like interaction design was suffering from “user-Stockholm syndrome.” What does that mean? What can he mean?

I’m not sure either. The fact is, CHI and Interactions both bring beneficial thoughts to the world. It just depends whether you prefer a more academic- or industry-minded approach.

/end Reflection

Giving Thanks from 2010

This has been an interesting year. One that I feel I should document by giving thanks. I think of these events daily, so don’t think this is simply because Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I dislike that idea as much as only telling our loved ones of our affection on Valentine’s Day. Rather, this is a convenient time for me to reflect. So here goes.

January

I was notified that my work-in-progress paper was accepted for CHI 2010. This is a big deal, you guys. My adviser, Shaowen Bardzell, told me I was the only masters candidate to be accepted at my school, and the only other paper accepted was a 4th year PhD student. She told me to stop freaking about the future and accept the fact that I have represented myself and the school well. I am very thankful I have women like Shaowen Bardzell in my life for being an exemplar of a professional woman, yet approachable and willing to force perspective into view.

I began interviewing Steampunks of all sorts about how and why they became involved in the culture. I’m so thankful that nine people took time out of their busy schedules to speak with me to inform my thesis and help me realize who I am as well: A Maker.

February

I presented a sample of my work to the IST Conference at my grad school, Indiana University – Bloomington, and even though I broke all the presentation rules taught to the IST students, I got really positive reviews. Funny story: when walking past some professors I heard one of them talk about how symmetrical I was. I took this as a compliment, thinking he was talking about my presentation logic and flow. No indeed. He was talking about my genetics. He thought I was an attractive young lady and that the symmetry of my face played a part in that. I am thankful for the awkward stories that make me laugh when I think about them later.

My red glasses broke around this time and I bought a new set from Zenni Optical. I am so thankful that the internet makes it possible for me to afford new glasses at a steep, steep discount.

We began ramping up the Super Secret Meetings for our Super Secret Project for the professors. I am thankful that I found like-minded, assertive people like Chad, Lynn, Dane, Lorelei, and Yujia to help organize an entire cohort of people to make an amazingly heartfelt series of books for our professors.

Have I mentioned how thankful I am that I had a roommate like Lynn who could make me laugh with the ridiculous things she found on the internet? I’m going through old emails and am just cracking up. I should make a book of all the crazy stuff she finds. Just brilliant.

March

I am thankful I got to be a part of Shaowen receiving the teacher of the year award, and her first keynote at the local Women in Computing awards banquet. I had nothing to do with the selection, but I was happy to support her, especially after how she supported me with my thesis and doubts and suspicions I wasn’t nearly as smart as everyone had duped themselves into believing.

I am thankful for my friend Heiko (who I called “Teddy”), for following through with his promise to give me hugs whenever he saw me. That simple kindness got me through some tough times in graduate school.

I am thankful for my friend Matt who continued the role of older brother to me while I was figuring out some existential-crises-type moments.

I am thankful to Yvonne Lopez, who worked with me and the CHI admittance board to make it so I was able to afford to go to CHI, especially since I was a work-in-progress paper. I sent her a thank you note because I knew it couldn’t have been easy for her. She found my roommate, Lynn, at CHI just to tell her that my little note had made her year. I am thankful for the little things.

April

I am thankful that the professor books arrived and looked as gorgeous as we hoped. All of that work paid off, and I’m so happy that even with the slight hiccups that come with a group of passionate designers who come together, we were able to make an amazing product.

I am thankful my academic crush Daniel Fallman answered my email about the Bricoleur as an inspiration for my Maker conceptualization. It’s very gratifying when a known academic engages you intellectually.

I am thankful that even though it didn’t work out with PinPoint Logic, I made contacts with awesome people that I am able to keep up with through Twitter. I love meeting creative people.

I am thankful the room was standing-room-only for my capstone presentation. So many people who I never expected to come see my talk came, and if I hadn’t been about to present, I probably would have cried from the love I felt in that room.

May

I am thankful Allison allowed me to crash at her place while I tried to see all of my friends’ capstone presentations. I had no place to live in between my lease went up and the day I actually moved home.

I am thankful that my parents welcomed me into their home after I was unable to find a job right out of graduate school. Not only that, but they encouraged me to find a local swing club again, knowing that I needed to stay active to keep my spirits up.

I am thankful that Brandon put my name in the hat for my current job. HCI kids gotta stick together, and I am glad he thought of me.

