Interaction 12: Day One

Dublin — and even its Lord Mayor — welcomed a record 750 attendees to the opening of Interaction 12. The day would unfold with Hitchcock, healthcare, and hearing the question ‘what if?’.

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.

See all posts

  • ixda

Related posts:

Given the interest amongst many UXers about urban planning, the welcoming talk from the Lord Mayor of Dublin Andrew Montague was heartening. He briefly talked about how the town has taken on design in its work be it in redesigning the spaces of poorer areas or using desire lines and not making helmets compulsory in their free bike sharing scheme.

Keynote – Luke Williams : Disrupt

Disruption has never been so fun. Luke Williams pulled the tricky first speaker act of inspiring while being accessible enough for anyone recovering from early morning shock (or in the case of many attendees, Dublin hangovers). He would also kick off the trend of the day of Hitchcock references.

He’s noticed working with clients that they suffer from only having ideas that fit into their current paradigm. This leaves them open to lose out when the market changes, as Motorola did to Nokia (which it is now losing to Apple).
So, how do we avoid The Innovator’s Dilemma? He urged designers to not predict as much as provoke. While we parely remember it now, Hitchcock’s Pyscho starts in all intents and purposes as a caper film, and only becomes a thriller 30 or so minutes in.(Other examples of challenging expectations include the Grand Central Station Freeze).
The key strategy he gave to combat this is understanding surface cliches (at a product, interaction, and price level) … and then inverting them (while ensuring they can scale).

While some of his examples were interesting in their story (Red Bull challenged the idea of soft drinks being cheap and aspirational by making them expensive and functional; Eurosiko games bombing their own ships in order to win), my favourite was on taking an utterly mad idea and making it work, or “being wrong in order to be right”. When a man had an idea of selling unmatching socks in pairs of three, he searched for a market … and eventually found out that girls age 8-12 love mismatched items. His company Little Miss Matched is so popular he has expanded into also making pajamas.

His call to arms: don’t look at experiences that are broken, look for the ones that aren’t, as those are the opportunities for true disruption.

August de los Reyes
‘Design and the New Modern – Three things you should know’

Freshly relocated to the Samsung UX Centre in San Francisco from Microsoft in Seattle, August de los Reyes declared himself happy to be in Dublin, and quite literally happy to be alive after accidentally chowing down on a raw chicken kiev the previous day thanks to a misleading M&S product label (interaction fail).

Inspired by a ‘life changing’ day trip to the French perfumery town of Grasse in the company of design legend Massimo Vignelli, August outlined his quest to bring the modernist values of his new ‘guru’ into the digital age by presenting them through more accessible means. He began this mission by questioning the audience on their zombie apocalypse plans. After touching on why rational interaction designers might consider such plans even a remote necessity (it’s all about your politics) August drew a highly entertaining parallel between our changing attitudes towards the undead, and towards ambiguity. Where previously the plots of zombie/vampire genre fare concentrated on wiping out those troubling live-dead hybrids and restoring normality, contemporary dramas such as True Blood and Twilight focus instead on learning to live with their ambiguous state of being. This neatly encapsulates the agenda of New Modernism, and begs the question: how do we design for a world in a constant state of change?

August believes that while things may change, the basic relationships between then stay the same and can be analysed on 3 levels: the Semantic, where relationships between objects are arbitrary and driven by consensus; the Syntactic, where relationships themselves have meaning apart from the objects; and the Pragmatic, where there is a shift away from deep, tight focus towards shallow but broad relationships, exemplified by the ‘bricolage’ approach that builds systems out of many disparate parts. His example of this was the way our modern identities are constructed from pieces of ourselves spread across diverse platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Flipbook and Spotify.

While avoiding any direct comment on the Samsung Natural User Interface, August made clear that his talk set out his agenda for that work and that (picking up a thread from Luke Williams’ earlier keynote) he looks forward to being a force of positive disruption in the project.

Design Language
Mike Lemmon

Queen Elizabeth 2 vs Che Gueverra? It’s all in the name of design language, as Mike Lemmon showed, drawing both on his background as a product designer and his work in Ziba.
Lemmon argued that as we move from the physical to the digital “these days we buy an app as we would a coffee from Starbucks”, we as designers risk not seeing the wood for the trees, namely through forgetting that the products we work on belong to a larger family (Android and Apple have created it for their platforms, but that doesn’t necessarily cover anyone else). A design language – “part philosophy, part instruction manual.” – creates cohesion.

