As I’ve looked over my notes from Interaction11 (aka IxD11) back in February, it seems crazy to try and cram an overview into one post – but that’s never stopped me before.
For those arriving pre-conference, like my co-worker Caitlin and I, there were a variety of workshops available, so my IxD11 experience started in Sara Summers workshop on self-ethnography & creative thinking. She pointed out that the most interesting experiences usually aren’t planned, which can definitely be applied to our group project – developing a interface interacted with through smell. TechSmith’s April Fool’s Day joke bears remarkable similarity to the product we ended up with. I won’t share my suspicions about that here…
The conference proper started out with Bill Verplank’s keynote on design as a craft, which asked the questions of how do you do, feel & think? These three questions are ones that every interaction designer should take to heart when considering their work. Another of the many points he made was the difference between a path and a map. A path is more direct but a map is more engaging and thought provoking. Which one is best for your product/interaction?
Lightning Talks were all good but there were a few that stood out from my notes. One was Michael Meyer’s talk on empathy, core & proxy being the things we must cultivate to show that we should be the final arbitrators in design. Then there’s Carl Alvani’s talk on the importance of have external stories about our profession to develop evangelists and partnerships instead of people thinking we do ‘magic’. I also thought Peter Knoche had a great point in saying that though our lives are increasingly filled with consumption, which has never won an Emmy or written the great American novel. It rather puts things in perspective.
The next keynote I attended was Erik Hersman’s ‘Designing at the Edge of the World’ which kicked off an afternoon of interaction and culture. Erik was able to give insight into a communications system driven by phone numbers instead of email addresses and the growing technology of Africa as one who is a part of it. Then Susan Wyche shared about a study she was able to do as someone looking into the African culture which is more interested in deliberate interactions with the Internet than the immersion America has embraced. Ana Domb gave a new look at collaboration through the rise of Technobraga in Brazil while Carl DiSalvo brought things back stateside with research being done on small robots to help farmers.
So closed out day one. Well, actually a party closed out day one, but what else do you expect from 600-ish interaction people?
Design has no subject matter. That’s what makes this such a powerful discipline – we make our own subject matter.”
Day two started out with Richard Buchanan. He reiterated the questions of the previous day – Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going? – then he went on to give us a great lesson on interaction and our role in it as designers. He also gave us a definition of interaction that I very much like. Interaction, he said, is how people relate to other people through the mediatory influence of products. He also talked about that our work is about more than just the interaction. Something has to be accomplished through it. There’s so much more, but far too much to fit here.
One of my favorite bits from this round of Lightning Talks was actually from the Q & A, where we were told to be like Bruce Lee. He did not confine himself to one style of marital arts. Instead he found the parts that he was best at from each of them and used those. That’s how we should be with our skills.
Smudgeproof showed us the power of a small team & fast iterations. Kaleem Khan reminded us that design is not neutral. Lindsey Moore and Austin Brown showed how interactive design connects the digital & the physical. Steven Johnson who talked about the new pedagogy and how site IA is more like crabgrass than a family tree. He also is the one who said ‘it’s Dilbert’s world and we just ideate in it’. So true.
The afternoon was spent touring local design studios and drooling over their workspaces. More coordinated casual interaction closed out the day.
Is marketing evil? Sometimes.”
The last day started out not with a keynote but with the neuroscience of usability with Charles Hannon, who reminded us why patterns and metaphors are used as well as to think about how we think when designing. Adam Connor bridged the techno-entertainment gap to talk about using film making tools in interaction design like rack focus and beat sheets. Scott Geoffrey Newson brought interaction back to the physical work. Lest I forget, Josh Clark talked about the importance of finding a balance between being complex enough to be engaging and understandable enough to not frustrate people away.
Megan Grocki actually was also a part of this bunch, but I just have to say that for a talk I had not originally planned to attend it ended up being one of my favorites. This could be in part because I’m probably part of the metaphorical ‘choir’ on the subject, but I would suggest that anyone who works with marketing should watch this talk. That means you. As she says, anything a company does to engage their customer is marketing, which includes you – whether you like it or not.
The afternoon keynote was done by the lovely and fascinating Brenda Laurel, who shared with us the modern history of interaction design through her own experiences in it’s development. It was fascinating, not only because she’s a great speaker but because the content itself was so interesting.
Paris Butterfield-Addison returned us to Lightning Talks starting off an afternoon of user engagement by talking about how the why of employing game mechanics is more important than slapping badges on something to make it ‘fun’. Nina Walia brought us a child’s perspective giving ten findings from user research around children with iPhone apps. It’s amazing how many correlate to issues we as adults have but don’t pay attention to. Stephen Anderson closed us out with a discussion about how to sustain passionate users and reminded us that ‘delight, unfortunately, doesn’t last’. We have to be able to hold customers past their initial delight.
Our last keynote pulled no punches even as he made us laugh in spite of ourselves. The happy hour immediately preceding may have mellowed everyone a bit. Nevertheless, Bruce Sterling did an amazing job of pulling together his observations from throughout the conference and beyond to critique the field of interaction design from user Stockholm syndrome to getting so caught up in the design we forget the greater audience. He left us with this to ponder – ‘How do you treat people who just don’t get it… that’s the real question’.
There are other speakers I did not see, but you can catch their talks along with all of those that I’ve mentioned on IxDA’s Vimeo channel.
If you have questions about the closing bash, the rumor through the grapevine is that the bar was dry the next day. I’ll leave it at that.
A few books recommended by speakers throughout the conference (non-affiliate links):
- Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connective Age by Clay Shirky
- The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nick Carr
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
- Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book by Linda Barry
- Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge
- Interaction Ritual – Essays in Face-to-Face Behavior by Erving Goffman
For more in-depth day by day coverage check out my blog entries on the conference.