Category Archives: Blog Doménique

Attending ECCE’16

Last month yours truly returned from a trip that took me to Nottingham and back again. Along the way I spent considerable time aboard aircraft and managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing tour of London. The latter proved it’s possible to see quite a few of the city’s landmarks on foot in an afternoon but that it’s not necessarily a good plan to carry all luggage (as my sore shoulders could attest to later).

I was there to attend the European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics and present my paper on the phenomenology of remembered experience. This concept is relevant to how people think about their past and how they would like to remember that past. For my study I interviewed 22 people and had them compare several of their own past experiences (that is, their memories) with each other. From there, I was able to categorise the ways in which they spoke about this and I also attempted to structure this visually. The intention is that this outcome will provide a base structure for future evaluation of people’s responses to remembering as probed by a prototype of an interactive system. The full paper is available online.

The conference room during a panel session. Crappy picture credit all mine.

Other topics at the conference included various approaches to human factors, effective visualisation of data, and studies into the best ways to apply augmented and virtual reality. Despite its relatively small size of about 50 participants, the conference managed to present quite a variety of topics. Another nice thing is that the single track set-up of the conference takes away the need to optimise which presentations to attend and which to ignore.

I was not the sole representative of the Materialising Memories team. David Blezinger, who visited us in Sydney in late 2014, took home the best paper award for his study on storytelling through and with objects.

At least to me, Nottingham was probably most strongly related to the stories of Robin Hood. And the area certainly doesn’t disappoint with gentle hills, green surroundings, lots of buildings that have been there for ages, and so on. The campus on which the conference was held stood in stark contrast with new, modern buildings throughout. I forgot to take a photo so I’m unable to share the visual glory with you here. Instead, I give you the house of Batman as this large manor was apparently host to some scenes in recent movies.

There was actually a stuffed bat inside this manor, in case you were wondering.

And Robin Hood? He lives on as namesake to a public transport card.

A game character enjoying the scenery

Memories of games

Most of us who have followed a story felt attachment to the main characters. Maybe you yelled at the puppet show as a kid to warn them of the character in the dark who was about to knock, or you revelled in the danger and you felt a little empty after the story was over. Such feelings of attachment can be even stronger when you take up the role of the character, that is, to become the one who knocks, or jumps, or solves puzzles, and saves the dragon. Yes, kids, save the dragon. Rescuing the damsel in distress is so yesteryear.

The avatars we play may not be us. But in some games we get a lot of options to tune the avatar to our liking, and perhaps play a bit with our own understanding of our identity. They may look better, behave far better, or act as indiscriminate rogues, and you may think of them as more dateable than you are. Despite differences between the virtual world and real life (here on earth dragons are merely some sunbathing lizards), in-game experiences can transfer beyond the fantasy realm into everyday life and contribute to our understanding of ourselves. This touches upon our project interests, because we do have memories of those experiences.

In fact, those memories pop up in everyday life. A recent study by Poels, IJsselsteijn, and de Kort (2014) surveyed players of the online role-playing game World of Warcraft to see in what way the game influenced the thinking and dreaming of frequent players. They indeed found evidence for elements of the game to play a role in daydreaming and mundane thoughts. Additionally, their results indicated that objects in normal life may remind people of their virtual exploits. Unfortunately no examples of such objects and thoughts were included. It would have been interesting to see how real things relate to experiences in another realm. We do not need to wear our ‘Epic Hat of Uncertain Principles’ to reminisce about experiences we had while wearing that hat.

Three years ago I started to take screenshots of a game I was playing at the time, the role-playing fantasy game Skyrim. I thought it strange that we do photograph a day trip to a theme park, but not keep evidence of the countless hours we spend in an elaborate fantasy world. Perhaps we are too busy just being entertained by the game, or perhaps it is a social stigma to not show those unfettered glimpses into what we really prefer for enjoyment. After all, there is something of us in the choices we made for an avatar, even if it’s just to explore an alter ego. For example, a fairly large proportion of men play as female characters and certainly not always in skimpy, revealing outfits as you may expect. Similar experimenting happens the other way around as well. Maybe it is exactly this playing with identity that keeps it separate from our idea of who we are, and therefore any screenshots do not end up in a visual narrative of our life.

