About Ken Hinckley

Ken Hinckley is the Editor-in-Chief at ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), and a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. He writes here about news and emerging research published in the TOCHI journal; you can follow his own research on sensors, pen (and touch) computing, and many other topics at kenhinckley.wordpress.com.

TOCHI Article Alert: Diminished Control in Crowdsourcing: An Investigation of Crowdworker Multitasking Behavior

Diminished Control in Crowdsourcing: An Investigation of Crowdworker Multitasking Behavior

This sixth, and final, contribution in this jam-packed issue of TOCHI investigates the complexities of crowdworkers who (much like the rest of us, sadly enough) typically cannot spend even 5 minutes (and probably far less if they happen to be an Editor-in-Chief) on any task without getting distracted, or interrupted, by something else.

Yet, as the authors of this article point out, the presence of naturalistic interruptions in crowdwork, in completely uncontrolled settings outside of the laboratory environment, presents both challenges and opportunities.

The challenge, of course, is rather obvious: if crowdworkers are attending to other tasks, they are most pointedly not attending to their crowdsourced task, which may be a source of undesired variability (if not outright poor performance) in experimental results. The authors therefore set out to see if they can detect, and possibly mitigate, such interruptions.

The opportunity is less obvious, but arguably even more important. The effect of naturally occurring interruptions—as opposed to those artificially imposed by laboratory settings—has received surprisingly little attention in the literature, presumably because such naturally occurring interruptions are deviously difficult to elicit, and study.

The article makes great progress on both fronts, illustrating in detail how crowdworker inattention can be detected, and even limited through appropriate interventions, while also illustrating how the presence of interruptions and distractions in the real world allows for naturalistic study of these behaviors, turning a supposed “nuisance” into the object of study.

It’s a clever turnabout by the authors, and I learned a great deal about this space by reading the article.

But I must admit—

I do find it vaguely disturbing that such is the state of modernity, that it has proven necessary for the term crowdworker to creep into the English language in the first place … but then again, perhaps I am bit too familiar with science-fictional tropes for my own good (grin).



TOCHI Article Alert: Design and Usability of Interactive User Profiles for Online Health Communities

Design and Usability of Interactive User Profiles for Online Health Communities

This work takes an in-depth look at how people in on-line communities can tap the rich sources of expertise and compassion represented by other community members who are facing (or have surmounted) similar health challenges.

The effort is lent especially noteworthy resonance, and depth, and practical impact, by the authors’ partnership with CancerConnect.com, a web site that serves as a resource and social network for cancer patients (and their caregivers).

Such connections are vital for patients—who are rarely medical experts themselves—when they are suddenly forced to navigate challenging health issues where the mentoring and support of “someone like me” can have a major impact.

But first the patient must actually find, and engage with, precisely the right person in such a community, which is where the design of Health Interest Profiles come into play. The authors therefore consider, in depth, key considerations for the design of such profiles, which surface the topics and activity related to other members in such communities.

Along the way, the authors surface many great insights that lend a greater appreciation of the difficulties this poses, while also naturally leading one to envision interesting new hybrid designs that might pave the way for further progress on this important problem.



TOCHI Article Alert: Target Acquisition vs. Expressive Motion — Dynamic Pitch Warping for Intonation Correction

Target Acquisition vs. Expressive Motion: Dynamic Pitch Warping for Intonation Correction

This article concerns techniques for the dynamic correction of pitch during production of continuous sounds on digital musical instruments, driven by stylus input on a tablet in this particular case.

While at first blush this might sound very far from the issues typically of concern for input devices, the authors do an excellent job of relating this problem to issues typically encountered when pointing in graphical user interfaces, relating it to techniques such as Expanding Widgets (in visual space) and Sticky Icons (in the motor space), for example.

Through a series of algorithm explorations and studies, this contribution illustrates how a dynamic corrections influence both the accurate production of notes, which is one concern, as well as free-form expressivity (such as vibrato, ligato, and glissandro) in the manner in which the notes are produced, which is a second—and often competing—concern in musical performance (if not for input devices in general).

The results are convincing, and intriguing—such as the authors’ suggestion that their dynamic correction could be applied to the beautification of ink strokes, a thought that indeed had occurred to me, as well, as I read this article (perhaps unsurprisingly so, given my longstanding interesting in pen computing).

The authors also note that the technique is available under a freeware license, and has been implemented in the Cantor Digitalis—which won first place in a recent musical instrument competition.




TOCHI Article Alert: SlideSpace: Heuristic Design of a Hybrid Presentation Medium

SlideSpace: Heuristic Design of a Hybrid Presentation Medium

This article presents a systematic deconstruction, and reconstruction, of presentation authoring based on a scholarly and incisive analysis of the design space of presentation systems, leading up to the design of a presentation tool known as SlideSpace.

