On my first day of CHI perhaps it is appropriate that the session I remember the most is the session that was most focused on CHI itself.  “Usability Evaluations Considered Harmful” discussed the problem of usability evaluations being misused and doing more harm than good.  However, rather than being an issue with evaluations the problem seems to be a cultural one within the HCI (and specifically CHI) community.  It seems that PhD students and professors are under pressure to publish.  And to publish in prestigious conferences.  And to get into these prestigious conferences, many feel that some sort of evaluation must be performed, regardless of whether it really has a point besides making the paper look publish-able.  Thus the provocative claim that Vannevar Bush’s seminal paper on the Memex would be rejected by CHI today as unbuilt and untested.

The good part of all this is that the session seemed to be the start of a healthy discussion within CHI of where the community is now and where it is going.  It also made me think about the proliferation of different HCI/UI/UCD/UX conferences these days (CHI, UIST, IXDA, DUX, etc….).  It remains an open question whether CHI will remain viable in the years to come or whether focus will shift to a younger more dynamic conference.  But it seems reassuring that the discussions are taking place and that options abound.