Turn to the Wild

We are witnessing the beginnings of a new movement in HCI: ‘in the wild’.
Researchers are decamping from their usability and living labs and moving
into the wild; carrying out in-situ development and extended engagement, sampling
experiences and probing people in their homes and on the streets. The
emphasis has been very much on understanding everyday living and designing
technologies that extend this.

It differs from previous ethnographic approaches in interaction design by
focusing on creating and evaluating new technologies in situ, rather than
observing existing practices and then suggesting general design
implications or system requirements. Novel technologies are developed to augment people,
places and settings, without necessarily designing them for specific user needs.
There has also been a shift, then, in design thinking. Instead of developing
solutions that fit in with existing practices, there is a move towards experimenting
with new technological possibilities that can change and even disrupt behaviour.
Opportunities are created, interventions are installed and different ways of
behaving are encouraged. A key concern is how people react, change and
integrate these in their everyday lives.

A central part of designing in the wild is evaluating prototypes as they are
really used and integrated within people’s lives. This involves observing and
recording what people do and how this changes over suitable periods of time.
Whereas the burning question in HCI used to be “how many participants do I
need?” the hotly debated question now is “how long should my study run for?”
Some say a few weeks, others argue for months while some even suggest
years are needed to show sustainable and long-term effects.

The outcome of conducting in the wild studies can be most revealing,
demonstrating quite different results from those arising out of lab studies.
Crucially, people’s motivation for participating varies – it is one thing for
someone to volunteer for a short-term experiment but quite another for
them to integrate a novel technology into their life in order to change their behaviour.

Early forays in the wild have been valuable, revealing how new devices and
services are actually appropriated rather than whether they match
usability or criteria. But they are expensive to run and expectations are high as to
what an in the wild longitudinal study should entail. There are many questions
that need to be addressed, to explore the extent we are equipped to do in the wild

The community needs to address and manage concerns relating to the extent to
which HCI can invade people’s lives in the pursuit of research goals. Are we
legitimizing areas that have been either taboo and/or considered outside the
remit of HCI (e.g., sex, religion, porn)? Are we equipped to address these
new topics with the right tools, sensibilities and level of professionalism?
How do we position ourselves with respect to others already studying non-traditional
HCI concerns? Is there anything left in the wild that we have not studied?
Are we seeing a trend for a ‘search for the new wild’? What might that be, for
example, undeveloped and uncharted areas of the world? At what point do we
stop? Finally, is it worth it – arguably, you can learn a lot more if you are
asking specific questions in lab studies?

The special issue of “The Turn to the wild’ will consider articles
discussing or reporting on:
• The rhetoric, frameworks and theories of the turn to ‘in the wild’.
• Studies of “wild” places with the aim of redesigning them.
• Approaches to in situ design and prototyping in the wild.
• Usability in the wild; how to systematically test interfaces,
technologies in
real world settings without interfering.
• Instrumenting the wild – e.g., via sensors and network infrastructures – to
provide data on the accuracy, reliability, safety, dependability and privacy
impacts of deployments.
• The researchers’ role, responsibilities and the ethics of moving into
the wild.

Andy Crabtree: Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham, UK
Alan Chamberlain: Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham, UK
Beki Grinter: School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of
Technology, USA
Matt Jones: Future Interaction Technology Lab, Swansea University, UK
Tom Rodden: Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham, UK
Yvonne Rogers: UCLIC, University Colledge London, UK

Important Dates
Call for Papers: March 2012
Submissions Due: 2nd July 2012
Reviews Due: 28th September 2012
Notifications to Authors: October 2012
Revised Versions: 4th January 2013
Publication Date: 2013

Submission Information
All contributions will be rigorously peer reviewed to the usual exacting
standards of TOCHI. Further information, including TOCHI submission
procedures and advice on formatting and preparing your manuscript, can be found at:

Please include a cover letter with your submission that clearly indicates
that it is a submission to the “The Turn to The Wild” special issue.

Manuscripts are actually submitted via the ACM online manuscript system at:

To discuss a possible contribution, please contact the special issue
editors at: turntothewild@cs.swan.ac.uk.

Website: http://cs.swansea.ac.uk/turntothewild

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