Interaction ’10

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.

My notes on my overall thoughts from IxD '10

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.

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5 Responses to “Interaction ’10

  • Sarah, thanks for your personal perspective on the conference and for sharing your excellent sketchnotes. In your summary you’ve discussed several of the talks that I was most interested in seeing.

    I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Nathan Shedroff when he was in Toronto in November and I’m glad to see he shared with the Interaction’10 crowd some of the ideas that he shared while he was here, namely, “All design is the process of evoking meaning.” Many of us have arrived at this idea through various paths and it helps to be reminded from time to time since it can get lost in the details.

    Yves Behar’s quotation “If it’s not ethical, it can’t be beautiful,” resonated strongly with me, too, so I’m glad that Jon Kolko raised it in the context of meaning, especially since it’s something I would have liked to discuss this year. Too many think that when we talk about ethics in design we are talking about prescriptive and deterministic codification when it’s so much more than that limited view. Hopefully we’ll get to explore the ethical line of thinking in Boulder next year.

    As I view the conference through the lenses of those who attended, I find the personal insights and reflections much more compelling than the in-depth summaries, so thanks again for sharing your unique view and sketches to the mix. You’ve given me food for thought.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Kaleem.

    It’s interesting, your note about preferring insights and reflections over summaries reminds me of something else about the conference. Last year I found the Twitter back-channel conversations hugely valuable, as people reacted to and discussed the talks and presentations in real time.

    This year, however, partially due to the quantity of people “live-tweeting,” I found the conference twittersphere dominated by tweets that simply restated the content of the talk instead of commenting on it. I’m sure this is more helpful to someone NOT at the conference, but I missed the analysis and reaction that leads to great conversation. Hopefully next year we can find a way to have two conference Twitter channels – one for repetition, and one for discussion.

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