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ACPHIS Medal 2020 Winner - Dr Hussain Aljaroodi

Dr Hussain Aljaroodi was awarded the 2020 ACPHIS Medal after completing his PhD thesis titled "Human-centred Information Systems: Designing Avatars for Users from Arab Culture" at the University of Newcastle, Australia (UON).

​[ORCID: 0000-0003-3830-4176]

Supervisory team:

  • A/Prof Raymond Chiong (UON)

  • A/Prof Marc Adam (UON)

Link to thesis:

About the award winning thesis

This research explores avatar design aimed at being part of a user interface, which is human-centred and enhances user experience. Avatars here refer to images or digital representations of users or computer agents in an online environment. We first carry out a comprehensive review of the relevant literature to investigate and synthesise findings related to avatar design. Through the review, we develop a theoretical framework to capture commonly investigated constructs, interaction types, application domains, and design considerations for digital representations. We also identify the knowledge gaps and establish our research objectives.

Based on the established research objectives, we conducted two qualitative studies exploring avatar design in the context of health applications. To derive avatar design guidelines, we adopted a co-design approach, which involved stakeholders in the design process. For the first study, we focused on empathic avatar design for stroke rehabilitation in a culturally neutral manner. Here, empathic design refers to paying attention to users’ needs and building an emotional relationship between users and avatars. This study was rooted in behaviour change theory to engage stroke survivors. For the second study, we focused on designing avatars for Arab culture by creating a health scenario that provided a context for participants’ responses. Here, in designing avatars, we considered the expertise of stakeholders who have experience with Arab culture. This study was based on social response theory, which posits that humans behave socially to computers. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that Arab culture has been considered in developing design guidelines for avatars comprehensively.

Based on the design guidelines developed in the second study, a set of 12 avatars covering the dimensions of culture, gender, and clothing were designed. For the Arab avatars, we additionally considered Arab cultural markers, which involve design elements prevalent within Arab culture. Then, we investigated the appropriateness of avatar design, i.e., the extent to which an avatar was perceived as culturally appropriate to Arab culture. We collected data from Arab users through an online questionnaire to test our research model and hypotheses. This study broadens our understanding of the influence of cultural appropriateness. Our findings reveal that Arab avatars yield higher cultural appropriateness, which, in turn, is associated with higher trust and usage intention.

This research as a whole enriches our understanding of avatar design, as it explains why involving users in the design of avatars can provide a heightened user experience. The findings reveal that including design considerations that match the context, address users’ needs, and reflect users’ culture can provide better human–avatar interactions. Our work emphasises the importance of empathic elements and cultural markers in achieving human-centred design. The research adds to the existing knowledge base through the development of design guidelines that assist designers create more suitable avatars. The research also offers a deeper understanding of how avatars that are culturally appropriate can improve usage intention. It provides designers of user interfaces with a better understanding of how to design avatars for health applications in Arab culture.


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