Alarith Uhde

User Experiences in Social Situations

User Experiences in Social Situations

User Experiences in Social Situations

A drawing of a person using an ATM while another person walks
        past. Both look at each other, and thought bubbles represent that they
        think about what the other person may think of them. The image
        represents some of the social dynamics between people using technologies
        in social situations and how they shape other people's experiences.

Smartphones, vending machines, cameras on selfie sticks: Interactive technologies are everywhere, and we often interact with them in social situations. When someone else starts a phone call on a train we may feel disturbed, for example if we try to read something. But it can also give us an enjoyable, "forbidden" glimpse into their private life. It can facilitate social interactions: Maybe they mention that they are tourists and worried to miss the right stop, so we can offer help. Or maybe other passengers also feel disturbed, and we can get a sense of togetherness while sending annoyed looks to the intruder. The point is, even a seemingly identical interaction with technology can lead to all sorts of experiences in social situations and change the interaction dynamics for everyone involved. I am interested in this impact of social situations on how we experience technologies.

I study how different people, with their goals, activities, and interpersonal relations, shape each other's experiences of technology. Unlike previous research that mainly focused on the user and the form of interaction (e.g., mid-air gestures, touch displays, voice interfaces), I take a broader look at different people's co-located activities and how they fit together. Obviously, phone calling and reading do not go along well. But phone calling and "listening in" do (in a way). How can we describe and explain such (in-)compatibilities between activities systematically, and how can we use this productively to create positive social experiences? In addition, how can we define which combinations of activities we consider positive, if we look at diverse groups of individuals who all experience an interaction differently?

There is still a lot of groundwork to do until we reach a solid understanding of these dynamics. In a first sketch, I have referred to social practice theory to describe how different materials, skills, and motivations of different co-located people and their activities can relate to each other. These relations can have positive or negative effects on everyone involved. For example, a phone caller cannot easily have an additional conversation with someone sitting next to him, by design. During a date, that is a problem. But the caller can also use this incompatibility on purpose, as a tactic to self-defend against salespeople on a shopping street.

An overlay photo of a young woman wearing a futuristic hearing aid
        that spans over her head. She is interacting with the hearing aid
        through an expressive hand gesture, indicated through overlaid photos
        that represent a movement. She reaches out to a fictional disturbing
        noise, grabs the hearing focus of the interactive hearing aid, and sets
        it to her conversation partner.

We used this practice-based perspective in an experimental study to compare people's experiences of different forms of interaction with an interactive hearing aid. Such studies are often set in anonymous, public settings like a bus or a supermarket. We chose a different social situation: Face-to-face conversations. Here, we found that a more expressive form that is normally considered "unacceptable" was experienced more positively than a supposedly "safe", subtle alternative. We can explain this effect if we consider the form of interaction not as an isolated, standalone characteristic of an interaction, but as a carrier of situated meaning. In face-to-face situations, "subtle" can signal that someone is trying to hide something or is not really honest. In contrast, expressive gestures do not hide anything and clearly communicate that something is going on.

My current research revises some further concepts in the field of socially situated experiences of technology and takes new methodological approaches that better capture the complexity of interpersonal dynamics than traditional experiments.

Publications and Resources

Towards a Better Understanding of Social Acceptability

Uhde & Hassenzahl (2021)

This paper outlines some core ideas of a practice-based approach to social user experiences. We summarize previous work on the topic and use the example of phone calls in social settings to illustrate how the same activity can lead to different experiences, depending on what other people are doing.

pdf video

Obtrusive Subtleness and Why We Should Focus on Meaning, not Form, in Social Acceptability Studies

Uhde, zum Hoff & Hassenzahl (2022)

In this paper, we show that a simple focus on the form of an interaction is not sufficient to really understand people's experiences of technology in social situations. We found that a form of interaction that is usually considered "unacceptable" can have more positive effects than a form that is usually considered "acceptable", depending on the social situation. We also included an extended discussion about some problems with previous, static analyses of social situations.


Interaction in the Public: Aesthetics, Social Acceptability, and Social Context

Uhde, Tretter, von Terzi, Koelle, Diefenbach & Hassenzahl (2021)

We ran a workshop at Mensch und Computer 2021 with 30 participants, with an inspiring keynote by Julie Williamson on the use of VR in social situations.


Social Practice Cards: Research Material to Study Social Contexts as Interwoven Practice Constellations

Uhde, Mesenhöller & Hassenzahl (2022)

We have explored different ways to study the complex dynamics of co-located interactions in social situations. One approach presented in this workshop contribution at CHI'22 is based on an openly available card set, representing a diverse range of co-situated activities.

pdf card set

Technology-mediated Experiences and Social Context: Relevant Needs in Private vs. Public Interaction and the Importance of Others for Positive Affect

von Terzi, Tretter, Uhde, Hassenzahl & Diefenbach (2021)

In this online study, we collected and compared positive experiences with technology in social and private situations, and studied the impact of social presence on subjective experiences.

Funder: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), 2020 - 2023
The University of Tokyo, 2023 - 2026
Goal: Understand and design for positive technology-mediated experiences in social settings
Duration: 6+ years
Partners: LMU Munich