Alan Blackwell - Research Projects

OK - you came here by following a link on my home page. I'm sorry to say that this page has to be reorganised for consistency with the categories defined on my new home page. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the alternative epistemologies that are reflected by what you expected to find here, and what you actually see :-).

If you are based in Cambridge, you may like to attend the following talks on human-computer interaction.

This page lists a few large research themes and major projects illustrating them. Smaller projects, including contributions to research communities and research-related teaching, are described on my publications page, and other activities page.

Visual representation, tangible interaction, end-user programming and critical theory

I only have one big research question, but I attack it from a lot of different angles. The question is representation. How do people make, see and use things that carry meaning? The angles from which I attack my question include various ways in which representations are applied (including design processes, interacting with technology, computer programming, visualisation), various methods by which I collect research data (including controlled experiments, prototype construction, ethnographic observation), and the theoretical perspectives of various academic disciplines (including computer science, cognitive psychology, engineering, architecture, music, anthropology).

Crucible: Research in Interdisciplinary Design

Crucible is the Cambridge network for research in interdisciplinary design, which I founded with David Good. The network encompasses very many projects, funding sources and collaborators. Crucible projects include practical design work (as commercial consultants or in academic contexts) that draws on multiple disciplinary perspectives. We also carry out a significant amount of design research - investigating the processes of design work, developing facilitation processes for design activity, informing public policy related to the design of public value from academic research, and creating new and experimental software tools for designers to use. Many of these projects draw on my core expertise in visual representation.

Software and Creativity

Many contemporary arts practitioners develop software, incorporate it into their work, or use software tools to extend their professional practice. This research theme involves collaboration with a wide range of artists, including many with international profiles, exploring the ways in which they use representations. We have created a wide range of new software tools and programming languages for composers, performers, choreographers, sculptors and others. Many of these projects are linked via the Crucible page.

Social Media and Activism

Internet technology research is crucially dependent on understanding the social dynamics of the ways in which it is used, and collaboration with social scientists is essential to provide intellectual rigor and new insights. These projects have investigated the design and deployment of new social media, both in the world at large (various professional and political contexts), and within the University itself. In all cases, the representation of social relations around and within technical systems has been critical to understanding and the development of new understanding among all stakeholders. Many of these projects are linked via the Crucible page.

Energy Monitoring and Usage

Electricity is invisible, so our awareness of environmental impacts arising from energy use is solely dependent on the quality of the visual representations provided of energy use. Ever since contributing to the design of the first generation of semi-smart domestic gas meters in 1991, I have taken an interest in the user interface of home energy controls and monitoring. Several of our projects are concerned with helping people understand and control the patterns of energy usage in their homes. Many of these projects are linked via the Crucible page.

PhD Students' Research

Older projects (some sites no longer maintained)

AutoHAN: Control Interfaces for Home Automation

In Autohan we were trying to solve the basic problems of home control, where a multitude of devices must interact with each other and the residents in a sensible manner. One output was the tangible programming language "Media Cubes".

EUSES: End-Users Shaping Effective Software

The EUSES Consortium is an NSF-funded collaboration with researchers at Oregon State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, Penn State University, and the University of Nebraska whose goal is to develop and investigate technologies for enabling End Users to Shape Effective Software.

Vital Signs: New Paradigms for Visual Interaction

EPSRC funded project, now complete, investigating notations, abstraction, representation and interaction in a metaphor-free theoretical framework.

Cognitive Dimensions of Notations

Long-term dissemination and archival of material related to the Cognitive Dimensions of Notations usability framework, including publishing and professional education projects.


Collaboration with the Cavendish Laboratory Inference Group - Dasher is a data entry interface incorporating language modelling and driven by continuous two-dimensional gestures. More general implications are in how we can interact with adaptive "intelligent" interfaces.

Webkit: Intuitive Physical Interface to the Web

European-funded research project, now complete (and various partners disappeared) designing tangible user interfaces that can be used in classrooms to access the web, control query engines, and stucture discussion.

EUDNET: Network of Excellence in End-User Development

A European Union "Network of Excellence" created to help the European Commission prepare a research agenda in the field of end-user development.

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