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In Memoriam Richard A. Guedj

It was with great sadness that we received the news that Richard Guedj died on 4 March 2022.

For many in the computer graphics community, Richard rose to prominence in the 1970s through the two Seillac workshops, Methodology in Computer Graphics (1976) and Methodology of Interaction (1979). The workshops were organised by IFIP Working Group 5.2, CAD and Richard chaired the organising committees of both and played the key role in facilitating both. Proceedings were published by North-Holland in 1979. In the early 1970s the need for standards for computer graphics software was recognised by WG 5.2 and as a precursor to that the Seillac I workshop was set up to ‘create a methodology around which a standard could later be built’. The subsequent development of standards such as GKS and PHIGS has origins in this workshop. The participant’s list was a Who’s Who of computer graphics at the time. At the time, Richard was head of the Man-Machine Interaction group with Thomson C.S.F. France. The workshops were held at Hotel Le Domaine de Seillac, Odesia, in the Loire Valley, which afforded an excellent, secluded, working and living environment. As one might image, the food was excellent too, to the point that the daily menus for the Seillac II workshop were included in the proceedings.

Looking back at Richard’s position paper, ‘Some Methodological Remarks …’, the first paper in the proceedings, in a section entitled ‘Commandments and Guidelines’, Richard contrasts an analytical approach and a systemic approach. One phrase in his description of the latter struck a chord ‘proceeds by relation: focussing on interactions’. His fifth commandment was typically insightful ‘Make sure to clearly differentiate first in order to better integrate …’. There is something here that characterises Richard’s approach to computer science and perhaps life in general. Relationships are key, clarity of understanding is key. Through his chairmanship of these workshops, aside from technical achievements, he fostered working relationships and friendships between participants that have lasted a lifetime.

The Seillac II workshop addressed the topic that was perhaps at the heart of Richard’s scientific career, interaction between humans and computers. The goal was clear – to get a deeper understanding of the whole field and not just an increasing awareness of some aspects. In his opening paper he wrote ‘on a practical level, we might expect to collect some rules and principles that apply to the design of good interactive systems. We should not be satisfied with that. We must know why those rules and principles apply and why they should work’. That deep seated quest for understanding why things work was again a characteristic of Richard. He was not satisfied with the easy answers. He was, in a sense, always digging to find richer understanding.

Richard was fond of quotations, fond too of ‘simple’ illustrations. The chapters of the Seillac II book open with quotations from Muggles and Gummy from Carol Kendall’s book The Gammage Cup. For example ‘One wood mouse can nibble a large hole’. ‘A turtle should take fright at the sound of a boiling pot’ (at the head of a section on portability and device independence). Participants at the Seillac II workshop may well remember Richard’s use of French road signs to illustrate ambiguity in meaning, confusion between reading an instruction and a piece of information. He was generous in supporting his colleagues, though the story goes that at Seillac II he was rather more generous than he had intended for when he came to check out of the hotel rather too many participants had assumed that all bar drinks could be charged to his hotel room!

In a paper entitled ‘Better Human Machine Interaction – A tough and inescapable challenge’, published in Computer Graphics Forum in 1982, Richard posed two questions which are perhaps as relevant today as they were then. ‘Are we satisfied with present human-machine interaction techniques? What can we do to improve our understanding of human-machine interaction?’

Richard was born in 1934, in Constantine (Algeria). Richard graduated from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique in 1958 and continued his studies at Stanford University. He spent his early career working at Bull before doing research in voice recognition at ETL in Tokyo. He joined the Central Research Lab of Thomson-CSF in 1971 as Head of their Human Machine Communication Laboratory. After the two Seillac Workshops, Richard worked at SiGRID on VLSI design before moving to the Institut National des Telecommunications, (INT) as Dean for Research in 1989. As Scientific Director he was appointed to the Council of INT in 1997. A number of members of Eurographics will recall invitations to serve on an Advisory Board of the Institute.

Richard was amongst the first members of the Executive Committee of Eurographics in 1980, and served on the Programme Committee for the first conference organised by Eurographics in Geneva in 1980 and continued to serve for a number of years. His contributions to Eurographics and to human-computer interaction were recognised by election to Fellowship of the Association in 1997.

Richard made an annual visit to Bob Hopgood’s group at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Normally this took place in late November when his wife, Marie-Louise would accompany him and take great delight in scanning the bookshops for the latest children’s books and visiting the Victorian Christmas Market in Wantage. Richard made an extended visit to the Laboratory made possible by a Visiting Fellowship funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. He stayed in Abingdon and one special memory of that visit recalled by David Duce was a talk he gave to a small group of people in Abingdon on Japanese Life and Culture, reflecting on his experiences of living in Japan. Clearly these were the shared experiences of a man who cared deeply about the culture and philosophy of the country.

He did not neglect the needs of the wider population. In 2001, as a Research Fellow at Fraunhofer IGD Darmstadt, he published a paper entitled “Law and regulation to include elderly in innovations stream’, in which he argued that segments of the population, in this case the elderly, should not be aside in what he expressed as ‘the bandwagon of services coming with these innovations’. He considered universal access as a human right.

At a personal level, Richard was a truly inspiring person to be around, a person who cared deeply about relationships, about deep knowledge and understanding. Always challenging with his latest thoughts on the topics he was passionate about. To his wife, Marie-Louise, his two sons, a daughter and their families, we extend our sincere condolences. And to Richard, it has been a privilege and an honour to have known you and to have worked with you.

David Duce