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Can you Hear me Now?

Source: UN, 30 August 2009

Interaction with computers involves a lot more than seeing and clicking. For one thing, technology is becoming more and more ubiquitous, and a reliance on visual metaphors, such as the WIMP and desktop metaphors, simply does not capture the full richness of interactive experiences (eg mobile devices with small screens) and the wide spectrum of users' abilities and contexts (eg outdoor activities, visual impairment). Sound is now a key component of many types of interaction, and this award-winning paper takes a closer look at how the auditory modality can be used to both represent and support users as they access and manipulate visually represented information.

The researchers point out that moving from the visual to the auditory modality brings many challenges, one of the main ones being the change from space to time representation. Graphically, information is represented through space, whereas sound is fundamentally temporal, and this presents interesting design challenges, such as how to support efficient indexing of information for easy retrieval, how to support navigation and orientation in an auditory interface. These challenges require a shift in design perspective that must be driven by a deeper understanding of the pros and cons of each modality.

Sound delivers a great deal of information that we use almost indispensably in our everyday interaction with the world. Yet such benefits do not extend to our experience with computers in particular and technology in general: we believe that our research will contribute knowledge to bridge such gap in the field.

Constructing Relational Diagrams in Audio: The Multiple Perspective Hierarchical Approach, by Oussama Metatla and Nick Bryan-Kinns is the winner of the International Excellence Prize, which will be presented at HCI 2009 in Cambridge this September.

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