No matter whether mobile devices, ubiquitous computing, intercultural HCI, public interfaces, interactive art, experimental games, social computing, or robots and virtual agents: wherever new technologies disturb or merge situational norms and audiences, embarrassment is likely. As such, (fear of) embarrassment presents a fundamental adoption and engagement hurdle for any interactive system, but also a design space for experimental interfaces. Still, embarrassment has been a secondary research concern in HCI so far. To address this gap, this workshop convenes researchers, designers, and artists to assess and advance the state of the art of understanding and designing against and for embarrassing interactions.

Workshop Date and location

April 18, 2015, 9.00-17.15

CHI conference rooms at COEX, Seoul, Korea


Embarrassment is a basic self-conscious, social emotion that arises when a person perceives that she is perceived to have behaved inappropriately or incompetently relative to situational role expectations. Embarrassment is centrally involved in regulating social interaction, ensuring that individuals keep to situational norms and engage in repair and appeasement if they have broken them. It is closely linked to social anxiety or shyness – avoiding social situations out of fear that one may fail to meet situational expectations and thus, embarrass oneself.

Due to its rapid pace of innovation and change, human-computer interaction (HCI) is especially rife with embarrassment potential: Novel interactive technologies create new interactions, situations, and audiences with lacking, unclear, or even conflicting norms and role expectations. One prominent example for this is context collapse: because users can share information on social networking sites across multiple typically distinct audiences in which individuals typically enact different roles and identities (workplace, family, friends), embarrassing “miscommunications” are common.

Yet social networking sites are far from the only HCI arena where researchers observed embarrassment:

  • the novelty of and thus lacking situational norms and scripts for interactive art installations generate “visitor shyness”;
  • mobile telephony makes situationally inappropriate information accessible to bystanders, and leads callers to not appropriately regulate volume and content of their conversation;
  • the novelty of human-robot interaction makes it a frequent source of embarrassment; conversely, robots that signal embarrassment are perceived as more sociable;
  • online behavior tracking can lead to embarrassing targeted advertising displays and suggested content when others observe or use an individual’s browser;
  • many ubiquitous computing applications have users interact and user activity displayed in public, assuming and requiring extrovert users, disregarding shy users afraid of embarrassment;
  • on-body and erotic interfaces are so novel and intruding on social norms of personal space and intimate behavior that they require special design to ameliorate embarrassment;
  • novel experimental, pervasive and body games explore embarrassment as a positive design goal, following the rationale that “uncomfortable interactions” can have powerful artistic, educational, and political effects;
  • different cultural norms of face and face saving make (computer-mediated) intercultural communication and interactive systems travelling across (and ignoring) cultural differences a common site of embarrassment.

In short, wherever novel HCI systems create lacking, unclear, or clashing situational norms or publics, (fear of) embarrassment presents a likely source of negative experience and hurdle to engagement and adoption, but also a design space. Yet embarrassment has largely figured as a secondary research concern and surprising finding in HCI rather than as a subject of focused study. There has been no systematic attempt to bring together findings across domains, let alone focus on forms, conditions, or processes of embarrassment in HCI.

We therefore invite researchers, designers, and artists to jointly map the current state of research on embarrassment in human-computer interaction, and chart a future research agenda for its systematic study. Given that embarrassment is wound up in culturally shared social norms, and given that cross-cultural communication and technology use are a chief domain of embarrassing interactions, we see the location and theme of CHI 2015 as ideal to address the following questions:

  • What are causes, conditions, processes and forms of embarrassment in HCI?
  • How does culture affect embarrassment in HCI? What cultural differences in embarrassment affect system design and use, and how systems from other source cultures are adopted and used?
  • What are specifics of embarrassment in intercultural HCI?
  • How does embarrassment impede adoption of and engagement with interactive systems?
  • How can we mitigate (fear of) embarrassment as an undesired user experience?
  • How can we design for embarrassment as a desired experience in art, education, or activism?


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