Live at Interaction’09: day 3

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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Time is going fast… we’re already past 75% of Interaction’09. Today was a day full of totally different presentations. It varied from very energizing keynotes to short boring presentations (we didn’t write about them :) . In between the sessions we’ve been rushing in order to do some interviews with Mark Baskinger and Jared Spool, but you’ll see those results later. For now: check out todays report. Special thanks to Louise Roose, Patrick Sanwikarja and Pieter Jongerius, who helped write this report.

Keynote: Irrational behavior – Robert Fabricant
The first keynote of today was by Robert Fabricant, an executive creative director at frog design. He starts by addressing a red hot issue this year: what is interaction design? But since nobody has the answer to that question, he points out what it’s not. He says: Interaction design is not computing technology. Technology is not our medium, behavior is. So how can we express behavior and why is it important? He talks about visualization of data. By visualizing behavior, people become aware of it and can see the impact it has.

Another perk of visualization is that designers love it and it’s much easier to actually remember stuff that you can see. But although visualization is a powerful tool to make things feel more real, will it really change behavior?

By visualizing behavior, people become aware of it and can see the impact it has.

Changing behavior comes down to motivation. If people are not motivated to buy or use your product, they just won’t. What we really need is salience. So we need to learn about what it is that motivates people, what they see, what their perception of our products is. If we know all this…. we have the power to change people’s behavior.

Let’s explore a bit what people respond to. Fabricant gives us a couple of good examples, like faces. All people are trained from birth to recognize faces. Give your product a face and it will speak to them.
Another powerful thing is personalized visualizations. If I can actually see how great my debt is, or how much money i spend (or waste) on products, this will definitely have an effect on me. A third component of human behavior is rewards. If there is the prospect of a great reward, this can be as addictive as a drug and people will do stuff to get the reward.

So wrapping up, we can say that interaction design is about social behavior. About visualizing it, making it real, thus influencing it and… showing the impact the behavior has on this world. After all, we have the beautiful task to help people understand the change needed and help them begin making it.

Katherine Coombs
During her session Coombs tried to inform us of the current state and possible future innovations in banking, but especially mobile banking. She stated that we should not try to innovate for all people. For mobile banking we should focus on the younger people, who will quickly adapt and use it. The elderly like internet banking and will keep using that. This focus is interesting and good, because too often we try to design for everybody… and fail at that.

The most interesting aspect for interaction designers is ‘design for security’. How can you design a user experience where money is involved, that people trust to work safely? Coombs showed us several innovations trying to do this, both failing and succeeding. Some interesting examples were the ability to pay the electricity bill via ATM and the possibility to pre-order money via your mobile phone. In the last case you don’t need a bank card anymore, since you will receive a unique temporary pin-number.

The bottomline of Coombs’ presentation is that there are lots of possibilities for interaction designers to join the innovation and improve the user experience. So let’s do that.

Metaphor Brainstorming: Using Metaphors to Generate Design Ideas, Requirements and Product Personality – Chauncey Wilson
Wilson tried to give us some insights in how we can come up with metaphors. These metaphors should help us explain complexity: they basically describe one thing to explain another.

While not everything during the presentation stuck in my mind, I did like his approach. When you are working on a new project you should go outside and look at the world. While looking around you should see things how they are and describe them. These things could be useful metaphors. As examples he mentioned a car dealer, bookstores and supermarkets. One of the metaphors he derived from the car dealer was the showroom and the possibility for a test drive.

These metaphors can be used to explain complexity, but also to generate new possibilities and features. Wilson also said that it is a good idea to assign homework to people in the design team. During this assignment they must come observe and come up with possible metaphors. Although a lot of designers already think 24/7 about their job, this is still a good approach. It forces you to really observe.

Building a Digital Concept Car - Andrei Herasimchuck
In this session, Andrei made a strong plea to get over it all and start prototyping today. Prototyping is essential to creating complex applications of any kind. Andrei used a powerful quote to support this:

It is far more effective to sit in a chair than to judge it’s comfort by looking at a picture of it

Some quotes from this session:
-    Being able to reuse the prototype in the final product is often a major selling point.
-    Let’s just do it and see how it works. This saves you a lot of meetings.
-    In a project, not being able to throw stuff away is disastrous.

In preparation for this session, Andrei put up a valuable little tool to determine which method of prototyping is the best for a given situation. At the bottom of this page there are also some useful links to tools. You can use it at Involutions.

Design by Community – Leisa Reichelt
Leisa Reishelt talked about the process of redesigning Drupal.org, the website of Drupal, an open source content management system. The special thing about the process was that the community of drupal users were very much involved throughout the research and design. Four … for designing by community were given:

  1. Bake the community into the process
  2. Be open-source like
  3. Transfer skills and knowledge
  4. When in doubt, share

Leisa explained how the community was used for research and design feedback and how she communicated with them through media like twitter and flickr. This delivered a lot of valuable data, suggestions and opinions (some louder than others) for the redesign, which actually gave the designers more freedom than usual. The most important point in this talk was that design is no place for democracy. In the end, it will always be the designer’s responsibility to make and defend the design decisions.