The SlideSpace system offers many strengths and complementary properties to existing presentation tools, whether derived from the prevalent metaphor of slides or that of the canvas, because indeed it offers an intriguing hybrid of the two (while also strongly supporting elements of a third, the stage metaphor, where visual elements enter and exit the screen, often with well-crafted animations).

User feedback made clear that SlideSpace is especially well suited to more formal, businesslike presentations where the clear big-picture and hierarchical structure imposed by an outline view brings significant value, but what I perhaps found the most thought-provoking was the way in which the work suggests a rich design space of hybrid presentation systems.

Indeed, I found myself wondering if one could go in a different direction from the same core analyses, and contemplate other styles of hybrid presentation tool that might (for instance) reverse the formal and structured nature of the presentations afforded by SlideSpace, to perhaps cater to more freeform and informal ‘talks’ or collaborative sessions.

Whether or not this is a good idea, the general principles and heuristics articulated by this TOCHI article could certainly go a long way in informing such a venture, if not even more intriguing visions for ‘The Presentation of the Future.’



The Editor’s Spotlight, Part 2 — TOCHI Issue 23:3 — Mobile Phones as Amplifiers of Social Inequality among Rural Kenyan Women


Mobile Phones as Amplifiers of Social Inequality among Rural Kenyan Women

This short but extremely incisive article offers a remarkable shot across the bow of (at times overly) optimistic technologists, such as myself, who typically operate under the worldview—(which if we are being charitable amounts to an unquestioned assumption; or if less so, then nothing but an unsupportable myth)—that the technologies we work so hard to create are always positive forces for change in the world.

Yet in this case, as the authors of this article so meticulously document, the mobile phone itself can in fact serve as a massive amplifier of injustice, and impoverishment, and other social inequalities that are prevalent in many (and especially in the more rural) corners of the globe.

Aspects of this perspective will perhaps come as no surprise to those working in the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) sub-discipline of our field. Such insights are presaged by some of Toyama’s work, for example, who pointedly noted that technology “tends to amplify existing social inequalities”—a law of amplification driven by the unequal motivations and capabilities (as forms the focus in this particular article) between rural Kenyan women and the powerful corporations that control the mobile networks in the country, and design the services (often in ways that glaringly elevate their own interests above those of their impoverished customers).

And it is in the unpacking, and illustration, and spelling-out of the insidious technological challenge of addressing these differential motivations and capabilities that this TOCHI paper shines.

The authors report in considerable depth on a series of field studies which were undertaken in rural Kenya—challenging studies which, by their very nature, are not ‘controlled’ or ‘repeatable’—yet are rich with ethnographic detail and design insights nonetheless.

This, in my view, is a must-read TOCHI article that can, and should, give us all pause as to the advisability of some (or perhaps many, or even most) of the interventions that our technological fancies would lead us to undertake.

What exactly to do about this is a very difficult problem, but without first surfacing such challenges and making them apparent, we cannot even take the first steps towards designing a better world for all persons—and particularly for the under-represented and the marginalized among us, as opposed to the highly profitable (and at times seemingly unscrupulous) corporations that would so readily take advantage of people through carrier lock-in and other such questionable practices.


Susan Wyche, Nightingale Simiyu, and Martha Othieno. 2016. Mobile Phones as Amplifiers of Social Inequality among Rural Kenyan Women. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 23, 3, Article 14  (June 2016), 19 pages.

DOI= http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2911982


The Editor’s Spotlight, Part 1 — TOCHI Issue 23:3 — Predicting Team Performance from Thin Slices of Conflict

TOCHI Issue 23:3 is now fully available on the ACM Digital Library.

And in my editorial remarks for this month, I felt compelled, once again, to Spotlight two key contributions in this latest and greatest issue, the first of which is as follows:



Predicting Team Performance From Thin Slices Of Conflict

The balance of positive to negative affect during episodes of marital conflict has been found to be highly indicative—even years in advance—of functional marriages (as opposed to dysfunctional ones). This is a well-established result.

Indeed, the finding has been extended to dyads engaged in negotiation, or in pair programming, for example.

But it has remained unclear if the significance of affect applies to groups more generally.

Or even under the reasonable presumption that it probably does, this has still left unresolved the tricky question of how to study it, and how to elicit ‘thin-slices’ of conflict (e.g. a frank, 15-minute discussion of difficulties plaguing a team project) in a practical manner that is amenable to further analysis, scientific and otherwise.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of this TOCHI article—including a novel methodology for the elicitation of conflict from small groups—the predictive power of an overabundance of negative affect (contempt, criticism, defensiveness, etc.) relative to positive expressions (interest, humor, validation, and so forth) has been convincingly demonstrated, for the first time, as highly predictive in terms of the long-term success of teams (of up to 4 individuals) engaged in design activities.

