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Email Charter

We can help reverse the problems caused by email overload. Be part of the solution.

1. Respect recipients’ time

Make your email easy to read: use these plain English tips to save others time AND make your communication more effective.

2. Short is not rude

It’s ok to be brief. Don’t take brevity personally and know that others won’t. Wordy responses take longer to read. People will scan it and are less likely to read it all; key details can be easily missed.

3. Celebrate clarity

Subject line: write a short subject line that clearly gives the topic.
Opening line: make it the basic reason for writing.

4. Slash CCs

Only CC someone who really needs this message. Don’t thoughtlessly ‘Reply all’: choose individual recipients.

5. Tighten the thread

If you need to include the email trail showing the context, cut what’s not relevant. If it’s long, summarise or make a phone call instead.

6. Reduce attachments

Don’t use images like logos in your signature – they’ll be attached and I’ll try to open it in case it’s something relevant.

7. Should we expect an instant response?

Don’t feel you need to give an instant response, and don’t expect to get one. Skype or the telephone are your tools if something is urgent.

8. Disconnect sometimes

Can you calendar half-days for email-free working? And you should be having email-free evenings, weekends, holidays. Have an ‘auto-response’ that makes it clear you’re not checking.

9. Reference this charter

Spread the word and help change email culture. Reference this charter in your email footer.

This charter was adapted from emailcharter.org which as of 18 Jan 2019 seems to have died. 🙁 This text was copied from the University of Kent’s website who have kept the email charter alive.

There is more information about the email charter at theTEDBlog

Protected: How to plan and execute your study and write-up [work in progress]

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COVID Ward

A blogpost by Emma Holliday, student on MSc HCI 2019-2021

Profile photo of Emma Holliday

Getting into the video games industry was originally my inspiration for studying Computer Science. As I learned about the often toxic work environments (and sexism) in the gaming industry, I decided to leave this dream behind and went into software development instead. That’s why I’m so amazed and thrilled to have actually designed and built my own game and, even better, to have won an award for it.

Click here to play the game! Spoilers below!

The game itself was built as part of my coursework for the Serious and Persuasive Games module (led by Prof Anna Cox) on the Human-Computer Interaction course at UCL. (Even though I had somewhat given up on a career in the gaming industry, I still really loved games and would take any excuse to learn about them and play them.) Something that really stood out to me during the lectures was the concept of the “Magic Circle”, an idea that games exist within set boundaries that are separate to the real world. This means that different rules apply within game (e.g. violence is allowed), actions in the game don’t have consequences in the real world, and actions in the real world don’t apply to the game. I immediately challenged this – I’m sure we’ve all had that gaming session that left friendships a little sour even after the game had finished, learnt something new or even strengthened our relationships. I personally believe, particularly with narrative-based games, it is very unlikely to not leave some lasting impression in the real world long after the game has been played. As such, I designed a game that would exploit breaking the “Magic Circle” by including people’s real-world actions into gameplay.  My hopes were that, by breaking the “Magic Circle” upfront, this would weaken the boundaries between the game and the real world, encouraging players to take experiences from the game back into real life.

My time studying this module was during the COVID-19 pandemic which also provided a lot of inspiration, largely because it was inescapable and incredibly topical. Other games which we studied during the module were also influential, particularly those on blame culture in nursing (such as Nurse’s Dilemma and Patient Panic). All of this culminated in my game, COVID Ward, where players take on the role of a nurse working in the intensive care unit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The gameplay is quite simple, players use arrow keys to control the nurse and spacebar to administer aid to patients in the ward. Patient health deteriorates over time and they will eventually die if their health becomes too low while fully healed patients are able to leave the ward. The game plays out as levels representing 12 hour shifts, so time is limited and the nurse character can only do so much in a day. In between levels is where the “Magic Circle” is broken; the player is asked a question relating to their real-world actions during the pandemic and their answer affects the number of patients admitted to the ward during the next level. For example, the question may ask if the player always wore a mask while on public transport. If the player answers “no”, there would be more patients in the ward the next day than if they had answered “yes”. Through this, players see the their actions directly associated with the effects on other people and healthcare staff.

The game was refined iteratively thanks to playtesting with my friends, fellow students, and staff on the Serious and Persuasive Games course. Finally, a user study was completed to test if the game had the desired effects of making people feel more responsible for their actions, encouraging them to follow COVID-19 safety guidance more closely and increasing empathy for nursing staff. Though it was a small scale study, initial results were very positive and suggested that the game had achieved its goal in terms of attitude change. Qualitative responses from participants repeatedly mentioned the use of their real world actions and suggested it was both engaging and encouraged them to reflect more deeply on their actions. As such, breaking the “Magic Circle” is a promising technique for persuasive games which warrants further research.

