The State of DUB: Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Washington

When I first started at the University of Washington in 2008, one of the most exciting opportunities was helping to grow a vibrant, diverse, and impactful HCI research community. At the time, it was a dream partially realized, with a strong but small group of faculty, a solid weekly seminar, and a lot of leadership, ambition, and partnership. This was a place that had the potential to define the future of how people interact with computing, and graduate the future leaders of HCI researcher, teaching, and practice.

Ten years later, every part of that dream is real. Today’s annual DUB retreat was the best example of this, bringing together two dozen faculty, three dozen masters students, and nearly fifty doctoral students, and several staff that help run the infrastructure of our seminar, retreat, and MHCI+D Master’s degree. The community is massive, and unrecognizable from when I first joined.

But it’s also prolific and growing. We hired seven new faculty this year. Five of our faculty got fellowships and major awards to support their research, including two Fulbrights. Four DUB members (including me) won 10-year most influential paper awards for papers in 2008. We regularly publish more CHI papers than any other institution on the planet (e.g., 45 in 2017, 60 in 2018), and about one in five of those papers win best paper and honorable mention awards. Lots of our PhD students won fellowships this year and seven of our students took faculty positions. And our community spans more of UW than ever, including the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, Human-Centered Design and Engineering, The Information School, the School of Art+Art History+Design, Communication, Architecture, Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical and Health Informatics, Psychology, and Electrical Engineering. You can see more in our state of DUB slides, our faculty 1-minute presentations, and our student 1-minute presentations.

But all of this activity isn’t only because of who is here. It’s also how we work together. One example of this is our morning session, in which faculty, PhD students, and Masters students split off to brainstorm and plan how to make the DUB community better. We planned diversity efforts, interdepartmental plans around capstones, recruiting from high schools, creating a DUB participant pool, and dozens of other initiatives. Better yet, we went around the room to make commitments on each of these projects and every one of our faculty took work on to make our community better.

I recognize how lucky I am. Most academic HCI communities aren’t this committed, this collaborative, and this large and growing. But I don’t say this to brag, or to signal false humility. I say it to inspire other communities to grow like we have and learn from some of our mistakes. Here are some of the norms we’ve developed over time that I personally think make DUB work:

  • Suppress all efforts by anyone or any institution on campus from “owning” HCI. That includes avoiding any barriers to being part of the community; you’re in DUB if you say you are. It also includes avoiding mundane forms of ownership, like hosting a community website on a particular department subdomain.
  • Build a culture of commitment, where people don’t sacrifice to build a great community because they expect to build a great community, are expected to build a great community, and they believe they will eventually benefit from that work. (This includes recruiting people predisposed to this collective, long term investment mindset.)
  • Allow ideas to emerge from the entire community, not just from senior faculty. Our best ideas have come from PhD students and junior faculty who notice the seams in our processes and culture most acutely. We make space for our newcomers to not only report them but fix them, and signal that we value this work on top of their other responsibilities.

Our culture isn’t perfect, nor are our processes. We have a messy, organic, emergent community. This makes it hard for newcomers to make sense of our community, because it is not really designed to make sense. But it is optimized to recognize people’s humanity, their unique perspectives, and their needs in our community of discovery. I think if other HCI communities can create this culture too (if they haven’t already!), the whole of the international academic HCI community will be better for it.

If you want to see our community for yourself, write speak@dub.washington.edu to come give a talk or reach out to anyone in the DUB community to visit more informally. We love learning from the rest of the world!