Yet, here I am writing this because I did take some screenshots that ended up alongside my other, personal pictures. Looking over my photos, there was no distinction between my life and that of my game characters.

My Skyrim game character CruelaOne of the screenshots I took more than a year ago. Yes, that is my beloved character named Cruela with whom I spent somewhere close to 270 hours in-game. Make of that what you will.

This leaves me with a few questions. Do people capture any visual material from in-game experiences? Do they construct a narrative to go along with it? To what extent does that story relate to their real lives? Do they ever look back? If they do look back, is it ever shared with others? I wonder. For a games industry that builds on giving us enjoyable experiences, obtainable achievements, and in MMO’s also some amount of social status, seemingly little flows over into our everyday lives when it comes to remembering all those things.

While the actual gaming experience and avatars used to attain those are perhaps under-represented in the publicly observable realm of memory-supporting media, cosplay has seen quite a bit of popularity in the past decades. Cosplay, or dressing up as your favourite game, comic, movie, or series hero, is a way of expressing fandom through often elaborate self-made costumes. Even though doing so does not express the personal experiences of playing a game or watching fiction, it does indicate the cosplayer was in some way infatuated with that piece of popular culture and not afraid to show it.

Looking into personal memories of gaming and other forms of fandom provides a nice bridge between media studies and the study of everyday remembering. Would you be willing to share your stories? And do you consider those part of your personal past?

CHI 2015 paper video preview

Ahead of the 2015 CHI conference in Seoul, Korea (coming up later this month), I made a short video preview to go along with a 10 page paper titled ‘Things That Make Us Reminisce: Everyday Memory Cues as Opportunities for Interaction Design.’ It’s only 30 seconds and can be seen below.

Behind the scenes

It takes a surprisingly long time to make a short video like this. It took me about a full working day, including the editing, adding overlays, and exporting the final result. So here’s a bit on the making of, including tens of cast members, hundreds of extras, and a couple of undisciplined dragons.

Just kidding.

First up, the setting. I wanted a home-like environment for the video, with enough light to get a good image, plus an environment that would be quiet enough to get a decent audio recording. Eventually I settled on using my own studio apartment as I would have everything on hand there. The clear downside is of course having to use my bed and empty wall as the enigmatic backdrop for my narration. Rather than doing just a voice over I decided to show myself, tell why the paper is relevant, and show a bit of our method. As such, the video is more of a teaser from an information point of view.

I faced a few challenges in getting my video recorded. With only myself on deck (all the others ended up hunting loose dragons), how to hold my camera phone steady? I have another still camera that mounts to my tripod, so I opted to tie my phone to the bigger camera with elastic cord. A voice recorder was placed on my office chair just outside camera view, with a notepad acting as my cue sheet. I couldn’t actually read my script this way, so it took quite a few takes to get it right (I would make a bad actor). The desire to wear decent clothes while the room temperature reflected the heat and humidity of an Australian Summer didn’t help things either. I had to take a few breaks to cool down, and yes, it does explain my expression during the first second or two.

Camera with phone strapped on
I felt sad for the old camera, as it was merely used as a surface for my phone to be strapped onto. With some elastic rope.

The method section was filmed in our MM lab,  with the diaries and other snippets and pieces from the analysis spread out along a table. I stood behind the camera, did the diary browsing, and then panned the camera to get the other items recorded. Later, in editing the footage was sped up. The rest of the footage was cut to fit only the most important bits within the limit of thirty seconds. Finally, I added the text overlays and a blur and vignetting effect to move the focus away from the somewhat lacklustre setting.

Looking back, there are a few things I’d like to improve about my little video. The location isn’t great, and I feel I could get more information into the thirty seconds. Perhaps I could have shot a couple of things that made people reminisce for an introduction, and only briefly show how we got there with our diaries. It seems I need to get another paper accepted to put these ideas to the test!

The actual paper presentation will be during a session titled ‘Digital Collections, Practice & Legacy’ on Thursday, 23 April, starting at 9:30 in Room E1/E2. If you happen to be at CHI 2015, come and have a look.

