Interaction 12: Day Two

While some participant’s livers may have already begun to be put to the test (and it was only day two!), the Interactions conference continued on with bare skin theremins, teddy bears in space, and peeing areas in the swimming pool (kinda).

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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Keynote—Jonas Löwgren: Exploring, Sketching, Other Designerly Ways of Working

Jonas’ keynote is reminiscent of Bill Buxton’s sketching user experience, beginning with the quote “IxD is about getting the right design and the design right”. He encourages designers to explore possibilities while we can, sketching cheap and fast, and thinking beyond storyboards. Storyboards are limited because interaction is temporal with many unknowns, a major one being the user.

Instead, sketching (in the broad sense) allows you frame and shape the problem in parallel, and understand through the problem solving process. No more trying to establish requirements before designing. This is especially true for unique experiences where interactions are not idiomatic, in which case he argues you need to prototype with higher fidelity materials. He gave the example of Body Synths – you had to prototype it with sounds and sensors as a full body experience in order to know what it was.

In instances where designers don’t understand the domain, subject matter experts are needed as co-designers, especially since most knowledge is mostly oral. Doing a show and tell in moments of work becomes crucial in the design process, such as an intensive care ward with hundreds of machines and a few experts to needed to operate a machine.

Other projects he talked about include:

  • Pinpoint: a directory for a large organisation
  • Avatopia: getting students involved in the community

In conclusion, he calls on all designers to treat sketching as a continuum (which runs through the execution phase) and to keep a sketching mindset while prototyping

Building a Better Starship: Scaling Design Systems into Humanity’s Future
Scott Nazarian

I suspect at least a few people thought this talk was going to be about sci-fi and space-travel. They were in for a shock. Nazarian’s talk reminded me of some of a combination of Bruce Sterling and Ezio Manzini’s discussions. Fast paced and challenging, it’s one that I’ll be reviewing once the videos come out.

He had one key aspect we need to consider in our digital future: the relationship between data and energy. (Without power centres, the data is effectively dead).

Moving down the futurist rabbit hole, he transposed the UI designer’s stack to a more fundamental one: (humans, environment, systems etc), and posed such questions as fidelity, subliming information, and capacitant futures where we have stored memories so that we can survive 1000 years of sleep during space travel.

Hacking Space Exploration and Science
Ariel Waldman

She had us at ‘f**king teddies in space!
Equal parts entertainment and education, Arial Waldman made space seem as exciting as it did during the space race. Speaking of space races, she pointed out that 1969 is the year not only of the moon landing, but also the first virtual connection through APRANET. “It wasn’t much. It sent the message ‘L O’, or ‘log on’, to another computer—which crashed”. Still, from these inauspicious beginnings, now it’s the net that has far more wider impact than space travel.

Her frustration at the lack of takeup of NASA’s Open Data happened to be heard one day by Jeremy Keith, and as a result he helped form Science Hackdays where designers, developers, and scientists come together to hack fun things—”Hackdays are not about solutions, they’re about getting inspired and having fun, using space as a material”—ranging from a synesthesia experience made with a scary looking gimp mask, to listening to the sounds of particles colliding, a typeface where each letter has the same wind drag, or making an electronic canary for quakes using electronic devices ”I worry that people would game the system by all jumping at the same time”.

She also touched on opening up space exploration to the masses, if not by actually going to space, but by discovering universes and being recognised for it (hello Green Peas Galaxy).

And going back to history, and making data open: just because it’s open doesn’t mean it’s accessible. While NASA has had their transcripts online for a while, it’s only recently that Spacelog has actually made it engaging.

