A History by Gary Olson
The Human-Computer Interaction Consortium (HCIC) is an unusual organization. It is an organization whose members are organizations. The primary qualification for membership is that the organization has a significant number of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) professionals though exactly what this means in practice has been up to the discretion of the Governing Board members. Each organization designates one such Governing Board member. The organizations can be any kind, though most of the members over the years have been either Universities or Corporations. There have been a few Government organizations and while most members have been from the US, there have been a few foreign organizations.
HCIC was 30 years old in 2019, and thus this seemed like a good opportunity to put together a history. Gary Olson, the primary author of this history, had the good fortune to be present at the founding, to have served as a Governing Board member (initially Michigan, later UC Irvine) or as Chair of the organization throughout most of its history, and to have attended most of its only activity, namely, an annual workshop. The format of the annual workshop has evolved over time, but it was designed, at least according to some, as the anti-CHI. The ACM CHI conference is the primary professional conference for most HCI professionals. It has evolved a very rich program structure, but its principal research venue has been paper sessions that feature short talks. They were originally 20 minutes in length, with 5 minutes or so for questions. The sessions are in parallel, and over the years have grown so much that the conference has upwards of 20 parallel sessions with all kinds of formats. Also, the length of paper presentations has shrunk even further. One primary motivation for the founding of HCIC was to follow a different pattern, one that had been suggested at an earlier workshop organized by Gerhardt Fischer and Walter Kintch (see more below). There is only a single track, the talks are 45 minutes long, followed by 45 minutes of discussion, with the first 10-15 minutes taken up by a formal Discussant. It makes for a much richer experience, and as there is usually a theme, the papers often are quite related to each other. Some specifics of the format of the overall conference have evolved, to be mentioned as the history is reviewed. Participants were strongly encouraged to stay for the entire workshop, helping to provide continuity. No proceedings were to be published (though later slides were posted on the web site), and presenters encouraged to offer more forward looking, even speculative contributions. Nonetheless, many presentations at HCIC evolved into influential publications later on.
The very first HCIC workshop was held in Vail, Colorado, hosted by the University of Colorado. And there was a strong Colorado connection to the beginning. Walter Kintsch and Gehard Fischer, faculty members at the University of Colorado, had a grant from the National Science Foundation that allowed them to hold two workshops at Breckenridge, Colorado. The first workshop was held January 11-14, 1987, on the topic of Personalized Information Systems, and the second was held January 13-15, 1988, on Mental Models and User-Centered Design. Their grant did not have funds for any future workshops, but those who attended the second one in particular very much enjoyed the format and the presence of a theme, and this led a number of the participants of that second workshop to eventually found HCIC.
Accordingly, an organizational meeting was convened at a hotel near the old Denver Stapleton Airport in the summer of 1988. There were attendees from several organizations, as shown in the table below. A wide range of things were discussed that HCIC might do even beyond the kind of workshop that was like the two Kintsch and Fischer workshops (e.g., tutorials, summer classes), but in the end only the annual workshop ever came to be. The organizers explored the idea of getting National Science Foundation funding for continuing the workshop, but decided that that was unlikely to succeed. Instead, it was decided to charge dues to members. The original model had dues of $xxx. The first workshop was scheduled for early in 1989, with Colorado again hosting, and meeting at Vail, Colorado. Gene Lynch of Tektronix graciously offered to pay the initial dues for the University members. He also wrote the original charter, spelling out how we were organized (e.g., a Governing Board), how members were selected, etc.
Though the first meeting was held at Vail, it was viewed as being hosted by the University of Colorado. The Institute of Cognitive Science at Colorado handled the organization's administration and finances for the first 20 years, with Martha Polson serving the role of coordinator. At the Vail meeting it was decided to hold succeeding meetings on University campuses. Thus, over the next few years, HCIC met at UC San Diego (1990), Michigan (1991), Carnegie Mellon (1992), and Georgia Tech (1993). Eventually, it was decided that meeting on University campuses was not working as well as hoped. Local faculty and students attended the workshop only intermittently. Most members had liked the ski resort settings of Breckenridge, and Vail, and thus decided to try to find such a permanent setting. Tom Landauer of the University of Colorado suggested the YMCA of the Rockies camp at Winter Park, Colorado, as being an affordable and attractive venue, and that's where the workshop took place for many years.
So, beginning with the 1994 workshop, HCIC met at the YMCA camp of the Rockies every year until 2007. The following workshop format evolved: it begin with a dinner on Wednesday evening, then a full day of presentations on Thursday, presentations only in the morning on Friday, with the afternoon off for skiing or other winter activities, resume a full day of presentations on Saturday, followed by a banquet on Saturday evening, and then a half day of presentations on Sunday. Each full day had a long lunch break for exercise or social activities. This format persisted even after HCIC moved away from Colorado, though the specific days of the week were modified, and ultimately the half day at the end was dropped. More about this later.
The graduate student model for participation was modified after moving to Snow Mountain Ranch. Member dues were used to fund two students from each University to attend. A University could bring additional students, but they would have to fund them on their own. All individual members funded their own participation. There was no limit on the number of members from each organization that could attend, but Ph.D. students from a university could not attend without a professor from that organization attending (providing some oversight for Ph.D. behavior after some early incidents of Masters students not attending the talks but taking full advantage of the accommodations, food, and sightseeing).
