Interaction’09 highlights

I attended the Interaction’09 Conference, held in downtown Vancouver early February 2009, featuring a wide assortment of speakers and topics from “performance art robotics” to “waiting” (yes, just waiting) to “prototyping methods” and “touch-screen interfaces”. On the whole I enjoyed it very much, found it stimulating, intriguing, and valuable–very eager to see what’s ahead for 2010! Below is my take on the conference highlights.

* My Photosets:

* Keynotes: A rich diverse array of keynote addresses, many of them pertained to the issue of “sustainability” as it relates to practicing interaction design in some form (and the relation to “behavior” as a core DNA element of IxD). I couldn’t help but notice that the wide range also suggested a subtle unconscious mapping out of the parameters of is “interaction design”: massive social change, artistic theatrical/robotic speculations, personal journeys as an entrepreneur and change agent, articulating tangible outputs for human good, and teaching/mentoring to cultivate a growing body of professionals as part of a virtuous cycle. A fascinating mix…

I posted overviews of the keynotes separately:

* Sketching: Tim Wood delivered a fabulous talk about the value of design sketching with a pen/paper, using brilliant close-up comparisons to sketches from Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and others as a way to motivate and demonstrate how design sketching is done, step-by-step. As a passionate defender of sketching as a vital design skill, I found this illuminating and delighted to see it so well received by the audience too!

* Prototyping: Andrei Herasimchuk presented an ambitious model charting out various prototyping tools and techniques for building, in essence, digital concept cars that articulate (in varying degrees of fidelity) the intended behavior of your digital product. From html to flash to AIR, for websites, RIA’s, mobile or kiosk, the chart is very detailed and comprehensive, a great resource for designers to reference per their daily work. One nice detail is the mapping of tool to what that tool affords in terms of fidelity and completeness and overall utility within product development (ie, will the code be reusable, is it fast to iterate, etc.), across a range of criteria that Andrei spells out clearly. Very helpful in consultation with development teams!

Here is Andrei’s dynamic prototyping methods chart, done in html using jquery and kuler. (just to prove that Andrei does practice what he preaches :-)

* From Research to Insight: Jon Kolko gave a awesomely speedy talk (the sessions were only 20 minutes!) on the concept of abductive thinking (what we do as designers, basically the logic of possibility, but Kolko has a more thorough interpretation :-), introducing it, why it matters, how it serves designers and providing defensible rationale for design process/thinking to non-designers, etc. Great stuff, looking forward to his paper/article on the topic coming out soon.

(Slides posted here)

(And here’s Kolko’s thoughts on the conference, with emphasis on this issue of “designing for behavior” which apparently riled up some folks at the event…hmm? To me interaction = behavior, so why the fuss? hmm)

* Touchscreen/Surface: Joe Fletcher, manager of the MS Surface design team, went through a breakdown of the issues and challenges and opportunities when designing the Surface product. Much of it was pretty common sense (like using your hand causes UI elements to be obscured, etc.), but good to hear the stories surrounding the issue and how his team dealt with the Surface, etc. Definitely no small feat! Would love to see a panel discussion featuring Surface vs. iPhone vs. touch kiosks, all hash out their issues on-stage.

* Parti Sandwich: Luke Wroblewski spoke of the need for a “parti” or central guiding concept behind every great design, based upon architecture. Mapping this concept to work he’s done at Yahoo for re-vamping their homepage, Luke discussed the concept’s value and how different layers of design, management, technology fit within the structure to be coherent and valuable. Very cool and useful thinking!

(You can download Luke’s slides here off his professional blog)

* Waiting: Joseph Dombrowski gave a surprisingly fascinating talk on the notion of waiting, like waiting on the phone or waiting for the app to launch or waiting for a reply to a message. Psychological issues, some quant data/metrics shared, but most interesting was just how a mundane concept was made into a worthwhile and often humorous presentation.

* Mobile Patterns: Jennifer Tidwell gave a quick preview of an upcoming chapter on mobile patterns from her book, mostly looking at the Apple iPhone as the model for various UI patterns and interactions. Short amount of time, but certainly tons of good rich detailed information worthy of a workshop on mobile UI design. As she said, we’re all gonna be mobile designers one way or another! Deal with it.

* Foundations of IxD: Dave Malouf gave a compact yet deep overview of this notion that has beguiled design departments: what constitutes “foundation” for interaction design? Referencing Pratt’s highly esteemed and principled foundation course, Dave offered his thoughts on topics such as prototyping, behavior, affordances/human factors, cultural & contextual issues, etc. The debate will continue no doubt and Dave made a worthwhile first momentous step!

(Slides available here)

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Uday Gajendar

I am a UI designer in Silicon Valley, having worked within large corporate user experience teams and design consultancies, for over a decade.

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