I am thankful I have enough financial wherewithal to save enough to buy a used DSLR as a graduation present. I still love it.

June

I went to the motherland, Nigeria, with my entire nuclear family. Two weeks of international travel with little sleep, little actual food, and more experiences than I can attempt to describe. I am thankful for the opportunity to gain insight to my father through his culture. I am thankful my family was able to afford the journey, that we got there and back without any illness, and more. An experience of the lifetime.

I’m thankful when I sent out my masters thesis to the Steampunks I interviewed, they were very supportive of my work. I was so worried of disappointing or misrepresenting them!

July

I’m thankful Adrienne moved to Columbus so I could have a friend in town who I just really jive with. We are what my mother would describe as “fast friends.”

I’m thankful to have the opportunity that I do at my current occupation. I felt welcomed by my new co-workers and two generations of HCI folk. It was like coming home.

August

I’m thankful I took a risk and went to the local Swing Columbus dance. How I had gone months without dancing… I have no idea. I’m thankful an academic wanted to use my sketchnotes to illustrate his point in an edition of Interactions (even though later my sketchnotes were not chosen for whatever reason). I’m thankful I have lived 25 years.

September

I am thankful that my car broke down, forcing me to re-evaluate the importance of writing to me. Turns out writing is incredibly important to me. So much so, that I start up a Kickstarter to gather support so I can publish my second book. I am thankful for the support I received, monetary and otherwise. No one can attempt such a venture alone.

October

I am so very thankful that the Kickstarter project went through, but most importantly, I am thankful that I was able to prove to myself that I could write a solid book in four months, have it edited, do the interior and exterior layout, etc. I am thankful that I have a network of people who enabled me to do it on my own. I am thankful that I was able to have a successful book launch thanks to the help of Sugar Inc Cupcakes and Tea. I am thankful I met Ava and had the opportunity to build two websites for an amazing tea connoisseur.

I am thankful for the HCI Alumni weekend. I met amazing alumni and current students, one who has become such a dear friend. I am thankful to have such a new dear friend in my life.

November

I am thankful that I have remembered to be thankful. Because there are times I do, but don’t give myself credit for all that I do. And sometimes I don’t, and allow myself to be low. I am thankful that I have highs and lows, good times and bad, that life has complexity which keeps me guessing. I am thankful to you for having the patience to read this entire thing, if you have indeed.

The Power of Negotiation

It is inherent to my personality to take the words people say and use at face value. For all my work as a writer/author, I believe that people understand that each word they choose has meaning associated with it, and therefore, choose their words as carefully as I do mine in most situations.

I am finding, more often than not, that this is not the case as I employ the word “why.” Why do you think/feel that way? It’s not a combative word; it could be, with the right tone. This is a word of inquiry, of trying to understand what the person means rather than what they say. Say what you mean and mean what you say is a cliche because so few people do it well.

My point behind all of this is that I am realizing that life is about negotiation. By engaging in a dialogue, we open the possibility for deeper understanding. In more deeply understanding one another, we are more likely to “compromise” because we understand the other party’s terms. Compromise has gotten a bad reputation these last couple of years, or so it seems to me. According to Merriam-Webster, compromise is what happens when two or more parties make concessions to one another to reach an agreement.

Don’t we do this everyday? I want juice from the fridge, but my mother is pulling something from the freezer. I could push her aside, but rather, I wait, conceding that she was there first. My mother, realizing she is taking longer than is polite, concedes stands to the side pulling out additional ingredients. This gives me space to crouch beneath her and reach the fridge handle.

A simple example, to be sure. But there is something to it, methinks. As my peers and I venture into the industrial or academic realms, continuing our lives as professional adults, I feel we are all learning something in the form of negotiation. This could be professionally speaking, but also personally, as in my example with my mother. Negotiation is required for survival for nothing you ask for will be given to you freely. You must negotiate the terms and come to an agreement.

Why I felt the need to write this at one in the morning is beyond me. Thanks for indulging!

P.S. I have graduated from Indiana University with a Masters of Science in Informatics, specializing in Human Computer Interaction Design. If you’d like to see my thesis submission, check out my Flickr set. I took photos of the paper submission as well as the Blurb book I created for my personal copy.

Steampunking it Up

As I continue to muddle through all my interests, struggling to find a valuable design situation, I keep coming back to Steampunk. While talking with my roommate far into the early morning hours, I suddenly had a vision. And it was glorious.