In terms of development, the game was built using Game Salad (a no-code game authoring tool). Though I’m familiar with code, (and there were times I wished I was using code!) GameSalad did provide a really quick way to get started and put ideas together without too much learning overhead. Having since tried to pick up Unity, I can say Game Salad is definitely a lot quicker to get your ideas into something working, which is crucial for iterative development. Game Salad also made it very easy to publish my game so that others could play it online, which helped enormously when getting feedback and conducting the user study as there was no installation or downloads required.

In an early version of the game, everything was represented by incredibly simple shapes and numbers. While I support the concept of primarily using the mechanic to deliver the message, as demonstrated remarkably in Brenda Romero’s games, I felt my game would benefit from graphics and sound effects to help immerse the player and reinforce the narrative that these were real people affected by their actions, encouraging stronger empathy. Given the short time frame (and that I am only one person who is not talented enough to do everything from scratch!) I was exceedingly grateful for assets created by other artists which allowed me to create something that was much more complete than I could have achieved on my own. I found the music by Bio_Unit on Free Music Archive and got sound effects from Kenney.nl (a fantastic source for several free assets!) I paid for some pixel-art assets from Malibu Darby through Humble Bundle which, very fortunately, had a game dev bundle just as I was building the game. I also dabbled in editing the pixel art myself to customise it to my game. If you’d like to give that a go, I recommend aseprite.

Overall, I was really happy with my game and the results of the user study. Prof. Anna Cox had suggested that the class submit their work to the CHI PLAY student game competition. Earlier in my time at UCL, Prof. Catherine Holloway had encouraged us to always try and share our work with the academic community and introduced me to Student Research Competitions. These are often held across different ACM conferences (such as SIGCHI, SIGACCESS, CHIPLAY) and felt much more approachable to me as the level of work expected was closer to what I had already done for my coursework. As such, I decided to go for it and submit my game and a paper detailing the user study to CHI PLAY 2021’s Student Game Design Competition. I didn’t really expect to win anything, but I was just happy to share my game in the hopes it might have a life beyond my university coursework grades.

So I was very excited when I heard back to find out my game had been accepted! It turns out, 8 of the 19 submissions were accepted to the conference as finalists. This did mean, however, that I had a bit more work to do! I updated my paper to respond to the reviewers’ comments, battled with the proper formatting and TAPS submission system (though the support staff are really helpful), and  created a reaction video to be played at the conference. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful (largely because it fell right across the deadline for my final MSc dissertation!!) but it was definitely worth it to see my work presented at the conference and all the interest it generated. Even more so when I was announced as receiving an honourable mention for the competition! I also got to  attend the entire conference – though you don’t have to be an author to do so – and joined lots of interesting talks and presentations across all aspects of games.

It was really rewarding finding myself back in the games industry, in a sense, but from a completely different direction than I had ever imagined and one that was much better suited to me and my passions. It was even more rewarding to know that I had contributed to it and that, maybe one day, my research will have an impact on the games I end up playing on my sofa.

Play my game

Read the paper

Watch the reaction video

Find out more about the competition and see the other entries

Every wondered how to get someone to reply to your email?

Me this week: why is this guy chasing me for a reply today when he only emailed me on Thursday?

Also me this week: how come that person I emailed on Wednesday last week STILL hasn’t replied?

Meme saying "yeah if you could reply to my email that would be great"

We’ve all spent time hitting the refresh button on an inbox waiting for a reply to an email we’ve sent and wondering what’s holding things up. The truth is, people send urgent emails before others and if they think a reply to your email is not urgent and is going to take them ages to write, you might be waiting a really long time!

Please Reply to my email - Puppy Eyes Puss in Boots | Meme Generator

Our frustration waiting for others to reply to our emails led us to investigate which factors influence how quickly people respond to emails and whether there’s anything we can do as a sender to get them to choose to reply to us before answering someone else’s message!The results of our study of 45 people responding to 16,200 e-mails sent over a 3 week period show that when e-mail replies are not urgent, people wait to a later time to send replies rather than responding immediately. However, when they do respond they are more likely to tackle the messages that are easier to respond to (eg needing a short reply) and those that carry the greatest importance (eg when there’s something in it for the sender). In contrast, when presented with e-mails that need an urgent reply, people prioritize these and disregard factors such as length of reply.

25+ Best Reply All Email Memes | Reply All Email Meme Memes, the Memes, and  Memes

Our results are important for all of us who use e-mail and want timely responses. Composing e-mails that clearly signal that an urgent response is needed is the best way to ensure that the receiver will deal with it promptly. If it’s not urgent, making clear that you just need a short response will mean your email gets replied to before others.