Beyond Gamification: Architecting Engagement
Dustin Di Tomassio

Mad Pow’s Experience Design Director Dustin spoke on the somewhat maligned topic of gamification, filtering self-determination theory through games in order to get beyond badges and leaderboards to reveal the human traits and values that gaming exploits. Dipping into the motivational psychology beneath games, we discover that they provide safe environments in which to undertake our lifelong pursuit of ‘the sensation of mastery’ – we all want to be better at something at some time, and gaming builds on that need. There’s an addictive sequence of tension and release in exerting effort and achieving a goal, and by scaffolding tasks to keep those goals ever so slightly out of reach we keep users in the pleasurable state of challenge. However that state can’t go on forever without risk of user burnout so it’s important to build in moments of reflection, allowing them to look back and revel in their growing mastery. ‘Juicy feedback’ that gives users huge rewards for small actions was a game technique Dustin felt designers could make better use of, and asked for examples of long-term gamification techniques he encouraged us to tap into people’s over-life goals, such as the desire to improve their education, health and wellbeing. In closing he also pointed out that good game platforms are never really complete – once your user achieves the ‘epic win’, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and build them a whole new game.

Why is no one using your product?
Julie Baher

The second stream of afternoon lightning talks kicked off in a jam-packed Liffey hall 1 with Citrix’s Julie Baher on finding the right users to inform product development. While designers can make their products completely adorable, they are still puppies in a window waiting to be adopted until a user takes them on – like TiVo when it first hit the market. While it’s pretty easy to get feedback from experimental early adopters, they’re unlikely to become your mass market. Recognising this Citrix are sending free products out to ‘real people’ – the slow steady pragmatists who would usually avoid trying something new without a heap of recommendations from existing users. By removing the barriers of price and access Citrix get more useful feedback from appropriate user groups, allowing them to tighten their design cycle and iterate products faster.

Designing the mobile wallet experience
Jonathan Rez

Seren Partners’ Jonathan Rez discussed the consequences of our smartphones transitioning into mobile wallets, containing by necessity all that is currently in our physical wallets: from primary, secondary and emergency cash cards to forms of ID, warranty and cashflow control. He outlined the very different risks of losing a mobile wallet – with all the data and credentials it contains stored in the cloud, and the mobile wallet itself capable of being de- and re-activated remotely, you might think it a much more secure alternative. However this depends on whether you trust your mobile wallet provider, which could be Visa, Google, Tesco or even your local corner store. Jonathan closed by asking us to contemplate a future where our Google cash card posts details of purchases to a Twitter feed, as a means of perpetuating the status symbol denied us when we can no longer have a platinum card to whip out in restaurants.

Input/Output: Interaction design at the intersection of city and its interfaces
Sami Niemala

In his work at Nordkapp Sami Niemala has discovered that cities are lumbering beasts on the brink of waking up. The blinking blue charging points still waiting to be used are at odds with street furniture contracts that run for 20 years – an eternity in the life of the interactive touchscreens Sami’s team were looking to create. The practical challenge of designing devices that would survive the extreme Helsinki weather (as well as general drunken city shenanigans) were matched by the challenge of creating truly urban touchscreen interfaces, which Sami likened to designing for mobile but at much lower resolution. He summarised the key learning from this project by calling on his fellow designers to aim as high as possible aim when designing devices anew, and cited the example of architects who, when invited to propose a new building for Berlin, instead envisaged a mighty mountain to be placed right in the middle of the city – an idea whose ambition has since become a cultural symbol.

Sculpted! Using Sculpture as a Design Lens
Rachel Bolton-Nasir

Inspired by an interest in sculpture, Rachel Bolton-Nasir took a refreshingly physical approach to interaction design by showing how principles from sculpture could be applied to interaction design.

