Uncertainty is prevalent characteristic of contemporary life, and a central challenge of HCI. This one-day workshop will explore how HCI has and might continue to engage uncertainty as a generative feature in design, as opposed to a force to mitigate and control. We hope to convene researchers from broad ranging areas to explore the many ways in which uncertainty appears in our research and the different types of responses that HCI has to offer. There is an incredible variety of conceptual formulations of uncertainty and related ideas like risk, ambiguity, and suspense that raise both difficult challenges as well as significant opportunities for creative engagement with societal challenges. During the workshop, we won’t seek to “solve” uncertainty but rather expand the ways in which we think about and navigate it. In doing so, we will experiment with and contribute to new practices, methods, and concepts for embracing uncertainty. Outcomes of the workshop will include documentation of exercises designed to evoke uncertainty in participants, concept mappings, and a collection of short essays written and refined by participants.

Over the course of the day, participants will collectively work to map the conceptual terrain of uncertainty and how it is evoked and understood within various domains of CHI (e.g. design, existential HCI, crisis informatics, games, machine learning, etc.). In doing so, we will create and collaboratively document a richer conceptual and methodological toolbox for HCI scholars to deploy when engaging uncertainty – working across HCI’s wide range of domains, methods, and communities to give rise to a broader set of methods and frameworks that can embrace the complexity of the wicked social, political, and environmental challenges currently facing HCI.


Experiencing/Feeling Uncertainty Exercise:

The day will begin with a design activity facilitated by the Superflux Instant Archetypes Tarot Card Deck. This sensitizing activities will scaffold an opening discussion around the broader connections between design work and broader cultural narratives around uncertainty–shared values in big data and astrology, for instance—that will inspire conversations/debates for the rest of the day.

Concept Mapping Exercises:

In an effort to organize the discussion, and produce a set of conceptual resources for participants to leave with at the end of the day, all activities will be organized in parallel with the creation and update of an ongoing concept map. This physical paper-based 2D “map” will be created on top of a large table, and aims to establish a terrain of terms, methods, practices, and example projects that emerge. Entries to the map will be structured through the use of color and prompts to provide coherence to the format as it develops. It will take shape, morph, and grow more detailed throughout the day.

Keyword Panels:

Drawing on submissions from participants and organizers, two “keyword” panels will feature presentations on concepts related to uncertainty. Keywords, in the framing of Raymond Williams, aren’t strict definitions but rather a mode of analysis that seeks to engage in a productive fashion with complex, contested, or multiple meanings of terms with significant social currency. Each panel will feature several short presentations from participants as well as a discussant, leaving ample time for discussion at the end. These panels will further enrich participants’ conception of the range of ways that uncertainty intersects with HCI research and practice.

Documentation Sprint:

Toward the close of the workshop, participants will collaborate to document the activities of the day and outcomes of the experiencing/feeling exercises, keyword panels, and concept mapping. Documentation methods will include: note-taking, sketching, photography, and zine production. Craft materials and other supplies will be provided by the organizers.

Call for Participation

This one-day workshop aims to convene HCI researchers working in a wide array of domains including games, sustainable HCI, social justice, machine learning, and others for an experiential and conceptual encounter with uncertainty.

To apply, please send a 4-page position paper to hciuncertainty@gmail.com before February 12th 2020. Position papers should be the ACM Extended Abstract format and take one of the following forms:

The workshop will take place as part of the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Honolulu, Hawaii during April 2020. More information about the conference is here: https://chi2020.acm.org. At least one author of each accepted position paper will be required to register for the workshop and at least one day of the conference. More information about this workshop can be found at: https://hci-uncertainty.github.io. Please email any questions to: hci.uncertainty@gmail.com.


Robert Soden is a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Computer Science at Columbia University working in the areas of crisis informatics, human-centered computing (HCC), and science and technology studies (STS). His research examines the ways that the technologies that inform our understanding of environmental challenges shape societal responses to disasters and climate change. Robert has previously organized workshops at CHI and CSCW on the use of speculative design to anticipate negative or unanticipated effects of technology and the role of history as a method and resource in HCI research and design practice.

Laura Devendorf designs, develops and studies technologies that destabilize practice in order to prompt creative, thoughtful, and attentive engagements with the everyday. She is an assistant professor of Information Science and an ATLAS Institute fellow at the University of Colorado, Boulder where she directs the Unstable Design Lab. She has organized CHI and CSCW workshops on subjects of “Disruptive Improvisation” tactics for design, broader approaches to designing for care, and research through design.

Richmond Wong studies how technology designers address values and ethics issues in their professional practices, and how design methods can aid in their work. He is a PhD candidate in the School of Information at the University of California Berkeley, where he draws on approaches from critical and speculative design, values in design, and STS. Richmond has previously organized workshops at DIS and CSCW on interrogating and imagining the potential role of bodily sensors in everyday life, and on utilizing design approaches to address privacy in emerging technologies.

Lydia Chilton is an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department at Columbia University. She is a pioneer in crowdsourcing complex tasks on Mechanical Turk. Her current work is in computational design - coordinating people and computers to complete complex and creative tasks that neither computers or individuals can do alone. This includes conveying messages implicitly through text and images, translating and adapting research and ideas to new areas, and finding actionable insights from data.

Ann Light’s background in drama, human-computer interaction and design gives her cross-disciplinary insight into how uncertainty is understood. She has explored the entangling of social and digital for more than 20 years as a design researcher, while her own practice as a participatory designer finds expression in creating and running workshops that explore futures collaboratively to answer questions about how we might dwell together as life’s certainties are destabilised. She is Professor of Design at the University of Sussex and at Malmo University.

Yoko Akama is Associate Professor in the School of Design, RMIT University, Naarm (Melbourne), Australia. Her practice is shaped by various Japanese philosophies of Ma (between-ness) and Mushin (mindfulness), to consider how plural futures can be designed together. She is a recipient of several national and international awards for collaborative work with self-determining Indigenous nations and regional communities preparing for disaster. Current works include a co-authored book on Uncertainty and Possibility (2018) by Bloomsbury, and co-leading the Designing Social Innovation in Asia-Pacific network (http://desiap.org/).

CHI 2020