The Cultural Research in Technology (CRIT) Lab, directed by Shaowen Bardzell, a faculty member in the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State University, is a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Interaction Design research lab that brings humanistic thinking to the design of interactive technologies; critiques interactive technologies with regard to their sociocultural impacts; and investigates users, use-situations, and technologies where culture is strongly implicated in the success of the technology.

Past and active HCI research topics include feminist HCI, care ethics and feminist utopian futuiring, women’s health, sustainable agriculture, ecological and environmental justice, aesthetic interaction, craft/DIY/hacking, creativity support, bottom-up innovation and tech entrepreneurship, research through design, critical design, design activism, design theory, domestic technology design, HCI for development (HCI4D), intimate and sexual interaction, and virtual world collaboration, among others.

Methodologically, we deploy a critical-empirical design research approach. That is, where possible we collect empirical data using established social scientific methodologies, including content analysis, ethnography, lab-based experimental studies, feminist methodology, and interview studies. We also make use of critical-interpretative strategies from the humanities, including discourse analysis, conceptual analysis, close reading, and social/ideological critique (e.g., feminist, Marxist, postmodernist). Both scientific and critical forms of knowledge production—used together in the same project where possible—-are leveraged for design insights, either to support the design of new systems and interaction or as critical design, probe, and/or research through design initiatives.

CRIT has contributed to the critical computing agenda in HCI for a decade. By critical computing we refer to research about, for, and through the design and use of interactive and digital technologies with a critical and humanistic perspective. This includes investigating the following:

  • Perceiving links between design materials and sociocultural consequences in a way that supports design thinking
  • Improving understandings of people’s subjective and social responses to experiences with technology by engaging with critical and cultural theory
  • Reworking of critical and cultural theory to facilitate their uptakes to computing researchers and interaction design practitioners
Nine critical designs, part of a collection entitled "persuasive anxiety."
Nine critical designs, part of a collection entitled “Persuasive Anxiety,” explore links between personal informatics, body anxieties, and surveillance.

Our research has created resources to support researchers, developers, business leaders, and designers in academia and industry to use humanistic ideas and methods to pursue their own work. Our work has helped diverse IT stakeholders to address gender-related injustices or missed opportunities, to think beyond technical functionality to their meanings in the lived world, and to advocate for IT policies that support such work.

To learn more about humanistic approaches to HCI, refer to our books: Humanistic HCI (Morgan & Claypool, 2015) and Critical Theory and Interaction Design (MIT Press, 2018).

Our work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Intel Corporation, One-to-One Interactive (a digital marketing company), the Mellon Foundation, the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation (Taiwan), Aarhus University (Denmark), and Northumbria University (UK).