She walked the audience through six principles of sculpture, and their application to interaction design:

  1. Form: as sculpture is divorced from function, as it’s not a means to an end, you focus on elements more.
    In interaction design: what happens if you remove the functions from the page? Is the visual language strong enough to work without it?
  2. Multiple viewpoints: sculpture unfolds over time & experience.
    In interaction design: think of multiple touchpoints (e.g. Zipcar has the site, the key, the car ….)
  3. Physical parts: devoid of function, the different materials and how they are changed give meaning.
    In interaction design: do the materials in your designs feel familiar?
  4. Bodily empathy: imagining yourself to be what it is your making
    In interaction design: Do physical interactions ring true, to they mimic natural actions?
  5. Multi-sensory: can’t always touch, but you can move around etc.
    In interaction design: Does it require or inspire a physical engagement (e.g. zipcar fob)?
  6. Context: interacts with space & vice versa.
    In interaction design: How does this interact with  its environment? is it flexible?

Your Users are Hobbits: How classic quests can inform your next design
Abi Jones

The Quest Cycle is a story that transcends culture (it’s been detailed by story expert Joseph Campbell) and helps people reach fulfillment. Abi Jones illustrated the elements of this story using Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. It’s worth noting that neither example appeared to fully capture all the elements—how can it be that that Frodo never becomes a Master of both worlds?—but it was still a good romp through story craft.

The quest cycle is based around an archetype: the hero is us and who we design for.

  • The story starts with a call: (Frodo been given the ring, Luke being called to fight)
  • And a refusal: (both turn it down)
  • They need mentors and helpers (Gandalf and Sam; Yoda, Millennium Falcon crew). “Mentors don’t need beards or wands or anything, but they need to know the tools you need to be of help”
  • Each involves crossing a threshold (getting past ringrwaiths with elves help, or escape w/ Millennium Falcoln). While this is exhilarating, it also means a point of no return for the hero.
  • There are a series of trials and ordeals: be they trial of the dragon (an unknown enemy) or trial of the brother (a known enemy,  either in self—e.g. the ring—or outside, such as Boromir)
  • There’s always a meeting with a goddess (not necessarily a woman, but beautiful e.g. Galadriel). They show hero good and represent love: not romantic love, but idealised love.
  • But there is Temptation: (the ring to Galadriel; or the Dark Side). Giving in would be to become less than whole.
  • his comes with atonement (e.g. Aaragon, or Darth Vader’s eventual apology).
  • The adventure finishes with apotheosis ”often in movies with change of clothes!”; a change to whole person. (In LOTR, it’s with destruction of the ring). The help from an unexpected place (e.g. Gollum).
  • However, there’s a Refusal of Return, (Luke and Frodo both delay going home); needs a Rescue with Without. In the real world this is from parents when a child, mentors when an adult.
  • Ideally, the hero becomes a Master of Both Worlds: returning to your old life with the knowledge of the new  (Sam gets this, but Frodo doesn’t).
  • It finishes with Freedom to Life (becoming a teacher; as Luke does).

Core Principles of UX Management
Michael Hawley

Michael Hawley gave practical tips on UX management, with three tenets:

  1. Educate: build expertise , be pro active, budget for it
  2. Mentor: enhance creative thinking.  Juniors struggle at selling ideas, getting over stumbling blocks and a number of other skills. Mentoring helps.
  3.  Motivate: inspire best work. Money seems helpful, but it isn’t (Dan Pink reports on research that shows that monetary rewards helps with physical tasks, but not cognitive ones). People are by far motivated by intrinsic value (internal guides). e.g. give autonomy, enable progress, alignment

For me, given the current general discussions about mentoring, the most interesting question for me is what you should be as a mentor: you should not be the solutions person. Instead you should be encouraging your mentee to be able to find their own solutions.

People are Software — The Story of Project Interaction
Katie Koch

“Our kids are ‘of’ design, but they aren’t aware if it” —Takeo Onishio

Concerned with how high school kids can find out about design as a career, Katie Koch and Carmen Duke are part of an initiative (whilst stil having full time jobs!) teaching a group of New York girls about interaction design. They shared their experiences of running Project Interaction over the last few years.

