Mar 07, 2013

Takeaways from IxDA ‘13

Annie Nguyen's picture
Annie Nguyen
User Experience Designer

I recently had the opportunity to attend my first IxDA (Interaction Design Association) conference in Toronto. As a first-time attendee, I absorbed a lot of the excitement and lessons from talks, learned about IxDA history, and grew to know the network of people—both newcomers and seasoned returnees, students and professionals—that’s grown through the IxDA community.

The best way to sum up IxDA as an organization is their manifesto:

We believe that the human condition is increasingly challenged by poor experiences. IxDA intends to improve the human condition by advancing the discipline of Interaction Design.To do this, we foster a community of people that choose to come together to support this intention. IxDA relies on individual initiative, contribution, sharing and self-organization as the primary means for us to achieve our goals.

The theme of this year’s conference (which also marked the ten-year anniversary of IxDA) was Social Impact. Held over four days, with an additional day for more in-depth workshops, each day at IxDA began with an opening keynote speaker and ended with a featured project.

The session format consisted of 10- and 45-minute talks as well as panel discussions that covered topics such as Big Data, Education, and the Great UX Debate. Unfortunately, the conference’s theme seemed to only resonate tangentially through many of the talks. A couple of talks that did focus on social impact included Design4America, the World Wide Web Foundation’s work in other countries, and Greater Good Studio’s research in school cafeterias. In addition, a team from the Mayo Clinic discussed patient empathy. There were many talks on Wellness and Data.

Here are some takeaways and highlights from the talks I attended:

Social Impact: Design that Fosters Change
Franco Papeschi presented on a framework that speaks specifically for theory of change: Action, Outputs, Outcomes, and Impact. By understanding the impact on what individuals and communities are capable of doing, we can enact change. Many external factors should be concerned such as political, economic, behaviors, and assumptions. Instead of creating a brand new product that requires large financial investment, start with the Minimum Viable Intervention and Frugal Innovations that can be prototyped and tested that will likely have an impact. Find new types of investments such as crowd-funding, competitors, CSR funds, and impact investments.

Strategy: UX as Business Consultant
Cindy Chastain presented New Frontiers: The UX Professional as Business Consultant. “Guiding clients through the process has become UX work.” What resonated for me was that user experience and interaction design, whatever you may call it, is making its way to the core of business decision making. This may not be new news for some, but design can no longer be a separate discussion or afterthought. Design should be integrated and involve the overall business strategy. As designers, we should be aware of the context and business implications early on, develop a roadmap that makes sure our work is has longevity, and be flexible for the future when we are not there. For organizations, they are beginning to recognize that user experience is an important aspect for their customers, and they need our guidance and expertise on how to create meaningful experiences over time, not just single interactions.

Health/Wellness: Designing a Compassionate Healthcare Experience
This talk by James Oliver was one I really enjoyed. He discussed the creation of a portal that allowed cancer patients to connect to another, write and share their stories, and removed the medical staff and jargon. Oliver’s team also created an app and website that allowed patients to access their information, and connected them to their close personal networks, allowing friends and family to send well wishes and find out about their condition, send donations, see a schedule of planned care, and chip in on chores like household errands. Profound needs can be met by creating the right kinds of spaces and interactions.

Technology: Internet of Things
This was a fun talk by Carla Diana about the various devices in our everyday lives and questioning what that really mean. She talked about the things that help us learn more about ourselves, others, and the world around us. Some of these devices focus on reinforcing our own identity, exposing the invisible, monitoring, and sharing. Despite the amount of different devices out there, what I got from the talk was how we can bring ourselves back to the here and now, our natural surroundings. The internet of things can help us in our daily lives without creating barriers.

Culture: Beautiful Failures
I also really enjoyed this 10-minute talk by Susan Dybbs. She presented her own personal experiences in making mistakes as a designer. We should not only learn from our mistakes, but discuss it within a supportive network and culture. As designers, we tend to only show our best work, but it’s also a work in progress. We should give time to reflect, learn, and celebrate our failures together.

Delight: 21 Swings Project
Daily Tous Les Jours created an interactive and collaborative project that takes place in the public space of Montreal. They created 21 swings that triggered different notes. When the swings are all in use, it creates a delightful music. This encourages people to work in collaboration to create the melodies. It was not only fun, but created a place for people in the city to come together.

In the end, I came away with more connections, and information from different areas that made me more curious and excited about my own work in design and research. The growing community has evolved over the last 10 years and it will be interesting to see it continue to grow in the next year. See you all in Amsterdam for IxDA '14!

And, if you’d like to learn more about the presentations at this year’s conference, the slides can all be found online. Enjoy!

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