Human Media Lab,
As told by Roel Vertegaal | hml.queensu.ca
How do you describe your lab to visitors?
The Human Media Lab is an HCI lab with a unique mix of design, science, and engineering students. It is a media lab in which researchers
conceive of, design, and build prototype user-interface technologies
projected 10 to 15 years into the future. Our second line of research lies
in the empirical evaluation of prototypes in order to demonstrate their
efficiency over current solutions. The lab’s main focus is currently the
design and evaluation of organic user interfaces, user interfaces that
feature non-flat or flexible interactive displays.
What is a unique feature of your lab?
Designed by renowned industrial designer Karim Rashid, HML is the
world’s first boutique laboratory. It features a futuristic-looking, colorful
design that flows with the researchers’ activities, and it includes large,
wall-size displays and ceiling-mounted flexible arrays of projectors and
3-D computer-vision cameras. The space also features a meeting room,
kitchen, shower, workshop, and experimentation space, along with
offices and a main laboratory with both group and private workspaces
for researchers. The space’s design aims to flexibly guide and inspire
students to create and think about prototype technologies that are not
just organic and functional, but also elegant in their design.
How many people are in the lab, and what is the mix of
backgrounds and roles?
The lab has 12 members. They are a mix of staff, undergraduate
research assistants, master’s students, Ph.D. students, and a postdoctoral fellow. HML researchers are extremely multidisciplinary. They come
from all sorts of disciplines, ranging from English and arts to computer
science, and from electrical engineering to cognitive science. However,
most graduate students in the lab start with a computer science background with a strong emphasis on HCI, and they learn hardware prototyping and empirical design and evaluation as they go along.
Briefly describe a day in the life of your lab.
During a typical day in the lab, students are busy conjuring up new prototypes and experiment designs that demonstrate a future of computing
in which display shape is a dominant factor. This involves experimenting with new bendable materials, such as thin-film electrophoretic
and flexible organic LED displays, shape-memory alloys, bend sensors,
laser-cut cardboard substrates, flexible circuit boards, 3-D printing,
and Arduino breadboard soldering. After a good round of usability