Dr. William Odom in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.


Postdoc Profile: William Odom, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow

September 15, 2015

Congratulations to Dr. William Odom, recipient of a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship of $70,000 per year for two years to support his research at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, SFU. Dr. Odom is one of five Banting Fellows at SFU in 2014–15.

Dr. Odom studies human-computer interaction design, a field which is concerned with understanding and shaping human interactions with digital technologies for the better. Today, as computers and digital technologies continue to grow faster and more pervasive, they are intersecting with growingly diverse and intimate aspects of people’s everyday lives and practices.

For example, there are more opportunities than ever for people to use digital technologies to record, share, archive, and reflect on their life experiences. These kinds of activities play essential roles in supporting people to socially connect with others and to construct a coherent life story of past experiences and anticipated future events. However, people worldwide are beginning to experience unintended consequences of our always-on-and-available world.  

Dr. Odom says, "While current technological trends toward constant connectivity have opened up many benefits, they are also leading to wide-ranging experiences of overload and loss of control as people struggle to live with, manage, and make sense of the masses of digital content they now create and receive."

Dr. Odom’s ongoing research investigates how the ‘slow technology’ design philosophy can open up opportunities for creating new technologies aimed at supporting more deliberate, meaningful, and longer-term interactions with people’s digital content and the digital devices populating their everyday lives. He has explored the implications of slow technology throughout the course of his graduate studies.

His master's thesis design research project, entitled Personal Inventories: Toward Durable Human-Product Relationships, explored factors shaping why people become attached to some products and not to others in their homes. This project received the top prize in the CHI 2008 Graduate Student Research Competition and is featured in the popular design methods book The Universal Methods of Design.

Personal Inventories Project, William Odom

Since that early recognition of the significance and quality of his work, Dr. Odom has added more awards and recognitions to his portfolio, including a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to support one year of research and curriculum design in the then nascent Design Futures program at the Griffith University Queensland College of Art in Brisbane, Australia. During his doctoral research in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, he received 4 best paper awards at top-tier international conferences, and was also a co-investigator on two projects which received funds of $150k from Google Research and a third which received €300,000 from Vodafone Research. 

His latest slow technology project, the Photobox, which was conducted with researchers at Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon, received the CHI 2014 best paper award, was featured in over 25 press articles internationally, and recently exhibited at Ethnographic Terminalia in Washington, D.C. In the Photobox Project, a photograph is occasionally randomly selected from the user's Flickr stream and printed inside a European oak chest. The user had no control over what would be selected or when a physical copy would be manifested in the chest. Yet this lead to prolonged engagements with photographs among users, which was far longer than a handful of seconds that many people spend with most of their digital files.

Photobox Project, William Odom

At SFU, he will be working with Dr. Ron Wakkary, who has received over $6.5 million in external research funding since joining SFU in 2002. 

Dr. Odom says, “The ways in which technology intersects with people’s everyday lives is complex, situated, and always evolving. As designers and researchers, we need a diversity of perspectives to understand people’s experiences, struggles, and inventive practices with technology in order to create new interactive systems that can better support their values and desires over time.”

He adds, “Dr. Wakkary has an impressive track record of bringing a nuanced sensitivity to studying people’s everyday lives and using these observations to inform the development of elegant and novel interactive systems. The School of Interactive Arts + Technology as a whole is a rare example of a world-class group of academic researchers committed to embracing perspectives from multiple disciplines to create and study new technologies that are humane, innovative, and critically relevant on social, cultural, and ethical levels. I am humbled and thrilled by the opportunity to become the first Banting Fellow to join SIAT. I cannot imagine a better institutional context to nurture and develop my research program. I am eager to play a role in contributing to SIAT’s growth and visibility worldwide as a leader in human-computer interaction design.”

Recording of Dr. Odom's presentation at our Banting Postdocs Day event:

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