Human-Centered Computing and Design (HCC+D) Lab

The HCC+D Lab is an interdisciplinary lab whose work contributes to scholarship in the broad field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

Our approach to our work is sociotechnical—we explore the complex relationship between information and communication technology (ICT) and the social world comprised of human and non-human (e.g. algorithms and chat bots) entities. We examine the macro and micro relationships between ICT and the social world to better understand the societal impacts of sociotechnical systems, critique the design of existing sociotechnical systems, and create novel sociotechnical systems that address complex and pressing social problems.

As a means for realizing this goal, we draw on a range of critical and other social science theories from various disciplines, such as science and technology studies (STS), feminist and gender studies, political science, sociology, and more. Moreover, we adopt a mixed-methods approach to our work whereby we integrate qualitative (e.g. ethnography) and quantitative approaches (e.g. experiments and machine learning) when exploring, critiquing, and creating sociotechnical systems.

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During times of great disruption, our daily way of life is threatened and we are especially vulnerable. When our lives are upended, such as when we live through war, we are in a chronic state of flux situated between our past experiences and an uncertain future. Even when disruption is planned these experiences can be debilitating. They require that a lot of our attention and mental energy be spent on adjusting and re-negotiating critical aspects of our lives. When disruption is unplanned, as we are experiencing with COVID-19, we face a great deal of uncertainty. This is true for all crises. However, unlike with natural disasters where people can set aside their routines to respond to the crisis, in the context of crises like COVID-19, we cannot simply shift to emergency mode. We cannot pause routine activities to address the emerging threat, then push play and have life return to normal. Rather, we are living under a constant, invisible threat that we must contend with every day. In this project, we are engaged in a series of studies exploring how people draw on ICTs to rebuild their routines or build new routines when old ones are unavailable when experiencing or living with chronic uncertainty:

Repairing Routines

In recent years, we have experienced major disruptions all over the world which potentially impacted people for a long period of time, such as Hurricane Katrina and numerous wars. Yet, little was known about how people carried on the routine, mundane aspects of their work and personal lives when experiencing environmental and human-induced dislocations. This series of studies explores how people draw on ICTs to repair or create new routines for work, social life, travel, education, and more, when living through war.

Exacerbated Marginalization

This study explores the experiences of historically marginalized populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, people with marginalized identities are differentially impacted as the crisis may exacerbate historical issues interwoven with their being members of marginalized populations. The study examines how COVID-19 marginalizes the already marginalized and creates new kinds of marginalization (or classes of it), as well as how marginalized populations draw on the capabilities of ICTs to promote resilience and where current ICTs create additional barriers.

Mental Models for Cross-Cultural Resilience

This study seeks to identify the features of mental models that enable resiliency. We focus on mental models because we believe them to be especially important when people’s existing social networks are disrupted. Second, and building upon our work with social support platforms, we are designing ICT-based interventions that can help people with more ineffectual mental models connect with and learn from those who are more resilient.

Understanding Tensions and Resilient Practices that Emerge from Technology Use among Parents and Teens

When families undergo disruptions similar to the one caused by COVID-19, engaging in processes that build family resilience becomes critical. Family resilience is a process in which at least two family members engage in practices that enable them to complete family functions (e.g., education, socialization) and cope with disruptions  An extensive body of research on families’ technology use has suggested that joint media engagement often leads to family togetherness, fun, and learning, all of which has the potential to contribute positively to family resilience during a time of disruption. For this study, we were specifically interested in exploring the technology use of families with teenagers. This is because, parents and teenagers are often negotiating new dynamics, a process that is often fraught with tensions. As both parents and teens adjust to and deal with the chronic uncertainties caused by COVID-19, their conflicting expectations regarding technology use might manifest in new ways and take on new meanings.

