by Miguel Fernandez (@miguefernandez)
In February, I was lucky enough to attend Interaction 11, in Boulder, Colorado.
Before the start of the conference, there was an integration event on Tuesday sponsored by CP+B, the Vail Ski trip. The plan was to discuss a new app they had released, to monitor the activity while skiing, during a 2hr bus trip from Boulder to
Vail. Afterwards, skiing in Vail using the app and on the way back (again in the 2hr bus trip) brainstorm ways to enhance and to make the experience better. It seemed like a perfect plan, as it had been a while since I had snowboarded and I got the chance to snowboard side by side by side by side by Andrew Daniel, VP of Creative and User Experience of Sears.
Sadly for me, I arrived in Denver during one of the worst snow storms I have ever seen and the next morning there was no way for me to meet the other guys at the departing point for that trip, so I missed it. Yeah, it blows.
Anyway, I went to the Hotel St. Julien to get my badge later that day and met the @UXsears crew. I must say they were super kind and welcoming to me. I also got the chance to meet their head of Mobile UX Wendy Vestevich.
The conference started the day after. The opening Keynote by Bill Verplank of Enactive Thinking instantly made me think the content of this conference was going to be awesome. This guy is really eminent in terms of interaction design, he worked in Xerox connecting the desktop metaphor, which turn into the GUI and participated in the creation of the mouse, yeah the one that you are holding right now. He is a real master of visual thinking, teaching it in schools like MIT, his conferences are known as he sketches while he talks, and that’s exactly what he did in this one. His storytelling is neat and his sketches really sharp.
Here is his keynote.
After Bill spoke, I got the chance to see Michael Meyer’s keynote “Design Imperatives from the Roman Empire to the NASA Space program and Beyond” which was quite interesting coming from a former Frog Design product developer.
After these and some others I was quite amazed that the following conversations focused on what is it that we do. What is it what we are?
To be honest, I’m a bit tired of attending events, phone calls, meetings in which the philosophical, existential discussion on what interaction design is never ends. The fact that some of our deliverables are not tangible enough for some, still makes some wonder what is it what we do, why does it sound so cool/fancy and how really useful it is. I was a little upset at this moment, but don’t get me wrong, this was interesting content, but I was expecting more practical examples on how to enhance interactions and emerging trends or tendencies.
The conference got back on track when they presented the Student Design Competition, a challenge based on the concept of “Use, Not Own.” Groups of students would be working the days of the conference and would present their solutions on the closing day. It was very interesting to see how they delivered and presented their ideas, nothing fancy, sketches over pictures, quick comps, quick storyboards, which helped narrate their solution but not let ideas be judged by these deliverables. Quick prototyping.
I got the chance to see Erik Hersman afternoon keynote which, for some of the US attendees, didn’t have as much of an impact as it did for people like me. Hersman created a product from Africa, with African devs/designers and managed to adapt it to different contexts. This for me, coming from a team in South America, was very interesting.
I also got a chance to catch the end of Pentagram’s Lisa Strausfield’s presentation, where she showcased lots of her work quickly. It was quite cool, seeing practical examples of solutions to problems.
Day 2’s opening keynote by Richard Buchanan made the conference. Even though I thought he was going to the same route of the existential discussion, his presentation was quite inspirational and that gave me lots of motivation. He exposed important models like the “Triangle of Doom,” which describes the importance of balancing usefulness, usability and desirability. He also talked about what the principle of interaction design was, concluding that it was “human dignity” and then stated that that was the material not only for interaction designers but designers in general. The discussion on the materials concluded that the materials for ixd are the “purposes and desires of the people we serve.” He received a standing ovation from the audience and I was quite amazed of his capacity for oratory – enchanting.
I also liked Steven Johnson’s Keynote. It was all about as how he as a teacher understands the importance of teaching IA, IXD and UX in journalism an how journalism has needed to evolve to be successful in the digital medium. Maybe not one of the inspiring keynotes, but one that shows how interaction design has crossed the borders of traditional industries.
After Friday’s morning keynotes, groups were supposed to have an activity in the evening – I got geo-catching – but as I couldn’t go to Vail earlier in the conference, and found out there was a ski resort 30 mins away from the conference, Andrew and I got in a car and went there for our evening activity – snowboarding.
We came back to the evenings events, a networking event in the Boulderado hotel where employers like UX-Sears, Microsoft, RIM, and others were talking about their offerings. After that we crashed into a couple of sponsored parties around the city.
Day 2 format was quite interesting as it was more of a casual way to interact with presenters, attendees and sponsors.
This day went very quick. I was a little upside that most of the keynotes I wanted to attend were in the smaller room, which was always packed. I did have the chance to attend various keynotes this day which were very practical and showed lots of examples.
Without getting into too much detail, the one I like the most was Jason’s Bruges afternoon keynote. He talked about the intersection of architecture, art and interaction. His work, let me say, is incredible. Turning physical spaces into exceptional interactions with conveying messages. Very inspiring, as it moved out from our day-to-day world, the digital, to the boundaries of the physical world.
This day was the wrap up of the student competition.
Here you can view the participant’s concepts.
The winners were Kat and Ruby from the Austin Center of Design; make sure to take a look at their proposal.
The funniest and most reflective thing of this conference was the Closing Keynote by Bruce Sterling. He made so much fun of what we think we do, that he tread the fine line of insulting and praise. He insisted “the best [Interaction Designers] can hope for is a morality in permanent beta.” Awesome. Another of his closing comments was “What will make you a better designer is a fanatic dedication to craft and no fear of failure,” which reminded something that was clearly stated in most keynotes: An idea, good or bad, is just and idea if it remains in your head. If you don’t do anything with that idea, if you don’t give it shape and make something about it… it’s nothing…
There is a lot of content that I wasn’t able to cover here, as you may understand I could be writing a 1000 word essay for each of the keynotes, but I hope this works.
So that’s it. I came out of this conference trying to figure out what is it that I do every day to make this world better, and understanding that what we do is in a constant stage of beta. Our approach to solutions will always evolve and will get better, but still we can’t craft the next solution if we haven’t crafted the one that is in our heads. So lets grab our pencils and do what we do best.