When casual interactions become critical

Session Title

When casual interactions become critical


Karl Fast, Kent State University

Session Type: Presentation

Why do we talk with our hands? How do we read a magazine? What happens when we sort papers on our desk?

At first glance, the answers seem obvious or unimportant. But there is compelling evidence that these tasks depend on casual interactions: brief, innocuous, and easily overlooked. These interactions can be seen in everyday tasks, such as arranging photos and assembling a bookshelf. They can also be seen in cognitively-complex tasks, such as document triage and visual analytics.

Casual interactions suggest a tantalizing link for interaction design — that by understanding how someone reads The New Yorker, we can also understand how an economist analyzes the global economy. It also suggests that casual interactions are critical for learning from, reasoning with, and making sense of information, no matter how simple or complex that information may be.

This talk will explore the research on casual interactions: what we know, what we don’t, and how to identify casual interactions. It will draw examples from research on how people create piles of documents, read magazines, arrange photos, and other everyday tasks. The talk will also deal with designing to support casual interactions, especially with emerging technologies such as gestural interfaces, multi-touch surfaces, and electronic paper.


Karl Fast is a professor at Kent State University in the Information Architecture & Knowledge Management program. His research interests include distributed cognition, information visualization, and the epistemic benefits of interaction. He is a founding member of the Information Architecture Institute.


  1. Posted September 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I ABSOLUTELY want to see this. Anything Karl Fast has to say, I’m listening.

  2. Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    This. Is. Cool. (And a great, clear description to boot!)

    And, I’m sure that as usual the talk will be engaging and well-grounded. Wanna see.

  3. Posted September 29, 2009 at 11:12 am

    I love it. I’m a big fan of “get your ass out of your chair and see what your design will be like in the wild”, and this is looks to have some solid foundations to support that (from my perspective, at least).

    I’m in. Want.