My friend, my sister, the loving witness to the darkest patches of my soul. How I’ve missed you. In the past few years, the monster illness that ravaged your body and psyche only allowed me brief glimpses into your beautiful mind. You’d wake me up with a call on weekend mornings, and wait for me so we could have coffee together. And we’d talk. I’d hear of doctors, and medicines, and struggles, of nightmares and hospitalizations, and of hope. Maybe this time it will be better. Maybe this time the good times will last.

We’d always call each other “iubita” – my love. Even though you didn’t know enough happiness in this brief life of yours, you knew love. You gave it with grace and generosity and joy. The monster didn’t touch your soul.

You’re brave, my love. You fought the monster out of love for those who loved you and you did not give up on us. I know death was an appealing relief but you didn’t seek it, because you did not want to hurt those who loved you. You endured, until your body didn’t.

It was a mild winter evening – the first snow of the season, that made Bucharest quiet, clean, and magical. We had both decided to walk after high school rather than catch public transport nearby. I walked up to you, standing in the falling snow in front of the Bucharest Opera house, snow piling on the brims of your black fedora, waiting for your bus. I barely knew you. I was sad. I opened up. You said, “Today, I’m strong. Today, I’m happy. I can support you.” And we supported each other, inseparable, through this hard time called adolescence, and then through this hard thing called life.

You’d never admit it, but I gave you your first cigarette. We’d spend our high school days smoking and eating dark chocolate, skipping class and taking walks, going to coffee shops, figuring out life. At school, we’d stand controversially close to each other and enjoy the side glances. If the boys didn’t work out, we were going to end up together, taking care of each other, into old age and sisterhood.

You threw me the most epic birthday party for 18 – coming of age. Somehow, dunking me into a tub filled with champagne was part of the deal. Ever so thoughtful, you had clean clothes and new underwear ready for me to change into šŸ™‚


I think you took this photo. It’s my 18th birthday, we’re skipping class and playing in Cismigiu.


You sent me this photo soon after you moved to Germany. This is how I always have, always remember you. Beautiful and sad, and full of love, iubita.

We wrote letters. Long, handwritten letters. One day, you sent me the box of letters you had kept. You thought they were valuable, maybe there’s something there, maybe we’ll publish one day – but maybe, you didn’t trust yourself to preserve them. That box has moved with me from place to place. I caressed it just last month when I unpacked in my new house. Sometimes your letters puzzled me, your metaphors not always accessible to me – those metaphors that earned you a poetry prize within a year of moving to Germany. Your mind was sharp and switched from philosophy to math and physics, but to me, your gift with words was the most precious. I kept waiting, I thought, one day, that book you’ll write, it will be phenomenal. The monster took that book away from us.

You leave behind The Boy. I remember, as if it was yesterday, how you described, in a letter, Ā meeting him. He was not the most handsome of them all, but so smart, and so kind, and you just talked and talked through the night. The Boy has been your partner for maybe 20 years now… he loved and cared for you more than a parent. He was with you until the end, and I am so grateful for him, because I know, your life would have been even shorter, even more tragic, if it weren’t for him. So many times I had sent thoughts of gratitude and relief that he was in your life. The Boy, he could still see you, find you in there, even when I couldn’t. I love him so much for that and I’ll do my best to take care of him, as you would want me to, I know.

I so wish, iubita, it had happened in the middle of a phone call. I’d have wanted to be there with you. It kills me that you were alone when your body collapsed. We were so close, you and I – whether we didn’t talk for a day or a year, we never lost closeness. I pray you are in a good place, free of suffering, and that our spirits remain close, connected in the bond of our sisterhood – a sisterhood like no other.

Te iubesc, iubita. Rest in peace.


A middle-aged lady’s guide to Snapchat – OMG I <3 it!

It has taken me a while to get into Snapchat… Like most new social media, I signed up early on, but with this one, I just didn’t feel the need to use it until recently, when my best friend moved away.

My BFF and I would usually text a lot, but with her being out of town, I began feeling the need to share more insignificant moments of everyday life. Even text messaging began feeling too much as messagesĀ would be archived until manually deleted from the phone. So, we committed to trying Snapchat. I finally get it, and I love it!

The impermanence of Snapchat messages invites a playfulness that I wouldn’t otherwise engage in. It also makes the conversation feel light enough that even insignificant everyday moments are OK to share. I feel that being part of theseĀ little quotidianĀ moments isĀ an important part of close relationships. If you think about it, talking to a best friend about your last couple of days can take hours, whereas recapping the past year can be done in a couple of sentences (“Got married. New job is fine. How are you?”).


The impermanence of Snapchat encourages a playfulness that this middle-aged professor would not otherwise engage in.


I love the silly and fun filters and I think they play a role in encouraging interaction – sometimes, I am inclined to send a silly selfie just because I enjoy using one of the new filters. It is a light-hearted way of saying “hello” – and a good way to see each other’s faces. Don’t you hate it when you haven’t seen a good friend in a while and when you meet you are shocked by how much they’ve changed? It makes me feel like I have missed so much of their lives. Being the grown-up academics that we are, we probably would not exchange selfies on text message, but Snapchat’s playfulness makes it OK to be silly.

There is something very beautifulĀ about teenage female friendships – when you first discover how important, awesome and necessary girlfriends are. Snapchat has the capacity to bring the joy and intensity of teenage friendships into this middle aged lady’s life, and for that, I am grateful.