So how do we do this? Lemmon gave an interaction framework:

  • Consumer: ”it all starts with the human interface”
  • Brand: it sounds like a bad thing, but car companies for example understand targeting a niche (Porshe: performance, Honda: value; Volvo: safety.) Beyond this, why not have an MBTI for your product? Ziba did this with a travel site, ending up with Queen Elizabeth [guild your travel] vs Che Gueverra [unlost, rebel against plans].
  • Structure: design for features, rather than platforms (and stress test it too). This will keep you on the bigger picture. Netflix does this well (even if most people in the EU can’t use it yet ….)
  • Interaction and visuals: investing in these shouldn’t be underestimated, be it the smooth system of Flipboard, or the well done Metro Windows Phone system.

Innovations in Accessibility: what we can learn from digital outcasts
Kel Smith

The tantrums often observed in people with autistic spectrum disorders are not, as often assumed, a part of the condition but in fact a symptom of frustration at an inability to communicate. With the example of a mother who created an iPad app that allowed her child to describe the emotions he couldn’t articulate, Kel Smith illustrated how technology can be used to tackle the unmet needs of such ‘outcast’ populations.

Highlighting through sobering statistics the likelihood of us all becoming digital outcasts at some point in our lives, Kel hammered the point home with a (near obligatory) William Gibson quote: that the future has already arrived, but is not yet evenly distributed.

To get new ideas into hospitals Kel stated that they need to be cheap, behaviour-based and compatible with existing workflows – and it’s worth remembering that rough but compelling ‘hanging wire’ prototypes are acceptable when you’re piloting rather than taking to market. However closing questions touched on a troubling disconnect between designers and the medical industry, with Kel admitting disappointment that despite its amazing results an immersive ‘virtual cold world’ that helps burns patients through painful wound treatment is still only available in the single hospital ward where it found funding and practitioner support. It appears that the next big challenge for healthcare design innovators is to give their ‘hanging wire’ prototypes a meaningful life beyond their birthplaces.

Artificial Emotional Intelligence
Giles Colburne

Ever want to hit your computer? Perhaps it —rather than you — needs to be more emotional. With examples as diverse as FBI bargaining strategies and horror movies, Colburn showed how we should be thinking responsive interactions.

While extreme acts of violence against a computer are uncommon, most of us have felt or at least seen more benign examples of anger at a device. We may even be designing them: it turns out that in user testing, people will blame themselves for product failures whereas in the real world will blame the product.
However, removing emotion from computing would be like being Nurse Rakett in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It turns out that emotion is key to helping us make choices: get rid of it and we can’t decide.

Instead, try the tiered model that the FBI use for negotiation:

  • active listening ”When designing interactions, show ways of listening” (Howard Nass change the then-hated Clippy to ask “was this useful?” and adapt, to huge success)
  • empathy (From the FBI: be positive and upbeat, but be credible. In other words, be like Siri. While there are studies on pattern matching emotions, it’s difficult enough for people, let alone a computer.)
  • rapport (Nass also conducted studies where people were given blue headbands and computers with blue screen rim. They felt a connection).
  • influence, behaviour change

Colburne also pointed out the importance of understanding ‘difficult people’: “everyone is someone’s difficult person”, and potentially matching computing behaviour to them:

  1. tank (get it done),
  2. yes person (get along),
  3. whiner (get it right),
  4. think they know it all (get appreciated)

He finished with a couple of pointers:

  • We should be designing flexible (rather than static) models that we can tune to people’s personalities
  • Rather than designing responsive sites, why aren’t we designing responsive interactions?

Design for the unknown: healthcare and ambiguity
Maggie Breslin

Maggie Breslin comes to Interaction 12 seeking validation: as a designer-researcher in the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation, her time is typically spent designing paper-based tools to enable better conversations between doctors and patients, and she asks how this work weighs up against the polished and weighty cross-platform products more commonly discussed at such conferences.

