Interaction 11 report: day 1 overview

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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It is that time of the year again: hundreds of interaction designers from all over the world rush towards the Interaction conference. This year it takes place in Boulder, Colorado (USA). Yesterday there were pre-conference workshops and today the conference itself was officially kicked off. And as always Johnny is there to deliver a daily write-up for those who weren’t able to attend (awwww).

This daily report wouldn’t have been possible without the writing skills (and energy) of Pieter Jongerius, Anna Offermans, and Patrick Sanwikarja

Keynote Bill Verplank

Bill VerplankBill Verplank (who Johnny interviewed last year) kicked off the conference with the words from calligrapher Hella Basu: “in all object making, that aspect which relates to its conceptual interpretation is art, that which relates the object to an intended purpose is design, and the quality of its execution is craft”.

From then on (bar a couple of video clips), Verplank sketched (or as he calls it, “thinking with a pencil)” his way through his knowledge of design and systems, mainly covering his well known  diagrams but also peppering it with informed asides (even if his comments about CHI did cause some consternation). One interesting new story was on path-like vs map-like systems, using the example of a vending machine (a closed machine versus one with a glass window): the former might be easier to maintain, but the latter is easier for users should something go wrong (e.g. a can gets stuck), and arguably even better for business.

Verplank’s presentation shone with experience as both a designer and researcher. He explained different ways of thinking — enactive (do) , iconic (see) , symbolic (know), based on Piaget and Bruner, — and other relevant theories on multiple intelligence.

Verplank believes that we’re coming into the third —  enactive — age of computing, made commercially real with the release of the Wii, and that people should be using haptics in their products to make them smart by taking cues from people such as Hiroshi Ishii. That said, there are interesting exceptions, for example how computer scientists have moved to the Mac because the Terminal allows them to retain the language they learned in teletype machines but it now irrelevant with GUI.

We’re coming into the third, enactive, age of computing.

Verplank also emphasised the importance of understanding systems through control and feedback, and finished by elaborating on his well known but misunderstood diagram ontypes of design

  • Most design is currently in the form of media (e.g.  Negroponte)
  • However, fashion is becoming important (look at Steve Job’s vision)
  • People/AI (e.g. Winograd) are not about designing people as much as life forms (an interesting example being Karl Sims’ ecological computational forms)
  • Tools are like vehicles, and underpined by infrastructure — having common platforms as was done with unicode and fonts is key.

Proximus Maximus: Design Imperatives from the Roman Empire to the NASA Space Program and Beyond – Michael Meyer

If you don’t create anything, are you actually a designer? That’s the main question behind Michael Meyer’s talk. It’s his belief that we must completely understand the product or service we work with. As long as we don’t understand every little detail we’ll never be able to create superb solutions or understand the consequences of our design decisions. By showing beautiful examples ranging from craftsmanship to a video of the NASA Space Program he gradually shows us the power of trully understanding what it means to be a great designer: it’s all about empathy.

There are three things a designer focus on:

  • Empathy. An emotional closeness. A deep, intuitive understanding of the materials you work with is important to get the most out of your work;
  • Core. Each person (but also object and service) has a certain core. This is essential material that you have available to craft the product, service, experience. Discovering and understanding this core is really important when working together with other disciplines. There are (for example) often frustrations when engineers and user experience designers work together, this is because they have a different core. When you start not just understanding your own, but also the other cores, you’ll be able to work together in a situation where everybody can be a hero of his core.
  • Proxy. This is the thing that represents the sum of your knowledge, to communicate your understanding and ability.

Note: this summary is partly based upon our report from The Web and Beyond in 2010.

What do you do, anyway? Describing IxD to the Outside World – Carl Alviani

Carl AlvianiThis is DTDT with a difference. Carl started off with a video where he’d asked several people to give their definition on interaction design. One of the comments? “Well, it’s magic.”. While that got more than a few laughs, for Carl this sums up most of the problem he wants to address — the impenetrability to the outside world of what exactly is is we do.

When we talk about who we (interaction designers) are, we talk about the value that we have and the products and services that we try to improve. We define ourselves in characteristics that are actually so general that they also apply to other fields such as industrial design, game design, fashion, etc. It’s important to find a clear definition of what we do in order to quell backlash. When you look at other fields and the way people define them you notice that they talk a lot in terms of artifacts. Carl showed an example where web programmers are being defined people by HTML and CSS. And it’s on that level that we should start. We should be where the listeners are and have a tangible starting point for a discussion. If this means that we start saying that we draw boxes and arrows or that we stand in front of walls and put post-its on it than that’s what we need to say.

