Dr. Audrey Girouard is an outstanding researcher in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). She leads a multidisciplinary research team at Carleton University that considers how people use tangible devices and technologies, understands their applications, and studies their social acceptability. She is a pioneer of deformable user interfaces, in which she considers general applications and those focused on accessibility.

“I’m really interested in the novel ways of interacting with our computers beyond software and apps,” says Girouard. “By that I mean tangible interactions where we modify the shape of device in order to interact with it. Think of bending and squeezing a phone to interact with it. I’m interested in alternative means of interaction.”

The growth of HCI

Accessibility is a key part of Girouard’s research. She sees HCI as a blend of science and art in creating devices that are easier for people to use. For Girouard, it comes down to working with people to understand their experiences and creating solutions that work for them.

“The research we do is very user-centric. We try to do a lot of co-designing with users – especially those with disabilities because they know their experiences and have a clear understanding of the problems and pain points. By co-designing solutions, we can find alternate ways of doing things.”

Girouard is heartened to see growth in the area of HCI. She notes that HCI is already embedded in the field of design and that awareness is growing in computer science.

“I can see from talking to people that this is a much stronger field than it used to be,” says Girouard. “In the last 5-10 years, for instance, the federal government has established dedicated teams to facilitate HCI and User Experience. You can see how our online experience has improved. We need to move away from the idea that programmers develop software based solely on their own experiences. We need to do a better job of designing for the needs of the user.”

A collaborative and multidisciplinary approach

Girouard is helping to shape the future of HCI with her exceptional dedication to mentoring students at Carleton University. In total, she has trained 87 undergraduates, 19 master’s students, five Ph.D. students, four PDFs, and four RAs. Her record of training is so strong that she received the Carleton Outstanding Faculty Graduate Mentor Award in 2020, a remarkable achievement for an associate professor.

“We have a multidisciplinary team. In fact, I’ve had very few computer science students. My students come from different degree programs, and they all bring their own backgrounds and skills. My lab is a mix of all of them, and there is a remarkable synergy with my students. We all learn from each other and keep the skills we’ve gathered from working together. I really cherish the collaboration in the lab that makes my team unique.”

Work that will have an impact on the future

In addition to experiencing the personal honour of being recognized as an Outstanding Young Researcher, Girouard is thrilled with the awareness this award brings to the field of HCI research.

“It’s an honour to receive such a recognition. It’s also wonderful in that it allows me to share our work and recognize the work of my students.”

As the word gets out, Girouard hopes it will attract more students to the field who will learn about HCI and be inspired to take the field to the next level.

“I’ve seen a shift in the last year of how students reach out about the program. When they hear about our work in the lab, they are excited to get involved.”

Girouard believes there is an opportunity to expand the field and looks forward to seeing how new technology will be developed to assist people who have specialized needs.

“The work we’re currently doing is perhaps 5 to 10 years out,” says Girouard. “Over time, we’ll continue to come up with more interesting ways to interact with computers. I see a very interesting opportunity both for research and practical application to create and adapt novel technologies for different groups. Mainstream technology is great, but I see more interest in providing solutions to problems that various specialized users have. That’s where I see the most opportunity for research in the future.”

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