The downside, though, is that messagesĀ disappear too quickly. Being the grown-ups that we are, we sometimes have lengthy conversations. If I leave the app for a moment, to grab a link, for example, previous messages disappear. This middle-aged lady has the working memory of a goldfish, and my BFF’s is not much better, so occasionally we end up having goldfish conversations about what it is that we were talking about a few moments earlier šŸ™‚


So, this is the value that Snapchat has for my life. What about you?

[Stories, which are shared publicly, are a different… well, story, and I’ll leave them outside the scope of this blog post.]

ASEE 2015: Paper about the new HCDD major

It feels like I just returned from the annual ASEE meeting. I presented a paper about a topic near and dear to my heart: the new undergraduate major in Human-Centered Design and Development (HCDD) I spearheaded at Purdue.

The paper tells the design story (birth story) of the new program. I took a user-centered approach to curriculum design, since that’s what I know best. I think one of the most valuable tools that came out of it was theĀ vision persona. And, of course, the program itself. šŸ™‚

The paper is available online (you can read it here)Ā and the slides I used are below.

DIA2 is out of beta!

Screenshot of DIA2 showing multiple toolsI am so pleased that we launched the redesign of Ā DIA2 and the new homepage this weekend! It’s been a long and fun journey!

DIA2 is a Web application for knowledge mining and visualization of the NSF funding portfolio. Anyone can use it to explore where NSF funding goes, how it’s distributed geographically, across NSF divisions, across topics, and institutions. You can explore collaboration networks of researchers who worked together on proposals, identify who’s well connected in a field, and figure out what NSF programs and program managers have funded research similar to yours.

I’m happy to have been involved with DIA2 since the very beginning, as a co-Principal Investigator (co-PI). I led the UX team for the project. We started with user research to understand user needs, and moved through ideation, wireframing, testing, the whole 9 yards. It’s been very rewarding to hear users say, “This thing reads my mind!” and “I feel it was designed for ME!” Perhaps best of all, DIA2 gave me the opportunity to work with and mentor many talented students. All DIA2 “employees” have been students working under a PI’s supervision. I am so proud of them!

If you’d like to, go check DIA2 out for yourself – it’s available for all at DIA2.org.

Or, read some research papers about it:

Using visualization to derive insights from funding portfolios. In IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, 2015.

DIA2: Web-based cyberinfrastructure for visual analysis of funding portfolios. In IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 2014.

Portfolio mining. In IEEE Computer, 2012.

Research project recipe

I came across this article in HuffPo about a new app some students created that can help you identify your most toxic friends. They call it an art project, but I seem to recognize here a common structure for research projects in HCI. So, if you’re my student looking for thesis ideas, read on. šŸ™‚

The recipe goes like this:

  1. Take a problem or issue from the social world (e.g. toxic friendships, collaboration, long-distance family relationships, etc.)
  2. Create a technology that mediates how people deal with that issue – ideally, the technology should improve the human condition or raise critical questions.
  3. Evaluate the technology.
  4. As a result/consequence of evaluating the technology, illuminate some aspect of and contribute knowledge to #1. And/Or, at the very least, derive design implications for this type of technology.

Some examples of papers following this structure:

Which self?

I recently watched this TED talk by Daniel Kahneman about the experiencing self and the remembering self.

Apparently, they’re quite different. The experiencing self is the one who lives and feels in the moment. The remembering self is the one that engages in retrospective sense-making and decides, post-facto, whether the experience was good, fun, etc. It is the remembering self’s evaluation that informs future decision making.

This has enormous implications for UX evaluation. Even if the experiencing self has a (relatively) bad time, as Kahneman explains in the talk, but the remembering self makes a positive evaluation, the experience is remembered as good. We can measure UX in the moment, and track eye gaze and all that jazz. But ultimately, what really matters for future decisions is what users take away from the experience and how they evaluate it after it’s over. This is good news. It means that users may forget or put up with a few frustrations – and still assess the experience well, especially if it ends well. It also means that the research framework for website experience analysis that I created back in 2004 is valuable, because it focuses on how users make sense of the experience and what they take away.

Undergraduate UX-related courses

I get this question a lot from undergraduate students interested in pursuing careers in user experience (UX):

If I want to pursue a career in UX, what kinds of courses should I take to prepare?

In addition to courses about user centered design (i.e. CGT 256 and possibly other new courses coming up in CGT at Purdue), it would help tremendously if you learn a bit of any combination from the disciplines below:

  1. programming – especially front end (e.g. CGT 141, 353, 356)
  2. human behaviorĀ – any courses that help you understand cognitive psychology: how people learn, how they process information, what gets their attention (visual attention), what motivates them, how they make decisions, how they communicate, how to communicate effectively with them, how to research human behavior – aka research methods in social science, especially qualitative, such as interviewing and observation (at Purdue, for example, PSY 121, PSY 200, PSY 240, PSY 285, COM 318, COM 307)
  3. business and marketing – it is important to understand how a digital product, say a company’s website, is related to the company’s business goals. For that, a bit of knowledge in business and marketing or entrepreneurship is very useful.



Are there jobs out there is UX?

Yes, tons – and thousands remain unfilled.

What exactly is UX?

The resources on this Pinterest board can help you understand UX.

How to I keep up with news about UX courses at Purdue?

Follow @Purdue_UX and @CGT_Purdue on Twitter, and Purdue CGT on Facebook.

If you need more guidance, please contact me, Dr. V.

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