In ACM Interactions Magazine: Comics as COVID-19 Response: Visualising the Experience of Video-conferencing

Art by Peter Wilkins; Editing by Ernesto Priego (2020)
Art by Peter Wilkins; Editing by Ernesto Priego (2020)

I am very happy to share that my article with Peter Wilkins, “Comics as COVID-19 Response: Visualising the Experience of Video-conferencing with Ageing Relatives” was published yesterday in ACM Interactions Magazine at

ACM Interactions is published bi-monthly by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the largest educational and scientific computing society in the world. Interactions is the flagship magazine for the ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), with a global circulation that includes all SIGCHI members. We are honoured our article (and comic!) will also appear in the print version of the magazine.

We worked on this article in response to the magazine’s Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic invitation.

I’d like to extend my gratitude to Alex Taylor, Daniela Rosner, Mikael Wiberg and John Stanik.

The comic we discuss in the article can be viewed, downloaded, shared and cited from figshare as:

Wilkins, Peter; Priego, Ernesto (2020): A Comic Visualising the Experience of Video-conferencing with Aging Parents During the COVID-19 Pandemic. City, University of London. Figure.

Who Are You and What Are Your Superpowers? Creating Student Trading Cards

This term I am leading a “supermodule” (undergraduate and postgraduate students combined) on User-Centred Systems Design. We had our first session on Monday morning first thing.

Sometimes we may underestimate the importance of ice-breaking activities and of getting to know each other at the beginning of a course/module. I feel like the increased costs of higher education have created a perception that any activities done in class that do not appear to be immediately related to the content of the lecture are a “waste of time”. However in order to make the most of an educational experience we need to attempt to design such experience by helping to create the circumstances that will allow students and staff to make the most of it.

It is hard to expect student engagement (their focused attention, participation via comments and questions, effective working in pairs or groups) if we haven’t made an effort to learn about each other (even if to a limited degree) and try to create an environment of trust. This trust will need to be developed over the term but we can begin to do that by making the time to introduce each other and to learn a bit more about our general and specific expectations.

Activities where students are asked to meet each other (let alone work with each other) can be very hard for different students for a plethora of reasons (I won’t go into those here). In my experience it does help if the activity introduces them to the skills and strategies that are included in the module’s learning objectives. It also helps if the activity is structured, rather than left to the students’ own devices (“talk amongst yourselves”).

Since the module I am leading provides an introduction to User-centred Design Activities, I aimed to fulfill various objectives in one through a “student trading card” creation ice-breaking activity.

The motivations behind the activity were:

  • To contribute to breaking the ice between students and staff through a dynamic, engaging activity
  • To prompt students to talk to each other in order to get to know each other better beyond those they already know
  • To help me as module leader to know my students’ needs better
  • To prompt students to reflect on the relationships between information architecture and layout, and between form and content- how the design of a template demands a particular type of data entry
  • To introduce students to qualitative data collection via an in-person interview
  • To prompt students to reflect on three personal and/or professional “superpowers” i.e. something they feel they are good at, prompting the rehearsal of positive thinking by focusing on diverse skills
  • To prompt students to reflect on a personal and/or professional “weakness” i.e. an area of activity, knowledge or skill they wish to improve

With this requirements in mind I designed the activity reusing a very basic blank “trading card” template, which I printed out copies of, to hand them out to students, one each. I also had extra A4 blank paper to hand out and pens in case they were needed.

I introduced the activity and provided a summary of the instructions on the screen as a slide:

Trading Card activity slide

While I introduced the activity I got students to reflect on where they thought each answer should go on the form. No one, for example, suggested the name should go in the bottom box- but there were different views on what the top left circle and top right rectangle could contain. By doing this we were already very loosely anticipating content we will see later in the course, such as hierarchical analysis and user research activities such as semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and data collection.

What we meant by “superpowers” and “weaknesses” had to be defined- things we felt we were good at and things we though we needed/wanted to improve. It was important to not constrain these too much, allowing students to reflect on their own views on what their three “superpowers” and one “weakness” could be and to feedback each other about them. For example often during the conversations “weaknesses” could be turned into superpowers under the right circumstances. The main thing is to focus on the positives and to instill a sense that improvement is possible.

It was great to see the students engaged with the activity and ended up collecting more student trading cards than the single one I initially anticipated. As we were pressed for time we did not follow up the activity by getting students to actually “trade” the cards as a way to then find the students they represented, nor did I encourage students to draw “profile pictures” of their interviewees (some students did this without being prompted to).

I asked volunteers to feedback on the activity. They shared they found it enjoyable, had met colleagues they had not met properly before. I asked them about what they had found challenging about the activity, and indeed they shared that some had found it way harder to think of their own strengths and easier to think of their own weaknesses… or easier to think of personal “superpowers” than strictly “professional” ones. Feedback agreed that students “felt better” once they had their own cards read back to them.  Some students regretted we had not had time to be more creative designing each other’s trading cards, adding illustrations, colour, etc.

We discussed how even those “superpowers” we ourselves could think of as not relevant to our professional practice could be easily transferred or useful to enhance it. I emphasised how they all had collected data from fellow participants using a standardised data collection template following a semi-structured interview, and that though this was an informal exercise giving us but a tiny glimpse of what talking to people for research purposes could be like, the module will go into detail on how to conduct user research using a range of practical methods. We also drew parallels between the trading card template and other user-centred design activities we will cover during the module, such as personas and wireframing.

What I wanted to do was to apply interaction design principles to the activity. As in that session we would cover usability and user experience, I wanted the activity to be enjoyable, fun, entertaining, motivating, aesthetically-pleasing and rewarding. The positive feedback from students during and after the lecture gave me an indication we might have achieved precisely that!

