Professor Ann Blandford

Professor of Human Computer Interaction, University College London

Designing for SPECIal people: the role of HCI in delivering digital health technologies that are usable, useful and used

Digital health technologies are often promoted as a solution to the challenge of improving citizens’ health and wellbeing while reducing care providers’ costs. For example, “big data” is going to deliver insights and solutions for rare diseases and chronic conditions; stratified (or personalised) medicine is going to transform cancer treatments; and people will be empowered through better information and behaviour change to self-manage effectively. In reality, progress is slower than many expect, and outcomes are less compelling. In this talk I will explore some of the reasons behind this expectation-outcome gap and highlight roles for HCI in developing and deploying digital health technologies that make a difference in practice. I will draw on case studies that highlight the need to understand people’s Social, Physical, Emotional, Cognitive Individual (SPECIal) situations – i.e., the many factors that shape whether and how people use health technologies. I will highlight roles for theories and for a variety of methods in understanding and designing for the realities of delivering usable, useful and used digital health technologies.


I am Professor of Human-Computer Interaction in the Department of Computer Science at UCL, and a member of UCL Interaction Centre (UCLIC, jointly supported by the Department of Computer Science and the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences). I was Director of UCLIC 2004-2011. In 2013, I was recognised as an academic role model in the School of Life and Medical Sciences, a testament to UCL’s support for interdisciplinary working. I am also a parent and a grandparent. In 2015, I was appointed as the first Director of the UCL Institute of Digital Health, and am a Suffrage Science award holder.

My first degree is in Mathematics, from Cambridge University, and my PhD is in Artificial Intelligence and Education, from the Open University. I started my career in industry as a software engineer, followed by a period managing the Computer Assisted Teaching Unit at QMUL. I gradually developed a focus on the use and usability of computer systems. In 1991, I joined the Applied Psychology Unit in Cambridge as a research scientist, working on the AMODEUS project. I moved to Middlesex University, initially as a lecturer, and subsequently as Professor and Director of Research in Computing Science. I moved to UCL as a Senior Lecturer in 2002 and became a professor (again) in 2005. My focus is now on technology for health and wellbeing.

I have been technical programme chair for IHM-HCI 2001, HCI 2006, DSVIS 2006 and NordiCHI2010. I chaired AISB (1997-1999), and was a member of the EPSRC Information and Communications Technologies Strategic Advisory Team (2004-2008). I was Vice Chair of IFIP Working Group 2.7/13.4 (2010-2013). I am a Fellow of the BCS and a member of the UK Computing Research Committee (UKCRC). Indeed, I am currently Chair of UKCRC (2016-18).