Matthew Bietz

Helping People Use Data

Lecturer Matthew Bietz took a roundabout path to studying human computer interaction. His undergraduate degree is in cello performance and English, and he has a master’s in musicology. Thinking he would be a music librarian, he attended the School of Information at the University of Michigan to get a library degree. Instead, he earned a doctorate degree in HCI. Bietz now teaches courses on HCI and organizational information systems, including many project courses. “While I changed my major, the interest has always remained the same,” he says. “It’s about helping people find and use information.”

Building Empathy

“My teaching philosophy flows from trying to get students to think about the people at the other end of the systems they’re designing,” says Bietz. “So even as we’re deep in the weeds about what JavaScript function or mobile app framework you need, it’s about building empathy and understanding who’s on the other end of these systems.” He adds that this requires diversity in design. “We’re building a point of view into the technology, so it’s really important that we hear those different views,” he says. “We can’t do that if we don’t have a diverse and open space for creating that technology.”

Understanding Ethics

Bietz stresses that connected to empathy is ethics. “It’s not like a proof or a function, where it either runs or doesn’t, where it’s ethical or not,” he explains. “It’s about a process of understanding how we respect each other and balance the potential risks of the things we’re building with the benefits.” His work on Pervasive Data Ethics (PERVADE) considers how to adapt and adopt ethical codes for computational research. “Billions of people around the world are going to touch the thing that we design,” he says. “The scale means that little mistakes can have really big consequences.”

“Design is a way to help people; it’s a way to improve the world.”

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