A couple weeks later, I wanted to highlight the key talks/presos that still stand out in my mind long after the wonderful festivities have finished…and more than the in-the-moment tweets or day after reactions I had previously posted. Below are my Top 5 Highlights :-)

1. Keynotes: Bill Verplank & Dick Buchanan & Brenda Laurel

What an amazing, thought-provoking triad of keynote talks by the legendary thought leaders and pioneers of “interaction design”, raising critical questions about the history, essence, and directions of the field, from a systems theory POV (Verplank), Aristotelian rhetorical basis (Buchanan), and personal practitioner perspective (Laurel).

Verplank’s live sketching via conte on paper was simply priceless, a true testament to the power of visual storytelling–and the ultimate anti-Powerpoint weapon! He delved patiently into the rich history of interaction design, moving among frames of “doing” (enactive), “seeing” (iconic) and “knowing” (symbolic).

Buchanan brilliantly recapped in a TED-style “alone on the stage” lecture the Graduate Design Seminar from Carnegie Mellon, tracing the trajectory of design thinking (applying John Dewey and Erving Goffman, as well as George Nelson and even St. Augustine as reference points) via his infamous “cross of pain” and “triangle of doom” conceptual tools, which I’ve cap’d here  :-) Perhaps most important, Buchanan stated the overarching principle of all design is “human dignity”, and that the materials of design are “the purposes and behaviors of the people we serve”. Hmm!

Laurel detailed her rich and lively history as a female design practitioner in the heavily testosterone driven world of Silicon Valley software, highlighting lessons learned at Atari, and then Purple Moon, and now as a professor shaping the next generation of designers.

2. Patterns still matter: Film, rhythm, neuroscience

It was interesting to hear quite a bit about patterns in both ridicule (Tim Wood provocatively suggested “patterns are the clip art of designers”) and praise. Particularly the short talks pointing to the value of film-making patterns applied to interface design (motion, transitions, animations to convey orientation / navigation / feedback), musical tempos and rhythms applied to designing interactions to shape a sense of autotelic flow, and of course the neuro-bio-chemical basis of humans being “softwired” for detecting patterns for survival and life improvement in our daily activities. Yep, patterns still matter, and often present their value in interesting ways!

3. Workshop on Advanced Design

Wow, what a fascinating session! The current Creative Director for Phone 7 at Microsoft presented ideas per his own professional experience on what it takes to create an “advanced concept design team” and pursue forward-looking design ideas amidst the hum-drum of daily business/finance/marketing. We performed an interesting activity centered on factory production optimization, to drive home the point about the vexing challenges of intersecting “cool new ideas” with bean counter goals of optimizing efficiencies for profit, within a pre-defined pipeline of financial order. There are various organizational models and approaches for introducing radical ideas like “embedded” or “peel off” or “skunkworks”; but ultimately you have to seek out the “soft spots” which are points in time open to innovative product ideas.

4. Student competition ideas

It was quite humbling to see the wonderful ideas cobbled together by several student design teams in just a few days, addressing the social/humanitarian design issues of reducing consumption, helping the homeless, and enabling sustainable living. Great ideas all around, and such raw curiosity and spirit of wanting to create something viable, desirable, and truly “good”. Kudos! We should do more to cultivate this vitality in corporate design environs too…

5. Complexity & gamification

So glad to hear these talks celebrating the value of “complexity” similar to Don Norman’s recent book, and suggesting ways to augment the playful, rewarding qualities of an app, beyond typical badges and points and rank-ups. Gets to the heart of motivations, incentives, and personal goals in using software…

* And one more… Technobrega!

What a wonderful, fun and eye-opening talk about the “alternative sub-culture” in Brazil, examining from a participatory design POV the lives, values, and expectations of a fascinating mix of people blending music, culture, food, various social contexts to create a techno-music reality, if you will. Entertaining and quite introspective as well.