On November 10, 2011, the Media Computing Group at RWTH Aachen University and P3 Communications GmbH organized the World Usability Day local event in Aachen, Germany, for the sixth year. This time, however, attendees were in for a special treat: After a business networking lunch and a welcome by host by Professor Jan Borchers, head of the Media Computing Group, Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini, original founder of the legendary Human Interface Group at Apple, book author, and principal in the Nielsen Norman Group usability consulting firm, kicked things off with a riveting keynote on "Inventing The Future" to a room packed with over 150 attendees, a record in the history of this event in Aachen.
But that was not all. Following suit, Professor Borchers announced two new initiatives that will shape the German usability landscape. Together with his colleagues, professors Eva Jakobs, Martina Ziefle, and Peter Russell, and with Markus Jordans from P3 Communications GmbH, he announced the opening of the new Human-Computer Interaction Center (HCIC) at RWTH Aachen University. This official new center at RWTH brings together researchers and developers from computer science, text linguistics, psychology, communication science, and architecture to take on academic research and industrial consulting, design, development, evaluation of innovative interactive systems and services, and establish a new HCI Master's Degree Program, the first at a German Excellence University. The center will move into its own rooms on the new RWTH Campus in late 2012, but it is already operational and taking on collaborative R&D projects, because its members have been collaborating on numerous projects long before establishing this center together.
And to further raise the awareness for usability among consumers and the general public, Professor Borchers also announced one of the first projects of the HCIC: Establishing the new annual Blue Dot Award for outstanding usability in consumer products and services. Not entirely by accident, the award complements the Red Dot Award for design. The Blue Dot will be a quality seal for usability that consumers can identify and trust.
As we know, hearing about things is less exciting than experiencing them first hand. So right after this very compact and intense program, the HCIC Expo opened its doors outside the auditorium. The entire foyer was swamped with posters and interactive demos about projects that the five HCIC partners are working on, with team members from all participating groups standing at the ready to explain and demonstrate their work, methods, and skills. Attendees were able to experience electromagnetic actuation for new tactile feedback on multitouch tables, hear about the latest eHealth research, discover the usability tests for mobile devices that have been conducted for renowned "connect" magazine, or try to pinch and roll the fabric of a new shirt to smoothly adjust the volume of an iPod without having to look. And we could hardly get Bruce Tognazzini away from the BendDesk, a curved surface display joining a horizontal interactive tabletop with a vertical wall screen that implements a form factor Tog envisioned 20 years ago in his legendary Starfire video.
Clearly, this compact, exciting, and very high-profile program combined with a hands-on expo and ample time to network, were the key ingredients that made this day a rousing success - what a great challenge to out-do ourselves again next year!
- Jan Borchers