People of ACM - Christina Harrington

January 2, 2024

What made you decide to pursue a career in computing and specifically in human-computer interaction?

I wanted to find ways to make technology more accessible to those who could really benefit from it. I feel like when I was solely in the design field my training was so much about form and aesthetics with function being an aspect of it but little focus on who the product was functional for. Merging HCI and lately theories from the humanities allowed me to focus on who gets to interact and their perspectives on making things better.

You recently received a Google Award for the proposal you co-wrote with Angela Smith from UT Austin, “Transforming Theory Into Practice: Eliciting Cultural Imaginaries and Design Thinking to Understand Black-Centered Design“. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, what is “Black-centered design?” What first steps should companies take to begin making their products more accessible to traditionally underrepresented groups?

“Black-centered design” was actually coined by Woodrow Winchester in his 2020 Fast Company article about moving design for Black Americans from the margins. Angela and I proposed a project where we would operationalize this approach to design by working with Black tech leaders and the communities they work with. But one of the things we’ve learned from some of the pre-project work is that listening is a huge first step that many companies miss. A lot of times communities know what they need and want to see, and as designers we have to put our ego and assumptions in the backseat to let communities lead us.

There has been much in the media lately about advances in AI. Will you give us an example of how a new AI application will impact one of the areas you are interested in?

I think “impact” only touches the surface. Right now, I’m really focused on considering how we can preemptively mitigate potential harms of AI for marginalized groups. Whether that be low-risk like automated systems being exclusionary and non-representative of certain identities, to systems being biased and targeting of certain groups.

What is an example of an effective tool in broadening the participation of underrepresented groups in computing that you would like to see expanded? (Broadening participation could include efforts to attract more underrepresented computing students, faculty, and technology designers.)

I think one example that I get particularly excited about is Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) and other programs that expose and introduce Black and Brown students to research careers and projects in HCI and computing. I think the more programs we see where students from underrepresented backgrounds can learn about HCI and design and see the application of these disciplines to the world around them that they interact with every day, the more some students will be given the space to define the ways they want to engage in this type of work.

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Christina Harrington is an Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s HCI Institute, where she is Director of the Equity and Health Innovations Design Research Lab. She also has a courtesy appointment in CMU’s School of Design. Her research addresses health and racial equity as well as new technologies to support the needs of historically marginalized groups. Harrington has presented her work at conferences including ACM CHI, CSCW, DIS, and various journals. She won Best Paper and Honorable Mention awards for her work on equitable participatory design with Black elders and Black youth. Among her volunteer activities with ACM, she was a General Co-Chair of the 2023 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability and Transparency (FAccT).

This year, Harrington was recognized with the Computing Research Association’s (CRA) Skip Ellis Early Career Award. The annual award is given to a member of a traditionally underrepresented group in computing who has made significant research contributions and has also contributed to the profession, especially in outreach to underrepresented populations.