November 24, 2014

Dr. Robert Woodbury awarded with SFU University Professorship


The purpose of Simon Fraser University’s University Professorship is to recognize senior scholars of distinction who are active participants in all aspects of their discipline and who currently hold the rank of Professor. 

The Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology would like to congratulate Dr. Robert Woodbury (Professor, School of Interactive Arts and Technology) and Dr. Ellen Balka (Professor, School of Communication) on being awarded with their University Professorships. Both professors’ research exemplify the connections between communication, art and technology.

Dr. Robert Woodbury’s current research spans computational design, visual analytics and sustainability. He seeks to understand how people work and how computers can help them be more effective. His vision is to create compelling computing aids that complement people in general and flexible ways and to show how such aids can be used in diverse situations. He does both basic and applied research. Both depend on designing, making and evaluating interactive systems for specific tasks. Knowledge is the product of his work, but implementations and their use are necessary prerequisites. Dr. Woodbury describes his work as “complementing the structure of human thought with interactive computation.”

Over the course of his research, the significance of his contributions are evident through over 200 peer reviewed and 100 other published works, over $6 million in research funding, numerous awards, and his continued dedication to fostering researchers and developing further research in his field. In computational design his book Elements of Parametric Design is widely recognized as a clear and concise guide to mastering the parametric design systems that are now widespread in practice. His numerous systems and articles on design space exploration show how computing can help designers to try out many new possibilities as they work. He aims for future design computing systems to be more like sketchbooks and less like the complex abstract tools that currently exist. In 2008, he was honoured simultaneously by two international computational design societies (Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture and the Association for Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia) with their peak awards. In visual analytics Dr. Woodbury and his team were awarded twice for the development of “CZSaw”, a tool which provides analysts new techniques for modeling and explaining their work. In his work in sustainable living he played leadership roles in the creation of two demonstration houses: North House, which received two professional awards and placed fourth in the 2009 Solar Decathlon, and West House, which was prominently showcased at a core celebratory venue of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The aim of both homes is to show leading practices in how to computationally support sustainable home design through the integration of models of occupant behaviour.

Dr. Woodbury’s current research focuses especially on new interaction techniques for working with many alternatives at once. He says “Fundamentally people work by searching a space of possibilities. We are actually ill-equipped for this task, being able to consider only a very few possibilities at once. Computing can help us by amplifying our innate abilities to sketch, remember and recognize new design ideas.” He works at all levels from a recent article on the basic mathematical machinery for generating designs, to his several current projects in new interfaces that use these “design machines” to enable new and creative design work.