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August 10, 2016

Steve Harrison gave a keynote talk at a workshop at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on July 25. The topic was HCI, HCD, and Systems Engineering. JPL is a few thousand systems engineers (ME’s mostly) building space craft for a thousand scientists. And then there is a small, but growing number of designers — mostly UI folks. The workshop was an attempt to introduce HCD ideas, values and methods more widely to a culture where “the waterfall model froze” (a quote from my host). My talk gave a view into systems engineering from the HCD arguing that the need to minimize risk (through “rationality”) resulted in ignoring the human qualities that are inherent in any design and development process as well those that are inherent in the operation of the systems. I tried to fit “rationality” into bigger context: how the conversations over representations are as important as the representations, personal experience as embodied in stories is a natural (cognitive) form of communication and understanding, disciplines’ (and individuals’) aesthetics provide values for deisgn, as well as the influence of interests and biases.

Some of the other outside folks who gave talks were Alan Cooper (yes  — the personas guy) and a few of his staff, Steve Dow (Design Lab, UC San Diego), and Guy Boy (Florida Institute of Technology). Guy is an HCI old-timer, although his orbit had never crossed mine until now; he has recently published a book trying to integrate a few HCD ideas into systems engineering (“Orchestrating Human Centered Design”, Spring, 2016).

One very visible element of the workshop was the huge number of interns at JPL. JPL has 5,000 staff and 1,000 interns in the summer. Some are very talented high school students (4 week sessions, mostly local), some are undergraduates, and some are graduate students. HCD students should pay attention to the calls for interns this Fall!