Dream Fellowship: Inspiration, Immersion and Impact with the Creative Industries

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham


Computers have evolved from being tools for workplace productivity to being fundamental enablers of creativity, culture, entertainment and sociability. They have also diversified in form, breaking away from the desktop to become mobile, wearable, embedded and immersive. In response, researchers have proposed alternative visions of how we will interact with computers in the future from immersing ourselves in the fantastic virtual worlds of games and online social environments on the one hand, to enhancing our everyday activities through ubiquitous computing on the other.

While these visions have often been articulated as competing with one another - ubiquitous computing was proposed as the antithesis of virtual reality - I take a different view. In a forthcoming book to be published by MIT Press, I argue for a more holistic view of the user experience as something that extends over multiple real and virtual spaces, timescales and diverse forms of interface, and yet maintains an overall coherence. Experiences such as visiting a gallery, museum or theme-park, taking a holiday or business trip, buying a house, or maintaining a friendship over many years, need to be designed as continuous threads - or trajectories - that interweave with one another and with those of other people. Designing these future user experiences, however, also requires a fundamental transformation in our underlying methods, extending them to encompass radical new approaches to creativity that draw on perspectives from the arts alongside those from science, engineering and the social sciences.

From Xerox PARC's pioneering residency scheme onwards, many laboratories and companies have turned to the skills and creativity of artists to catalyse research and design. Over the past decade, I have evolved a distinctive approach to working with performance artists who bring a particular expertise in the design and delivery of live experiences. My approach is artist-led, in that it gives artists creative control over the form of the experience, and practice-led, in that it revolves around the iterative creation and study of experiences that tour the globe. While this approach has already delivered landmark artworks alongside award-winning scientific papers and attracted widespread attention in the research community, it has so far only been applied to a relatively narrow genre of experiences. The challenge now is to apply it on an industrial scale across the creative industries and into the mainstream beyond in order to transform the computing industry's approach to designing user experiences.

My fellowship will tackle this challenge head on by facilitating a personal transformation in which I will immerse myself within key industry partners in order to broaden my experience and perspective. The outcomes will be to:

- Articulate an overarching research agenda for creative computing over the next ten years

- Establish the foundations of the artist- and practice- led creative methods that are required to deliver this on an industrial scale

- Ensure the impact of this research by grounding it in a deep appreciation of industry needs

- Establish close relationships with key industry partners to underpin future collaborations

Planned Impact

Inspired by the scheme's focus on creativity, I plan to pursue an unusual approach to the Fellowship by undertaking a personal journey that unfolds over three years, beginning with a period of personal exploration, before moving on to a wider engagement with my colleagues, community and the general public. My journey will unfold in three phases: inspiration, immersion and impact.

Inspiration [2011-2012] - following a long tradition of the grand tour, or more recently the road trip, as a source of transformation, I will undertake two road trips to visit companies that are at the forefront of creative and cultural applications of computing and engagement with artists. I will spend several days at each, meeting key teams, understanding long-term visions, documenting creative processes, and conveying my own vision by running a workshop. These road trips will be supplemented by more 'local' visits to partners within the UK. I will document the road trips through a physical scrapbook of notes and cuttings from along the way which, through the use of visual 'tagging' technologies, will also be associated with multimedia field recordings. This unique (i.e., one-off) document will support personal discussions with people that I encounter along the way, rather than being for general publication.

Immersion [2012-2013] - I will immerse myself within the cultures of two key partners, to be chosen after the road trips according to the most promising opportunities for a productive relationship. I will spend three months with each, working on specific projects, but also documenting their creative processes as a participant-researcher. I will extend my scrapbook, but will also make my materials available across a social network of key contacts than spans my hosting institutions and my team at Nottingham so as to build links between them.

Impact [2013-2104] - the final phase focuses on wider impact to my research team, the University, my research community, and the public. For this, the University is committing an additional year of funding to undertake additional activities as described in the following section.

I will take an initial course in creative problem solving so as to familiarise myself with current approaches in the mainstream before embarking on the road trips. I will undertake further training in the creative methods that I encounter at my hosts, especially around the two immersive engagements.

I also intend to develop a more unusual vehicle for engaging public audiences in the topic of creativity and research. I plan to co-curate a touring exhibition that presents the different approaches and examples of creative research that I encountered during my travels and documented in my scrap book. I will approach venues and curators that have been involved in staging my previous works (e.g., the Dana Centre, the MAGNA and INTECH science centres, the ICA, the Barbican, the Watershed, The Cornerhouse (Manchester), The Riverside (London), the Broadway (Nottingham), and the Brighton, Fierce, and Radiator festivals. I am also requesting funding for media training so that I can run an effective media campaign around such an exhibition.


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Benford S (2015) The Ethical Implications of HCI's Turn to the Cultural in ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction

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Benford S (2013) Uncomfortable user experience in Communications of the ACM

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Hazzard A (2014) Walk this way

Description By spending time visiting industry partners BBC and Microsoft I have learned about the challenges and new approaches of transferring academic research in Human-omputer Interaction into industry practice in User Experience Design.

Through my engagement with Microsoft I have learned about the distinctive challenges of supporting creative pro-amateur communities and have begun to develop new approaches to supporting them.

Through my engagement with craft and design communities I have discovered new approaches to the 'hybrid crafting' of combined physical and digital artefacts, embodied in the Carolan guitar project.
Exploitation Route The BBC are now using trajectories for user experience design and subsequently sponsored two CDT students (iCASE and CDT) at Nottingham.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.stevebenford.wordpress.com
Description The BBC employed my work on trajectories in their Northstar one-service design project. They also engaged me as a consultant to design a series of Knowledge and Learning trajectories. Trajectories are now being embedded into BBC design practice. Dan Ramadan, a senior information architect at the BBC has published a paper arising from my visit: http://www.euroia.org/speaker/dan-ramsden/ He has also presented his interpretation of trajectories at a major UX conference in the USA: http://www.iasummit.org/events/ias2016/speakers We recently published a journal paper in ACM Transaction on CHI that reflected on my engagement with the BBC and draw out implications for how we understand and better bridge the gap between academic HCI research and industry UX practice. My work on hybrid-crafting, and especially the Aestheticodes technique for hand-drawing interactive decorative patterns is being taken up a a community of artists, craftspeople and other artisans who are using it to create interactive craft products. The current plan is to create an open cart product going forwards. A video explaining this work published on the Computerphile channel has been viewed 100,000 times to date: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kW39Mt5kscQ The final piece of work in my Fellowship on the Carolan Guitar led to a further Computerphile video that has received 72,000 views to date: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyjgn5YO1Lk Carolan has continued to be active as a research artefact until the present day in 2021, contributing to various projects and being reported in its blog at carolangioitar.com that has now been viewed by tens of thousands of visitors.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training
Amount £3,354,859 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 03/2023
Description FAST Programme Grant
Amount £5,119,944 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2014 
End 06/2019
Description Horizon Follow-On Fund
Amount £4,062,954 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/M02315X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2015 
End 07/2020
Description Knowledge and Learning Trajectories
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) 
Department BBC North
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2013 
End 05/2014
Description Living With Interactive Decorative Patterns
Amount £359,626 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L023717/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2014 
End 11/2015
Description MAGELLAN
Amount £400,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 611526 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 09/2013 
End 09/2017
Description Platform Grant
Amount £1,225,669 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2014 
End 10/2019
Description Carolan Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Widely read blog for the Carolan guitar currently including over 100 blog posts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021,2022
URL http://carolanguitar.com