Mar 16, 2009

Recapping the Redux (the Interaction09 Conference Redux, that is...)

Josh Williams's picture
Josh Williams
Director, Product Strategy

It's no secret that in our Bay Area you can't swing a cat without hitting a user experience or interaction designer (who will then design you an environmentally friendly, ergonomic Cat Swinger with real-time Twitter feed integration).

Last month, I was in Vancouver for the Interaction Design Association's (IxDA) Interaction09 conference, and there were moments during different group discussions when I'd realize that I'd flown all the way to another country to wind up talking with people who worked just down the block. In addition to the global org, IxDA also has a bunch of self-organizing local chapters; they're essentially grass-roots groups with no operating budget, no formal memberships, and DIY structures that differ based on region and the amount of time and energy the local leaders can spare.

After the conference, many of the local IxDA chapters began planning recaps so they could share videos and experiences from Interaction09 with people who weren't able to attend.

A few months before the conference, I started getting involved with the San Francisco chapter of IxDA , which has been responsible for a fantastic series of (nearly) monthly talks on different design topics over the last 18 months or so. When we started kicking around ideas for our recap it seemed a shame to opt for showing videos when so many conference presenters were in our own backyard. Instead, we decided to stage a sampling of conference sessions, which included a workshop, some short "lightning" sessions, and a keynote address, which we scheduled for the better part of last Saturday, March 14.

Early on, Peter Merholz extended an offer for us to use Adaptive Path's spacious second floor, which could easily accommodate the 100+ attendees we expected for our Interaction09 Redux. (Yes, 130 people RSVP'd on the IxDA SF community Ning site, but considering the event was on a Saturday afternoon and was contending with SXSW and with the local St. Patrick's Day Parade, some attrition was to be expected.)

The day began with pizza, and with Steve Portigal's (Portigal Consulting) workshop, "Well, we did all this research… now what?" The original version of his workshop in Vancouver was 4 hours, the participants had done some homework in preparation, and there was a busy shopping mall nearby to serves as a focal point for the participants' research activities. Steve was able to compress his workshop down to an hour and a half, with some time allotted for research-like activities in our cozy meeting pace. Among other things, Steve's workshop touched on an important but often ignored area of the design research process—the synthesis of design research, and translating research into actionable insights.

Next we had Interaction09's "Lost Session." Kumi Akiyoshi (Adaptive Path) wasn't able to make it to Vancouver to deliver her "lightning" session, "Feeling: What makes an engaging product experience?" Our Redux was a chance to make sure all her hard work and incredibly cute slides didn't go to waste. Using an MSN project as an example, Kumi showed us how emotion and excitement could be represented in the visual design, and talked about her strategies for breaking down silos in a large organization like Microsoft, where an aligned experience can only be achieved when all the various teams in the org are talking to each other. People are often quick to share their successes, but it's rarer to hear someone talk about their failures.

Ian Swinson (Salesforce) was generous enough to do a little of both with his presentation, "Postcard Patterns: An Agile UI Pattern Creation Process." By using a thorough and rigorous approach, his team's first attempts to document the UI patterns of Salesforce applications was slow and untenable. When his team reset and adopted an Agile process, they quickly found traction and succeeded in coming up with a simple framework for documenting patterns that hinged on a single rule: all patterns had to be singlesheeters, like a post card.

Nadya Direkova (Razorfish) presented our last "lightning" session, "What’s in a game? A look at game design best practices as prime influencers of interaction design." She outlined how concepts and mechanics commonly found in the world of game design could be applied to other interactive experiences to engage and retain user attention. A simple concept like a reward or point system can be enough to keep a user moving along through a complex task; light game-like features can be used to provoke curiosity and invite deeper experience explorations.

Finally, we were fortunate to have Kim Goodwin (VP of Design at Cooper) re-deliver her keynote, which also closed the Vancouver conference. In "Each One, Teach One (and Other Ideas for Delivering on the Promise)," Kim identified a "window of opportunity" for interaction designers to settle in their place in organizations and define their roles. She sees greater understanding and desire for design thinking approaches within enterprise organizations, but she also sees a lack of qualified candidates to fill those positions. Her challenge to the IxDA community is to find ways to add more cultural diversity to the field, and to seek out opportunities to mentor. Mentoring, or teaching, is a mutually beneficial arrangement -- not only is the student enriched, the teacher also benefits by being forced to be deliberate and thoughtful in clearly communicating concepts.

As I said, our Redux was an ambitious undertaking, and we're happy to go back to producing the bite-sized monthly events of the past. But the quality of our speakers was by no means atypical of the scads of design-related events that are always happening around the Bay Area. Between groups such as BayCHI, Netsquared, oodles of user groups, and various one-offs, there's no shortage of opportunities to hear about new ideas in design and meet other people with similar, geeky interests. Finding out about them is usually about as complicated as visiting Upcoming, scouting Facebook, or (of course) joining IxDA SF's Ning site.

See you at the next event.