ex)situ is an Inria research team, joint with the Université Paris-Saclay, that focuses on improving our understanding of interaction in order to reinvent how we design and implement interactive systems.
Our focus is always on the user—especially extreme users who push the limits of existing technology and force us to reconsider our fundamental assumptions about interaction design. Emphasizing extreme users leads us to also consider extreme situations, where users face interaction challenges that cannot by addressed by standard interfaces. This leads us to extreme design, where we work with creative professionals to reinvent the design process.
Interactive devices are everywhere: We wear them on our wrists and belts; we consult them from purses and pockets; we read them on the sofa and on the metro; we rely on them to control cars and appliances; and soon we will interact with them on living room walls and billboards in the city. Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed tremendous advances in both hardware and networking technology, which have revolutionized all aspects of our lives, not only business and industry, but also health, education and entertainment. Yet the ways in which we interact with these technologies remains mired in the 1980s. The graphical user interface (GUI), revolutionary at the time, has been pushed far past its limits. Originally designed to help secretaries perform administrative tasks in a work setting, the GUI is now applied to every kind of device, for every kind of setting. While this may make sense for novice users, it forces expert users to use frustratingly inefficient and idiosyncratic tools that are neither powerful nor incrementally learnable.
ex)situ explores the limits of interaction—how extreme users interact with technology in extreme situations. Rather than beginning with novice users and adding complexity, we begin with expert users who already face extreme interaction requirements. We are particularly interested in creative professionals, artists and designers who rewrite the rules as they create new works, and scientists who seek to understand complex phenomena through creative exploration of large quantities of data. Studying these advanced users today will not only help us to anticipate the routine tasks of tomorrow, but to advance our understanding of interaction itself. We seek to create effective human-computer partnerships, in which expert users control their interaction with technology. Our goal is to advance our understanding of interaction as a phenomenon, with a corresponding paradigm shift in how we design, implement and use interactive systems. We have already made significant progress through our work on instrumental interaction and co-adaptive systems, and we hope to extend these into a foundation for the design of all interactive technology.
We characterize Extreme Situated Interaction as follows:
Extreme users. We study extreme users who make extreme demands on current technology.
We know that human beings take advantage of the laws of physics to find creative new uses for physical objects. However, this level of adaptability is severely limited when manipulating digital objects. Even so, we find that creative professionals ––artists, designers and scientists–– often adapt interactive technology in novel and unexpected ways and find creative solutions. By studying these users, we hope to not only address the specific problems they face, but also to identify the underlying principles that will help us to reinvent virtual tools. We seek to shift the paradigm of interactive software, to establish the laws of interaction that significantly empower users and allow them to control their digital environment.
Extreme situations. We develop extreme environments that push the limits of today’s technology. We take as given that future developments will solve “practical” problems such as cost, reliability and performance and concentrate our efforts on interaction in and with such environments. This has been a successful strategy in the past: Personal computers only became prevalent after the invention of the desktop graphical user interface. Smartphones and tablets only became commercially successful after Apple cracked the problem of a usable touch-based interface for the iPhone and the iPad. Although wearable technologies, such as watches and glasses, are finally beginning to take off, we do not believe that they will create the major disruptions already caused by personal computers, smartphones and tablets. Instead, we believe that future disruptive technologies will include fully interactive paper and large interactive displays. Our extensive experience with the Digiscope WILD and WILDER platforms places us in a unique position to understand the principles of distributed interaction that extreme environments call for. We expect to integrate, at a fundamental level, the collaborative capabilities that such environments afford. Indeed almost all of our activities in both the digital and the physical world take place within a complex web of human relationships. Current systems only support, at best, passive sharing of information, e.g., through the distribution of independent copies. Our goal is to support active collaboration, in which users are engaged in the lifecycle of digital artifacts.
Extreme design. We explore novel approaches to the design of interactive systems, with particular emphasis on extreme users in extreme environments. Our goal is to empower creative professionals, allowing them to act as both designers and developers throughout the design process. Extreme design affects every stage, from requirements definition, to early prototyping and design exploration, to implementation, to adaptation and appropriation by end users. We hope to push the limits of participatory design to actively support creativity at all stages of the design lifecycle. Extreme design does not stop with purely digital artifacts. The advent of digital fabrication tools and FabLabs has significantly lowered the cost of making physical objects interactive. Creative professionals now create hybrid interactive objects that can be tuned to the user’s needs. Integrating the design of physical objects into the software design process raises new challenges, with new methods and skills to support this form of extreme prototyping.
Our long-term, admittedly ambitious, goal is to create a unified theory of interaction grounded in how people interact with the world. Our concepts of information substrates and human-computer partnerships offer a generative approach for supporting creative activities, from early exploration to implementation. The rest of this section presents our work around four themes: Fundamentals of Interaction, Human-Computer Partnerships, Creativity, and Collaboration. Individual project typically address multiple themes, and different members of the group work together to advance these different topics.