Take 10 with... Danielle Lottridge

Dr Danielle Lottridge from the School of Computer Science gives us 10 minutes of her time to discuss how technology is reshaping our minds and our lives.

Dr Danielle Lottridge, School of Computer Science
Dr Danielle Lottridge, School of Computer Science

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Experiments to understand how devices change the ways we think.

2.  Now describe it in everyday terms!

We spend so much time on our mobile phones and other computing devices, to understand people today we have to understand the technologies shaping their lives. And to design great software and devices, we have to understand the people using them.

My research reveals what’s happening at precisely these moments of contact between human and machine, drawing on the fields of human computer interaction and human factors engineering not only to better understand who we are today, but also to design the technologies of tomorrow.

3.  What are some of the day-to-day research activities you carry out?

One day I'm running an experiment about multitasking, collecting data about what happens when people try to do three things at once online. The next day I'm working with stroke survivors to find ways they can use virtual reality to stimulate their minds in ways that help transcend their impairments.

Every day I'm working with students and fellow scholars to better understand our world and try to build an even better one.

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

Working with curious peers and students, finding answers to important questions, and taking those answers into the real world through design.

5.  Tell us something that has surprised or amused you in the course of your research (it could be a discovery, an anecdote or even a funny incident).

Multitasking has had a funny history. In the 90s and early 2000s, companies wanted people to become “good multitaskers”. Then, research from my Stanford postdoc adviser Cliff Nass came out saying that practice doesn’t make perfect: chronic multitaskers are actually worse at core skills of multitasking. My research built on that to discover in which contexts multitaskers thrive and in which they are seduced by distractions.

6.  How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

With empathy. Practical careers that arise from the study of my field, Human Computer Interaction, are UX engineer and UX researcher. Empathy is a core skill to better understand “user needs” to then build better technology.

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

As we better understand user needs and motivation, we are faced with ethical questions such as, ‘what if my product is so good that it becomes addictive?’ Part of the reason that I left industry to come here is to answer: “How can we design technology to support our cognitive wellbeing?”

8.  What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

I hope my research helps scholars to better understand people, designers to make better medical and mass-market technologies, and people all over the world to have healthier, more embodied interactions with technology.

9.  If you collaborate across the faculty or University, or even outside the University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

Before joining University of Auckland, I did research at Stanford University that was funded by Google, and after that, I worked at Yahoo. That research shaped a video chat app that was featured as “New apps we love” by Apple.

In addition to those ongoing projects with Silicon Valley folks, I’m also building exciting new collaborations here, with really interesting people at places such as Callaghan Innovation and TradeMe. I’m overseeing projects that investigate multitasking by computer programmers and that develop both mass market and medical technologies, collaborating both across and beyond the university.

10.  What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

If the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, do what you can to jump over that fence to try out the other side! You’ll see that there are advantages and disadvantages for all research approaches and careers, and that the side you came from might look rosier with your newfound perspective.

Finding out that a certain path is not the best one for you is not a waste of time, it’s a valuable life lesson.