Notes from the India HCI 2015 Conference

IIT Guwahati is one of the most beautiful college campuses in India. That is a well known fact by all now. I have had the good fortune of having studied here. I am truly grateful for it. So when the next edition of the IndiaHCI conference, India’s premier conference on Human Computer Interaction was scheduled at this beautiful campus, it was certain that I had to attend. The campus at this time of the year is really beautiful.

The theme of the conference was ‘Design for Bridging’, and it was wonderful to hear different speakers present their views. It is a wonderful theme to understand the different India’s that co-exist today.  

So what does it mean to Design for Bridging? And who or what are we bridging? I was invited by Xerox Research (India) to present my work on Design for Social Impact and how we at the Happy Horizons Trust have been looking at improving the quality of education. It is a very small attempt at Bridging the gap that exists in the country in the domain of education. In my talk addressing the theme of the conference, I highlighted the different challenges we face on the ground when working with the government schools. Two main takeaways from my talk were the emphasis on a systemic approach to problem solving when we are dealing with wicked problems like education and the secondly the notion of truly understanding all the stakeholders in the system and designing for the secondary users as well. We often tend to ignore the secondary users, because we do not consider them valuable. Especially in the notion of designing for resource constraint environments that we work in, it becomes imperative to talk about these two at length. Another notion I emphasised on is the need for us to go on the ground and truly spend time in a more ethnographic manner to understand the realities better. 

I was also a part of a panel discussion on the state of Design and design processes across companies in India, chaired by Atul Manohar, Director of UX at Informatica. I shared my insights from my years of working and consulting with entrepreneurs, teaching at Exec MBA programs comprising mostly of Product Managers and Product owners. Amongst the points I highlighted included the challenges faced by designers in dealing with Business owners and vice versa. I posed a simple question, as to how many in the room could confidently give an answer to the question, What is Design? This is important for many in the industry still need to get an understanding on the true value of Design. So to me this is yet another bridge we need to design for.  

On being asked, what has changed in the industry in the past 10 years, when it comes to the role of Design, I mentioned that we have gone to a larger acceptance of Design now. We have gone from ‘No Design’ to ‘Know Design’. The next few years would be spent in ‘Embracing Design’ and as a result make a collaborative effort towards innovation and creating wonderful products that solve a need towards bridging the gaps.

Pick up any area of social welfare. Be it education or healthcare or agriculture or sustainability, there is an immense need for us to contribute towards bridging the gap. 

In this regard I thought the selection of keynotes delivered by the invited speakers were wonderful. The opening keynote by Professor Shendeng Zhao from National University of Singapore, was a great one to start the conference. The talk focused on the different research work being done by his lab. The lab’s emphasis on understanding what part of the Human Computer Interaction can be automated, what can be done by the computer and what still needs the human intervention was truly inspiring. Dr Phillippe from Toulouse in his entertaining talk spoke about the need for the HCI community to build more reliable systems. In my opinion, this holds immense value as we start to look towards building solutions for an audience who perhaps are not very tech savvy yet. One of the most inspiring talks I attended in this meet was the one by Dr Sanjay Tripathi, who presented an eye opening account of the healthcare facility in India and how much we are lagging behind when it comes to providing quality healthcare to the masses in India. Technology has to be of help here.

Pramod Khambete’s (teaches at IDC IIT Bombay) talk on understanding Design Patters in Service design was wonderful too. The conference also had a few presentations on Gestural interactions and the work done by the TAUCHI lab in Tampere University, Finland was interesting too. The best full paper award went to a paper by a team from IDC IIT Bombay, which shared results and findings from a research on the text entry for Indian Languages in Virtual Keyboards. Discussions with Mr Manish Gupta (Vice President at Xerox Corporation and Director Xerox India) was truly insightful and something I would cherish for a long time.

During the stay at IIT Guwahati this time, I clicked three wonderful photographs of the campus. (I like to think so, going by the number of likes it received on social media). I never get tired of clicking images on the campus. Only that this time I was doing it all with my mobile phone (which I have been doing so for the past 3 years now)

The first morning of the conference we woke up to the campus engulfed in a beautiful fog. One was that of a cormorant drying itself on the water pipe. Just when I was about to click the image, it flew. To me this was a constant reminder of the opportunities that go away if we do not act upon it. 

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The second day while on the way to the conference venue, I clicked this shot of a juxtaposition of the barren trees with leaves laden trees forming a canopy over the pathway. To me the barren branches of the trees, reminded me of the different pathways that people take after graduating. Some get lost in the mess of convoluting pathways, and some still manage to keep sight of the goal that they want to achieve.

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The third that that of a migratory bird taking flight, against the backdrop of the boys hostels at IIT Guwahati. To me the campus is a place where many dreams take flight.  

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I come back from this conference with a lot of insights on the developments on the Technology front and hope to work more with it in my work on Design for Social Impact.  

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