In this project we focus on the experiences of populations in transition; when people shift from one life phase, status, or condition, to another. This work began with a focus on how United States (US) military veterans draw on ICTs to build resilience as they transition into civilian society. We have extended the scope of this work to focus on other populations with marginalized identities, and examining their uses of ICTs to develop new pathways forward in their lives whereas they might be experiencing intolerance, hostility, or other issues, in their physical world environments. To that end, we are currently engaged in a series of studies exploring ICT use and design opportunities amongst a diverse range of populations:

From Military to Civilian Society: The Transition Experiences of Military Veterans

Life disruptions are a category of crisis that are debilitating to those who experience them. These disruptions come in many forms, such as getting a divorce, losing a job, or moving to college. Following a life disruption, people often undergo a period of adjustment—referred to as a transition—whereby they must reconsider aspects of their lives such as routines, relationships, and roles. Funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, this series of studies explores the transition experiences of United States military veterans and their families, and how they are using ICTs to build resilience.

Becoming a Mother

The transition from woman to woman-and-mother is incredibly difficult and a typically unsupported life disruption. New mothers are a unique set of people through which to explore the use of ICTs, in that their transition is both immediate and long-term, they experience several physical and emotional disruptions at once, and must develop strategies to navigate through this new terrain. Moreover, there is a lack of formal support for this transition.

Financial Literacy

This study explores the transition experience of college students with marginalized identities. Specifically, this study explores their financial literacy and how to design sociotechnical systems to help students prepare for and manage their finances. Marginalized students often come into higher education with little to no knowledge of financial awareness. The project is designed to study college students that identify with the intersectionality of “Black” and “low-income”. With the data gathered from this project, the goal is to create a range of systems to promote financial literacy, both technical and non-technical, that would be integrated into academic learning modules.

Education Gig Economy Project

This project examines the role that ICTs play in professional life transitions and marginalization in the context of the education gig economy. With the booming online education industry in China, an increasing number of American K12 teachers have started to engage in virtual work among Chinese education gig platforms such as VIPKid and GoGoKid. The project seeks to understand the institutional challenges many US primary education teachers experience and how these challenges affect their sense of professional identity, why some US teachers turn to Chinese education gig platforms in response to these challenges, how this gig work restores their sense of professional identity while also posing new challenges, and how this particular form of gig work is shaped by broader Chinese cultural dynamics.

Experiences of Women Transitioning into Senior Management

Women continue to experience more challenges and obstacles in their career pursuits than men, demonstrating that intimating that paid work and professional organizations remain far from gender-neutral. The purpose of this research is to investigate the challenges women in the banking and financial sectors face when they are promoted to senior management positions and how these women use ICTs to help support them through this transition as well as help them secure their identities or create new ones.

Role of Technology in the Coming Home of Formerly Incarcerated

Formerly incarcerated face several challenges, such as finding a job and social support once they return from prison. However, while digital technology can help returning citizens find relevant information, resources, and jobs as they face these challenges, they exhibit high diversity in terms of digital literacy. Along with several other factors, such as cost and access, levels of digital literacy make the use of digital technology for this population a matter of continual consideration and maintenance. We are currently investigating how access, or lack of it, and the use or non-use of digital technology on the part of returning citizens influence their lives and job searches upon their return. We are also in the process of expanding this work to understand the impact of COVID-19 on this population.

In this project, we focus on the politics of the everyday. Research in HCI has shown that sociotechnical systems are political artifacts which are shaped by the societal norms, as well as the individual or company’s politics within which they are designed; they are not value neutral and are thus political. This can have deleterious impact on those who use and encounter sociotechnical systems in their everyday lives, especially when those systems can marginalize their identities. Here, identity refers to our self-concept; how we see ourselves and want others to see us. Yet, for some people, simply being and enacting an identity can create chronic insecurity due to systemic issues that plague society. For example, for people who identify as LGBTQ+, the process through which individuals “come out” and thus articulate to the outside world a part of themselves they had previously concealed or been unable to recognize, can involve disapproval or estrangement from friends and family as well as broader society. In this series of studies, we explore how people with marginalized identities draw on ICTs to engage in identity work and/or engage in activities that push back against systemic marginalization.

Everyday Experiences with (and within) Algorithmic Systems

Increasingly, people are required to interact with and exist within socio-technical systems. For example, today a range of algorithm-governed sociotechnical systems mediate and influence people’s everyday experiences in the world, such as when they apply for a job, refresh their Instagram or Facebook feed, or go looking for information via Google Search. We encounter these systems daily, and the entanglement of our online social lives with these systems shapes how we perceive the world, how we seek and find employment, and how we engage with our peers.  Moreover, these systems are political; they are designed by humans whose values can shape other peoples lives, oftentimes negatively. Our participation and engagement with these systems is political as well. In this series of studies, we seek to explore the ways in which algorithm-governed systems are both shaping and being reshaped by those who encounter them.

