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European Research Council

Nathaly Mermet - 26/03/2013

Wendy Mackay: aiming for real human-computer interaction

© Inria / Photo G. Maisonneuve

With a European Research Council (ERC) prize to her name, Wendy Mackay is delighted to be able to explore radical innovations in computer-user interfaces.

Project codename: CREATIV (Creating Co-Adaptive Human-Computer Interfaces ). "This ERC grant is assigned to a researcher to pursue high-risk research," says Wendy Mackay, underlining the fact that this funding makes it possible to conduct work that is not guaranteed to yield results and thus allows the researcher to pursue a "real project" without constantly worrying about financing.

The Graphical User Interface (GUI)

Having worked on human-computer interaction for the past 25 years, Wendy explains her conception of the discipline: "we have to exploit computers' capabilities while making them more compatible with the way in which human beings operate " . In her view, current interfaces are very efficient if the amount of information to be managed is small (as was the case 30 years ago), but they become chaotic when the amount of information becomes too great. In addition, software interfaces are constantly changing and are not suited to current usage practices. "The idea is to personalise the interaction so as to be able to use the same function in different situations , even when the software does not provide for that" she explains.  For example, to change the colour of an object (text, drawing, photo, etc.), users must currently use the system inherent in each application. The aim is to develop a much more universal function that would allow each user to choose his/her preferred colour selector and use it in any software. Each user could thus adapt the interaction to his/her needs. A professional graphic artist, for instance, may wish to use only a small number of colours to quickly colour in a design, or have access to a wide range of colours for other projects.

"Ultimately, we are aiming to separate the data - such as photos or videos- from the applications themselves, so that we end up with an interaction system with shared data," explains Wendy, noting that this will give freer rein to users' creativity.

Thanks to the ERC, she will be able to surround herself with PhD students, post-docs and senior researchers ready for the project kick-off in May 2013. Beyond the scientific project itself, the grant will allow her to raise the profile of human-computer interaction in France and Europe.

Technically speaking...

In order to be able to change an interface so that the user can waste less time while benefiting from greater simplicity, Wendy is proposing co-adaptive instruments. "The aim is to supply IT tools that are tailored to human behaviour," she explains. The task now is to explore how the co-adaptation concept can revolutionise the design and use of interactive software. Co-adaptation is a two-sided phenomenon, whereby users adapt their behaviour to system constraints while learning its possibilities, but also take ownership of the system, bending and adapting it to meet their usage needs.

The initial goal of the CREATIV project is to fundamentally improve the learning and expression capabilities of users of creative software, by offering them significantly improved methods to express their ideas. The ultimate goal is to radically transform interactive systems by creating a partnership that is both powerful and flexible between human users and interactive technologies.

Keywords: Wendy Mackay IN-SITU team Inria Saclay - Île-de-France Human-computer interaction ERC