Erik Vinkhuyzen

UX researcher 

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Work Experience

Alliance Innovation Laboratory -- Silicon Valley

Senior Researcher & Manager / September 2015 - now

At AIL-SV, formerly Nissan Research Center, I joined Melissa Cefkin and Gitte Jordan, both from my IRL days to work on social aspects Autonomous Vehicles. The organization was run by Maarten Sierhuis, whom I also knew from an IRL project with NYNEX; it is a small world. For some time, I worked on the Intention Indicator (or e(xternal)HMI), a concept that arose out of the concern for the challenges Autonomous Vehicles may pose for other road users. If a pedestrian is approaching an intersection and a vehicle without a driver arrives at the same time how could the pedestrian be sure that the AV would stop and indeed remain stopped to let her cross? As part of this research I did some work with a colleague at UCSD in which she drove a regular car but was disguised as a car seat (she constructed the suit from a seat cover, and used the same to cover the passenger seat). Interestingly, it turned out that most people did not even notice that there was no driver. This experience led me to the notion of "normal traffic assumptions," the idea that when people encounter other road users, they trust that those other road users see and experience the world in the same way they do. This is a basic assumption shared among human road users, and indeed it is the very foundation of our behavior on the road, and the root of our sense of safety on the road. Moreover, and ironically, although our experiment with the seat-suit demonstrated that people will assume the same about a vehicle without a driver, Autonomous Vehicles do not share the human experience of the world, they work on entirely different principles. Encountering an AV might be usefully compared to encountering a deer on the road: you know they are quite capable, but you also know they do not understand the world in the same way we do. So when a driver encounters a deer, they slow down. But when people see an AV, which looks much like another vehicle, they won't make this assumption. Aside from the work on the intention indicator, I also conducted numerous observations of drivers and driving in various international settings, to examine if cultural differences in driving needed to be accounted for in AVs. I also conducted a number of experiments evaluating different HMIs developed for AVs.

Xerox PARC

Principal researcher / 1999 - 2015

At PARC I worked in the Systems and Practices Laboratory led by Johan de Kleer, and later the Computing Sciences Laboratory led by Teresa Lunt and conducted numerous studies of people using technologies in a wide variety of settings. I observed people working in call centers, copy shops, service technicians, train depots, network engineers, administrative assistants, folks working in finance, and many others. In most cases we collected a lot of naturalistic video data. Depending on funding, these projects ranged in length from a few months to a few years.
For instance, the work we did with Kinko's in the early 2000s. We worked with several local stores and even worked as Kinko's employees some days to experience the work at the counter and at the self-service copy machines. Then we filmed the stores and its customers for two consecutive days with as many as 7 cameras simulataneously. It made for a facinating dataset of a detailed work of a service business. Our group did some wonderful research into interactions between employees and customers, as well as on the practices of copier operators.
Another stand out experience was three years I spent in Tokyo working on a project with the Software Integration group of Fujitsu. Aside from the interesting work, it also gave me a great appreciation for the Japanese culture and dedication to their work. My great local colleagues there, Nozomi Ikeya and Yutaka Yamauchi instrumental to the success of the project; I learned to speak some Japanese, although never enough to manage at work without my splendid translator Okuyama-san.
For a few years I observed the operations in a Native American Healthcare clinic in Northern California that was transitioning from paper records to Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). I became friendly with many of the doctors, nurses and back office personnel (Medical records, billing) and attained in-depth knowledge into the workings of a healthcare clinic and its interface with healthcare payers, and the various technologies healthcare workers use. I made several podcasts based on this work, which I will link to below.
My colleagues at PARC, Marilyn Whalen, Jack Whalen, Peggy Szymanski, Robert Moore, Geoffrey Raymond and were all experienced researchers in the field of Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysts, and I think back with great fondness to the team we had, and all I learned from them. Geoff introduced me to his advisor at UCLA, Manny Schegloff, whose class "Conversational Structures" class at UCLA I attended for two semesters, a mind altering experience; I feel so fortunate to have learned from the master. Manny himself told his cohort of students a few weeks into th course: "You are different people now". I could not agree more.


