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Carole Céard - 26/10/2017

Ex-Situ: from Human-Computer Interaction to Human-Machine Partnership

Meeting with Wendy Mackay, head of the Ex-Situ project team. This specialist in HCI presents her new project team to us, the evolution of its lines of research and the ambitious subjects it is working on today.

The origins of Ex-Situ

Having arrived at the Inria Rocquencourt centre in 2000, from 2002 onwards Wendy Mackay proposed the creation of a new team in the field of HCI, or 'Human-Computer Interaction'. Research in this field developed during the 1980s in the United States, but was marginal in France where research in computer science remained quite theoretical and strongly linked to the field of applied mathematics. Companies such as Snapchat, Google or Apple stemmed from research teams in HCI - it is therefore the source of many innovations.

And so that is how the 'In-Situ' - 'Situated Interaction' - team, with Wendy Mackay, Jean-Daniel Fekete, Michel Beaudouin-Lafon and Nicolas Roussel, and whose research work focused on the paradigms and methods of interaction, participatory design and the engineering of interactive systems, was born.

The In-Situ project team aimed to develop new interaction techniques, new tools to implement these techniques, and new methodologies to master the design process of innovative interfaces . This means creating situated interfaces, i.e. adapted (or adaptable) to their contexts of use and best exploiting the complementarity between computer systems and human users.

Several spin-offs of In-Situ have emerged, including the Aviz team with Jean-Daniel Fekete and the Mjolnir team in Lille with Nicolas Roussel, who is now director of the Inria Bordeaux - Sud-Ouest research centre.

At the end of 2014, after 12 years of existence, the In-Situ team came to the end of its contract and was split into two parts. One became the Ilda team with Emmanuel Pietriga and the other became Ex-Situ (for 'Extreme Situated Interaction') with five researchers including Wendy Mackay and Michel Beaudouin-Lafon, both ERC grant winners.


Affordance at the heart of Ex-Situ's research

The aim of the team is to enable users not only to interact with the machine, but to create - in a simple and intuitive way - their own customised interfaces .

Unlike In-Situ, the Ex-Situ team works with 'extreme' users, in particular creatives from various artistic fields: music, dance, drawing, etc."The fact we work with creatives is important for us because, by observing their user experiences, they enable us to push the boundaries of the use of machines and technology", Wendy Mackay explains.

"Today, each software program presents its own user interface and the commands often differ from one software program to the next - even if they are from the same publisher. The Ex-Situ team works, on the one hand, on the possibility for users to adapt the software to their requirements i n order to simplify their use, but also to create more powerful and more expressive commands for the users . What we want is for information technology to be accessible to all and that everyone can, if they so wish, become an expert and create their own tools without the need to be a computer engineer. Our goal is to increase human capacities thanks to the machine and not - as is too often the case - force users to comply with the machine".

"And so, at Ex-Situ, we use the concept of affordance. For psychologist James Gibson, affordance is the set of possibilities for action that we have on the environment. In our field, the affordances of the software programs are often hidden and not very coherent. We are trying to create a new Human-Computer Interaction where the users learn their own way of doing things on the machine. We are now talking about Human-Machine Partnerships. "

Discover some video demonstrations.


Wendy Mackay has, moreover, receivedthe 'Doctorem Scientiarum Honoris Causa'from the University of Aarhus in Denmark. On Friday 15 September, the University of Aarhus rewarded Wendy Mackay for her entire career and in particular for her work on interactive video, participatory design and mixed reality.

Wendy Mackay presentation video

Keywords: Software Wendy Mackay Inria Saclay - Île-de-France research centre Human-Computer Interaction Ex-Situ

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