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You are here: Home 2006 Vol.38 No.3, July 2006 An Interview with Luca Chittaro, chair of SIGCHI Italy
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An Interview with Luca Chittaro, chair of SIGCHI Italy

Luca Chittaro, Chair of SIGCHI Italy, answers questions about the state of HCI in Italy

Q: Can you give us some background about the state of HCI in Italy?

In the latest years, we have witnessed a significant growth of activities in HCI both in academia and industry. While in the ‘90s HCI was a topic studied only by a few researchers in Italian academia, now we are catching up and HCI is becoming an established and respected field. As an example, HCI was taught only in 4-5 universities in the ‘90s and now is taught in about 20 Universities (Italy has a total of about 50 universities). Detailed information about HCI courses and research groups in Italy is available from the SIGCHI Italy web site (http://hcilab.uniud.it/sigchi/).

Q: When was the local CHI formed?

SIGCHI Italy was formed in 1996. It was the first SIGCHI chapter to address an entire nation. From 1996 to 2000, it was chaired by Maria Francesca Costabile of the University of Bari. In 1998, SIGCHI Italy representatives met and received the appreciation of the ACM SIGCHI Executive Committee in a meeting in Rome. Fabio Paternò (CNR-ISTI, Pisa) chaired SIGCHI Italy from 2000 until 2004. Since September 2004, I am chairing the group.

Q: Are their other similar associations that are also very popular?

Although SIGCHI Italy is the only Italian association that focuses on every aspect of HCI, we share an interest on some specific topics with the Italian Ergonomics Society (SIE) and the Italian chapter of the UPA. Our general policy is to encourage the participation of people from other associations to our meetings. Specific events to promote discussion between different associations have also been organized. For example, a particularly successful idea was to co-locate the SIGCHI Italy Symposium in 2001 with the Congress of the Italian Ergonomics Society.

Q: How many HCI professionals are there in Italy in this field?

It is difficult to tell. First, because the surveys we have made as SIGCHI Italy have focused mostly on academics. Second, because Italian companies tend to value broad competences so for example many people would define themselves as “computer scientists” and work at different aspects (HCI included) of a project.

Q: Are their specialized HCI programs in the universities?

Although it is not currently possible to get a Bs, Ms or PhD that is formally called “HCI”, some universities do offer the possibility of getting degrees with a focus on HCI, although the degree will have a more general name such as “Computer Science” or “Psychology”. As an example, Computer Science students at my university have the possibility to focus on HCI, by taking exams such as Psychology, HCI, Web Design, Information Visualization, Mobile Applications and others.

Q: What are the most important issues facing by local HCI professionals?

I think there is a lot to be done to increase awareness of the importance of HCI. In academia, some tend to discount HCI as if it were just windowing systems programming. In industry, user interface aspects are sometimes considered as secondary and purely cosmetic. We have to inform better about how broad is our field from a scientific point of view, and what benefits it can bring to product development.

Q: Can u tell us about the activities of the local chapter?

SIGCHI Italy organizes public events such as workshops and visits to labs, maintains a public web site that aims at giving an up-to-date picture of where HCI research is carried out and where HCI is taught in Italy; helps in promoting any initiative that is HCI-related regardless of who is organizing it. We organize a bi-annual Italian HCI Symposium (HCItaly): it was held in Rome (1999), Florence (2001), Turin (2003); its latest edition has been held in conjunction with INTERACT 2005 in Rome. Since 1992, several members of SIGCHI Italy are also involved in the organization of the international conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces (AVI) whose proceedings are published by ACM Press. Held every two years, AVI attracts more than 150 researchers from all over the world. The next edition of AVI will be held in Venice, May 23-26, 2006.

Q: How many members do you have?

We have about 200 members. To encourage participation, becoming a member of SIGCHI Italy is free and does not require to be members of ACM SIGCHI. Anyway, only members of ACM SIGCHI have voting rights in SIGCHI Italy.

Q: Do you have students interested in CHI activities?

Yes, HCI topics attract the attention of a good number of students, and free membership contributes to their involvement.

Q: Where do you all meet?

Italy is a relatively large country with a population of 58 millions. Whatever location you choose, it will take a considerable time to reach for most members. The approach we follow is to limit face-to-face meetings to important events that can motivate members to travel. Besides the bi-annual Italian HCI Symposium (HCItaly) I’ve mentioned before, we organize events on more specific topics. For example, successful events in recent years have concerned topics such as “Usability and Accessibility in Web Sites” or “Web 3D in Learning, Education and Training”.

Q: How do you keep in touch between meetings?

We have a mailing list for disseminating information of interest to members or collecting opinions on issues that have to be tackled.

Q: Do you have local industry and academic sponsorship for CHI activities?

Activities are entirely run by volunteers. Universities or companies have however helped in improving some events by freely offering services such as meeting rooms or supporting the invitation of keynote speakers.

Q: How will the local SIG chapter help HCI professionals in Italy?

 SIGCHI Italy provides networking opportunities for Italian HCI professionals, information dissemination and organization of the events I mentioned before.

Q: What is your vision for the local CHI, in 5 years from now?

I would really like to see the current growth continue. It would allow to have HCI taught in all Italian universities and widespread awareness of the relevance of HCI in industry. Moreover, I would like to see more Italian research labs entirely devoted to HCI.

 

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