One of the nice features of the Snow Mountain Ranch meeting was that HCIC had a particular lodge all to ourselves. The meetings were held in meeting rooms on the lower level. There was a large lobby/living room on the second level with a fireplace, and participants gathered there at breaks and in the evenings for conversation, card games, jigsaw puzzles, music, and the like. If there were more attendees than that particular lodge could handle, additional sleeping rooms in nearby lodges could be obtained.
Also, during this phase, the University of Colorado asked that the Chair of the Governing Board be someone not at Colorado, for legal reasons, and Martha and Peter Polson asked Gary Olson to take on that role, which he did. He served in this role until 20xx (?)
Sometime during the first few years of the Winter Park workshops the idea arose of having awards of a humorous nature. This was initially organized by Gary Olson, Judy Olson, Wendy Kellogg, and John Thomas, though depending on attendance, others were brought in as well. The awards were meant to single out some event or practice. The model for these awards was taken from a mathematical psychology meeting hosted by Indiana University. Examples of awards from that meeting included the Noam Chomsky award for the paper whose surface structure and deep structure were farthest apart, the Xerox award for the paper that primarily replicated earlier research. HCIC's awards had a similar format, and though the award committee sometimes came up with awards that bordered on being cruel, over time it was decided it was best to keep them light-hearted. This feature of the workshops continues to this day, though responsibility has passed on to others.
As membership grew, HCIC eventually realized that it would need considerably more space than the single lodge that was occupied for our meetings that held about 70 people. The only facilities that were larger at Snow Mountain Ranch would have required sharing the space with others. Also, it became clear over time that some members were having trouble with the altitude - Snow Mountain Ranch was at 8800 feet. So, a process was launched to look for a different venue. Strict requirements were laid out: cost, appropriate facilities that mimicked the Snow Mountain Ranch setup, within two hours of a major airport, but at a location that was interesting and had recreational options. Led by Judy Olson and assisted by Sean Munson (as a Ph.D. student whom we promised attendance for the next year not counting towards UM's total), a number of facilities all over the country were identified as possibilities. It was also decided to move the dates from February to June (no dates were perfect, obviously). In the end the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California, was chosen near Monterey and within a reasonable commute of either the San Jose or San Francisco airports.
The first meeting at Asilomar took place in June of 2008. It was not as perfect as Snow Mountain Ranch, but it made do. In contrast to Snow Mountain Ranch’s single abode with a huge living room, at Asilomar, HCIC attendees were housed in different small buildings, some of which had living rooms where participants gathered in the evening. HCIC met at Asilomar for three years. But by 2010 they had raised the fees so much that it was no longer affordable to meet there. Led by Terry Roberts and assisted by Judy Olson, several nearby venues in the area were explored. Starting in 2011, HCIC moved the workshop to a condominium complex called Pajaro Dunes, farther up the coast near Watsonville, California, south of Santa Cruz. The last workshop was held at Pajaro Dunes in 2019.
As part of the move to California, the time of the workshop was shifted to Sunday through Wednesday, with Tuesday being the half day. Sometime during this period, the Thursday morning half-day session was dropped, as too many participants left, especially those who had longer trips to the Midwest or East.
The 2020 workshop was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, it became clear that Pajaro Dunes was also becoming too expensive, and since the administrative lead for HCIC moved from the University of Minnesota to the University of Wisconsin, in-person meetings were moved to the Midwest. Because of the continuing pandemic, the 2021 meeting has held online, though in many ways it departed from the usual format of the meeting. In 2022, In-person meetings resumed in June of 2022 in their more familiar format, and were held at the Lake Lawn Resort near Delavan, Wisconsin. This site is reasonably close to both the Milwaukee and Chicago airports. The 2023 meeting is to be held at the same site, June 11-15.
HCIC does not publish proceedings, but many important publications in the field of HCI had early airings at the workshops. Two topics in particular that were given special attention at HCIC led to collections of papers.
1999-2000 HCI in the new Millennium. In anticipation of the coming of the new millennium, we devoted one HCIC session to speculations about HCI in the new millennium. Two publications arose from this: a book edited by Jack Carroll, and special issues of the journal HumanComputer Interaction. [check these]
One topic that came up repeatedly was the variety of methods used in HCI research. Judy Olson and Wendy Kellogg organized back-to-back meetings of HCIC [look up years] that offered tutorials on common methods, and then later pulled these together in a special edited volume entitled Ways of Knowing in HCI (ref.).
There were several other memorable instances of significant papers emerging from the HCIC experience. Judy Olson gave an HCIC talk entitled “Methods in Search of a Methodology.” Tom Moran was the discussant, and he rather thoroughly roasted the paper, followed by lively discussion. Subsequently Judy and Tom co-authored a paper with the same title that was published in Human Computer Interaction.
Around the year 2000 an HCIC web site was created (hcic.org). It has general information about HCIC that is open to anyone, but has content related to the workshops that is available only to members. It has archives for all the workshops going back to 2000, but alas, none exist for the workshops held in the 1990s.
Membership has fluctuated a lot over the years. Members joined and left. But since 2000, one trend has become very clear. HCIC is now predominantly universities. There are still corporate members, but their numbers have declined. There are no longer any government organizations.
There have also been discussions about modifying the criteria for participation in the annual workshop. Member organizations were always allowed to invite guests to participate, though this was not widely known. Starting with the 2023 meeting, interested persons not at a member organization could apply to participate in the meeting. How successful these options are will be evaluated on an ongoing basis.
Also, the fact that HCIC now has only US members has been discussed. Various other models for membership that might be attractive to potential foreign members have been discussed, but up to this point HCIC has never settled on one.