Race and Sociotechnical Systems

Race and ethnicity form an integral part of human culture and shape the perception of self and others. Yet, sociotechnical systems are not often designed with race and ethnicity in mind, which can further reinforce systemic issues that plague society. In this series of studies, we explore concepts of race and ethnicity in the context of human-centered computing and design, focusing on people’s everyday experiences with sociotechnical systems, how these systems are further marginalizing their identities, and how they are using technology to actively reconstruct their identities. Our initial work explored the uses of Reddit amongst Asian-American and Pacific Islander’s (AAPIs) for identity work. We are presently focused on South Asian countries, e.g., Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, which have a long history of colonialism. Colonialism is defined as the process through which people’s lives are upended by external forces that force certain ways of living and perspectives on others. The legacy of colonization continues to have deep impact on people’s lives, especially their identities and continues to contribute to regional and communal conflicts. Here, we are studying how South Asian communities are using online platforms to both unpack and make sense of their colonized histories and identities, and actively work to reconstruct their identities.

Unpacking the “Fear of Crime” in the ICT-mediated Context: Conceptualization, Detection, and Mediation

The fear of crime is an emotional reaction people have towards crime or the anticipation related to being the victim of crime. Despite a decrease in crime rates in North America in recent years, research by the Pew Research Center reports that the fear of crime has increased. One potential contributing factor for this increase in fear of crime is that several ICTs have emerged that increase people’s awareness of crime-related information in their environments, such as Nextdoor and Citizen. Prior work indicates that usage of these ICTs promotes fear of crime and reinforces corresponding stereotypes. For example, people who use these systems often perpetuate harmful crime-related narratives that further contribute to the systemic marginalization of people of color. Thus, the growing exposure to this crime-related information presents great risks not only to the health and well-being of those harboring these fears, but also those that are targeted by the harmful stereotypes. This signals a need to better conceptualize the fear of crime and design sociotechnical systems to mitigate the impacts of it. This series of studies aims to examine the concept of “fear of crime” in the ICTs-mediated context and how ICTs can mediate people’s experiences of fear, and develop new design requirements to mitigate this fear.

Everyday “Disability”

For decades, scholars in HCI have utilized a user-centered design approach, whereby they design for others. This approach has been critiqued by critical design scholars, such as through postcolonial design, feminist design, and participatory design; these other design perspectives stress the relevance of inclusion and diversity in the design process, and question who designs? In this series of studies, we explore the everyday lived experiences of people with disabilities, with a particular focus on their experiences with and within sociotechnical systems. Here, we adopt a critical approach to this work that reflects the agency and ability of all when exploring the use and design of sociotechnical systems around perceived “disability.”

Examining the Intersection of Social Justice and Social Media

People, especially young people, spend an ever increasing amount of time online. Coupled with the ubiquity of information and communication technologies (ICTs), this development suggests that many of the ideas about how society works are increasingly informed by our online interactions. This study explores to what extent this is true about social justice in particular, by examining how social media users react to issues of social import depending on their online social network. Social media platforms have become infamous for allowing the formation of information bubbles which can sometimes morph into a breeding ground for intolerance and hate speech; they can, however, also help individuals expand their ethical horizons, become aware of issues of systemic oppression, and take a stand against them. We investigate how these two diametrically opposed spheres of social interaction form and co-exist in the same online space.

In this series of studies, we are exploring how people experiencing chronic uncertainty design new technologies, or re-appropriate existing technologies like Facebook groups and transformative fandom communities (e.g., Archive of Our Own), as a means of creating resilience for themselves or their greater communities. We are engaged in a series of studies exploring this phenomenon:

Care Work in Crisis

This project aims to understand how technology companies and lay people are redesigning and creating new socio-technical systems to fill gaps in critical systems and perform care works for others to address emergent issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Through an analysis of the bottom up sociotechnical practices, this work will provide new insights into the essential, creative, yet often overlooked activities that care workers engage in to maintain critical systems and thus promote social resilience as well as the current challenges care workers face in these undertakings.