Design, memories, and tension

A year ago I started my PhD project, and in some ways you do not know how deep the rabbit hole goes. During the year the ideas about design and memories have changed. Lately, one of the things circulating in my mind is the idea of designing for reminiscing, or in other words feeling good about yourself because of pleasant feelings about the past. It’s the foundation of our project really and, of course, there are psychology studies to back up the idea that thinking about the past can indeed help us today.

Despite those studies, showing highlights from the past isn’t like nibbling on a magic mushroom of happiness. It is not a straightforward relationship. Showing me a photo of a trip I took half a year ago does not suddenly make me happier, even though that trip may be regarded as a nice thing. Why would it make me happy? It is not very relevant to my current situation, although it may remind me to go on a trip again soon. Perhaps it’s too close to me still, and I don’t need nor have use for the reconfirmation of the experience. It still reflects me as I was half a year ago, by and large the same person with the same outlook on life. So if a photographic display of myself doesn’t get me to think of myself, what will?

“You’re thinking about something my dear, and that makes you forget to talk.”

Well, perhaps an explanation is that there is no conflict nor discrepancy nor uncovering of long forgotten viewpoints. Anyone who is a good writer or storyteller knows to get us interested is a source of conflict. Whether the conflict is some unknown dangling in the future (a story arc that doesn’t get resolved until the last moment), or a sudden twist (as with jokes), you’ll want to play with anticipation of the viewer. When designing for an audience who already know their own story, introducing anticipation is a challenge. The designed thing may need to know something that the viewer does not and aim for a time-strung release of tension.

How do we create tension in a design, especially when it concerns our own memories? It seems we already know the story! What a silly suggestion! Perhaps it will only work if we have forgotten some parts of our story first, or an unknown connection is made to reveal an unconsidered angle. Alice knew about rabbits, mice, and cats, and it was only when she forcibly considered a new angle that she did realise their world was vastly different.

Immersive storytelling, missed connections, and being present in everyday life to support serendipitous encounters with nibbles of happiness – it is quite a challenge. Will our designs be like a queen of hearts, or nothing but a mad hatter? To find out, we must follow the white rabbit…

A slice of moving photography

Most of us are happy snapping digital photos several times a week. Whether we look back at this prolific evidence of our everyday lives is another thing. I sometimes glance at the thumbnails on my phone’s photo roll, for the digital traces of what caught my attention. I tend to overlook videos I’ve shot and – not surprisingly – I hardly use that functionality. Flipping through a set of pictures is easy, but glancing at videos takes patience. Is waiting a few seconds for a video to reveal itself worth it for my brain? Often not, as it breaks the flow of glancing over thumbnails. Luckily there is something in between, the moving still.

The moving still image, sometimes called 2.5D imagery, precedes video and photography. From the 17th century on, predecessors to our modern projectors – magic lanterns – were used to project imagery onto a wall, supporting stories told in theatres and other venues. Soon people realised that introducing movement to the images had a great effect on the audience, and so-called phantasmagorias made ample use of scary imagery of skeletons, devils and other frightening creatures that appeared to draw near. A precursor to the modern day horror movies, phantasmagorias based on handpainted images became popular and paved the way towards cinema in later times. When photography and quickly alternating stills (video) became technically viable, the moving still image lost some of its appeal.

Scaring people like it’s 1699 – Scène de fantasmagorie XVIIIe siècle, by Arthur Pougin in Dictionnaire historique et pittoresque du théâtre et des arts (1885; via Wikipedia).

In our age, there are a few ways to get an easily digestible but not entirely still image. Far from gone, the internet’s most beloved technology – GIF images – powers social media with everything from cats doing silly things, to people hurting themselves and (generally) capturing the most salient part of a longer video. It works very well to convey emotional expression and is fairly able to summarise an event. See for a search engine specifically aimed at finding that one gif that will thaw your heart today. Making them yourself is not as easy as just capturing a still photo or a video, because it needs editing. Distilling the essence of a moment into just a few frames requires rigorously taking everything else out. We all know it hasn’t stopped the internet from doing it, but it is not standard fare for most people.

