People of ACM - Julie Williamson

November 9, 2023

One of your most cited papers, “Usable Gestures for Mobile Interfaces: Evaluating Social Acceptability,” looked at the willingness of users to perform gestures using their mobile devices in public spaces. What was a key insight of this paper?

Research in human-computer interaction (HCI) bridges the gap between technical advances and usable experiences. You can develop the best gesture recognizer, but if people are not willing to perform those gestures in real-world scenarios that gesture recognizer will never be used. This paper explored user attitudes towards performing gesture-based inputs in real settings, combining the qualitative methods from user experience with quantitative logging using accelerometers. This combination of qualitative and quantitative methods has been a major part of my research methodology in HCI, especially now that I’m working in more instrumented virtual and hybrid environments.

In the 2018 paper “Glimpses of the Future: Designing Fictions for Mixed-Reality Performances,” you and your co-authors employed a practice called “design fiction,” which uses imaginary storyboards, scripts, and vignettes. Will you tell us a little more about this research? Speaking more broadly, how are augmented and virtual reality poised to change the entertainment industry?

Design fiction is part of a larger set of methods called Speculative Methods, which take a principled approach to speculating about the future and designing for possible futures that don’t yet exist. Design fictions focus on creating a narrative around fictional products or prototypes—in this case, mixed reality performance and entertainment. Entertainment is all about suspension of disbelief and escapism, but immersive technologies take this further than ever before. Media experienced on a display exists within the world as we perceive it. Immersive media manipulates our senses directly, changing the world as we perceive it. This is a fundamental shift in how we experience media, how we remember our experiences, and how we audit the authenticity of experience.

What is an example of another promising development in your field that, in your view, hasn’t received enough attention?

I enjoy speculating and talking about future immersive devices and their reality altering capabilities, but the truth is that the threads of these devices exist today. For example, in the area of audio modality we already augment and manipulate our reality using wearable devices like AirPods, Bose Frames, Ray Ban Stories, and other interactive audio devices. We use audio to change the way we experience a busy walking commute or to occlude unwanted sounds using noise cancellation. These experiences are a thread which leads to immersive devices that more explicitly and more dramatically change the way we experience reality, and it’s already ubiquitous. Understanding how and why people choose to alter reality, and how technology facilitates this, is an area of immersive tech that needs more attention.

How has being part of the annual ACM CHI Conference organizing committee been a rewarding experience?

Volunteering for SIGCHI and ACM has been a fundamental and influential part of my development as an academic. The annual ACM CHI Conference is a broad and multi-faceted event, but first and foremost it exists to advance the research and scholarship of human computer interaction. I’ve grown to understand that my roles—from my first peer reviews up until my recent role as Technical Program Chair—are a commission of trust in the care and shaping of the research and scholarship in human computer interaction. The weight of responsibility feels immense at times! My volunteering efforts have been focused on publication integrity and archive quality, and I’m incredibly honored to see how the impacts of my work within this organization have changed the scholarly record in terms of archive format, accessibility, and metadata integrity.

Julie Williamson is a Senior Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Glasgow, where she leads the Future Immersive Interaction Group. Her current research focuses on social signal processing in social immersive experiences, as well as exploring interpersonal social signals between individuals and across realities.

Williamson served as the Papers Co-Chair for the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing (ACM CHI) in both 2022 and 2023, and is the Technical Program Co-Chair for CHI 2024 which will take place in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is also a member of the ACM Publications Board and the ACM Digital Library Board.