Design for/with the Zebra: Everyday Experiences with Rare Disease (The zebra is used as a symbol for rare diseases)

In this study, we focus on people’s experiences living with rare and often invisible disease. Today, roughly 400 million people are affected by rare diseases worldwide. Despite this, the challenges and experiences of those affected by rare diseases are often overlooked. This research project seeks to understand rare disease patients’ experience with marginalization, how technology afford and constrain them in resilience making, and how they use and develop community-oriented sociotechnical infrastructure for social change. Through this project, we hope to elicit design implications for new social-technical systems, laws, and social policies that better enable rare disease patients’ resilience making.

Looking for the Helpers in Times of Disaster: Connecting Digital Volunteers and Humanitarian Organizations

While volunteer outreach efforts have always been an essential part of humanitarian response, their importance has grown exponentially in the time of a global pandemic. At the same time, the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has given rise to a new volunteer phenomenon known as digital volunteerism. Marked by humanitarian information dissemination and data crowdsourcing on social media among other activities, digital volunteerism has proven indispensable to the work of humanitarian organizations (HOs) through the concrete, real-time, and actionable insights it can offer. Despite its indisputable value, harnessing digital volunteer efforts has presented significant communication and coordination challenges to HOs. To help alleviate this challenge, we explore the ways digital volunteers use ICTs to communicate with HOs and the general public, and propose a framework for the study of the digital volunteerism phenomenon on social media.

In this series of studies, we are exploring how to design resilient and sustainable online communities–online spaces that are safe, free of ridicule and harassment, and allow people to seek and disclose sensitive information. To that end, we are exploring how people with marginalized identities are currently using online communities, the extent which these spaces are inclusive and safe, and how community members (users, moderators, etc.) are working towards creating safety and inclusivity in online spaces as well as the current challenges they face.

During and after experiences with trauma, people often write. Whereas many people keep personal diaries and reflect on their daily experiences, in the context of computing, people are now writing for more public audiences, such as by writing in and maintaining a blog, or joining and contributing to online writing communities, such as transformative fandom spaces like Archive of Our Own (AO3). In this series of studies, we are exploring the adoption and use of online writing spaces and how expressive writing contributes to resilience.

We are also examining the role of ICTs in enabling civic resilience—how ICTs enable people to maintain agency in their political activities and/or in helping generate more inclusive and diverse publics. Specifically, we explore civic resilience through the lens of participatory democracy, as participation in public discourse that drives decision making is critical to democracy. We are conducting research examining a fast-growing, but little understood type of political participation: online information seeking, deliberation, and decision making in the context of Web 2.0 technologies. Here, we are interested in understanding the political activities engaged in by both citizens and politicians, across the ecosystem of ICTs that are currently at people’s disposal, such as Facebook and Twitter.

For a decade now, HCI and CSCW communities have called for researchers to consider the “non-user” of technology with the same rigour they apply to investigating the “user.” Further, scholars have argued that non-/use comprises a range of meaningful and productive behaviors, with non-use at one end of a spectrum of use. In this project, we are engaged in a series of studies how adults, children, and families engage in non-/use behavior in a domestic setting:

Racial and Socioeconomic Differences in Non-/Use of Conversational Agents in Families

Parenting is challenging in many ways, and the HCI and CSCW communities have consistently investigated the challenges and have designed technologies to support parents. As voice-based devices become increasingly ubiquitous, this project aims to understand how families from different racial groups and classes in the U.S. use these devices. While we acknowledge that social mobility exists and that technology practices cannot be detached from the participants’ backgrounds or the broader milieus in which they live, we also want to draw attention to the structural, racial, and class differences that exist in regards to the preferences for technology use in families. Our goal is to include heterogeneous voices to develop and analyze technology, as they can act (a) as an analytical lens to better reveal how adults and children from different backgrounds are affected by technology materially and emotionally, and (b) as a means to avoid the insinuation of stereotyping and racial biases into designs.