Anna L. Cox, Jon Bird, Duncan P. Brumby, Marta E. Cecchinato & Sandy J. J. Gould (2021) Prioritizing unread e-mails: people send urgent responses before important or short ones, Human–Computer Interaction, 36:5-6, 511-534, DOI: 10.1080/07370024.2020.1835481

How did people respond to the disruption to work caused by the pandemic?

Our paper “The new normals of work: a framework for understanding responses to disruptions created by new futures of work” has just come out in Human-Computer Interaction Journal.

Open access to the paper is available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07370024.2021.1982391

In the paper, we explore how people adapted to work during the pandemic and how we might understand people’s response to disruption in the new future of work. We highlight a number of issues, tools and strategies that people used in their work to support them while working remotely. For example, virtual commutes, having dedicated space, new scheduling techniques or staying connected with colleagues through virtual chats and async chats 

Exploring these with the Genuis and Bronstein model of “new normal” we show 3 kinds of responses:

  • waiting to return to old normal,
  • finding a new normal and
  • anticipating a new future of work.

These new normals of work help us to understand how we can help workers going forward.

We’d like to thank our reviewers for their feedback and our participants for helping develop our work within eworklife.co.uk and a special shoutout to @DilishaBP whose work with the new normal model inspired this work 😀 You can find their paper on Finding a “New Normal” for Men Experiencing Fertility Issues here: dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.114…

If you find this interesting you might also like our other papers on work during the pandemic:

The first draft of this blogpost was written as a twitter thread by Joe Newbold and unrolled using ThreadReader

Rewards Placement can Determine Engagement in Apps

Our new research paper coauthored with Dr Diego Garaialde and Dr Ben Cowan from UCD, identifies the best location to place rewards when using gamification to motivate users.  The research paper, which was published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies and is available online on Science Direct (sciencedirect.com), highlighted that placing rewards early on in the user interaction was more effective and encouraged users to use the app more.

Gamification has become a common technique for incentivising users to engage with an application however the placement of this tactic and how it impacts on a user is often not considered during the design process.  We found that the value a user places on a reward diminishes the further into the future it is and placing rewards early in the interaction sequence leads to an improvement in the perceived value of that reward.

Speaking about the findings Diego Garaialde said: “Rather than rewarding after longer interactions with the app, which is common in current gamified applications, designers should consider rewarding users early for deciding to interact with the app in the first place.”

The full paper can be found online
(An earlier version of this post originally appeared on the blog of the ADAPT centre)

Funded PhD studentship in HCI: Designing the Teaching Experience for Spreadsheets

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship at the UCL Interaction Centre (UCLIC), funded by an EPSRC/Microsoft iCASE studentship, for up to 4 years, from October 2021. Minimum enhanced stipend of £22,109 per annum, plus fees.

Supervisors: Prof Duncan Brumby, UCLDr Advait Sarkar, Microsoft Research, and Prof Anna Cox, UCL.

Spreadsheet applications, such as Excel, are deep and feature-rich software. We want users to learn and understand spreadsheet applications to take full advantage and be empowered by them. An important technique for doing so is ‘in-app teaching’, where we introduce new features and suggest tutorials through pop-up dialogs. However, we do not fully understand the optimal timing and level of information to provide in these dialogs. Nor do we understand how these dialogs participate in the wider learning experience of the user, which may involve consulting documentation, video tutorials, training courses, and help from colleagues.


If we do it right – we create an empowering moment for the user, who learns something new and useful. If we do it wrong (e.g., wrong timing, or wrong level of detail), we create a frustrating and irrelevant distraction that results in decreased user trust and satisfaction.


This PhD would develop a theory of interruptibility and spreadsheet mastery from observational studies and experimentally test one or more design interventions that improve the timing/design of in-app teaching dialogs. Beyond the immediate application of helping us better teach users our newest and best features in spreadsheet applications, like Excel, the results may have profound implications for how we design trustworthy tutorials for all feature-rich software. See more information about the project.

Person Specification

Applicants should be interested in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), and must possess a strong Bachelor’s (1st or 2:1) or Master’s degree in a related discipline (e.g., Computer Science, HCI, Psychology). The ideal candidate for this project will be a deep analytical thinker who is also equipped with the necessary technical skills to conduct research using one or more of empirical methods (i.e., quantitative experiments conducted in the lab or the field or qualitative observational studies). Good programming skills, experience of software development of interactive applications or analytical models, and relevant previous research experience are also desirable.

