Live at Interaction’09: day 1

Sharing our daily thoughts and insights on the interaction’09 conference.

Interaction Conference

Founded in 2008, the Interaction Design Association Conference brings together practitioners interested in all things around interaction design. Interaction 12 took place in Dublin, Ireland on 1–4 2012. Interactions 13 is set to take place in February 2013 in Toronto.

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Today one of the best UX events in the world started; interaction09 in Vancouver. For four days more than 400 interaction designers huddle together in order to get inspired on the field of interaction design. Of course we sacrificed ourselves and traveled to Vancouver just to give you a ‘live’ report. For the next four days you can read our thoughts and observations.

On this first day there were a series of workshops. We attended a total of three, of which these are the reports.

Workshop: Design Studio (report by Pieter Jongerius)
In this workshop, participants were challenged in their design thinking. Speakers were Liya Zheng and Jeanine Harriman from LiquidNed. Their main argument: interaction design is a growing and promising discipline. Broadly applied “Design thinking” can dramatically improve user experience as well as corporate performance. This storyline was obviously well received by the UX-professional audience.

Three levels of design were indicated:

  • Interaction design. Main ingredients of this design level include demographic research, persona’s, technological requirements, user experience, scenario writing, sketching.
  • Service design. On this level, we took the step of looking at a greater timeline for the experience of this product, in our case a garment retail example. Moments in time included: awareness, trigger to shop, shopping destination decision, browse, shop, reflection on the purchase. These steps were called the ‘service journey’. For each of these steps, some activities and problems were identified, such as ‘customer becomes aware of a trend’ and ‘no one to give you honest feedback’. These served as a basis of designing the service in terms of contact points and communication requirements.
  • Strategic design. On this last level, the group explored the challenges of looking ahead several years. The aim was to come up with an innovative business idea, based on social, technological and demographical trends. From these trends, the group was free to select a target audience and identify opportunities.

It is true, this way of design thinking is very powerful and it enhances the view and influence interaction or UX designers have in their teams. However, many of the participants seemed to have already used these types of methodologies. In fact, the speakers seemed to be surprised of the level of experience. The group was even appraised as their “best audience ever”. And we were in it, yay!

Designing for Touch screens and Interactive Gestures (report by myself)
In this workshop Dan Saffer and Bill DeRouchey introduced us to the world of interactive gestures. The first part of the workshop focused on Dan’s presentation ‘Tap is the new click’, which is based upon his new book. It goes into the challenges interaction designers face when designing for gestural and touch interfaces.  One of these challenges is the changing field of expertise/knowledge: when designing gestures we also have to keep in mind the physical (dis-)abilities of people. Kinesiology and physiology will become a growing part of our job.

We shouldn’t design our interfaces based on pixels, but on physical dimensions. Although it sounds logical, it is worth the mention… we are so used to designing in screen resolutions. This approach would also call for sketching out your interface before digitizing it. This is a very easy way for seeing what it looks like. This brings me to the core of the workshop: paper prototyping.

Saffer and DeRouchey told us that low fidelity prototyping has become more and more important. Gesture and touch interfaces have become so diverse and complex that you need to play around with the interface and test it. Since actual prototyping takes a lot of time, paper prototyping is a good alternative. During the workshop people split up in teams and had to design an interactive music booth. With paper and tape they had to make a testable version. The energy in the room was remarkable and within an hour most teams had a fairly good working prototype. This shows that with minimum tools you can mimic a complex interaction, which you can then test and improve on the spot. Without touching any computer.

At the end they defined three zones of engagement for a particular product: attraction (noticing the product from a larger range), observation (seeing how to use the product) and interaction (actual usage of the product). When designing an interactive installation you should be aware of all these aspects. At the end of the workshop it was noted that the observation zone is the most difficult to design for… it lies halfway between attraction and interaction and touches questions like “How can I participate?” and “Wouldn’t I look ridiculous when I participate?”

So we want to be Hardware / Software designers (report by Patrick Sanwikarja)
This workshop consisted of two parts. The first part was a presentation by Ted Booth (Smart Design) and Michele Tepper (Frog Design) that was basically about the differences between interaction design (the software) and industrial design (the hardware). In the second part, five groups worked on a choice of four design assignments that integrated software and hardware, such as a medication dispenser or a robotic vacuum cleaner.

Even though the border between interaction design and industrial design is a grey area, some clear differences can be found. The first, most important one is that when designing for hardware one has to take into account all the physical restraints. That may be a quite obvious difference, but it does mean something for the way industrial designers work. For instance, industrial designers can’t make any last minute changes to their work because their products are not made of code and pixels. They have to make sure that when the injection mold is build, months before the products will be launched, the design is already definite. This makes industrial design a much more iterative and dynamic approach, always figuring out the best balance between materials, cost, durability, usability and so on. What follows from this is that prototyping is of the absolute essence. For hard/software design, prototyping should be an integrated exercise. Ideally, this is done by prototyping the circuitry, but easier and also effective ways are making video mockups and paper prototyping.

Feedback is important, too. Rule: have twice as many critiques as you think you need (and that probably still won’t be enough). But the most important thing when designing hard/software is to bring the experience alive. It all comes down to an integrated concept and being able to share that. When you can get the big picture across, you can deal with the details later.

This workshop didn’t provide me with groundbreaking new insights, but I did take some things out of it:

  • First of all, nobody really knows what interaction design really is, what to call it and where the line lies between interaction design and industrial design. But the good thing is, that doesn’t really matter. Especially during the second, active part of the workshop, people from different backgrounds collaboratively came up with really interesting ideas. What matters is that different people have different skill sets and that you should be aware of who does what best in your organization.
  • Mock it up before you fuck it up! When it comes to prototyping and iterating, interaction designers can take an example from industrial designers.
  • Wireframes are weird. And they are. Industrial design is about creating an experience in space, interaction design is about an experience over time. I don’t think wireframes are wrong, but I do agree with the presenters that interaction designers should pay more attention to designing the temporal aspect, rather than designing just the ‘snapshots’.
  • Finally, sketches are still the best way to bring ideas across. Sketches are vivid and they are a shared vocabulary that everyone understands. The second part of the workshop really showed that.

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

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