Researcher / 1998 - 1999

For a wonderful year, I worked at NASA Ames with Bill Clancey in the Human-Centered Computing lab at NASA Ames for a year, and conducted research with the Flight Dynamics Officers in NASA's Mission Control with Valerie Shalin, and at the TRACON facility in Fremont. We filmed the FDOs in Mission Control, and collected fantastic data. I wrote a report about the usage of the Voice Loops system, and designed an alernative interface for it. I would have stayed at RIACS gladly, but Marilyn Whalen offered me a job at Xerox PARC where she was starting a new group of social scientists, and that was too tempting.

Institute for Research on Learning

Researcher / 1994 - 1999

I moved from Zurich to the Bay Area to join Bill Clancey at IRL, a Xerox PARC spin-off, with a strong group in the social sciences. While I started as an AI researcher, I transformed myself into an ethnographer. Fortuitously, I was hired on the same day as Jack Whalen and he and Marilyn Whalen taught me much about doing video ethnography. Moreover, Jack had a keen interest in technology and the impact on work places, which is just what I wanted to study for my dissertation. Under the guidance of Marilyn & Jack Whalen, Bill Clancey and Jim Greeno, all at IRL, I wrote my dissertation "Expert Systems in Practice", based in part on data collected during the projects we did at IRL, specifically a long project with a Xerox call center in Lewisville Texas where service call takers were using a Case-based reasoning system, and later studying an expert system developed at Xerox PARC for Xerox service technicians.
Projects at IRL were often more focused on organizational changes and development (institutional learning), and their outstanding cadre of scientists, many of them social scientists, created an delightful intellectual environment.

Video Podcasts

As stated, I use videos for my research, and include videos in all my presentations. A frustration I have with academic papers is that, at best, you can include a picture from the video here and there, whereas I prefer to give people a chance to look at the video themselves. Also, who reads academic papers any more. So I started making short video podcasts some 10 years ago. Video podcasts allow me to illustrate my points by including video data from the field. The production quality of these podcasts is somewhat questionable (I like to think that there is an upward trend), but I stand behind the content and the analytic points I was trying to make, even if the editing could be better. Below is a sampling of podcasts in different themes.

Social Robotics

While I worked at Xerox PARC, I led a project with the Honda research institute in Mountain View to help them with their Asimo robot, which they had programmed to play memory (I know playing memory against a computer does not really seem that fair of a contest; indeed Asimo won almost all the time). Asimo could not actually turn over the cards, so it had to ask its opponent to do that for him. The children found the experience less than compelling, and we were asked to do some studies of naturalistic memory games 'to find out what makes the game fun for kids'. Here is a brief podcast about the project.

Call centers

From the early days of my career as a workplace ethnographer I spent a lot of time in Call centers, it seems. Marilyn Whalen always spoke of call centers as listening posts for an organization. Many organizations have more customer contacts through their phone center than they do in any other way, and the issues that customers call about should not just be handled interactionally by the employees of the call center, it could be valuable information for the organization to understand how well they are doing with their customers. In one call center many of the calls were customers complaining about being locked out of their accounts after they had been sent passwords in the mail. That clearly proved to be a bad roll-out.

I enjoy call centers, but the work can be stressful, as customers can be unpleasant, especially in a service center. In one of Xerox's call centers we studied in the mid 1990s there was a group that did "Outbound Collection" and these folks had a hard job, as they would often have to tell the clients that they needed to pay up if they wanted to continue to receive service on their copiers. And customers would often yell at them and be abusive. So they had a decompression roon, where the employees would go to recover after particularly unpleasant calls. Irate customers is one of the more unpleasant aspects of these jobs (low pay is another). Whenever a representatives of the call center in Saint Petersburg, FL took a call and the customer started yelling, they had a practice of going on mute and switching the call to speaker, so everybody could listen, and have a laugh at the customers expense as they yelled. Sharing the experience like that made it easier for the call takers to deal with the unpleasantness. Our conversation analytic research of call center interactions always focused on a sequential analysis of the turns, and turn design to see if we could find ways in which the interaction might be improved. Here is a brief podcast about empathy.

