This April I – again – attended the world's biggest HCI conference – the CHI 2004 "Connect" conference (Computer-Human Interaction), which took place in Vienna, Austria[GP:Wien]. Two years ago, I was so lucky as to attend my first CHI in Minneapoli, Minnesota in 2002. In 2002 I came back quite disappointed; although there were lots of high-quality contributions, I couldn't really follow the discussions (which were often very much focused on tiny details and did not really have to do with Interaction Design as a craft). Moreover, I found the way people treated each other not too nice, and to me it felt strange that everyone introduced themselves with "Name, Insitution". Back then I was also disappointed by my former personal guru Don Noman – on the panel I attended he did not feel as radiant and thought-provoking as in his books. My overall impression of this year's CHI (as compared to 2002's) was: less academic stuff, more real-life application of research results.
There were fascinating panels (e.g., "Video Visions of the Future: A Critical Review" with Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini and others – Bruce alone was worth attending the panel!), challenging SIGs (special interest groups) such as Karen Holtzblatt's "Techniques for Designing Mobile Applications with Customer Data" (i.e., how to modify traditional Contextual Design methods to be useful in mobile situations), and intriguing demo sessions (e.g., "Visualizing information"). Some of the things demoed at the conference are available for download as well, e.g. MIT's "Haystack" prototype for information (contact, document, e-mail) management. I attended some very intersting stuff on mobile technology, among this an interesting panel with mobile user experience leaders (from Vodafone, Nokia, Ericsson etc.).
Of course, there were some weaker points, too – e.g. the SIG on "Evaluating Interactive Information Retrieval Systems" (which was really a SIG for Information Retrieval researchers). These things didn't add up to much disappointment, though – there was so much to see, and somehow it worked out for me to find something interesting and worthwhile in nearly every slot, with hardly any conflicts of schedule. Moreover, I enjoyed meeting old acquaintances and getting to know new experts. Organization was ok, too (although the convention center building did have some issues as far as signage is concerned – you could end up running in circles). The website and the conference proceedings book left something to be desired (e.g., there were no links between abstracts and sessions, so you had to flip through the book a lot), but … the CDs are great, offering all the papers as PDFs (and some of the videos are there, too!).
One personal cause of delight as a User Experience and "Joy of Use" aficionado was: if the number of Apple PowerBooks to be sighted there were in any way predictive of the overall number of Macs in the computing world, the Mac's market share would be somewhere around 30%