Uncomfortable User Experience

Speaker:  Steve D Benford – Nottingham, United Kingdom
Topic(s):  Applied Computing


This is a provocative lecture that confronts our current thinking about how we design interactions with computers and instead makes a case for the deliberate engineering of discomfort as part of more enlightening, entertaining and socially bonding experiences.

The increasing use of computers in games, rides, performances, installations, and other cultural experiences is shifting the focus of user-experience design from the traditional usability goals of learnability, performance, and minimizing errors(to new ones, like fostering emotional and aesthetic engagement. This switch inspires unconventional approaches that turn traditional interaction design on its head, as in, say, celebrating the role of ambiguity rather than clarity and transforming system limitations into opportunities. Here, we integrate perspectives from human-computer interaction (HCI) and performance studies to explore the deliberate engineering of discomfort as a way to create intense, memorable interactions and engage challenging themes. Uncomfortable interaction—managed carefully and ethically—may become an important tool for designers, promoting entertainment, enlightenment, and sociality.

This lecture draws on experiences of creating and studying interactive performances and amusement park rides to explore how the following questions:
- What are the potential benefits of uncomfortable interaction?
- What forms can such interaction take?
- How can discomfort be created in interactive experiences?
- How can it be embedded in an experience?
- What ethical challenges must be addressed?

The lecture is illustrated with video documentation of examples of unusual and provocative interactive artworks and entertainment experience such as:
- Blast Theory’s I’d Hide You, an edgy mixed reality game in which players on the city streets streamed live video to online players;
- Blast Theory’s Ulrike and Eamon Complaint, a challenging mobile artistic experience that tackled the subject of terrorism;
- Brendan Walkers’ Oblivion: Thrill Laboratory by Brendan Walker, a series of events to capture and broadcast physiological measurements from riders on rollercoasters;   
- Brenan Walker’s Broncomatic, a breath controlled bucking bronco ride that engendered powerful feelings of suspense in riders.

This work was first presented as a full technical paper at the ACM CHI conference in 2012. This paper won a best paper award (top 1% of all submissions). A shortened version featured as the cover article of the September 2013 edition of Communications of the ACM.

A video of an early version of this lecture is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIILUyJS-k0

About this Lecture

Number of Slides:  30
Duration:  20 - 50 minutes
Languages Available:  English
Last Updated: 

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