Projects

My research interests lie in the intersection between human-computer interaction and adaptive systems. I'm interested in why people differ, how we differ, and how technology can automatically adapt to these differences. Together with several collaborators I'm currently working on several projects revolving around this topic -- see below for a few of our projects:


Lab in the Wild

Most of what we know about human-computer interaction today is based on studies conducted with Western participants, usually with American undergrads. This is despite many findings that our cultural background affects our perception, preferences, and behavior. With Lab in the Wild, our experimental platform online, we are trying to reach a larger number of participants with more diverse backgrounds than possible with conventional in-lab studies. Our previous experiments on Lab in the Wild have seen several thousands of participants, helping us to shed light on the impact of culture on users' preferences, motor abilities, perception, and the like. But Lab in the Wild doesn't just help us answer our questions. It also provides participants with personalized feedback, which lets them compare themselves and their performance to people of other countries. Try it out!

Predicting Users' First Impressions of Website Aesthetics

Users make lasting judgments about a website's appeal within a split second of seeing it for the first time. This first impression is influential enough to later affect their opinions of a site's usability and trustworthiness. We have developed a means to predict the initial impression of aesthetics based on perceptual models of a website's colorfulness and visual complexity. In a study on Lab in the Wild, we collected ratings
of colorfulness, visual complexity, and visual appeal of a set of 430 websites from around 40,000 volunteers. Based on these data, we developed computational models that accurately measure the perceived visual complexity and colorfulness of website screenshots. In combination with demographic variables such as a user's country of residence, gender, education level and age, these models explain approximately half of the variance in the ratings of aesthetic appeal given after viewing a website for 500ms only. You can read about the details in our CHI 2013 paper and the follow-up CHI 2014 paper. In addition, Shlomo Benartzi covered much of this research in his excellent book "The Smarter Screen: Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior".

Novel User Interface Designs Based on Cultural Differences in Perception

Our ability to visually perceive and interpret information is a precondition for an efficient handling of graphical user interfaces. While we usually assume that all human beings accomplish this sense-making in very similar ways, behavioral findings actually show that our perception is strongly influenced by our culture. This is also supported by recent neurocognitive studies, which show that cultural exposure leads to neuro-anatomical changes in the brain. Our perception processing changes according to what our environment teaches us to focus our visual attention on. These findings could have enormous consequences for user interface design. If people around the world perceive, process, and interact with information differently, then what should their user interfaces look like in order to be most intuitive for them to use? You can read about some of our thoughts in one of our papers.

The Adaptive Web

Our preferences differ in what we like to see, what we find trustworthy, and appealing, and what we can work with most efficiently. Much of this is determined by the cultural influences we are exposed to.
The goal of this project is to develop a method for today's one-size-fits-all websites to adapt themselves to what we like. During my PhD at the University of Zurich I developed a culturally adaptive web application called MOCCA, which is able to compose personalized user interfaces based on the information about a person's current and former countries of residences. In addition, the application recommends changes to the interface based on the preferences of other users with similar cultural background. Here are some previous publications on this topic.
We are currently working on a next step towards the Adaptive Web, which is to apply this cultural adaptivity to any website by presenting users with an alternative version in a browser overlay.

Doodle - Cultural Differences in Online Scheduling

Who would have thought that countries with a faster pace of life schedule their meetings much further in advance? Together with Doodle, the popular online event scheduling company, we are exploring cultural differences in the group decision-making process when scheduling events online. Among other findings, our CSCW paper shows that people from collectivist countries (e.g., India, China) make a larger effort to reach mutual agreement. You can download our CSCW 2013 paper to read more!