Portrait of John Tang

John Tang

Principal Researcher


I work in the Ability group in Microsoft Research that focuses on inventing novel and inclusive technologies for people with disabilities. My current research focus is on making video calling accessible. While the group is located in Redmond, WA, I work out of the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Center in Sunnyvale, CA. Thus, I not only research distributed collaboration, but also live distributed collaboration in my daily work. My research interests are focused on understanding the needs of users to shape the design of technology to support collaboration. I apply a mix of qualitative (video-based observation, interviews, surveys to collect user perceptions) and quantitative (usage logs) methods to understand how people currently use technology and how to design new technology to improve their work. I have a special interest in designing for accessibility, interfaces for distributed groups to enable sharing awareness information, and social networking to encourage coordinating contact, both at work and at home. I have also explored novel uses of video and audio to connect people both at home and in the workplace, and uses of live streaming. Previously, I worked on the Embodied Social Proxy (ESP) project. I was inducted as a member of the ACM CHI Academy in 2014.


I joined Microsoft Research in 2008. While I report into the neXus research group in Redmond, Washington, I work out of the Silicon Valley area in California. I continue to explore research to support distributed collaboration as well as understanding how users integrate across devices (work computers, mobile devices, home computers, etc.) to accomplish their tasks.

I have been a visiting lecturer for the CS247 HCI Design Studio at Stanford University since 2014. I was a visiting lecturer for the undergraduate Human Computer Interaction class (CS160) at the University of California at Berkeley in Fall 2007. Students developed Facebook applications as their class project.

I previously worked at IBM Research, starting in 2004. I worked in the USER group in IBM Research at the Almaden Research Center . I was part of the bluemail team that studied email usage in the enterprise, as described in a Google TechTalk in May 2008.

Prior to IBM, I was at Sun Microsystems, Inc. for 13 years, mostly in Sun Labs. When I worked in the COCO group (which stood variously for Conferencing and Collaboration or Collaborative Computing), I studied and helped design a desktop video conferencing prototype, which informed the design of the SunSolutions product ShowMe TM Whiteboard TM . After the COCO group moved into SunSoft, I worked on the Montage project, which provided a novel interface to desktop audio-video glances, and integrated computer-mediated communication tools into one interface. The design of Montage was informed by our experience using the desktop video conferencing prototype, and once we designed and built Montage, we deployed and studied how it was used in a distributed team at Sun. Then, the group worked on the Piazza project, which didn’t get fully implemented before we got re-organized into JavaSoft. At JavaSoft, I worked on the HotJava TM Views product–Java TM -based clients for e-mail, calendar, address book, and web browsing. My main interest was collecting end user and customer requirements to shape the design of future versions of Views. I also worked on a web-based interface for the administration package of Views. In 1998, I returned to Sun Labs on the Network Communities project, working with Nicole Yankelovich and Bo Begole. We were interested in applying technology to support distributed work groups. One project we worked on, SharedShell , became a Sun Services product offering. We also did research on enterprise versions of instant messaging and work rhythms based on temporal patterns of computer activity.

In 1998, I was also a guest researcher at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), working on the Manufacturing Collaboratory project.

Before joining Sun, I worked at Xerox PARC on a variety of tools to support shared drawing activity (VideoDraw, VideoWhiteboard, VideoCom, Liveboard). I collaborated with the Media Space group on many of these projects.

I received my B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in the Design Division of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stanford University. My dissertation focused on studying the conceptual design work of teams, leading to the design of shared drawing prototypes developed at Xerox PARC. I’m active in the research community, have contributed papers and served on ACM conference committees for the CHI and CSCW conferences, and am a member of the ACM CHI Academy.