Sustainability in (or through) Human Computer Interaction – Feedback and Reflections

How do we design an idea so beautiful that it will last for generations – not just a few years?

How do we create responsible technologies that our grandchildren and their children can use?

How useful is in invention?  Not to an individual – but to the society and environment as a whole?

How do we create something so perfect, that it can stand the test of time and environment?

What’s the point of all the gadgets and technology if it is going to end up in a developing /poor country’s dumpland?

What’s the point of the latest research in ICT if we don’t know how much copper is left on this planet to create scalable solutions?

How do make the most sustainable cellphone? Something that can be used for decades?

Where does a product go after we use it?

I don’t have the answers to all these questions but recently I took a course in Sustainability  in Human Computer Interaction. The course doesn’t answer all of the above questions for you. Instead, what it does is make you ask these questions to yourself! As technologists, it important that we do! Besides, I have always enjoyed courses that tell me how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’!

We have all the technology we need to become a super civilization. As a race, we have even mastered elements of technology needed for space travel. However, we haven’t collectively discovered a way our technological systems, artefacts and services can be sustainable.

The questions this course made me ask myself were of significant importance as it would be for any technology designer, developer, entrepreneur and policy makers – in order to think large! Our world is so connected that the solutions created for one part of the planet could be a natural disaster for the other side.

It’s foolish and short term for individuals as well organizations to think about technology with their narrow self interests. The only ideas that will survive the test of time will be the ones that are viewed (and curated) with the lens of sustainability.

The course started with us understanding a problem within the realms of sustainable development and codesigning a technological solution that would solve the problem.

I started with an idea that Europeans create too much waste per person in comparison to other countries.

The troubling fact is that it’s cheaper to buy a new washing machine than fixing one has stayed in my head for years. Why isn’t cost to environment considered as the cost of technology?

The problems were described and jotted down in one of the assignments:
Eventually, the group created a fantastic solution called HELP ME FIX IT!

To view a sample prototype of our idea click here.

The basic simplicity of use was possible through various Interaction Design methods – however, the fundamental spark that gave us an idea to create something like this was possible through the course – Sustainable HCI

So, if I had to change something about this course, what would it be?

  1. More examples of ICT4D and HCI4D are working towards creating sustainable technological solutions for all.
  2. Mention a list of MUST WATCH documentaries. There are some amazing films like “The Age of Stupid” and “Who killed the electric car” to understand what’s actually wrong with the world and the human attitude towards sustainability.

This paper gave me joy. Textfree UI


This has to be one of the most awesome papers I have read.

My great grandfather could do math as he was a banya (small business man) but had to leave school early to support the family.

Even though he couldn’t read and write or manage any digital manipulation, the genius man built himself an empire.

The only reason he became a successful entrepreneur was because he was creative, empathetic and understood people.

There are so many geniuses out there and whilst they miss internet based services, we definitely miss their creativity online.

This paper gives me joy. I hope designers read this. It presents a great case study not just for India.

Amazon Echo presents a brilliant example of awesome computing being done without textual interfaces.

HELP ME FIX IT: Prototype & Evaluation


A few weeks ago, we started our course on sustainability in HCI. Eduardo, Katya and I have been working on this project with a thorough lens of sustainability. We wanted to create a simple and useful way in which people to get their stuff fixed. Sadly, we live in the world where its easier and cheaper to buy a new washing machine than fix a part of it. We wanted people to throw lesser stuff and fix more stuff. We did this by understanding their behaviour.
The moment the user looks at broken item in his house all he has to think about is this app. Here’s our first successful[1] version of the prototype. NOTE: ONLY SOME OF THE ELEMENTS BELOW CAN BE CLICKED. NOT ALL.

[1] Evaluation done through “Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design (UID) by Jakob Nelisen” method


Visibility of system status
The system keeps the user informed about what’s going on a at point of time. From booking to fixing with appropriate feedback.

