SAP at CHI 2008 – Florence, Italy

By Gerd Waloszek, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – Updated: March 2, 2008

Looking back over the last eight years at least, it looks like there is a tradition to hold the CHI conference outside of North America every four years. I do not know whether this is a firm rule. In any case, in 2008, the CHI conference will be held in Florence, Italy, a wonderful city boasting plenty of beautiful Renaissance buildings and art treasures. Florence also had a major share in the rebirth of natural sciences, marking the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of a new era. Names, like Leonardo da Vinci come to mind. He was a truly universal genius: he was an artist, a scientist, and an engineer. Michelangelo was another polymath, being an artist, an architect, and an engineer. Other famous Florentine names include Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Donatello, Lippi, and Botticelli – to name just a few.

CHI2008 logo

Figure 1: The CHI 2008 logo (from the CHI 2008 Website)

Therefore, it comes at no surprise that the motto of this year's CHI carries the spirit of this era of awakening: – with the term "balance" reflecting the fact that the Renaissance picked up the ancient ideal of balance and placed humans at the center again. Leonardo's sketch from 1492, which has been included in the CHI 2008 logo (see figure 1), is an excellent example of this attitude: It had been inspired by the ancient architect Vitruvius and shows the harmonic and balanced proportions of the human body. I will return to the CHI 2008 motto below, but before I do let me turn briefly to SAP's presence at CHI 2008.

In recent years, it has also become kind of a tradition for SAP to be one of the sponsors of the CHI conference. This year is no exception: Once again, SAP will be a champion sponsor of the conference, and SAP User Experience will have a booth there. For the first time, we will use our new portable SAP User Experience booth (see figure 2).

Susann Stieler at portable SAP User Experience booth

Figure 2: Susann Stieler at the portable SAP User Experience booth

This year, it looks as if SAP User Experience will have a strong presence at CHI panels: Carola Thompson will take part in the panel "What Would You Do with a 1 Million Dollar User Experience Marketing Budget? – Internal vs. External User Experience Evangelism." Mohini Wettasinghe will moderate the panel "Branding the Feel: Applying Standards to Enable a Uniform User Experience", and Michael Arent will take part in it. In addition, Mary Lukanuski and Janaki Kumar will be conducting the panel "Agile or Awkward: Surviving and Flourishing in an Agile/Scrum Project." For the SAP Design Guild Team, it will be interesting to hear what Carola will have to say about external user experience evangelism... I also found out later that Jörg Beringer moderated the invited session "The Next Challenge: from Easy-to-Use to Easy-to-Develop. Are You Ready?"



The CHI's motto "" captures the Renaissance spirit, which emerged and flourished in Florence, the city where the conference will be held. So I was eager to learn how the CHI chairs would interpret this motto and apply it to the conference. I found their statement on the homepage of the CHI 2008 Website. According to its three chairs, Mary Czerwinski, Arnie Lund, and Desney Tan, "CHI 2008 focuses on the balance between art and science, design and research, practical motivation and the process that leads the way to innovative excellence. It is about balance in our rapidly evolving field, the balance between individuals and groups, collocated and remote, stationary and mobile, in both our local and global communities."

There seem to be a number of driving forces that need to be balanced in CHI, or more specifically, at the CHI conference. The most heated "balance" discussions at CHI conferences, however, that I listened to involved the balance between research and practice, not between research and design. There, the primary question was: "Should the CHI conference become more research or more practice oriented?" This issue still seems to be unresolved. Related discussions involved the balance between an orientation towards computer science or towards design. No result, either, as far as I know... Recently, the Agile movement has added fresh fuel to the fire. I still cannot grasp how a software development methodology can be rolled out these days without including usability. After having recovered from this shock, a number of UI people, including Karen Holtzblatt, have presented their own approaches to including usability in Agile or Scrum projects. As mentioned above, SAP colleagues Mary Lukanuski and Janaki Kumar will present their experiences with such an endeavor in the panel Agile or Awkward: Surviving and Flourishing in an Agile/Scrum Project.

The notion of balance was important in antiquity and had been revived in the Renaissance era, which literally means "re-birth" but has also been considered as an era of awakening – though the latter notion has been challenged in our times. Nowadays, we may get the impression that we live in an era of permanent awakening, change, and innovation. Today's primary criteria for consumers (a variant of human beings) are fun, speed, and novelty – not balance. And, as I already wrote and talked about, user interface design is far from being either an art or science – in my opinion it is a craft, or engineering discipline, which:

  • Draws its knowledge and practices from science
  • Gets its inspiration from art and the design disciplines
  • Receives its constraints from available software technology and standards
  • Determines its direction ideally on the basis of user requirements, such as tasks and goals

Contrasting this with the initial quote from the CHI chairs, we have engineers who not only have to balance two balls, art and science, but some more too: technology, standards, and users (see figure 3).

Balancing the USer Experience

Figure 3: Balancing the forces determining user experience


Much More to See – Florence

Florence is the regional capital of Tuscany and a center of medieval European trade and finance. The city was long ruled by the Medici family and is often considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. History left certainly left its mark in Florence – there is so much to see that visitors should devote at least a week to explore this city and its richness. As many CHI attendees will have only limited time, here are a few tips for the time-pressed, which may help them to make the most of their stay.

Luckily, the city center of Florence is fairly small, and most attractions can be reached by foot. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to buy a day ticket for the hop-on sightseeing bus. You can get on and off the bus at predefined stations at any time. There are two bus routes that bring you to most of the important places in Florence. Places to see include: Brunelleschi's dome and the Battistero, Piazza della Signoria with Palazzo Vecchio and the replica of the statue of David by Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio, Santa Maria della Novella, Palazzo Pitti, and Gardino di Boboli (see photos in table 1 for some of the places). Palazzo Medici-Ricardi deserves a special mention : In the chapel there are beautiful paintings (the procession of the holy kings by Benozzo Gozzoli), which I found truly amazing.

View of Florence from the restaurant below Piazzale Michelangelo

Figure 4: View of Florence from the restaurant below Piazzale Michelangelo (photo by the author)

It is also worthwhile to take the bus route to the opposite side of the town and have a look at it from Piazzale Michelangelo, which is dominated by another replica of the statue of David (see figure 4). It is probably not a good idea for time-pressed visitors to line up for the Galleria degli Uffizi or the Galleria dell' Accademia (Michelangelo's statue of David). If you are not member of a pre-arranged group or did not book a visit in advance, you may have to stand in the line for hours.

More Florence Photos



Paradise door by Lorenzo Ghiberti (Battistero)

Battistero and Duomo (dome)

Entrance to the dome

Before the entrance to the dome

View from dome at Palazzo Vecchio

Neptune fountain next to Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

Galleria degli Uffizi - view towards Palazzo Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Look at Ponte Vecchio

View of Florence

Santa Maria Novella

Vespa & Co

Tourist traps

Tourist traps

Bags, bags, bags, ...

Table 1 : A selection of photos of Florence (all photos by the author)

You can find further photos of Florence on the CHI 2008 Website.



CHI and Florence

CHI Reports

CHI Editorials

Art, Science, Craft

All photos by Gerd Waloszek, taken in 2005 with Konica Minolta Dynax 5D (except the booth photo from 2008, taken with Ricoh GX100).


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