Traditionally, India is a high-context culture, but it has started to adopt certain elements of low-context cultures, such as those pertaining to communication. Indians attribute greater importance to strong familial bonds and harmony over individual. Further, they are extroverted, use silence to frame intent, and are comfortable with interruptions in conversations. HCI researchers have suggested that user expectations change based on their geography and culture. Therefore, we believe that the use of CAs in households in India would differ from that in households in western countries. With the goal of contributing to the design of inclusive devices, within this project we are examining the adoption and use of smart speakers in middle-class Indian households.

Parental technology Non-/Use Practices While Caring for Infants and Toddlers

Today, infants and toddlers – children who are 0-36 months olds – are growing up in domestic environments that are saturated with a variety of digital devices, which parents are adopting at increasing rates. Therefore, perhaps unsurprisingly, parents’ use of technology is often a matter of public discussion and research scholarship. As a consequence, parents are subjected to two opposing discourses when it comes to their technology use when caring for children: one which suggests that, as children imitate parents and learn to interact with touch screens, it will help them to develop their fine motor function and will enhance their play, creativity, and learning, while a contrasting discourse suggests that technology use can be detrimental to the parent-child relationship and lead children to exhibiting internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Therefore, In this study, we aim to understand parents’ technology non-/use practices around infants and toddlers in a home-setting and to survey parents’ opinions about their partner’s practices.

Accounting for Social Contexts, Agency, and Conflicts in Design of Smart Home Technologies

Smart devices are increasingly being designed for, and adopted in, the home environment. Prior HCI and Ubicomp scholarship has investigated the challenges that users face as they take up these devices in their homes. However, little is known about when and how users or potential users would prefer future domestic Internet of Things (IoT) to support their activities in a home setting. To fill this gap, we are conducting a series of studies to understand how adults and children would want devices to adapt their behavior based on their social contexts; re-imagine agency and support useful intelligibility; support conflict resolution in cases when devices are shared with other family members. For example, to anticipate the space of possible futures of voice assistants we are using story completion to investigate teenagers’ desires and expectations.

Design of Conversational Agents to Support In-Home Learning Activities of Children 

According to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, through the help of a more knowledgeable other, a child is able to learn skills that go beyond the child’s actual developmental or maturational level. This knowledgeable other can be an adult, a peer, or a tool. Conversational Agents (CA ) like Google Home and Amazon Echo have become pervasive.

HCI work has suggested that the dialogical nature of CA makes them a good learning companion for children. In our own work we have identified that school-age children try to use these devices to seek knowledge. Therefore, in a series of studies we are following a participatory design approach to design and evaluate CAs for the purpose of in-home learning.


We invite you to explore our list of publications, organized by year.

Dosono, B., Semaan, B. (2020). Decolonizing Tactics as Collective Resilience: Identity Work of AAPI Communities on Reddit. To Appear in Proceedings of the ACM (PACM): Human-Computer Interaction: Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW 2020).

Introne, J., Erickson, I., Semaan, B., Goggins, S. (2020). Designing Sustainable Online Support: Examining the Effects of Design Change in Forty-Nine Online Health Support Communities. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST).

Akter, T., Dosono, B., Ahmed, T., Kapadia, A., Semaan, B. (2020). “I Am Uncomfortable Sharing What I Can’t See”: Privacy Concerns of the Visually Impaired with Camera Based Assistive Applications. In Proceedings of the ACM USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX 2020).

Hooyer, K., Franco, Z., Ruffalo, L., Semaan, B., Frey, R.A. (2020). Special Issue on Collaborative Research Approaches for Veterans Health and Wellbeing, Journal of Humanistic Psychology.

Rueller, S., Aal, K., Mouratidis, M., Randall, D., Wulf, V., Boulus-Rodje, N., Semaan, B. (2020). (Coping With) Messiness in Ethnography: Methods, Ethics, and Participation in Ethnographic Field Work in the Non-Western World. In the European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (ECSCW’20).

Zhang, Z., Semaan, B. (2020). Gig Platform Migration as Destabilization: “Non-Normative Postcolonial Computing”. In the workshop on Worker-Centered Design, held in conjunction with the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2020), Honolulu, HI. New York: ACM.