Damien Masson wins two dissertation awards for outstanding HCI research

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Damien Masson (PhD ‘23) has received two prestigious dissertation awards: the Prix de thèse L'Association Francophone de l'Interaction Humain-Machine (AFIHM) and the Canadian Human-Computer Communications Society’s (CHCCS) Bill Buxton Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). 

For the past 50 years, the CHCCS has recognized outstanding Canadian researchers “who have made significant advances and contributions to the fields of computer graphics and human-computer interaction.” Their student awards include the Bill Buxton Award, named after a Canadian scholar who pioneered and promoted HCI research nationally and internationally. This award recognizes an exceptional HCI doctoral dissertation.

Damien presenting his work at GI 2024

Damien presenting his work at GI 2024, which took place in Halifax

The awardee will receive a plaque and a $3000 CAD bursary and is invited to present their dissertation at the Graphic Interface (GI) conference. This year’s conference was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia from June 3rd to June 6th, 2024.

The other award recognizes an AFIHM member with the best thesis in Interaction Humain-Machine (IHM, French for HCI). The recipient will receive an endowment of €500, which is about $740 CAD. They can also present their research at their annual IHM conference, which took place in Paris, France from March 25 to 29, 2024.

photo of damien presenting at the IHM conference; the background is a slide "ChartDetective"

Damien presenting his thesis at AFIHM 2024, which took place in Paris

“I cannot thank my supervisors enough for their support and nomination. I am truly honoured to receive these two awards. This is the culmination of more than four years of research on what I call "polymorphic documents," an idea I deeply believe in,” says Damien. “I was particularly excited about the opportunity to present my work to both the French and Canadian communities. Considering some of my thesis work was published at virtual conferences due to COVID, it felt like a second chance to present my work in person. Both times, it led to the creation of many new connections.”

Damien is being recognized for creating novel interactive technology, which can solve several long-lasting problems in HCI and inspire new research endeavours.

“Damien’s dissertation not only contributes significant new knowledge to the field of Human-Computer Interaction, but the techniques he developed are eminently practical now, both in terms of usefulness and deployment— something most dissertations do not achieve,” says Damien’s co-supervisor Professor Daniel Vogel, who also received the Bill Buxton Award in 2010. “The innovative knowledge and potential for real impact already make Damien’s dissertation outstanding, but it is also the high level of research innovation, exceptional methodological rigour, and beautiful visual and written presentation that make his dissertation truly stand out.”

About Damien's thesis

Damien’s thesis could transform how we create and access digital documents including research papers, instruction manuals, essays, or reports.

Although many spaces like academia or corporate have gone virtual, many digital documents are tailored towards printing. Printed paper has a fixed layout, format, and style, making it harder to include dynamic and interactive content, such as graphics or live demonstrations. This lack of accessibility can hinder the user experience. For example, many users including machines struggle to understand research papers because the data is conveyed in long text, or its illustration is too complex. Even if the document includes visualizations, it may not satisfy a person’s preferred learning style. Unfortunately, the burden of creating interactive documents falls on the authors: they must be knowledgeable in complex software or spend hours developing engaging content.

Instead, Damien proposes “polymorphic documents.” These are digital documents where the user can change its design to better understand the information— without any interference from the author. Its name is derived from the Greek term polymorphic, which means “having multiple forms”. Damien’s thesis presents four types of interactive documents: Charagraph, Statslator, ChartDetective, and Chameleon. These tools were based on several cognitive theories and principles such as self-determination theory and multimedia principle.


This annotation tool­ allows users to identify and convert data-heavy text into visualizations like graphics or charts.

 when a user highlights text and select datapoints, a bar chart is then created

After selecting the text, a popup menu will appear and allow the user to choose different group of values that can be transformed into a chart | Credit: Damien Masson

In one user study, participants had to answer six data-related questions using text and Charagraphs. When participants used the latter, their answers were more accurate. They felt that Charagraph was highly beneficial, citing lower mental demand, effort, and frustration.


Statslator can translate information containing statistics into any presentation style like effect sizes and charts. This innovative tool can benefit readers with unique learning styles without compromising the author’s complex research.

photo of statslator interface. Left side is a scientific repott. Right side is the statslator interface, which is creating tables and dot plots for the user

The left side is the original report. The right side is the Stratslator interface, which is converting the report into various layouts like tables and dot plots. 


Some research papers don’t include all data points, which could confuse the reader. Fortunately, ChartDetective is a data recovery tool that can extract data from existing charts to create new ones.

Damien led several user studies and experiments to test ChartDetective’s usability. Within minutes, participants could easily extract data from complex charts. Moreover, this data was highly accurate. With a usability score of 90, ChartDetective can change how we share and retrieve data.

 a table format, a two line graphs

ChartDetective (middle) has three views: the Chart View (right) showing the original chart; the Data Table (top left) which shows the data values, and the Reconstructed Chart (bottom left), which is the user-generated chart | Credit: Damien Masson

A research paper on ChartDetective earned the Best Paper Award at the 2023 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI)— one of the top-ranked conferences in computer science and the world’s premier HCI conference.


Chameleon can easily create engaging and dynamic documents using the power of computer vision. It uses feature algorithms to analyze a document for static content and replace it with interactive and animated figures like videos, demos, and data figures. 

A video demonstrating Chameleon | Credit: ACM SIGCHI

While the previous tools are designed for PDF files, Chameleon supports all document types like eBooks and Microsoft Word. For example, a presenter can add a live demo to their PowerPoint, without leaving the presentation mode.

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