The Beginning of SIGCHI and Ann Arbor

One story I’ve heard while talking to Professor Paul Green at the University of Michigan is about the formation of ACM SIGCHI. I knew that this is a venerable organization, but I didn’t know exactly when it started. Paul spoke about his recollection of events from 35 years ago, so an article written by Lorraine Borman, one of the founders of SIGCHI, helped pin down the dates.

Apparently, back in 1978, ACM SIGSOC (Social and Behavioral Computing) had a conference in the Washington, DC. According to Paul, they invited Al Chapanis as the speaker, who had the been the president of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) and was well known for his work in human factors and computer systems. In Borman’s article, she writes that “SIGSOC presented what may have been the first ACM panel presentation on the user interface at the ACM Conference… ‘People-oriented Systems: When and How?’” which Borman chaired.

ACM SIGSOC had planned for 200 people to show up at their conference, but instead something like 600 people showed up, including many human factors folks. After this meeting, some of the folks involved in it—specifically, the University of Michigan’s Greg Marks and Lorraine Borman—thought that they were on to something. They saw a connection between the computing people and the human factors people, so a group of people from the meeting, including Paul Green, met to talk about ways to continue the collaboration.

Thus, ACM SIGCHI was born, because ACM had the resources and the drive to pick up this new idea and run with it. Apparently, there is a story that HFES dropped the ball, so to speak, on bringing in the computing realm together with human factors, but it was more a matter that ACM had resources at the time and HFES did not.

It would be another four years before SIGSOC became SIGCHI in 1982. During this period of change, SIGSOC had a “very successful conference in May 1981 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which had as its focus Human Interaction and the User Interface.”

I had no idea that the University of Michigan played such a role in the forming of ACM SIGCHI.