Sarah Lim Wins Best Paper Honorable Mention at UIST

The recent CS Alumna has introduced a new technical approach for identifying the CSS properties that have visual effects on web pages.

Sarah Lim

Alumna Sarah Lim (Weinberg CS, 18') has been awarded a Best Paper Honorable Mention at the 31st ACM User Interface Software and Technology Symposium (UIST 2018). Her research paper (in collaboration with PhD alum Dr. Josh Hibschman, Prof. Haoqi Zhang, and Prof. Nell O'Rourke), titled, 'Ply: A Visual Web Inspector for Learning from Professional Webpages' was presented at the event, held October 14-17 in Berlin, Germany. View Lim's slides.

UIST is the premier conference on technical work in the area of human-computer interaction, and only six (out of 70) papers received awards. Ply is a novel system, which Lim designed to help novice web developers use their visual intuition to learn CSS and HTML by inspecting professional webpages. She introduced a new technical approach for identifying the CSS properties that have visual effects on the page, which Ply uses to hide visually irrelevant code and surface unintuitive relationships between properties.

Lim recently graduated with a BA in Computer Science from Northwestern University, where she researched CSS inspection with her Advisor's Prof. Zhang and Prof. O'Rourke through the Design, Technology, and Research (DTR) program, while also peer grading algorithms with Prof. Jason Hartline. Her studies were generously supported by scholarships from Google, Microsoft, Palantir, Box, and Quip.

Lim is currently a software engineer and researcher in the Early Product Development group at Khan Academy, working on open problems in education technology. Previously, she interned at Microsoft Research Cambridge where she collaborated with Gavin Smyth and Sean Rintel on projects related to the future of work.

Her research interests span programming languages, human factors, and computing education. Lim's interested in programming languages as user interfaces: in short, how language design affects the way people think about and write programs. Within that space, she's particularly interested in the usability of static and gradual type systems, and the role of functional programming within computing education.

Paper Abstract: While many online resources teach basic web development, few are designed to help novices learn the CSS concepts and design patterns experts use to implement complex visual features. Professional webpages embed these design patterns and could serve as rich learning materials, but their stylesheets are complex and difficult for novices to understand. This paper presents Ply, a CSS inspection tool that helps novices use their visual intuition to make sense of professional webpages. We introduce a new visual relevance testing technique to identify properties that have visual effects on the page, which Ply uses to hide visually irrelevant code and surface unintuitive relationships between properties. In user studies, Ply helped novice developers replicate complex web features 50% faster than those using Chrome Developer Tools, and allowed novices to recognize and explain unfamiliar concepts. These results show that visual inspection tools can support learning from complex professional webpages, even for novice developers.

The ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) is the premier forum for innovations in human-computer interfaces. Sponsored by ACM special interest groups on computer-human interaction (SIGCHI) and computer graphics (SIGGRAPH), UIST brings together people from diverse areas including graphical & web user interfaces, tangible & ubiquitous computing, virtual & augmented reality, multimedia, new input & output devices, and CSCW. The intimate size and intensive program make UIST an ideal opportunity to exchange research results and ideas.