Match between system and the real world
The system uses interaction design methods. The term “HELP ME FIX IT” makes it easy to remember the service. As a general example, there is no “submit” button; we used the “HELP ME FIX IT” button. Many such tiny interactions from the real world have been adopted into the system. The process and flows are very simple and natural for the user.

User control and freedom
It’s easy to ‘undo’ and correct yourself. Of course, the above prototype won’t display all these qualities but we have accounted for undos, repeat actions, etc.

Consistency and standards
As mentioned before, sound principles of Interaction Design are used here. Same words, design language, icons etc through out the platform

Error prevention
The right amount of affordances were created to reduce error.

Recognition rather than recall
The entire app and service works on the concept of visual recognition. From the first time you see the broken stuff in the house to the time you use the service.

Flexibility and efficiency of use
The UID has efficient and effective. Inspired by our competitors, we created an interface that would be faster, more learnable and simple.

Aesthetic and minimalist design
Google’s Material Design Principles were used here. We have used an X, Y and Z axis for the design.

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages are expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

Help and documentation
Sufficient tooltips will be provided in the future. At present, there are none.

Abstract of My Research Thesis Proposal: This is why I am going to India!

As of 2014, over half of the human beings living on this planet are deprived of Internet access. Most of these people live in developing or poor countries. This reflects a deep gap between technology creators/designers and their understanding/involvement of the end users. The problems lie beyond our conventional understanding like hardware availability and network coverage.

The traditional methods of design and research are just not working in understanding the real problems that lies deeply embedded within socio-technical design of small communities in these countries. The numerous problems associated with enabling internet access include social & cultural perception of technology; outdated/unfair public policies shaped by corporate oligopoly and political bureaucracy that affects affordability; learn-ability and usability from an HCI perspective; and contextualization of applications, services and content. It’s impossible for an individual, a company, or an organization to foresee and solve all these intertwined problems that hinder enabling internet access.

The first part of the purpose of this research is to gain a deep understanding in the current socio-technical issues involved in enabling Internet access in developing countries using a (distributed) Participatory Design approach. By understanding and compiling a list of all the major problems involved, I would like to create a design solution with the help of the local community (and other stakeholders) to enable internet access in one small local community in a developing country.

What is HCI: Final Thoughts on the program at TLU

I can’t believe it’s final semester at Tallinn University as I am about to graduate as an MSC in Human Computer Interaction. I mean, hopefully. I still have huge research thesis to write.

“So, what it Human Computer Interaction?”

People have been asking me this question for over a year now and it gets harder to explain. In most study fields: The More You Learn = The more you know

You see, the way HCI is works is somewhat like this: The More You learn = The More You Understand how you don’t understand anything; that you’re a complete stupid moron and you should quit ICT and find a different carrier path like start a cafe or a bar on a nice sunny beach in Gulf of Thailand.

Over the past 3 semesters I have been asked this questions so many times! Here are some of the ways I answered people as to what is HCI.

what is hci

Anyway, here’s a small recommendation to the new students who have joined into HCI. I absolutely recommend the following courses:

  1. Philosophy of HCI – What is the point of technology? Seriously, have you ever thought about it? What is technology supposed to do for us? We live in a Black Mirrored society where people spend more time on their apps than their loved ones. Its ignorant designers like us that do not see the long term effects of the things we create.
  2. Interaction Design – I guarantee you, if you’re not completely stupid and just attend every class, that this course make you one of the finest app and website maker. Forget that, you will learn how to make ANYTHING you want. Better. It will help you understand ‘people before-during-and-after design’.
  3. Evaluation of UX – Because they give you really cool tech stuff that you can hook up to your brains and monitor activity. Trust me, its so much fun!
  4. Game Design – Everything can be turned into a game. Even your studies! Very imaginative and fun. You don’t feel like you’re studying!
  5. Web Workshop – Don’t miss this! It’s too much fun not to.
  6. Design 4 All – Want know how to be a stupid designer? Lack empathy. The course tells you how society designs in a way that we forget to include people who of weaker sections of society. This course will expand your mind in ways you cannot imagine. Highly recommended.