Consume Consume Consume – Peter Knocke

Peter KnockeIt’s always a delight when a speaker manages to keep a crowd at the tip of their seats while showing only one slide. Peter pulled it off. In a convincing buildup he made a strong appeal to designers to consider the consequences of their work.
How many of you regularly take Facebook mobile to the bathroom? (27%, apparently). Peter explained to us that when he was once creating a persona, Tim — a heavy consumer of social media, mail, and other interactive media — he realized on reading it back that this persona might be realistic, but not necessarily one to be proud of as a designer.
Peter started logging his own activities and soon found out his life was not much different. He discovered three types of activities:

  • Consumption
  • Curation (the selection and assessment of items around you)
  • Creation

He was startled to find that most of the time he just consumed, and that the act of creation was a rare event. This is because our environment, the media and products all around us, stimulates this behavior above others. This notion was the main driver for this talk. We have to find a better balance in these three types of activities. We have to help our users to create more. This was the real call for change: use your personal perspective, get a bit more greedy. Design for youself if you have to. Design for creation.

Scandalous Interaction – Tim Wood

Tim WoodWhat is a scandalous interaction? For Wood, it’s daring to challenge the idea of using design patterns (he damningly called pattern libraries as “the clip art of interaction design”). That wasn’t his only ‘scandalous’ comment, as he proclaimed “Usability is overrated. Jakob Nielsen just rolled over in his grave. Wait, he’s not dead.”
But beyond that, his reasons for legitimately reinventing the wheel (with some actual examples) were for such reasons as challenging the constraints of traditional thinking. He used the example of the iPhone keypad as having a legacy back to old fashioned typewriters (though this is in itself an unusual case as they are challenging patterns.)
However, his real reason to challenge patterns is about allowing new interactions to be understood (much in line with Indy Young’s work on mental models). He finished off with an example of an interface and how working down and back up on chain of display logic—core logic—concept could allow for new visual interactions.

The Rhythm of Interaction – Peter Stahl

Peter StahlPeter Stahl is not only an interaction designer but also with musical interests, combining the two in his inspiring talk that it can be useful to design rhythm and flow into our interfaces. There is rhythm in changing TV channels, in driving a car, in gaming and in viewing a Powerpoint presentation: new slide-title-bullet-bullet-bullet-new slide-title-bullet-bullet-bullet. When speaking about surfing the web, there is rhythm in filling out forms, in Twitter feeds coming by, and in watching Youtube video’s. To have rhythm, Peter says, interaction should be simple, repetitive, steady, and it should always be clear how to continue. If you want a user to think, you should interrupt the rhythm to get the user’s attention.

To have rhythm … interaction should be simple, repetitive, steady, and it should always be clear how to continue. If you want a user to think, you should interrupt the rhythm to get the user’s attention.

However: rhythm only is not enough. If we want a user to be totally involved in the activity, that time flies while performing tasks and that the experience itself is rewarding, we have to add flow to the rhythm. Like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Peter helped us pronouncing this exotic name: “chick-sent-me-high-e”) already told us about flow in 1996: “…Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost…”

In our artefacts and deliverables, it is important not only to show the “feature interface design” but also a more concrete form of “user interface design”. A wireframe is not enough any more. To give better insight in the rhythm of interaction, we should add people to our storyboards. We should show how and when they are involved and what reaction or emotion we intend to get from a user at a certain point.

Peter was running out of time, the rhythmic flow we were all getting into unfortunately was brutally interrupted. Looking forward to hearing the rest of his talk some time soon.

It’s not just about talks…

Interaction is the annual conference organized by the IxDA and has grown into the biggest gathering of interaction designers in our field. Right now there are over 600 people attending the event. But despite that huge amount the organization is still managing to give it a special and personal feeling. This is mainly due to all the (un)official events going on in between and after the talks. Below you’ll see an overview of some of the social events going on:

The Officially Unofficial Johnny Hollands & Friends Dinner at the Dushanbe Tea House (image courtesy: Giles DeMarty)

Doing the Johnny during a hike

Lunch at St Julien

Doing workshops at Interaction 11

Party at the Boulder Theatre


Vicky Teinaki

An England-based Kiwi, Vicky is doing a PhD at Northumbria University into how designers can better talk about touch and products. When not researching or keeping Johnny Holland running, she does the odd bit of web development, pretends her TV licence money goes only to Steven Moffatt shows, and tweets prolifically about all of the above as @vickytnz.

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.

3 comments on this article

  1. Thanks for the recap on IX11. I especially like the photo doing the “johnny holland.”

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