For this activity all you need is sheets of paper and pens- students can sketch their own templates. Unidrectional, hierarchical, non-dynamic classroom activities can be disempowering- and students of different educational levels (for example undergraduate and postgraduate) can feel apprehensive about their own skills,  and most of the times do fail to make students become protagonists (“heroes”) of their own stories, making them feel dependent on external guidance and afraid of taking independent decisions. Allowing a safe space to reflect on our individual abilities (“superpowers”), to see each others as heroes of our own stories, without forgetting about those areas we would like to improve, can hopefully provide an initial step towards greater student empowerment.

Inaugural meeting of the Comics, Games & Media Research Group & First Blog Post

Panel from “Traitors to the Earth”, Captain Science #1, November 150; pencils by Gustav Schrotter, edited by Adolphe Barreaux. Public domain.
Panel from “Traitors to the Earth”, Captain Science #1, November 150; pencils by Gustav Schrotter, edited by Adolphe Barreaux. Public domain.

We had the inaugural meeting of the City HCID Comics, Games & Media Research Group this week!

The Comics, Games & Media Research Group is dedicated to exploring the interconnections between interaction design and narrative media.

The Group’s membership is comprised by academic staff and research students at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design and the City Interaction Lab at City, University of London.

The group is particularly interested in narrative and speculative design activities that employ a variety of comics, games and related media as components of interaction design thinking.

The first session of the Comics, Games & Media Research Group took place on Wednesday 20th November 2019.

I have set up a blog for the group and made a first post to document our first meeting. More updates lined up.

I have copied and pasted the text of our first post below.

Launching the City HCID Comics, Games & Media Research Group

Photo of the inaugural meeting table on 2019-11-20 at 15.15.41

On Wednesday 20th November 2020 we held the inaugural meeting of the Comics, Games & Media Research Group at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design at City, University of London.

This is a busy time of the academic year and we had a quorum of 6 members of HCID, with the membership still being dynamic and open. We took the opportunity to discuss our expectations for the group, our respective backgrounds and interests in the domains relevant to the group and discussed the next steps.

The launching of this group follows the beginning of the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Project in partnership with the British Library, “UK Digital Comics: from creation to consumption” last month (there will be updates about that on this site soon).

Founded by Ernesto Priego and Stuart Scott, the Group is particularly interested in narrative and speculative design activities that employ a variety of comics, games and related media as components of interaction design thinking. (There will also be updates about that!)

The Group has clear objectives of research grant capture, developing scholarly outputs, and organising and hosting academic and enterprise events.

Stay tuned, for there will hopefully be more news soon.


New Publication: The Question Concerning Comics as Technology: Gestell and Grid

Still from Rear Window (dir. Alfred Hitchcock 1954). © 1954 Universal Pictures.
Still from Rear Window (dir. Alfred Hitchcock 1954). © 1954 Universal Pictures.

This week saw the publication of a new journal article coauthored by Peter Wilkins and yours truly:

Priego, E. & Wilkins, P., (2018). The Question Concerning Comics as Technology: Gestell and Grid. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. 8, p.16. DOI:

In glorious open access.

I have also deposited the article at the following open access repositories:

This article’s peer review and editorial processes were managed independently by Benoît Crucifix, Björn-Olav Dozo, and Aarnoud Rommens.

We are very grateful to the editors and peer reviewers for their rigorous, robust, extensive and thoughtful critical review and feedback, which enabled us to significantly improve the original submission into its present form.

We have had an overwhelmingly kind and positive response so far– thank you everyone for reading and for your feedback.



Documentary Film Screening: Paywall: The Business of Scholarship (2018)

Paywall documentary film promotional poster


In anticipation of Open Access Week 2018 (October 22-28 2018), we’d like to invite you to a free and public screening of the documentary film Paywall: The Business of Scholarship (dir. and prod. Jason Schmitt, 2018) at City, University of London, on Wednesday 17 October 2018 from 17:30.

This event is public and free but requires registration:


Trailer 1 for Paywall: The Business of Scholarship embedded below:

Watch this and other trailers for the film at

The screening will be introduced by Yours Truly and hopefully followed by discussion, either there or at the pub.

For other screenings at universities worldwide, keep an eye on the listings at

Presenting at HCID Open Day 2018: On Comics and Collaborative Art Practice as Human-Computer Interaction Methodology

The HCID Open Day 2018 is a mini conference on Friday 4th May run by the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design (HCID) at City, University of London.

The theme for this year will be ‘Beyond the Screen’ and will focus on designing non screen based interactions, exploring technology that has made the jump from science fiction into reality and how UX thinking can be used for more than just interfaces.

I will present at the HCID Open Day 2018 as part of the knowledge exchange and impact activities around the Parables of Care project. My presentation is titled Meaningful Patterns: Comics and Collaborative Art Practice as HCI Research.’

Recent research has explored the use of collaborative art practice as a Human-Computer Interaction methodology (Kang et al 2014 and 2018; Benford et al 2013; Brynjarsdyttir et al 2013). In this talk I will describe how the Parables of Care project is employing collaborative comics-making as a user-centred methodology as a means to collect and disseminate data, reflect, design and propose strategies for dementia care.

I worked in partnership with Dr Simon Grennan of the University of Chester, Dr Peter Wilkins of Douglas College, Vancouver, Canada, an NHS Trust, and colleagues from HCID, leading the team to produce Parables of Care, that uses comics as a medium to evoke the kind of de-structured and re-structured experience of time that is akin to dementia, to illness, ageing and caring.

Register here:

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Parables of Care is a project of the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design, City, University of London, The University of Chester, UK, and Douglas College, Vancouver, Canada.

Parables of Care can be downloaded as a PDF file, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, from City Research Online:

If you live in the UK you can request printed copies at no cost here.