Eligibility

To be considered for this scholarship applicants need to be meet the eligibility requirements defined by the UK Research and Innovation (please see linked document)). In particular, any applicants “classed as a home student” would be eligible for funding; applicants “classed as an International student” could be eligible for funding in exceptional circumstances (for example, if a candidate has an outstanding track record of very relevant research, including publications in top-tier venues). Please refer to the linked document for definitions of “home” and “international” student.

Application Procedure

Applicants should submit their applications via UCL Select by 5pm Monday 7 June – please notify Louise Gaynor with your application number when you apply. Applications must include:

  1. Personal statement (1 – 2 pages).
  2. Research proposal (1 – 4 pages): a summary of relevant literature to motivate a research question and a description of the type of research to be conducted (including ideas about the methodology and data analysis that could be used).
  3. Name and email contact details of two referees.
  4. Academic transcripts.
  5. CV.

Help with your proposal

Know what kind of contribution you want to make:

Use Seven Research Contributions in HCI by Jacob O. Wobbrock to help you think about what you want to do.

How should you structure your proposal?

The following advice is based on Andrew Derrington’s PIPPIN magic formula for structuring a research proposal.

  1. Briefly state the PROMISE. What will your programme of research deliver?
  2. Say why it is IMPORTANT. What gap in the literature does it address? Or which applied problem does it aim to solve?
  3. State up to 3 sub-PROBLEMS. What are the things you need to find the answer to in order to deliver on your promise?
  4. Introduce your PROJECT. Briefly say what sort of approach you will take.
  5. Next decribe how you intend to IMPLEMENT your programme of research. Which methods will you use to find the answer to your 3 sub-problems.
  6. And finally, say what will happen NEXT. What is the potential impact of your project?

Interviews will take place around 21 June 2021.

For an informal conversation about the project, please contact Prof Duncan BrumbyDr Advait Sarkar, and Prof Anna Cox. For queries regarding the application process please contact Dr Louise Gaynor.

A Special Interest Group on Designed and Engineered Friction in Interaction

We’re part of a group (Sandy J.J. Gould, Lewis L. Chuang, Ioanna Iacovides, Diego Garaialde, Marta E. Cecchinato, Benjamin R. Cowan, Anna L. Cox) running a special interest group meeting at CHI2021 on the idea of adding ‘friction’ to interactions. Most of the time designers and engineers try to make interactions with technology less effortful. Frictions are about doing the opposite in order to change the way people interact with something.

Overview

Human-computer interactions are implicitly designed to be smooth and efficient. The implicit objective is to enhance performance, improve safety, and promote satisfaction of use. Few designers would intentionally create systems that induce frustration or are inefficient or evendangerous. Nonetheless, optimizing usability can lead to automatic and thoughtless behaviour. In other words, an over-optimization of performance and satisfaction could imply or encourage behaviours that compromises individual users and their communities.

Frictions —changes to an interaction to make it more taxing in some way— are one potential solution to the risks of over-optimisation and over-proceduralisation. The content warnings placed on social media posts on platforms like Facebook and Twitter are an example of a a friction. These frictions have been added in response to particularly ‘risky’ scenarios, where, for instance, widespread misinformation may significantly influence democratic processes. Twitter, for instance, added friction to the process of ‘retweeting’ (i.e., relaying a message to other users) for certain messages. If a user tried to retweet a message containing a link without having opened the link then Twitter would produce an interstitial dialog asking users if they wanted to read the link before retweeting (Andrew Hutchinson 2020).

In the short proposal we submitted, we consider the perspectives of different academic disciplines’ accounts (and usages) of tensions between automatic and deliberate behaviour. We explore the limits on theoretical frameworks that can plausibly describe the mechanism of designed frictions. Following this, we enumerate some effective designs for intentional frictions in human-computer interactions, identify abstract principles from their real-world use, and expand on how they could be generalized for innovations in designed frictions. Finally, we hope to address how current practices for evaluating usability can be modified to consider the potential costs of automatic behaviour and how they could be mitigated with designed frictions.

Open Questions

There a number of open questions about the use of frictions. One of the goals of the SIG is to determine which are most pressing. As we see it, the most important questions about frictions are:

  • What kinds of interactional contexts are frictions most suited to?
  • What are the most effective ways to get people to switch to a slower, more deliberative way of thinking?
  • How quickly do people become habituated to frictions, and how do we manage and/or mitigate the effects of friction habituation?
  • Should we be focusing on changing people’s behaviour instead of steering them with frictions?
  • How do we calibrate frictions so that they give people space to think, but are not excessively frustrating or negative to user experience?

To find out more go to https://www.sjjg.uk/frictions-sig/

The great remote work experiment – what happens next?

