Design Informatics and Human Computer Interaction

A list of potential topics for PhD students in the area of Design Informatics and Human Computer Interaction.

Robot Learning via Trial and Error and and Extended Conversation with an Expert

Supervisor: Alex Lascarides, Subramanian Ramamoorthy

A field of robotics known as Learning from Demonstration teaches robots new skills through a mix of trial and error and physical enactment or manipulation by a human expert.  There is some preliminary work that enhances this evidence with linguistic utterances, but their underlying messages are rudimentary (e.g., "no"), or pertain to just the current situation (e.g., "go left"). This project will investigate how using current semantic parsing and symbol grounding can enhance the task of learning optimal policies, when the expert's utterances include quantification and abstraction (e.g., "when putting fruit in a bowl, always grasp it softly and lower it slowly")

Interactive Network Visualization

Supervisor:  Benjamin Bach

This PhD topic investigates interactive and visual means to better understand complex network data. Visualization allows to understand information otherwise hidden in data, statistics or mathematical models. Visualization is a powerful means to understand complexity, to create hypotheses and to inform further research. As no visualization is able to capture the entire picture, interactive exploration and manipulation of the visualization can further support an analysts workflow. The goal of this thesis is to create novel information visualization and interaction techniques to help people understand network and relational data.

More about Interactive Network Visualisation

Visualization Tools for Open Science

Supervisor:  Benjamin Bach

Open science relies on sharing, annotating, discussing, and communicating information, ideally across domain boundaries. (Interactive) visualizations can play a crucial role in presenting data and making data accessible beyond the rather static figures in PDF documents. Visualizations for open science require custom tools and platforms that support publication of interactive material (e.g., visualization, analysis notebooks) as well as supporting function for versioning, discussion, and linking.

This project wants build interfaces and tools to provide a large range of scholars from different domains (biologists, digital humanities, computer science, etc...) with the power to publish, communicate, and to have a larger audience engaging in their data. What tools are necessary? How can they these interfaces made understandable to an audience of huge variety? Which role do interactive visualizations play? Which visualization tools are best suited for publication on the web, in PDFs? Which formats and tools are required by scientists to publish and present their data?

Interactive Data Visualization for Immersive Augmented Reality (in Biology)

Supervisor:  Benjamin Bach

The latest generation of augmented reality (AR) display-technology has reached a level of consumer-readiness, including head-mounted and stereoscopic display (e.g. Microsoft HoloLens), as well as developer support. This technology is of interest in the visualization of 3D-networks of biological data such as, derived from gene expression measures, chromatin structures, and brain-connectivity networks.  Besides an improved perception of depth, immersive augmented reality will likely benefit collaboration and interaction with existing display and interaction technologies (projectors, screens, mouse, keyboard). The main question is how these technologies can play well together in order to support a seamless workflow and improved analytical paradigm.

In particular, this project will investigate creative approaches to support workflows around biological data, using a hybrid setup of screen and holograms (Microsoft HoloLens). Which data needs to be visualized as hologram? How to interact with holograms? How to visualize that data? Which data is to be shown on the screen? How to couple both environments to provide for a smooth workflow?

Make hyperlinks safe to click on 

Supervisor: Kami Vaniea

Security experts tell users to not click on "dangerous" URLs, such as URLs in emails, raw IP addresses, or URLs that have obviously been through a URL shortener. However, most users cannot read a URL, making it very challenging to detect "dangerous" ones. Not to mention how challenging it is for humans to identify similar looking UTF 8 characters, redirects, or cloaked redirects. Computers are better than humans at reading URLs, but computers have a limited sense of context and no ability to reason about privacy risks.   The purpose of this project is to determine if any given link is or is not safe to click on and be able to explain why to a user. The bulk of the work in this project will be in understanding how links work on the internet and finding ways to programmatically evaluate them for both privacy and security risks. The evaluation could use Machine Learning approaches or rule based evaluations if they can be shown to work well. The project would also involve the development of a small user interface to convey important information about the link to the user.

Usability of software updates 

Supervisor: Kami Vaniea

One of the best ways to protect a computer is to update its software. Experts recommend this practice above all other protection behaviors. Yet the many users choose to delay or completely avoid updating software. The reason is simple, users do not use their computer just for security, they use it for many tasks, many of which might be disrupted by an unanticipated update to the software.  The purpose of this project is to make updating software more usable. Investigate what makes updates so problematic to users right now and device technological and user interface methods for decreasing the disruption updates cause. This research could be carried out with end users, system administrators (managed systems need updating too), or with software developers who design the updates.

Your Health and Well Being Data, Your Way: Sense Making, Privacy, Disclosure

Supervisor: Maria K Wolters

Researchers and practitioners are increasingly interested in monitoring people's health and wellbeing by observing what people do - what and when they post on social media, what data they collect the health apps of their smart phones and smart watches, where they go, what activities they engage in. However, work in HCI, medical sociology, and qualitative health research has shown that there are several fundamental issues that need to be considered:

  • Missing Data: Providing sufficient data for monitoring requires the person who is being monitored to do work, which ranges from remembering to wear the devices to device care and charging. The devices and apps may also be constant unwelcome reminders of illness, or they may not fit into the person's lifestyle. All of these factors lead to missing data. I am interested in working with students who want to explore the causes of missing data qualitatively and quantiatively, and who want to build statistical models for meaningfully interpreting health data where key values may be missing.
  • Disclosure and Privacy: Many of the health conditions that are discussed in the literature as targets for monitoring, such as dementia or depression, are highly stigmatised in many parts of the world. How can we help people avoid disclousre of health and wellbeing related information that they wish to keep private?
  • Support for Sensemaking: How do people use devices and apps for generating personal health data to improve their own health and wellbeing? How do they decide when to start and stop using them?

I welcome students who are interested in these questions. I work mostly using mixed methods and participatory design, but am also open to working on quantitative approaches to missing data. I am particularly interested in women's health, mental health, and medically unexplained chronic conditions.

Inclusive Design for Accessibility

Supervisor: Maria K Wolters

Accessibility goes beyond screen readers for the blind. For me, accessibility means making sure that technology does not prevent people from accessing products and services because of their age or ability levels, and to harness technology to give people access to products and services where there was none or very little. I prefer to work in a way that emphasises people's abilities instead of their impairments and that is grounded in a solid psychological and physiological understanding of the way people's minds and bodies work. I welcome applications from all PhD students who are interested in working in this area. For this type of work, I mostly use mixed methods, participatory design, and methods from cognitive psychology. I am particularly interested in supporting older people, people with hearing loss, and people who are constrained by a chronic condition that results in pain and fatigue.

Intercultural Design

Supervisor: Maria K Wolters

Even though societies around the world vary widely in their iconography, metaphors, customs, infrastructure, and regulations, most work in design involves participants from the upper echelons of US, European, and Australian/NZ society. I welcome applications from PhD students who are interested in using participatory methods to overcome this hegemony. I am particularly interested in working on intercultural communication, language learning, women's health, and mental health, and I would love to hear from students who would like to perform corpus-based qualitative or quantitative studies of idioms of distress, resilience, and recovery.