  1. High school students ‘get’ interaction design. They were born in 1995, have only known a world with tech. (Koch laughed at the results from one exercise they do with their students, where they have to try doing an everyday action in another timezone. When it came to finding an alternate subway route in the 90s “their mime for using a payphone was very funny as they’d never used one before”)
  2. Young people are full of creative ideas, and they’re ready to share them. When given sketchbooks, they love them and fill them with observations from their lives.
  3. Students learn design through a clear, repeatable process. 

They’ve also found that they use a cycle for teaching, as well as with students:

  1. Entry: students invariably think of fashion and product design when asked about design, but they get it with real life examples like subway ticketing systems.
  2. The make/test/reflect cycle:
    Make:
    using all sorts of materials, be it paper wireframes, post-it notes (really useful with students as it allows them to commit but also move, rip off page) even lego/cardboard
    Test: iterate (the students didn’t like being told to throw stuff away at first!), try different ways to tell a story (ranging from simple presentations to comics, dance)
    Reflect: compare feedback to expectations (have students critique each other right throughout process, which is new and hard for them “they’re used to just handing something in and getting a grade”)
  3. The showoff stage: sharing final work in presentations; having a presence on project website; just getting their thoughts out of their head

There were also some interesting questions from the floor:
Why interaction design rather than some other form of interaction design? Is it just because of your background? 

Kate explained that her and her business partner had stills in graphic design and video, so interaction design wasn’t a fait accompli; but they felt that interaction design had the greatest application beyond just being a designer.

Also, another question (mine!) about backgrounds and technology: is the student without a computer at home at a disadvantage? No, Koch explained, from her observation (the class is socio-economically mixed) they’re just as aware of technology as their more affluent peers, and in fact are often better as they not only have more critical distance from the technologies, but also don’t take them for granted.

Keynote: From solid to liquid to air:Interaction design and the future of the interface
Amber Case

Amber Case’s keynote built on her work as a work as a cyborg anthropologist. She defines a cyborg as any individual who stores parts of themselves externally in the world, and went on to explain that as humans we often use tools as an extension of our physical – and increasingly – mental selves. The progression of physical to mental augmentation is reflected in today’s devices, which are so unstable and change so fast that they are actually becoming invisible.

In 1981, Steve Mann from MIT began wearing computers around himself in an attempt to augment reality through a view-piece strapped around his left eye (wearcam). This was the genesis of contextual notification systems (replacing messages on annoying billboard ads) and computer-mediated reality (projecting conversation histories over specific people that he met), which became the inspiration for movies like the terminator. While technology has advanced since the 80s, our perception of cyborgs is still influenced by this augmentation of the physical.

Today, digital has resulted in what Amber calls an “automatic production of space”, where things that used to take up physical space (photos, music, movies) are now becoming invisible due to digital storage. She began to question what if the stuff we have in the future doesn’t really exist, where all our memories remained as hyperlinked objects? She also referred to today’s personal devices as prosthetics, which transform us into superhumans when we use them to transform our perception of reality, which brings its own problems.

In the future, however, we’ll move towards the use of “calm technology”, progressing from “actions as buttons” to invisible interfaces to what she calls “trigger-based interactions”, where interactions are caused by mere actions of the user. She also called out against Skeumorphs as interfaces, because they make use of the persistent architecture of old models that are outdated. We should instead be reimagining super human interfaces, where interactions and experiences will occur in a grander scale. She used the example of Geoloqi, an augmented reality service that mapped Wikipedia articles to physical locations, triggered via geolocation on a phone. Amber suggests that the phones will be like a remote control for reality, and in the future we’ll see the interface disappear.

IXDA Awards

The evening continued (and for some attendees, continued well into the morning, thank you Google free bar with Guinness and Baileys!) with the inaugural—and very swish—IXDA awards  at the Mansion House.

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.

Boon Chew

Boon is a Malaysian UX designer and former developer who currently works at SapientNitro London. He's an active member of the London UX community and organises the annual UXCampLondon unconference. You can reach out to him on twitter at @boonych.

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