Maggie described many the insights generated and challenges faced during her work. In one example she talked about the reluctance of the design team (as well as doctors and nurses) to discuss ‘risk of death’ when designing a tool to help cardiac patients make an informed choice about adhering to prescribed treatment after discharge. Ultimately by talking to patients they discovered that, for someone recovering from a heart attack, risk of death is no longer a shocking concept.

The audience questioned whether devices such as diabetes decision cards, which help patients choose a treatment based on possible side effects, are in fact shifting the whole ethical position of doctor-patient relationships away from ‘do this’ instructions towards a more honest (and potentially scary) presentation of the true uncertainty of medical care. Maggie’s view was that it’s really about getting patients involved in the right decisions – for example it would be pointless to wake a patient during surgery to ask what kind of sutures he’d prefer. A key metric of the Mayo Clinic’s work is whether it has enabled patients to ask questions about difficult subjects, and they have discovered that people will often do a lot more than you might expect if you can create the openings for them.
As a designer working in the same area of enabling better conversations in caring contexts, it was reassuring to hear my own uncertainties about the position of this practice within the field of interaction design echoed by another – and to find in Maggie’s work such a strong argument for its further representation at future events.

The future of Design, Healthcare and Mobile Technology
Virgil Wong and Akshay Kapur

From their opposing backgrounds in business technology and art and design, Akshay and Virgil came together out of a shared desire to challenge the conservative and siloed nature of the healthcare industry. Seeking to improve on standardised models of personal medical records, which are typically paper-based and exist in multiple asynchronous versions, they partnered with Microsoft to create an online medication list that could be maintained by multiple physicians.

However, while an improvement on previous provision, this new dataform still lacked the crucial ability to ‘be’ with a patient – to move in the same fluid way as that person’s understanding of their own health and wellbeing. With individuals now able to have their genes sequenced for a mere $1k, healthcare services are becoming personalised rather than generalised.

The result was the Medical Avatar, a visualisation of an individual’s medical records applied to a 3D body model, personalised with a photo taken by them and capable of being peeled apart to reveal the myriad anatomical structures beneath, and ‘aged’ in order to introduce people to their (potentially worrisome) future selves.

By bridging the gulf between art and medicine in this and other projects (such as the creation of a fictitious future hospital exploring sci-fi scenarios of selected children and male pregnancies) Akshay and Virgil stated their belief that design has a major contribution to make in a healthcare industry crying out for creative input, but increasingly stymied by red tape and bureaucracy.

Joan Vermette and Christina Persson
Process: A Love Hate Relationship

Love process? Hate process? While these two speakers each fell on one side of that divide (Joan Vermette loves ‘em, Christina hates ‘em), this talk turned out not to be so much about this as understanding the design muscles that you and your organisation use (and overuse) and how to develop them all.

They recommended a model known as think-draw-make to gauge both your own output and your company’s. They describe the three steps as the following:

  • Think: playing around with ideas. If you need to see the whole before to understand the details, you’re strong in Think
  • Draw: making abstract visualisations to play with concepts. If you find yourself saying “I’ll know it when I see it”, you’re strong in Draw.
  • Make: implementing, getting it out the door. If you have a hard time nailing down dates, you’re strong in Make.

The technique also uses the inspired analogy of design muscles and through it that you or your company may be overdeveloped in one to the detriment of others. They also stressed both knowing your leanings as well as your company’s to understand both where change needs to happen and also how to implement it.

“Enter into the enemy’s strengths in order to defeat them from within” —Walter Benjaminp

Celsius vs Farenheit: EU vs US interactions
Katey Deeney and Søren Muus

Talk about gauging the temperature of a culture. In the second of today’s battleoff-style talks — and an apt one given that this conference was being held in the EU rather than the US for the first time — Katey Deeny and Søren Muus talked about US and EU cultures respectively (and were represented in the audience by a similarly equal split). And it can all be summed up in temperatures systems, it would seem ….
The EU uses the logical and abstract (as well as recent) Celsius system, while the US uses the more confusing but traditional Farenheit scale.
After ripping through a series of differences, summed up the differences between the cultures as such:

  • The EU commonalities are: that they are tribal nations, multi-language, with 9,000yrs of co-exisence, homogenous, common history, few words
  • The US is a nation of states, one primary language, around 250 yrs of existence, multicultural.

