Designing Social Interfaces for Serious Applications

Meeting date: April 14  – 6:30PM

Timothy Bickmore Ph.D.
Timothy Bickmore, Ph.D., Associate Professor, College of Computer & Information Science, Northeastern University
  • Dr. Bickmore will discuss his research on  Relational Agents: computational artifacts designed to build long-term social-emotional relationships with their users
  • Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 6:30pm
  • Behrakis Hall, Room 10 (basement), Northeastern University, 30 Leon Street, Boston


The vast majority of UIs are designed to support instrumental tasks, with efficiency and learnability the primary metrics of design quality. However, many studies have shown that users also respond to our UIs at a social level, treating the interface itself as if it were a social being. Early attempts to capitalize on this phenomenon did not meet with unqualified success (remember Microsoft Bob, or the Office Assistant?). In this talk Dr. Bickmore will introduce a class of applications and a number of user populations for which social interfaces have been demonstrated to work significantly better than more traditional UIs, in serious domains beyond mere entertainment in which users’ lives may be at stake. He will also discuss a series of efforts to manipulate a particular dimension of interface sociality–the user’s perceived social relationship with the UI–and how this can be used to an application’s advantage. I refer to the resulting artifacts as “relational agents”, and the relational dimension of primary interest as the “therapeutic alliance”, which is the trust that a user has in achieving a desired outcome with the UI.

Relational agents have been used in a range of applications in which either the user population has low reading, health, or computer literacy, or in which long-term trust relationships
are important in human-human interactions, such as in education, health counseling, psychotherapy, and sales. Most of the work in my lab over the last decade has been in healthcare, in which we use relational agents to engage patients–especially those from disadvantaged populations–in long-term health interventions.


Timothy Bickmore is an Associate Professor in the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern University. Dr. Bickmore’s research focus is on the development of Relational Agents: computational artifacts designed to build long-term social-emotional relationships with their users. These agents have been deployed within the context of behavior change interventions in which they are designed to establish therapeutic alliance relationships with patients in order to maximize health intervention outcomes. Prior to joining Northeastern, Dr. Bickmore was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Bickmore received his PhD from the MIT Media Lab.

Evening Schedule

  • 6:30 – 7:00 Networking over pizza and beverages
  • 7:00 – 8:30 Meeting
  • 8:30 – 9:00 CHI Dessert and more networking!

Monthly Sponsors

Thank you to our generous sponsors. If you’re interested in sponsoring BostonCHI, please let us know.

Northeastern University is hosting us and providing pizza.


Vitamin T will be sponsoring dessert


Getting there

Detailed (large) map:


This is accessible on the T by the Orange Line at Ruggles Station, or the Green Line (E) at the Museum of Fine Arts stop.

The closest NU parking garage is the West Village Parking garage.
The Renaissance garage is also very close (just walk thru Ruggles station).
The MFA garage is also an option – 3 blocks away. There is also metered parking all around the university (e.g., on Forbes, and around the MFA).