A quick feedback on some of the compulsory courses and how to deal with them:

  1. Introduction to HCI – By now, if you haven’t learned how to make concept maps and mind maps you should quit studying HCI. Seriously, find another masters – may be International Relations. I loved this course. What’s funny is that I remember feeling super smart and super stupid after every class. I think that’s a good sign.
  2. Research Methods – I know this one is early in the morning but do not sleep through it. I made the mistake of not being attentive in one of the classes and my final semester thesis is a lot more difficult now. I am spending way more time on basic stuff like formatting than I should. RM is perfect to train you how to research and write.
  3. Developing Interactive Systems – Keep yourself absolutely 100% free during this intense course and you might just pass!
  4. Project Management in Software Engineering – If you ever want to be rich or get money for your ideas in life, you CANNOT ignore this course.

I am very grateful to Estonia’s educational systems. I knew it would be good but I never had an idea that it was world class for IT.

My suggestions for future classes? Focus more on HCI4D. HCI4D stands for Human Computer Interaction for Development. There are some wonderful things going on in the world that you need to be aware about as technologists. I am going to give you a simple example on how HCI4D can make you brilliant designer.


Language litreracy is another percieved barrier to Internet. According to Kentaro Toyama, in an article called Human-Computer Interaction and Global Development, he presents the case study of mPesa in Kenya which challenges the current percived notion that literacy is needed for technological adoption. mPesa is a mobile based banking system in Kenya with 17+ million number of users that use their regular mobile phones to send money to each other (Safaricom: mPesa Timeline, 2013). A huge chunk of these users are illiterate and cannot read and write however mPesa boasts of billions of transactions every month. This has made researchers and designers fundamentaly question language literacy as a barrier in technology adoption (Toyama, 2010).

This is amazing, isn’t it? Millions of people in the world cannot read and write but they can use computers and technology. Who knew?

Human beings are smart and our brain is unique. This course teaches you that. This course teaches you limited we are as human beings and how unlimited we can be we use our technological resources wisely.

We need to think of a way we can design solutions that connects us no matter what section of society we come from.

One of the quotes I will always remember that I was told by my professor:

“A designer and an illustrator are two different things. A designer is a futurer. One who see multiple futures; multiple users in multiple contexts experiencing multiple artefacts in multiple environments. He then designs…”

So, what am I going to do next with all the awesome things I learned at TLU?

Start my thesis work in India.

I wish all my colleagues, professors and wonderful friends that I encountered in Tallinn all the very best. I am going to miss this wonderful university life in this awesome (and freakishly cold) country!




Assignment 3.2 – Sustainability in HCI


Challenges of sustainable household appliances and furniture.

It’s safe to say that the repairing and fixing things is a thing of the past. We live in a world where to buy a new washing machine is cheaper than fixing it. The key problem here is that people cannot even fix stuff.

Even in so called developed countries, repairing home furniture and appliances is still a very popular problem. Broken stuff and repairing brings about significant inconveniences (including financial, mental and physical) for millions of people every day.

The problem lies with many unfair business practices such as limited warranty, planned obsolescence, oligopoly of manufacturers and repair agencies.

Of course, there are many insurance companies that counter the problem of a prematurely broken electectronic but that still doesn’t enable us to fix stuff.  We can talk today about such things as warranty repair and various type of insurance for our home appliances. Undoubtedly, they exist and they can be a solution here, but…

Warranty. The Cons:

  1. The period is limited.
  2. The cause of the damage should not be your fault.
  3. Repair process is time consuming.

Insurance. The Cons:

  1. Separate for every appliance.
  2. Popular  only in high-developed countries.
  3. Not  every family can afford to have it.

Having the fact that major part of people don’t know how to fix  stuff by their own and even don’t know where to find a good specialist who can do this for them it can be a deadlock and a real nightmare for them.