Ready to go back to the office?
Sam Wordley via Shutterstock

Daniel Merino, The Conversation and Gemma Ware, The Conversation

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, four experts dissect the impact a year of working from home has had on employees and the companies they work for – and what a more hybrid future might look like. And we talk to a researcher who asked people to sit in bathtubs full of ice-cold water to find out why some of us are able to stand the cold better than others.

For many people who can do their job from home, the pandemic meant a sudden shift from office-based to remote working. But after a year of working from home, some company bosses really don’t want it to become the new normal. The chief executive of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, called it an “aberration”, and Barclays chief executive Jes Staley said it wasn’t sustainable, because of how hard it is to maintain culture and collaboration with teams working remotely.

Meanwhile, others are fully embracing a remote work future. Twitter said its employees could work from home forever, and Spotify announced a “work from anywhere” policy. Other firms are starting to announce more hybrid policies, where people are expected to split their week between the home and the office: in March, BP told employees they would be expected to work from home two days a week.

In this episode, we talk to researchers who have been studying the shift to remote working during the pandemic about their findings. In France, Marie-Colombe Afota, assistant professor in leadership, IÉSEG School of Management in France, talks us through the initial results of a new study she did in late 2020 of 4,000 employees at a large French multinational. “The more employees felt that the organisation generally values being visible in the office, the more they felt expected to be constantly available while in remote work,” says Afota. “And, in turn, two months later, the less they felt productive and happy in remote work.”

A year of working from home has left some people close to burnout, according to Dave Cook, a PhD researcher in anthropology at University College London who has been interviewing people about their experiences of shifting to remote work during the pandemic. “Burnout and work-life balance is the forgotten public health emergency that’s emerging through throughout this lockdown,” he tells us. And he says that companies should start communicating with their staff now about what the future has in store: “So their employees can get on with planning the rest of their lives.”

For others, the shift to remote work has been a surprisingly good experience. Jean-Nicolas Reyt, an assistant professor at McGill University in Montreal, has been tracking the language that chief executives in North America used to talk about remote working in 2020. “What you see is that actually that misconception, that telework is just not as efficient as co-located work, has vanished for a lot of CEOs,” he tells us. “A lot of CEOs and a lot of employees are saying it was forced, but it’s actually pretty good.”

Ruchi Sinha, a senior lecturer in organisational behaviour and management at the University of South Australia, gives the view from Australia, where hybrid working is already becoming a reality, and where most invitations to a face-to-face meeting now come with a video link too. But Sinha says that opportunities to shift to a fully flexible way of working may be being missed, with companies implementing new policies as rigid as the old ones. “I don’t think we are spending enough time thinking about are we giving people choice to shape their jobs, to shape what they do,” she tells us.

In our second story, we find out that your genes influence how resistant you are to cold temperatures. To test this, scientists asked a group of men to sit in bathtubs full of icy water to measure their reaction – and how much they shivered. Victoria Wyckelsma, a postdoctoral research fellow in muscle physiology at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, explains what they found and what it means.

And Sunanda Creagh from The Conversation in Australia gives us some recommended reading about the recent floods in Sydney.




Read more:
‘They lost our receipts three times’: how getting an insurance payout can be a full-time job


The Conversation Weekly is produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio or on Instagram at theconversationdotcom. We’d love to hear what you think of the show too. You can email us on podcast@theconversation.com

A transcript of this episode is available here.

News clips in this episode are from CNN, CNBC News, CBC News, NBC News, Arirang News, World Economic Forum, Goldman Sachs, AlJazeera English, 7 News Australia, Sky News Australia,, Euronews, DW News and Jornal da Record.

You can listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, our RSS feed, or find out how else to listen here.The Conversation

Daniel Merino, Assistant Editor: Science, Health, Environment; Co-Host: The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation and Gemma Ware, Editor and Co-Host, The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A review of ecological momentary interventions for mental health

The original vision of Ecological Momentary Interventions (EMI) – brief interventions delivered in the moment during daily life – were put forward over a decade ago. In the interim, the arrival of the smartphone has made these interventions far more feasible to deploy. At this point, it is timely to examine whether the original vision of these systems has been realised, and furthermore has the concept of EMI shifted to incorporate further possibilities opened up by these technologies? With Andreas Balaskas and Gavin Doherty, University College Trinity, and Stephen Schueller, University of California, Irvine, our new paper in PLoS ONE examines the components of EMIs in the smartphone era.

You can read more about it in this great blog post written by Andreas

A. Balaskas, S.M. Schueller, A.L. Cox & G. Doherty, Ecological momentary interventions for mental health: A scoping review, PLoS ONE, 16(3): e0248152, 2021. DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0248152