Designing Natural User Interfaces – Nathan Moody
Nathan Moody talked about NUIs, how they differ from GUIs and how he designs these at Stimulant. Natural User Interfaces increase the user’s immersion with the content by eliminating proxy controls such as mice and keyboards. Direct manipulation, ‘the content is the interface’ and guessable interaction are main aspects of NUIs. Graphical User Interfaces are graphical and visible, whereas NUIs are physical and invisible. The two don’t exclude each other but rather they are fit for different purposes and environments. GUIs are better for productive and efficient task completion, NUIs are much better for social and collaborative tasks. Nathan showed a number of NUIs he worked on at Stimulant, such as applications for the Microsoft Surface. He also shared a number of practical guidelines for designing NUIs, such as working with the right hardware, and at scale. The four biggest challenges are managing user expectations, facilitating natural and gestural input, designing for large format interaction and for 360 degrees interaction.

the content is the interface

Gorilla Methods for designing in the wild – Paula Wellings
Paula Wellings gave a presentation about designing in the wild. The old fashioned way, researchers study their subjects ‘in the wild’, take their observations back to the office and study them there. But the problem with this is that there is a lot in the wild that cannot be captured. For instance, subtle things in the environment can make all the difference for the user, but may not be noted by the researchers. When they are, this is called environment fidelity. Other types of fidelity of research methods are social fidelity and intervention fidelity. Before design research is done, the researcher should kind what kind of fidelity is important for the project and choose their method accordingly. For instance, social fidelity may be very important, when more than just one user is involved. Paula had a nice way of illustrating this, by showing a picture of one duck in an office, versus a video of a flock of ducks elegantly flying in a V formation. Her point was that you could invite a duck to an office and study the duck and ask it questions (low social fidelity), but that way you would never find out about the amazing things that ducks can perform together. Good places to steal methods from are Embedded R&D, participatory design and design research/action research. Design and development are already touching, and now the fields of research and design are also starting to touch. According to Paula, it’s not a bad idea when everything is touching everything. It was an interesting talk, but it would have been nice if Paula had gone into more depth about the methods she uses for different kinds of fidelity by showing some examples.

Sketching haptic & multimodal interaction – Camille Moussette
First of all, the term ‘sketching’ in the title was somewhat misleading, because the presenter didn’t mean drawing on paper, but rather ‘sketching’ with hardware: prototyping. Camille explained what haptic interfaces are and showed a number of methods to prototype these kind of interfaces. Haptic interfaces work via our sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations and motions. They should not be confused with touch interfaces. The iPhone is in fact a very poor example of a haptic device, because only the vibration function is delivers haptic interaction, the touchscreen doesn’t. An interesting fact is that haptic perception is twenty times faster than vision. Humans are able to notice two stimuli no more than five milliseconds apart. Haptic interaction is often multimodal, because our touch sense is almost never isolated. Sound and vision usually accompany haptic interfaces in some way. Camille showed a number of prototyping methods that can be used, from lo-fi things you can do in minutes or hours, to tools made in a day, to what can be done in multiple days or weeks. He didn’t go into much detail about the tools, but it was nice to see that there is a large range of things you can do. One of the difficulties with designing haptic interfaces is that they are very hardware dependent. Even the smallest technical issues completely kill the interaction. Clearly, it is still a very new type of interface and it will be interesting to see what researchers and designers will come up with and when haptic interfaces will truly find their way into commercial products.

Surviving Design Review – Charles Kreitzberg
During the entire day, this was the talk that generated the most smiles on peoples faces. Kreitzberg started off with a picture of hell, stating that this is what a design review is. According to him the biggest problem is that clients: a) don’t understand design, b) focus on individual needs and c) they state concerns in terms of solutions. And the solutions they come up with are a danger to the design, since it will kill the integrity.

So to deal with this you have to know how to deal with the client. And you must know who they are, what their concerns and fears are to respond to this. Kreitzberg defined a total of six types of clients:

  1. The Decider
  2. Mr Nice
  3. The Enforcer
  4. Mr Know it All
  5. Ms Clueless
  6. Silent Killer

Each type has it’s own fears, goals, concerns and ways to deal with. For example The Decider is typically the boss or project leader. He (it can be a she) fears that he’ll look bad if something goes wrong. You have to try and keep him out of the review and only report the decisions. Another example is the Silent Killer. This is typically the IT guy who doesn’t respect designers and thinks that ‘They won’t let me do it the way it needs to be done” He needs acknowledgement for his geekwork and wants to feel respected and competent.

In the end Kreitzberg stated that you have to know who you are dealing with and have to respond accordingly. Choose your battles and be prepared to give up the non-essential. When you get comments from a client try to get past the solution he gives and hear the true message. State those underlying concerns and resolve them. Make it clear that you understand the concern. And last: avoid making decisions during the review, always do it afterwards.

Keynote: Carpe Diem – Dan Saffer
Dan closed the day in a packed keynote room. He had a real invigorating talk that got the crowd all excited. Rounds of applause interrupting him every few minutes, and rightly so. Dan had a couple of very powerful messages to bring.

Dan argued, by name of William James (1842-1910), that beliefs and attention are the same fact. So, in order to truly innovate, what we have to is learn to spot the moonwalking bears of our industry.

The message Dan brought was as positive as it was activating. In the past decades, there was tremendous progress in computing and it’s applications. We can expect this to continue, with new exciting possibilities coming into view every day. There are many new chances for design: in health care, education, energy, and services. There are also new paradigms to build on: gestures, voice, touch. And even though we seem to have some rough times ahead both economically and ecologically, there are ways to overcome these. Design is part of the answer.

Dan gave the audience some powerful quotes that should help us widen our beliefs:

  • Stop discussing differences or responsibilities of IXD, UXD, UCD, ACD, genius design, and the like. You must develop your own way of framing your role. And very important: this frame you use may vary from job to job.
  • Instead of ‘design thinking’, think and make. Design details. This requires skill and care and gives a competitive edge. Those cannot be copied.
  • Defetishize Simplicity. Complexity can be beautiful too.
  • Sometimes you have to be more of an artist than a scientist. Nobody gets excited by a wireframe.
  • The future is not Google-able. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. So, stop waiting for permission. Stop using your clients as an excuse not to create something new

I am not afraid of storm, for I am learning how to sail my ship

The keynote was as short as it was powerful. The closing motto must have been the bravest of them all: may tomorrow be more uncertain than today. Applause.

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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