A simple GIF image telling a short moment in just a few frames. (taken from Girls tv show, via

A much more stylized variation on this theme is the Cinemagraph, which is essentially a still photo with only some elements moving. Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, who worked out this concept for their photography practice, call it an “image that contains within itself a living moment that allows a glimpse of time to be experienced and preserved endlessly.” The subtle use of animation gives each image a little extra without the commonly jerkier appearance of GIF images from videos.

Cinemagraph named “She’s glamourous” by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg.

A cinemagraph may be stylised after the fact by careful editing, but that need not stop us on our quest for a little swing in a photo. Enter the fauxtograph. The idea is simple: pretend to take a still photo of someone (who will pose) but take a short video instead. While some of these tricked subjects of attention will devolve into a weirdly forced smile, the longer recording may very well capture a little personality and the dynamics of any shot. It’s easy to do and worth a try (and remember, it’s better when people do not realise it).

Audiophotography (as described in Audiophotography: Bringing photos to life with sounds by David Frohlich, 2004) takes another approach. Instead of compacting a short video into a looping animation, audiophotographs take one photo and add a short sound clip. The sound recording is what captures the temporal quality, such as waves rolling in to complement a beach picture. Such auditory augmentation helps to bring back the moment. Unfortunately, there is no standard format to share this kind of media other than a video file.

There are more complicated tricks one could use to spice up a still photo for later viewing, such animating it after the fact or using it in a moving slideshow. I haven’t touched the short video social media such as Vine and Instagram, which aim for clips just a few seconds in length. It is a fine line to walk for 2.5D imagery, balancing between still shots and movies. Those fully animated ideas slip towards revealing over time similar to video; while I tried to look at the boundaries of the still photograph, which bares all in one mere glance.

First project blog: OzCHI 2013

From this post on, we will semi-regularly write blogs on things related to our project, interesting articles or designs we’ve come across, or a conference one of us visited. The idea is to give people visiting this website a flavour for the things we do in our projects and related work. I have the honour to kick-off by (belatedly) telling you a bit about my visit to the 2013 Australian edition of the CHI conference, named OzCHI.

Held in Adelaide, OzCHI 2013 started early for me with a presentation at its doctoral consortium, a forum for doctoral students to present their progress and receive feedback from peers and seasoned academics. For me it was the first time I presented my plans for this project in a formal session, and in fact it was my first time presenting at a conference. Of course, I had prepared well by not completely finishing my presentation slides until the previous evening. This is a very bad idea mainly because getting food afterwards is difficult in Adelaide. The more relaxed and quiet attitude of Adelaide (compared to Sydney) extends to its opening hours, or rather, those are not extended at all. Slightly worried I might have to go to bed without dinner, I was lucky to get some fastfood just before closing time.

Next morning I arrived early at the city centre conference venue, thanks to hostel neighbours who consider 6am a perfectly fine waking hour. My presentation was up before lunch and gave me plenty of comments and interesting feedback. Just getting a response from people outside of the project who know what should be in a PhD project is valuable in itself, so I would encourage everyone considering to join a doctoral consortium to do so. Similarly, it helps to see others present and voice their issues.

The rest of the conference was easier for me, as I had no paper to present. I could sample the topics and discussions to spot developments of interest. Popular topics this year included gestural interfaces (e.g., using a Microsoft Kinect or Leap Motion for input), health and fitness interactions, and of course the internet of things is surely becoming ubiquitous at HCI conferences. This year’s edition will take place here at UTS in Sydney, and will be organised by the Faculty of Engineering and IT (we are actually in the Design faculty, located nearby).

Finally, I should make note of Adelaide as a city. Maybe it is because I’m Dutch and culturally predisposed to like places which are mostly flat and give ample room to bikes, but I really did enjoy the place. Go twenty minutes to the West from the center and you can sit on the beach, and even from the center you can spot the hills to the East of the city. It is quite a nice view and I wouldn’t mind going back there. To end my first blog’s on a high I should mention this baby Wallaby:

At a wildlife park nearby Adelaide I fed this young Wallaby.
At a wildlife park nearby Adelaide I fed this young Wallaby. Pure cuteness.