Call openings and closings have been of interest to Conversation Analysts since the very beginning when Sacks and Schegloff did their pioneering research. When we were working in the Xerox service call center in Texas there were two openings that were used. Some opened with the generic offer: "Thank you for calling Xerox service, this is Johnnie, how may I help you today". Then the customers would tell them what is wrong, and then the call taker would need to find an opening to ask "May I have your serial number please?" because without the serial number of the machine they could not do anything. The other folks would answer with a request: "Thank you for calling Xerox service, this is Carlos, may I have your serial number please". Most of the time that resulted in the customers giving their serial number, which was efficient, as then the call taker could open their screen, verify that they had the right customer ("Bank of Texas?") and then ask "and how can I help you today" the answer to which they could directly type into the system. So it was more efficient most of the time, unless the customer did not know they needed to produce their serial number, and the opening could get a little awkward. Here is a brief podcast on Call closings:

Medical Work

I spent a few years doing research at a native American healtcare clinic in Northern California. It was a really nice experience, and I got to know the staff of the various departments: medical records, administration, billing, the on-site pharmacy, the doctors and nurses, and management. The research concerned the transition from paper records to electronic medical records (EMR) system; I wanted to understand the impact this had on the various jobs in the clinic.
The transition was difficult, of course, but with plenty of complaints everybody adapted. The advantages of EMRs are obvious, but paper has its strengths too. Jobs changed, and the work and staff in Medical Records shrunk, but at the same time the workload for nurses and physicians grew. From a pure efficiency point of view, paper charts had undeniable advantages, even if going back is unthinkable. While this material is now a bit outdated, the theme of how new technology impacts a workplace is pretty timeless.
Here is a podcast that discusses some of the differences between EMR and paper charts.

Here is a brief podcast highlighting why paper charts are often a lot more efficient for doctors than the Electronic Medical Records.

And here is a long podcast on healthcare billing.

Here is one on Electronic medical records and patient safety.

Here is a podcast on double charting.

Autonomous Vehicles and Human driving practices

I have done a lot of studies of human behavior on the road. I began with studying intersections captured from static cameras in the corners. I also studied drivers, whom I filmed from inside of a vehicle. I also did some filming with a camera mounted on the handlebars of my own bicycle. Much of this research was done locally, but some of it was done in different places across the globe. I also studied In the analysis, I have focused a lot on the difference between the experience of human road users and the "experience" (if you can call it that, which you should not, actually) of an AV. Here is a long podcast on these differences.

Continuing on the same theme, here is one in which I try to highlight what is required when road users interact on the road, awareness of self and others.


2016 Risto, M., Emmenegger, C., Vinkhuyzen, E., Cefkin, M., Hollan. J. Human-vehicle interfaces: the power of vehicle movement gestures in human road user coordination. In Proceedings of the Ninth International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training and Vehicle Design. Pp.186-192

2016 Vinkhuyzen, E., & Cefkin, M. Developing Socially Acceptable Autonomous Vehicles, Proceedings of EPIC 2016, Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (Aug 29 - Sep 01), Minneapolis, MN.
2013 David, G., Vinkhuyzen, E. Medical Records dynamic nature: If it isn’t written down, it did not happen. And if it’s written down it might not be what it seems. Journal of AHIMA, pp.32-5

2012 Vinkhuyzen, E, Plurkowski, L., David, G. Implementing EMRs: Learnings from a Video Ethnography, Proceedings of EPIC 2012: 210-223.

2011 Plurkowski, L.; Chu, M.; Vinkhuyzen, E. The implications of interactional ‘repair’ for human-robot interaction design. in Proceedings of the Web Intelligence and Intelligent Agent Technology Conference (WI-IAT); Lyon, France. IEEE Computer Society; 2011; 61-65.

2011 Vinkhuyzen, E., “Interactions at a reprographics store.” In Szymanski, M. & Whalen, J. “Making Work Visible: Ethnographically Grounded Case Studies of Work Practices,” Cambridge University Press, pp.205-24.

