Using HCI Techniques To Make Digital Art More Ergodic

Julianne Chatelain
Trellix Corporation, USA
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Abstract: As my colleagues create ergodic art, which makes its users work to follow paths (Aarseth 1997), I would like to suggest additional techniques for their toolboxes, from the field of human-computer interaction (HCI / CHI). Digital artists can use HCI techniques to affect users’ path-following within their creations in ways that make users’ experiences more or less strenuous. (Can we say that art that requires more exertion to experience is “more ergodic”? Whether or not you like my title, I will continue...)

In my commercial work, I use HCI techniques to help users swim pleasurably through digital information, but in support of other artists’ goals, these same techniques might provoke a variety of audience reactions, responses, and behaviors. Each technique also implies its opposite, or can be recalibrated or reversed.

1: Management of User Illusions

Bruce Tognazzini has demonstrated what software designers need to learn from the painstaking efforts of stage magicians to separate the users’ illusions from mechanisms that create them. By applying magicians’ techniques we can provide our users with profound emotional, intellectual, or spiritual experiences, rather than allowing them to think, “Wow, those polygons are appearing really fast.” I will also refer to Henning Nelms’ Magic and Showmanship, Brenda Laurel’s Computers as Theatre, and recent online articles by game designers.

2: Management of Users’ Tendency To Find Personality Everywhere

Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves have demonstrated through many studies that users engaged in a task will (socially) treat their computer or TV as if it were a human. Reeves’ and Nass’ The Media Equation introduces their provocative findings, which serve (to take just one example) as both the inspiration for the Windows talking paper clip and the explanation for its failures. Digital artists can use these techniques to add “character” to interfaces with very minimal technology. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics provides related insights and examples.

3: Management of Users’ Interaction Strategies, Preferences, and Capabilities

Among the HCI articles available through the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)’s online Digital Library, some peer-reviewed articles report on human behavior in digital environments, suggesting (to me) ways digital artists might take advantage of common wayfinding and information foraging strategies, preferences for types of interaction, and capabilities in the areas of vision and memory. I will draw conclusions from several of the most interesting papers, and provide a full list of the recent articles that I think have the most utility for digital artists.

About the Presenter: Julianne Chatelain is an information & interaction designer. She helped organize the first CyberMountain Colloquium in Colorado (U.S.), where she studied how software usability research techniques are and are not useful to digital artists. Her critique of the Windows File Open dialog appears in ACM’s interactions for jan/feb 2000.