While the slices of conflict are thin, the analysis (and insights thus derived) are deep, and indeed were highly predictive of the teams’ success up to 6 months in advance.

The author presents two in-depth studies, the first of which had the participants self-assess their affect by watching a recording of their own conflict session and setting a dial to indicate their real-time feelings (a continuous value from very negative, to neutral, to very positive).

The second study followed up the first with an objective measure of affect, derived from extremely thorough video analysis of each individual’s affect (including detailed capture of all utterances, and facial expressions, and body language). While a smaller sample, coupled with the first study the general pattern of findings is convincing.

The potential applications of this work, its methodology, and its findings are many.

To cite just one example, the author notes that, broadly speaking, the design of groupware and CSCW applications have tended to focus on the support of task-oriented processes—as opposed to the socio-emotional processes of the team.

This may be a critical mistake.

While some baseline of support for the group’s actual tasks and work is (of course) necessary (as articulated by the coordination theory of Malone & Crowston, for example), the findings of this new TOCHI study argue strongly that it is the coordination of affect, as opposed to that of the tasks, that is the key defining characteristic of success in team endeavors.


Malte Jung. 2016. Coupling Interactions and Performance: Predicting Team Performance from Thin Slices of Conflict. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 23, 3, Article 18 (June 2016), 36 pages.

DOI= http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2753767

TOCHI Article Alert: The Effects of Changing Projection Geometry on Perception of 3D Objects on and Around Tabletops

The Effects of Changing Projection Geometry on Perception of 3D Objects on and Around Tabletops

The final article I wish to alert you to (in TOCHI Issue 23:2) offers a tour-de-force with regards to 3D object perception on tabletop displays. The possible presence of multiple users makes it difficult to choose a projection geometry, or to take full advantage of depth cues such as motion parallax that are de rigueur in other contexts.

Poor choices can result in distorted images and incorrect interpretations of objects, which of course would defeat the purpose of bringing these technologies to bear in the first place.

The authors present a series of studies which probe these issues in great detail. One of the surprises (for me, at least) was that using a fixed center of projection above the table reduced errors and improved accuracy in most of the tasks studied. Another was that this further implies that technological efforts to make the point-of-view and the center-of-projection coincide (in fish-tank virtual reality, for example) may ultimately be fruitless—or possibly even counterproductive. As someone who spent a lot of time in the virtual environments literature—albeit so long ago that this activity seemingly took place in another lifetime—that suggestion arrived as quite a shock.



TOCHI Article Alert: The To-and-Fro of Sense Making: Supporting Users’ Active Indexing in Museums

The To-and-Fro of Sense Making: Supporting Users’ Active Indexing in Museums

Given my childhood fascination with saurians of the Jurassic epoch, it’s hard to go wrong with an article that features an installation named the Jurasoscope as one of its principal objects of study, along with a generous helping of illustrations that prominently feature dinosaur bones.

With these (and many other) richly grounded artifacts, the authors investigate the phenomenon of ‘indexing’—that is, the mindful referencing back and forth between here and there, connecting objects and representations—in great depth. The scholarship in this article is wonderful, drawing numerous and varied connections throughout the human-computer interaction literature (and beyond), while unpacking in great depth carefully considered and deeply nuanced aspects of these behaviors.

As such I suspect this article has great potential to cross-fertilize insights well beyond the heritage and museum context that serves as its primary focus. To name just one example, I was struck by the possibility that these insights could inform the back-and-forth of reading and writing characteristic of active reading, an area that (given my inclinations as a reader, writer, and vagabond of digital pen-and-tablet experiences) has long lurked at the nexus of my intellectual passions.

So I strongly encourage you to check out this article, as well, because I suspect the work offers many more latent connections and potentials of this sort for the curious and probing mind.



TOCHI Article Alert: People Do Not Feel Guilty About Exploiting Machines

I was impressed by the depth of thought and analysis that went into all of the contributions in this issue of TOCHI.

Three of the articles exceed fifty pages, often with rich illustrations, and through a concise and expertly paced presentation even the shortest article in this issue—a rare example of a TOCHI contribution that clocks in under 20 manuscript pages—packs a powerful punch:


People Do Not Feel Guilty About Exploiting Machines

With the recent defeat of the 18-time world Go champion at the hands of our would-be artificial overlords, I suppose not many people are feeling particularly guilty about the possibility of exploiting machines at the moment.

