It’s been almost two weeks now since I returned from Interaction ’10 in Savannah, which was a fantastic conference packed with phenomenal people and content. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect (and recover from post-conference illness), here are some of my takeaways.
Finding and providing meaning in the products and services we create was one of the repeated themes of the conference. Jon Kolko discussed the emergence of this theme in his post reflecting on the conference, as did IxDA board member Matt Nash-Lapidus.
This year the discussion moved from designing to affect behavior to designing to inspire. ‘Meaning’ was presented as the apex of design resonance, more central than aesthetics or emotion, and connected to a greater societal sense of ‘good.’ Nathan Shedroff said, “All design is the process of evoking meaning,” and Jon Kolko named ‘meaning’ as one of the four pillars of our profession and offered this quote from Yves Behar, “If it’s not ethical, it can’t be beautiful.”
Design as Collaboration with End-Users
Aside from debates about what to call ourselves, it seemed to me that the community has accepted the idea that we don’t design ‘experiences,’ because each person’s experience of an interaction is personal and individual. Many of the talks this year encouraged embracing the users as active participants in design. Cindy Chastain related interaction design to storytelling and made a clear point that a central component of every story is the context and expectations of the audience. Liz Danzico spoke about designing “frames” within which users can successfully improvise interactions. Allan Chochinov (in his standout presentation) said, “It’s not what you make, it’s what you facilitate.” Ezio Manzini encouraged us to “enhance people’s capabilities.”
From Screens to Physical Objects
Christopher Fahey had a slide in his talk showed a quoted from Don Norman in 2007 claiming that one of the “next UI breakthroughs” will be “the return to physical devices.” It seems that future is now. Timo Arnall and Matt Cottam both gave thoughtful and thought-provoking presentations of tangible interactions and physical computing, often in devices without a screen. Richard Banks, in his talk titled “The 40 Year Old Tweet,” spoke about the possible need to make digital objects tangible when preserving them as heirlooms.
In his FastCompany piece, Rob Tannen sees this as retrospection, but I saw it more as a sign of the inevitable seamless blending of technology into our surroundings.
Real People Are Compelling
The standout moments of the whole weekend for me were the moments in presentations that showed real-life (non UX) people. Just as our work suffers when it doesn’t have regular exposure to the people we are designing it for, some of the weekend felt a little light on perspective from outside the design world.
One of the reasons Allan Chochinov’s presentation of his students’ work was so outstanding was that most of the student pieces referenced actual people’s stories, such as the supremely touching story of a mom with cancer who wanted to make her baldness less scary to her children. Jon Kolko presented a fascinating student project which designed encouragement for college dudes to use condoms (“Man Shields”), complete with chuckle-inducing quotes and photos. Matt Cottam showed a very funny video of unsuspecting city residents taking an “abandoned” chair off the street and giving it a place in their home. Timo Arnall included captivating video and photos of a young girl delighting in toys and objects embedded with RFID chips. Richard Banks spoke of a man who had inherited a box of rocks from his grandfather, with no note or context to explain why.
These are just a few of the examples of real, non-designer people mentioned in the talks, but to me they clearly illustrate that (in presentations, anyway) people are more interesting than principles.
Below is a slide-show of my notes from the conference. For in-depth, thoughtful recaps of all four days of the conference, see the Johnny Holland recaps.