Unfortunately, now we have the following situation :

  • Most good products with precious mineral resources are trashed or recycled simply because a small part was broken.
  • It’s cheaper for people to buy a new washing machine than to fix it.
  • People use expensive agencies for searching a right person to repair their stuff.

 Definitely, this situation is critical and require immediate change.

Continuation of this post and the solution to this problem; follow this link:

Assignment 3 (Step 3 & 4) – Sustainability in HCI

by Katya Ostamatiy, Jinesh Parekh, Eduardo Mercer

As European society has grown wealthier it has created more and more rubbish. Each year in the European Union alone about 3 billion tonnes of waste is thrown away – some 90 million tonnes of it hazardous. This amounts to about 6 tonnes of solid waste for every person!(1) Per capita waste generation in OECD countries has increased by 14% since 1990, and 35% since 1980. As trends show we are doubling our waste almost every couple of decades. It’s utopia to think that this lifestyle of “Use and Throw” will be sustainable for the planet. We simply don’t have the resources to sustain this idea.

We often buy stuff that we don’t need or only need once and then throw it away. It’s absurd when we throw away perfectly functional thrown away for reasons like ‘changing apartments’ or ‘lack of space’ or ‘Out of style”. It’s evident that we live in a consumerist society. But what happens to these products after they have been bought? What happens to them after they are done with? The life cycle of a product isn’t just from manufacturing to supermarkets and then to home. Almost all products end up in landfill somewhere where the product spends far more time in comparison to other phases of the product life cycle.

Reuse before Recycle
Waste Management Pyramid. Image Source: (4) Wikipedia

Of course a lot of products are recycled but it’s not easy to recycle products. It costs a lot of resources like transport fuel, water, energy to bring a product from it’s disposing facility to the recycling plant. There is NO pride in recycling. Recycling is a result of bad design. Before we recycle, we must learn to reuse by fixing them.

Unfortunately, there is NO money in reusing. There is just no profit in it. Have you ever seen a billboard or a watched a TV ad or seen a handout that encouraged you to reuse by fixing something instead of buying it? Our media shapes the culture of a our society. Almost all media products are backed/sponsored by corporations that want you to consume something.

Existing research and surveys tell us that:

  1. Most people living in urban city areas do not know how to fix their plumbing, home electronics furniture etc.
  2. Local skill sharing to fix items is needed. Promote the “If I fix your car, help me fix my computer” community culture.

It makes perfect business sense for almost all manufacturing companies to encourage users to recycle but not reuse by fixing. Reusing something drops sales! So how do we promote people to repair items instead of throwing them away?

Here’s our proposed HCI based solution (click here) 

(3) WorldBank 
(4) Wikipedia 

Game Design – Self Evaluation of the Team & Course Critique

Team Members

  • Irina V. (ideator) – Artist,  Writer – MSc. (student) Human Computer Interactions
  • Sofio G. – Graphics (Still and motion Photography) – MSc. (student) Human Computer Interactions
  • Jinesh P. – Technology-Entrepreneur (Project Management and Marketing) – MSc. (student) Human Computer Interactions

Self Evaluation

We cannot split the contributions of the individuals working towards this idea. The idea didn’t just happen – as our game design class at university progressed, our ideas matured to equal and fair contributions by all.

We have worked in group projects before but this particular group had very good sense of harmony in the way we worked primarily because of 2 reasons:

  1. 1. The Course Content – The challenges presented to us on every subsequent class made our project complex over time. Unlike otherS team, we didn’t have a fixed idea till the very last week. We build upon ideas over the course period.
  2. 2. Past Experience – The members of the team have worked in similar projects before. This is the reason we could divide the work rationally, take up responsibilities easily and co-discover together.

Even though we are largely satisfied with quality of our output and our smooth coordination, we do have a few things we WOULD NOT do all of over again.

  1. We spent most of our time on the core mechanics of the game. When we changed the core mechanics, parts of our story changed. This back and forth cost us a lot of time as a team. We should have stuck to the course scrip and no deviated from it!
  2. We needed to do a bit more research on the content we were offering. Having not watched all of Morgan Freeman movies, put in breaks into our story.

