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Report on Design Specification and Verification of Interactive Systems '98

The DSV-IS'98 workshop took place at The Cosener's House, Abingdon (CCLRC's conference centre) from 3 to 5 June. Organised under the auspices of the Eurographics Association, and with sponsorship from ERCIM, this was the fifth in an annual series of workshops. The workshop attracted 41 delegates from France, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, UK, Australia and the USA, and two invited speakers from the USA and Ireland. ERCIM was well-represented in the organising committee and attendees.

The local organiser, the author of this article, is never the best person to write about a workshop, but the publication deadlines left me with little choice! Would the boat arrive for the boat trip, would the food be good, would it stop raining in time, would the two late-arriving delegates arrive in time for the boat trip, had we got the right number of places for the workshop dinner, how were people going to get back to the airport at the close of the meeting, would the laptops which speakers had brought work with our projection system ... thoughts such as these tended to flood into the mind during quiet moments in the workshop sessions!

The workshop was chaired by Peter Johnson and Panos Markopoulos from Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. The opening address was given by Dan Olsen from Carnegie-Mellon University. Dan's paper was entitled "Interacting in Chaos". Though I missed much of the talk through concluding registration details, I did manage to hear the latter part and see Dan's very impressive demonstration of chaos in technology: electronic "gadgets" taken from every available pocket: mobile phone, pager, Palm Pilot, tiny solid state recording device (holds 90 seconds of audio messages). There is a chaotic state (in the mathematical sense - minor perturbations produce wildly different long term outcomes), a divergent state, yet the creation of helpful tools demands convergence. Human usage demands regularity. He argued for a focus on surface representations in order to support truly large communities. He argued that in the chaotic order brought about by Internet-based information and collaboration, we should concentrate on human-consumable data types and the fundamental media for representing information: text /language, images and pictures, audio, video, 3D environments (stressing the importance of sense of place and of what is around the body), and tactile information. His paper concludes "Consider also that much of the WWW information is generated by algorithms rather than by people. There is inherent regularity in such output that is waiting to be exploited by other tools. All that remains is for us to design them. This, I believe, is where the future of interactive technology lies."

John McCarthy, University College Cork, Ireland, gave the second invited talk entitled: "The viability of modelling socially organised activity". He spoke about the growing interest in HCI, CSCW and cognitive science into conceptualising activity as socially organised and situated. This brings in what John referred to as the "messy stuff" of the social and experiential. He argued that the kinds of studies characteristic of research into socially organised activity provide insights which should not be ignored by designers. He illustrated this with examples from a study carried out by the Universities of Cork and York into the workings of ambulance control centres in Cork and West Yorkshire. He pointed out that decisions about technology are decisions about work. The studies focused on how staff deal with emergency calls, how they locate the source, build representations of what is happening in their area and decide which ambulance to dispatch. Such work has a moral dimension which also cannot be ignored. He concluded with a discussion of strategies and frameworks that might take such "messy stuff" into account during design.

Twenty-three of the submitted papers were selected for presentation and covered a broad range of topics, modelling the design of interactive systems, the role of representations in designing interactive systems, formal support for the design of interactive systems, advances in model-based design and specification and verification of interactive systems. In addition, there were three working group sessions. The workshop split into three groups, each containing a mix of skills and disciplines. Groups were presented with three problems: design of an interactive guidebook (inspired by work at the University of Lancaster in mobile computing), reading for writing and an accident scenario from cruise control in American cars. Groups could work on one or more problems, though initially each of the groups was asked to work on a different problem. In the closing session of the workshop, the working groups reported to the full workshop. I was "volunteered" to be rapporteur for one of the groups. We looked at each of the problems and hopefully found something useful to say about each, from the perspectives of the approaches to modelling represented in the group.

From an organiser's point of view, the meeting was very successful. The technical presentations were of high quality and displayed a real breadth and depth of interest in the field across Europe, North America and Australia. It was pleasing to see many "new faces" at the workshop, and there was a real sense of a growing, dynamic, inter-disciplinary community. The workshop proceedings will be published by Springer-Wien later in the year.

It is planned that next year's workshop will be held at the University of Minho, Braga, Portugal, with Mario Martins and Jose Campos as local organisers and David Duke (University of York) and Angel Puerta (Stanford University) as programme co-chairs.

David Duce, CCLRC