If I follow through with the capstone idea centered around the Steampunk culture, I should embrace it fully. I own a white scarf, check. I have some Victorian-esque shirts, opera gloves, and could wrangle together some brass welding goggles. Sure, why not? I have a small desk fan to run so that my scarf billows behind me as I expound upon my Steampunkish theories and design concepts to my professors and peers.

What am I trying to say? Only that I could (and most likely should) adopt the clothing aesthetic of Steampunk, thus emphasizing my dedication.

My presentation could very well be the whimsical yet informative event that I’m hoping for. The only thing missing are the zeppelins. I feel a sketch coming on…

Single Steps

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
– Lao Tzu

Oftentimes I am frustrated with how much time tasks inevitably take, especially in terms of self-improvement. I am forever trying to be a better person, better designer, better student, employee, friend, daughter, writer, etc. Only this past summer have I realized how exhausted I am trying to keep up the idea that I am “Super Binaebi.” That I can get it done, whatever it is, with time to spare and a certain flair.

The only problem with this is that usually I can, and do, complete the task at hand with time to spare and a certain flair… but at the sacrifice of something else. Such as sleep. Or sanity.

Meeting the new first year HCId students this week and personally mentoring one of them has reminded me that I need to take things slower. Details are everything to me. Yet,  I’ve lost the ability to notice the small things that used to bring joy to my life.

I don’t want the first years to lose sight of the larger picture as they face the challenges of graduate school.

This isn’t to say that I know what the larger picture is, or that I’m doing a good job of keeping it in mind myself. But maybe by being the Jiminy Cricket (as it were) to the new first years… I’ll remind myself along the way that it is in the trying that we succeed.

And that failure is sometimes the best sort of success.

Analogy for Affinity Diagramming

Yesterday while at work I was copying insights from interviews onto Post-its for an affinity diagram. The undergrad intern working with us walked past, asking what I was doing.

“Prepping for an affinity diagram,” I said with great aplomb.

Of course, she had no idea what I was talking about. I explained that an affinity diagram is where you write user-generated comments, thoughts, and opinions onto Post-its. Then you take your pile of Post-its and group them based on topics. Topics with the most Post-its are high-interest, etc. This helps you determine what the person who your design is meant for finds most interesting, versus what you the designer might find most interesting.

The reason I’m talking about this is the analogy the undergrad intern used to understand the concept.

“So it’s like one of those things where the words are bigger to show more people have commented?”

Yes. That’s exactly what an affinity diagram is. An analog tag cloud. I love it.

Whistle While You Work

It seems to me that once you get into the thick of design philosophy, you can never escape designing.  However, I’m beginning to realize that while this graduate program certainly encourages and incites the designer in me to be a bit more active, Interaction-Designer!Binaebi was by no means silent in the first place.

In the Kitchen

Whenever my roommate leaves town she returns with the expectation that I’ve moved something. This is a semi-nervous tick of mine, completely intentional, but not malicious. I don’t like clutter, especially on kitchen counter tops. So when I open the kitchen cabinets and find empty spaces, I move the items from the counter top to the cabinet so the kitchen looks cleaner.

The thing is, I don’t remember to tell my roommate I’ve done this… and half the time it’s with her food in the first place. Thank goodness it’s something of a game to her. “Hmm… I wonder where Binaebi put the [fill in the blank] this time?” is a question she utters frequently, she admitted just the other day.

Now, this information concerned me. Was my shifting redesign of the kitchen’s organizational structure making her interaction with the kitchen frustrating due to my need for bare counter tops? Worse yet, was it hurting our interactions as roommates?

No, actually, because it turns out my shifting redesign has a pattern to it. I place all the baking items together on one shelf, the chips on another. All the Tupperware is in that bottom drawer. Unopened juice is placed in the fridge so the first glass will be cold. In the long run, it seems to work out for us, because my reorganization has an intuitive bent to it.

Which is good. The act of me rearranging items may not be time-efficient, but it is intuitively-efficient for when we need to find said items later.

Side note: This is an interesting concept I recently thought of… “time-efficient” vs “intuitively-efficient.” I should come back to this, see if it’s worth pursuing.

In the Arts

When I have any sort of emotional upheaval, I turn to my artistic roots and let the muses fly. I have, in the last month, upcycled two chairs that my roommate and I found by our dumpster. Solid wooden chairs with a screw or two missing, left for me to play with in the evenings after work.