The intriguing differences come here in the unified experiences:

  • EU: shared cultural references (history), external contemporary references
  • US: internal contemporary references (entertainers etc), language

One obvious manifestation of the differences is in appliances: those in the EU use symbols whereas those in the US are largely text-based (though the latter is starting to change).

What can we learn from this? They suggest that the audiences’ type of knowledge can correlate to the countries (amongst other situations) and have interaction implications:
If audiences have a narrow, deep knowledge (e.g. in the EU): there is most always a first time and a next time, people are willing to learn, lengthy explanations are not necessary
If however they have broad, shallow knowledge (e.g. in US): provide clear labeling, instruction, every time may be the first time (a key consideration in ecommerce or infomation sites); use contemporary references.

The Aesthetics of Motion
Dave Malouf

Who could dislike a talk with live demos of charades, air drums and tap dancing (the former two performed by the speaker)? Dave Malouf carried on from his 2009 Interactions talk (and 2011 Johnny Holland article) on how designers can understand gesture?

What is gesture anyway? It’s a language that needs to be easy, with clear meaning (think signalling on airports), relevant to context (don’t put a touchscreen on a treadmill!), culturally appropriate (one hand gesture that means “wait” in Israel is offensive in Italy), and ergonomic (Minority Report interactions would give you ‘gorilla arm’).

While the iPhone has led to the age of ‘finger meets glass’, the more traditional arenas for gesture — music and dance — share an aesthetic for sound and motion. Fluidity is key in dance, and DJing and guitar playing require a mastery of slides and stops.

So, how do do this? He gave a series of tips:

  • Know your reference material: he loves Designing Gestural Interfaces and Tapworthy
  • Know your material. Have a touch device to understand it.
  • Use animation for mockups. A good pointer he gave was to follow the animations with your finger to check they work
  • Use micro-actions to keep the eyes busy
  • Let people find secondary actions through play
  • Design responsiveness — don’t leave it to the engineers!
  • Think states and actors and look at notations

Tony Dunne : Crafting Design Speculations

Day one started and finished with “What If?”. But while for Luke Williams this meant disruption, for Tony Dunne this meant speculations. Namely, design speculations from both his own practice and that of the acclaimed RCA Design Interactions Course.

Design Speculations fit (provocatively?) in the space between problem solving and commentary/critique, where Dunne suggests they “open up the problem space into a methodological playground”. Based on the work of futurist Stuart Candy, they also focus on potential futures rather than probable ones.

Dunne also gave some points on fidelity, particularly for those experiences set in current time: for people to buy into the experience, there needs to be a level of unreality, be it through slightly over the top costumes (the Dunne and Raby Foragers, the work of Hiromi Ozaki), or strange future situations such as objects being treated like exotic animals (the ChambersJudd David Attenborough Project & Gesundheit) or people considering information like a drug (Ludwig Zeller).

“With speculative futures, it’s a mistake to make it too realistic as people believe it real. Better to have a level of unreality to let them into the space.”

While the work was familiar to anyone who has either visited the RCA DI course or the MoMA ‘Talk to Me’ exhibition, it was still an important counterpart to the call for ‘seamlessness’ we hear so often in the industry (and even at this conference).

One audience member did ask the obvious question: where is the role for such out there work in everyday interation design? His answer was that these students come from work and many return to the commercial field being employed by big corporations: it’s not the strangeness of the work as much as their thinking process that counts.

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.

Louise Taylor

Louise is an avid baker, playwright, and interactive designer at the Centre for Design Research (CfDR) at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne. She can be found online as @sugaredeggs.

6 comments on this article

  1. Pingback: Pasta&Vinegar » Blog Archive » “it’s not the strangeness of the work as much as their thinking process that counts”

  2. Euge on

    I would like to be there, but thanks for sharing this!

  3. Pingback: Putting people first » Interactions 12: Day One

  4. Pingback: “it’s not the strangeness of the work as much as their thinking process that counts” | TUMBLR TRANSLATOR

  5. Pingback: Anikto LLC » Interaction 12 Dublin Recap

  6. Pingback: Interactions 2012 – A review with sketchnotes : GlueThink