Professor Dr. Alexander Mädche

Prof. Dr. Alexander Mädche, unser #DigitalMindKA des Monats März. Foto: netzoptimisten

#DigitalMindsKA – the people behind

The initiative arose with the collaboration of nine expert groups, over 25 institutions, and over 50 ICT companies. Together they pursue the vision for Karlsruhe to become a motor of digitalization – for competitiveness, quality of life and sovereignty and hence be a pioneer with regard to digital topics. a driver of digitalization It bundles expert knowledge, föpromotes networking and deals with topics holistically in order to actively shape the digital future of the city.

And there are people behind it. People who are committed, who are passionate about something and who use their time, their ideas and their expertise for precisely this reason. We want to make visible who these people, the digital minds, are. Once a month, we ask the Digital Minds what drives them and what visions they have.
In the eighth part of our series, we visit Alexander Mädche, head of the Human-Centered Systems Lab (h-lab) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

On a sunny spring morning, just as Karlsruhe’s city center is coming to life, we are on our way to our appointment with Alexander Mädche. The city shows its best side. A few minutes late due to the strike, we arrive at the building where Mädche’s office is located on the fifth floor, right next to TRIANGEL – a space for inspiration, creativity and exchange between science, business and society.

We are already expected at the entrance and are met by a member of staff. There is no other way, because without the necessary access card you can neither enter the building nor use the elevator. Two minutes later, we reach the light-flooded office of our interlocutor, whose large windows offer a view of the city. Completely absorbed in his work, he looks up as we enter. Despite the delay, we are greeted with a warm smile and are even offered a coffee. We have the choice between a sitting area and a standing conference table, but opt for the latter, as in our experience a more lively exchange takes place standing up.

We meet Prof. Dr. Alexander Mädche in his office, completely absorbed in his work. Photo: netzoptimisten
We meet Prof. Dr. Alexander Mädche in his office, completely absorbed in his work. Photo: netzoptimisten

The Human-Centered Systems Lab

As usual, we start with a question that we ask all digital minds: “What do you think of first when you hear Karlsruhe?” Sometimes it takes a while for us to get an answer to this question, but Mädche replies immediately: “To the KIT!” He explains that he came to Karlsruhe as a student to study industrial engineering – and at the time knew nothing about the city apart from the University of Karlsruhe, which is now the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). “For me, KIT is not just my employer, but the reason why I came to Karlsruhe in the first place,” he adds.

Alexander Mädche now heads the Human-Centered Systems Lab (h-lab) at KIT with a clear focus: putting people at the heart of technological development. “My studies in Karlsruhe attracted me to computer science early on, and I was already working on topics related to artificial intelligence during my doctorate,” he says.

How technology and people work best together

After a period at the FZI Research Center for Information Technology and valuable years in industry at Bosch and SAP, where he gained insights into the use and development of software, Mädche returned to the academic world. At the University of Mannheim, he took over the Chair of Information Systems and devoted himself to the question of how technological solutions must be designed to improve human-computer interaction.

“Our work here at h-lab focuses on how technology and people can best work together. We want to understand how these interactions work on a deeper level and what they do to us as humans,” explains Mädche. “Many companies still neglect this aspect – even though things like digital accessibility and a user-friendly interface also increase productivity and customer satisfaction.”

A challenge, but also an incredible opportunity

The h-lab uses technologies such as the measurement of biosignals, for example using eye tracking, to understand the effects that interaction with software or AI has on our attention and our emotions. “Of course, it also helps that we now have far more points of interaction thanks to wearables and other digital helpers.”

The aim of h-lab is to develop solutions that are not only efficient and useful, but above all adapted to human needs. “It is a challenge, but also an incredible opportunity, to design technology in such a way that it serves people and not the other way around. Ethical considerations also play a major role here, because we have to ensure that our developments serve the well-being of users.”


The fact that Mädche is passionate about the topic is also demonstrated by his involvement in the steering committee of and the founding of initiatives such as UIG e.V., which is dedicated to human-centric digitalization. Like, the non-profit association also acts as a transfer platform that networks business, science, culture and administration. “Our aim is to improve the user-friendliness and emotional design of digital products and services. We are not only concerned with raising awareness of the topic, but also with providing concrete knowledge and recommendations on how companies can implement human-centricity in their digital transformation.” Especially in a world that is increasingly characterized by digital technologies, it must be ensured that these technologies are accessible, understandable and usable for everyone.

Close cooperation

We take a sip of coffee and let our eyes wander around the room. The large windows provide a clear view of the urban canyons below, which are already bustling with activity. The green roofs that Mädche looks out onto from his desk form a pleasant, almost meditative contrast to the urban surroundings in the background.

Mädche follows our gaze over the rooftops of the city that has been his home for so many years. “The nice thing about Karlsruhe is the size of the city, which makes it possible for many of the players to know each other personally. This makes collaboration much easier and sets us apart from other locations. And then, of course, there is the cooperation between business, science, administration and culture, which makes many things possible in the first place.”

City Festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung”

What is he thinking about? For example, the City Festival “Bunte Nacht der Digitalisierung”, which is taking place for the third time this year – and which he believes is essential for raising awareness and involving the city’s population in digital topics. “Such events are extremely important as they provide a glimpse behind the scenes and, not least, enable participation. Normally, only a subgroup deals intensively with digitalization, but that’s not enough. If new technologies are to improve the lives of everyone, then we need to take everyone along for the ride – regardless of their social background or level of education.” This is precisely where Mädche sees the task of initiatives such as anchoring digital topics in the breadth of society.

Busy schedule

We take a look at the clock and realize that our appointment is almost over. But there is still time for a few photos. On the way to Mädche’s office, a room with a PC terminal and a colorful wall caught our eye – perfect for a few nice shots. When we enter it, Mädche explains that the “PC terminal” is actually a state-of-the-art eye tracker that can be used to analyze where people look when they are presented with different content on a website, for example. We pull out our camera and get going. Meanwhile, we talk to Mädche about his day-to-day work and want to know how he sees Karlsruhe in 30 years’ time. He smiles: “Do you really want to know? My day usually starts at 7 a.m. and is then full of appointments. As a professor at KIT, I then teach nine hours a week, do research in parallel and manage the h-lab with its 20 employees. In other words, my schedule is always full to the brim.”

Switch off in the garden

Looking to the future, Mädche is cautious when it comes to concrete forecasts for Karlsruhe, but he does have a specific wish: “I don’t feel competent to look into the future, but I would like Karlsruhe to become greener. Just a few more trees on the market square would be a start.” And so it comes as no surprise that Mädche prefers to switch off in his garden while watering his plants, as he tells us at the end of our conversation.

We thank you very much and say goodbye. This time we don’t take the elevator, but walk down the five floors through the open, circular staircase. Outside on the streets of Karlsruhe, you can feel the vibrancy of the city – and as we move away from the building, we think about human-centric digitalization, which unfortunately often gets far too little attention in the public debate.