The process is what makes these chairs amazing, not the end result. Though, I will admit, the chairs turned out pretty sweet. I sanded the chairs by hand, getting to know their shape, their feel, their character.

Argyle Chair: Finis!

“Argyle,” the first one screamed at me, “you must reupholster me in argyle.” When I bought the fabric, it was the end of the bolt, so I got three yards instead of one. Which was perfect, because the next day we found the second chair, and it was just as eager to have an argyle redressing.

I have also sculpted a little android, a paranoid little android who, despite his best intentions and careful planning, lost his heart and is absolutely befuddled by the realization. This project was a true design experiment, as I had no plans when I began to work the Sculpey clay. I simply rolled the clay into a ball, broke off a piece here and there while watching the movie Dogma, and by the end of the movie, I had a mini-Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Marvin the Paranoid Android loses his heart

But I’m never one to simply mimic. My Marvin needed something special, something which made him especially down. So I poked out his heart. For artistic purposes, of course.

Side note: I don’t know why Marvin lost his heart. He’s much too sad to go into the details with me.

I have turned to my music, listening to new and old favorites constantly, while psyching myself up to play the violin again after a three-month absence.

I have, for the first time in ten years, painted my toe nails. This may not be a big deal to you, but to me, every little bit of artistic expression counts. Like my Hot Topic earrings, which are currently little gray skulls. It’s the little things that make me laugh.

In Me

What am I trying to get at here? The fact is that all these little things…

  • Rearranging the kitchen
  • Reflecting on the interactions between my roommate and me
  • Upcycling a couple of discarded chairs
  • Sculpting a hilariously depressed robot
  • Preparing to practice violin again
  • Painting my toe nails
  • Buying and wearing goofy earrings

…these are things that point to me redesigning myself. Everything we do affects us positively, negatively, neutrally. When I began these projects, my motivation was lackluster at best. But as with anything, the more time I invested into the project, the more I cared about it. The more I cared, the more motivated I became. The higher my motivation, the more I poured my creativity into the project, the more I pushed myself to try something new.

The Moral of the Story

Interaction Design isn’t always just about man vs technology. Sometimes it’s about man vs man, or man vs self .*

How do we design and redesign ourselves? What goes into that decision-making process? And what can we learn from that process to help inform our design process, professionally?

I don’t know yet. It’s a work-in-progress.

*Borrowed from creative writing theory

Capture the Remarkable Details

Though I’m a computer engineer studying to be an interaction designer, and should feel more comfortable with technology than anyone else (it seems), I often feel overwhelmed and frustrated. The great thing about technology is that almost any information I could care and/or want to know is at my fingertips. The worst thing about technology is the very same. It can easily turn into noise-information.

How many hours have I wasted on Wikipedia learning information I didn’t actually need to know? How many hours have you wasted?

This noise problem, I feel, has similarities with the act or craft of writing in an explicit manner*. When writing a scene in a chapter, you could, if you wanted to, write every single detail. Your reason for doing this? To immerse the reader: they will have to feel like they are there with the characters if they can sense every detail about the surroundings, clothing, scent, etc. Right? Wrong. If you were to do this, it would be noise. Your readers would skip over that paragraph because it was fluff-laden information. Where is the meaning? As an example, why tell the reader the exact color of the clouds if…

  1. The character isn’t looking at the clouds in the first place,
  2. Even if the character was looking at the clouds, they probably don’t care, and
  3. The reader probably cares even less?

This is my problem with technology. Life as we know it today is riddled with the noise of knowing every detail about everything. We have lost the poetry of life. And maybe I’m a romantic, but I miss that poetry. I want my life to be poetic in the way of meaningful interactions and experiences.

Modern poetry is more often than not the written word at its most succinct, sparkling form. It takes the remarkable details of a moment and arranges them in a way that often conveys more meaning than an entire chapter describing the same thing.

So this is my question: can we do the same thing with technology? Can we create human-computer interactions in a way that emphasize the poetry of life? Can we create technological objects that capture the remarkable details that make something meaningful?

However we do this, I feel it must tie back to creating “an experience,” as described by Dewey, and it’s a challenge I look forward to undertaking.

*I received an undergraduate minor in English, and am taking a creative writing course for graduate credit this semester.

See my sketchnotes from the Discussion Club session that inspired this post.