Yet well-established results show that people react to computers as social entities, and as such feelings of guilt and envy—and the extent to which they may or may not manifest themselves—have an important role to play in a compelling vision of the future where man and machine are not pitted against one another, but rather take on complementary roles that promise bring out the very best in human ability.

This article presents two provocative studies that show people experience similar levels of envy for humans as they do for machines in the context of three different economic games (the public goods, ultimatum, and dictator games)—yet people experience considerably less guilt vis-a-vis machines. The authors discuss the theoretic and practical implications of these findings for human-machine interaction systems that manifest cooperation, fairness, reciprocity, and other desirable properties of human-human interaction.



Call for Papers: Re-imagining Participatory Design

A Special Issue of ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM TOCHI)

Update! Due to the overlap with the CHI 2017 conference submissions timeline — as well as a late-breaking shift in our plans for our 2017 issues — we have decided to push this special issue out a little bit.

Submissions will now be due in Jan 2017 per the updated timeline below.

Deadline for Submissions (see author’s instructions):


We seek original contributions for a Special Issue of TOCHI on Reimagining Participatory Design (PD).

In particular, we seek research contributions that address the potentials and failures of participatory design in pursuing its democratizing project in emerging Information Technology (IT) domains. We solicit research papers that open up new horizons in Participatory Design for the field, or critically examine successes and failures of the past. Conceptual, methodological, and empirical papers are welcome.

When participatory design related to information technology in the workplace emerged in the 1970s, it sought to rebalance power and agency among managers and workers. Today’s Information Technology domains are more heterogeneous and less defined, and in many new contexts, it is difficult to bring sociotechnical conflicts into the open, whereby stakeholders are empowered to participate. As a result, power and agency seems to have gravitated away from end users and other stakeholders to government and multinational agencies.

Meanwhile, participatory design often seems to have become synonymous with a more neutral form of ‘user-centered’ design, concentrating on more local issues of usability and user satisfaction.

This is in contrast to earlier work in the field where Participatory Design not only sought to incorporate users in design, but also to intervene upon situations of conflict through developing more democratic processes.

This special issue extends an invitation to think boldly about the future of participatory design.

As guidance for possible topics for special issue contributions, we ask questions including (but not limited to) the following:

  • How are Information Technology systems today embedded in, or embodying, political conflicts such that Participatory Design could make a positive contribution?
  • What is (or should be) the role of Participatory Design in new computing contexts, including makers, ubiquitous computing, robotics, Internet of Things, cultural and creative industries, and other emerging trends?
  • How do we make sense of, and enact change in global coordination protocols that embody problematic power relations and scant worker protection? (e.g., crowdsourcing models such as Amazon Mechanical Turk.)
  • In what ways has participatory design failed to give voice to the marginal? How has it ignored, coopted, homogenized marginal voices? How might it do better?
  • How does, should, or could Participatory Design intersect with critical design, speculative design, feminist HCI, action research, design fictions, HCI for peace, and so forth?
  • How can Participatory Design help designers move from helping people do what they are already doing towards helping them make better decisions in future projects?




Abstracts due Sept 15, 2016 Jan 5, 2017. We strongly recommend informal submission of abstracts to the special issue editors at reimaginingpd@gmail.com.

Final manuscripts are due Oct 05, 2016 Jan 23, 2017, but earlier submissions are encouraged.


Please direct inquiries regarding the special issue to reimaginingpd@gmail.com.


Special Issue Editors:

  • Liam Bannon (University of Limerick and Aarhus University)
  • Jeffrey Bardzell (Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing)
  • Susanne Bødker (Aarhus University & Associate Editor, TOCHI)


Schedule and Submission Details

Pre-Submission Abstract Due: Sept 15, 2016  Jan 5, 2017 (email to reimaginingpd@gmail.com)
Full Manuscript Submission deadline: Oct 05, 2016  Jan 23, 2017 (must submit to: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/tochi).

Author Notification (first round): Jan 10, 2017  April 27, 2017
Revisions due: March 1, 2017  June 27, 2017
Author Notification (second round):  May 10, 2017  Sept 20, 2017
Final revisions due: Aug 10, 2017  Oct 15, 2017
Special Issue Published: Late 2017 (estimated)  January 2018 (Vol 25, Issue 1)



All contributions will be rigorously peer reviewed to the usual exacting standards of TOCHI. Further information, including TOCHI submission procedures and advice on formatting and preparing manuscripts, can be found at: http://tochi.acm.org/authors/.

Manuscripts are submitted via the ACM online manuscript system at: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/tochi.

This is an abridged version of the call for publicity purposes. See http://tochi.acm.org/re-imagining-participatory-design/ for full details.

Please note that TOCHI remains open to regular submissions, as well, throughout the special issue call.