Course Feedback

While we enjoyed all of the course, there are two things we would have loved to learn more about. Here’s our little feedback on the overall course:

  1. Gaming as Billion Dollar Industry – We understand that this was a design course, however as designer students, we would love to know ‘where is the money at’ and what are our further options – businesswise.
  2. Social and Ethical side of Gaming – Whilst most students wouldn’t be interested in learning ethics involved in gaming, as human computer interaction students we can’t help but notice the significance of ethics within the gaming industry. With games that simulate murders and rapes, it’s time we make students aware of “what needs to be created” and not just “how to create”.
  3. Better grades for Gamejam? – When we opted for the course of Game Design we had no idea that our grades (indirectly through XPs) would be dependant on us participating in Game Jam. Neither was it mentioned on OIS nor the course script when we opted for this course. Two of three of our team members could not make it as they had prior commitments. It’s a bit crazy to think NOT participating the event gives us a distinct disadvantage on our grades.
  4. Learning made fun – Whilst we have had plenty of time to provide our critiques, here’s something we unanimously agree with – this course was designed in a way that we didn’t feel the studies were taxing. In fact we enjoyed every session inside and outside class (while we working in groups). Thank you for that!


Essay Review: The Principles of Sociotechnical Design

The is short review of an essay titled “The Principles of Sociotechnical Systems” by Albert Cherns. The article has been reviewed with a perspective of Human Centred Computing.


Most organization are a result of chaotic growth. Organization design can be tricky because this phenomenon. There is huge divide between engineers and designers for the very same reason. Piece by piece an organization is put together with almost no possibility to think of Organization Design. It’s difficult to predict human behaviour. This is the reason we need to account for all contextual possibilities while designing a system. To Err, is human.

Any social system, if it must survive, must perform the function of Parson’s (1951) four subsystems:  Adaptation to environment; integration of activities of the people with the organization, including the resolution of conflict whether task based, organization based or interpersonally based; and providing for the continued occupation of the essential roles through recruitment and socialization.

There are many parties involved in the design of an effective sociotechnical system – engineers, designers, managers, social scientists, financial controllers and so on. Here is are a list of guidelines proposed by the author.


The process of design should be compatible with it objectives. The system should be self evolving and should be easily compatible with change. The structure and function of an organization can always take different paths and self-modification is a must to harness creativity from the individuals part of this system.


The behaviour of the people need not be controlled by meticulously definitions of what needs to be done or not. A broad guidelines should be arranged within which people can work creatively using the best of their skills with varied methods and techniques. Every person is different and a well drafted minimal critical specification could benefit the entire organization as a whole. The design should be silent and intuitive, not over explanatory!


Any system is bound to have variances from its desired state. The sociotechnical criterion of these principles states that the variances needs to be controlled as much as possible. This can be done not only by investigating the source of the variance but also redesigning in the system in a way that accounts for these variances.


There needs to be a clear distinction between a unit and the whole. The unit and the whole behave differently from each other. Every unit is treated as if it is replaceable. This could arise problems in certain situations like environmental demands.


In any organization there ought to be departmental boundaries somewhere. The crucial part is how to identify the boundary location that does not interfere with sharing of knowledge and experience.


It’s important to have a clear information flow in the system. The principle of Information Flow states that target systems should be designed in a way that the objective of the system designed needs to account for different hierarchies and mitigate variances.


This principle states that the systems of social support should be designed in such a way that it reinforces the behaviour the system is supposed to bring out.


Te core members of any sociotechnical systems are the members in it. The design should consider all different human aspects that harness high quality work and sustain the system. Quality can be a subjective term however it can be considered as an over all good experience of interaction with and within the system.


From the moment a system design is complete, it is time for a redesign. Usage gives us an understanding of how the designed system can be further improved over and over again in a cycle in order to reduce constraints and variances and keep up with changing times and external environments