2011 Vinkhuyzen, E., & Ikeya, N. “Rethinking how projects are managed: Meeting communication across the organizational hierarchy.” In Szymanski, M. & Whalen, J. “Making Work Visible: Ethnographically Grounded Case Studies of Work Practices,” Cambridge University Press, pp.312-23.
2007 Vinkhuyzen, E., & Whalen, J. “Expert system technology in work practice: A report on service technicians and machine diagnosis.” In: Orders of Ordinary Action. Edited by Hester, S. & Francis, D. Ashgate, Aldershot, U.K.

2007 Ikeya, N., Vinkhuyzen, E., Whalen, J., Yamauchi, Y. “Teaching organizational ethnography.” In the conference proceedings of EPIC 2007 the third international Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, Keystone resort, Colorado, USA.

2006 Vinkhuyzen, E. Whalen, M. & Szymanski, M. “Security, efficiency, and customer service in calls to a financial services organization” in Revue Francaise de Linguistique Appliquee (French Journal of Applied Linguistics) XI-2: 53-68.

2006 Szymanski, M.H., Aoki, P., Vinkhuyzen, E., & Woodruff, A. “Organizing a Remote State of Incipient Talk: Push-to-talk Mobile Radio Interaction.” in Language in Society: 35(3).

2004 Vinkhuyzen, E., Szymanski, M., Moore, R.M., Raymond, G., Whalen, J., Whalen, M.R. “Would you like to do it yourself? Service requests and their non-granting responses.” In: Applying Conversation Analysis. Edited by Seedhouse, P., & Richards, K. MacMillan, Basingstoke, U.K.
2003 Whalen, M.R., Whalen J., Moore, R.M., Raymond, G., Szymanski, M., Vinkhuyzen, E. “Analyzing Workscapes.” In: Discourse and Technology: Multimodal Discourse Analysis. Edited by Levine, Ph. and Scollon, R. Georgetown University Press, Washington D.C.

2003 Vinkhuyzen, E. Book review: People in Control: Human Factors in Control Room Design. Computer Supported Cooperative Work 12(1): 127-131.

2000 Whalen, J., & Vinkhuyzen, R.E. “Expert systems in (inter)action: Diagnosing document machines problems over the telephone.” In: Workplace Studies: Recovering work practice and informing design. Edited by Luff, P., Hindmarsh, J., Heath, Ch. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK

1994 Vinkhuyzen, E. & Verschure, P.F.M.J. “The legacy of Allen Newell: A review of ‘Unified Theories of Cognition’”. American Journal of Psychology. 107, 3, 454-464.

1994 Almassy, N., & Vinkhuyzen, E. Evolution of adaptive behavior in dynamic environments. In: Intelligent automation and soft computing: Trends in research, development and applications. Edited by Jamashidi, M., Nguyen, C.C., Lumia, R., & Yuh, J. (pp. 419-424). TSI Press, Albuquerque, NM.

1993 Hofmann, H.F., Pfeifer, R., Vinkhuyzen, E. “Situated Software Design.” In: Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Software Engineering and Knowledge Engineering, June 1993, San Francisco.

1992 Pfeifer, R., Hofmann, H.F., Vinkhuyzen, E., Rademakers, Ph. “Problemlösende Systeme: Implikationen für Validierung”, Zum Beitrag: Verifikation oder Überprüfbarkeit. KI 6(4): 71-73

1992 Vinkhuyzen, R.E. “On the Non-existence of Knowledge Level Models.” In: Proceedings of ECAI’92. Edited by Neumann, Vienna.

1991 Reinders, M. Vinkhuyzen, E., Voß, A., Akkermans, H., Balder, J., Bartsch-Spörl, B., Bredeweg, B., Drouven, U., van Harmelen, F. Karbach, W. Karssen, Z. Schreiber, G., Wielinga, B.J.: A Conceptual Modelling Framework for Knowledge-level Reflection. AI Communications. 4(2/3): pp74-87.