Interaction11 – Saturday

So I realized as I was putting together a guest post for IxDA Lansing that I had completely forgotten to post this. I don’t know where my brain has been recently. I hope it’s warm and sunny wherever it is.

So… Saturday at Interaction11. Here we go…

The Neuroscience of Usability

For Saturday we didn’t start out the day with a keynote, but instead with two tracks of Lightning Talks. I stuck to my location in the main room and caught Charles Hannon talking about how neuroscience affects usability. While some earlier in the conference challenged design patterns, Hannon talked about how and why they work. When the patterns disappear emotions such as panic and anxiety edge their way into the picture keeping people from being able to focus on the big picture.

Up with Complexity! Challenging Users for Fun & Profit

In this talk, which Josh Clark said could also be ‘Make Me Think’, he contended that complexity and challenges are not the same thing. For instance, the Wenger Giant has every tool you can think of, but you can’t really use it. While complexity is not evil, it does need to be managed. Clark outlined focus, conversation, touch and exploration as ways of doing this.

Applying Film Making Tools to Interaction Design

For Adam Connor’s talk he introduced us to a number of film methods that can either be put to use in our development processes or taken advantage of for use in design. An example of the first would be the use of beat sheets to convey the emotional states of the system and user for various stages in a process, while an example of the second would be the use of rack focus or shifting the depth of field.

One piece of movie trivia – which side does the bad guy enter from?

Marketing is not a 4 Letter Word

I’ve done a lot of marketing related things in various jobs and so this was not a tlak I originally planned to attend, but I am glad I did. Megan Grocki did an awesome job talking about modern marketing and how Marketing methods of 10 and 20 years ago are, to large extent, no longer relevant. Instead, marketing needs to be approached from the view that anything a company does to engage their customer is marketing. Also, the best marketing is done when both company and customer are aware of what is going on and are satisfied.

Fun With Non-Digital Solutions

Scott Geoffrey Newson stepped beyond the digital world to the physical by sharing about the impact of real life interaction using references to Undercover Bosses, UBC’s Sprouts program, UK Waste Strategy Awareness Managers and the building men of Glasgow.

Keynote: Authorship in Interactive Media: Reflections on 35 Years of Change

Brenda Laurel kicked off the afternoon with an analysis of the changes that have occurred in the last 35 years through the eyes of one who was there through those changes. She reference 6 keys that brought these changes about – technology, action, senses, culture, nature & emergence. A few examples would include Atari (tech, culture), Hole in Space by Electronic Café (emergence) and the Girl Gamer Revolution (action, culture, nature, emergence).

Making Mistakes Fun: Game Mechanics are Not a Panacea, but They are Kind of Useful

Engagement is success and gamification is a hot field. Paris Buttfield-Addison denies neither of those statements, but did caution us that gamification needs to be done correctly. Pasting badges on top of a site is not the key to customer interaction. Instead, gaming aspects should be interested in achieving a higher goal and started with a vision – not just bolted on top. Think beyond fun to compelling interactions that will engage customers in a series of interesting decisions that are not too hard to be frustrating and not too simple to be boring.

To see gamification put to use for higher purposes, check out thefuntheory.com.

Pass it Back! Kid Apps on Grown Up Devices

This is another one that I didn’t necessarily think I would get a lot from, but as Nina Walia shared the findings from user research that she had been a part of for kids ages 2-5 and iPhone apps, I realized that a lot of these can be applied to adults as well. We are just grown up kids after all. We’ve just learned to compensate for the deficiencies of most devices like the difficulty of tapping and accidentally hitting the home button instead of back. Also, the videos that she shared of a few of the tests were super cute as well as informative.

Long After the Thrill: Sustaining Passionate Users

Stephen Anderson built on the base set up earlier in the day by Clark and Butterfield-Addison by encouraging looking deeper at the reasons that customers stay. Pasting a game on top isn’t enough. Its just sugar coating. It does need to be deeper, so he encouraged us to find the principles already at work in our products and use those to build engagement with our users. That may or may not involve elements of play. As he said, it takes more than delightful experiences to keep users. Long term they are more interested in whether it works and whether work is getting done to improve it.

Final Keynote

“This is a crisis. I really need a guy or a gal with a whiteboard and post-it notes.”
-Bruce Sterling on words we desire that are doomed for unfulfillment

Bruce Sterling is an entertaining speaker. He’s also not afraid of giving critique. So, laced with humor and supported by the immediately preceding happy hour, he combined his observations from throughout the conference with his previous knowledge of interaction design to give a good critical look at the community. He encourage user sympathy but cautioned against getting so caught up with users that we start suffering from User Stockholm Syndrome. He also cautioned us against getting so caught up in the design that we forget the less sophisticated user. Thus his final thought to us – How do you treat people who just don’t get it… that’s the real question.

So closed out the speaking portion of the conference. Afterwards, Microsoft sponsored quite the bash at the Absinthe House with an open bar, dancing, a photo booth and even a Kinect to play with.

It was a great event that I am very glad I had the opportunity to attend. Now to start plotting for Interaction12 in Dublin, Ireland.

Recommended Resources from the Day:
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
Mental Note Cards
A Theory of Fun by Raph Koster
The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell
Fundamentals of Game Design by Ernest Adams
Gamasutra
The Escapist Magazine
Drive by Dan Pink

Interaction11 – Friday

Yes, yes. I had intended to get this up sooner. Saturday as well. It is coming and soon. I promise.

Opening Keynote

It was obvious that Richard Buchanan had been paying attention to Thursday’s session when he started out his keynote with the three questions that had created a theme for the previous day: Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going?

His talk spoke a lot about how we design, those things which influence our design and the power of design.

“Design has no subject matter. That’s what makes this such a powerful discipline – we make our own subject matter.”

As designers, we bring a different perception. One of his examples was how a chair instead of just being a chair is a place of interaction or activity – interaction being defined as how people relate to other people through the mediatory influence of products (like a chair).

As a framework for the design Buchanan shared with us a philosophy labeled by his students to be the Triangle of Doom. The sides of the triangle represent the qualities of being useful, usable and desirable. The balance of these qualities has determines the voice of the product and the design, which falls into the center of the triangle, needs to reflect that.

It is also important to keep in mind that all three qualities are necessary. Something can be useful and usable, but if there is no desirability then it will not be adopted into people’s lives.

He also spoke about how interaction is not thing to thing, it’s person to person. Thing to person is interfacing. There is a difference.

It’s more than just designing environments for interactions to take place though. There needs to be something accomplished through this. With that in mind content needs to drive design not try to be squished in after the fact for if there is no content then will the artifacts we leave behind have a voice and will we be able to hear what they are trying to say?

In closing, Buchanan gave his answer to the final question. Where are we going? To support the dignity of our users and that should be the principle behind all of our designs.

Macro vs. Micro

The gents from Smudgeproof shared with us the differences between small team development and design versus working in a large company (like Yahoo).

The things that really stuck out to me were the sheer amount of management, which we’ve all seen, involved in the larger corporation and several of the changes in terminology. The one that actually made it into my notes was the use of ‘triage’ instead of ‘revisions’. To me it seems much more accurate.

Also, these guys were the ones who put together the app for the conference, which was awesome of them to do.

Design for Evil: Ethical Design

Is that not a cool title for a talk? It is also one of the most grumbled about talks of the conference from what I heard during and afterwards.

What I think Kaleem Khan was trying to say, though this is just my interpretation, is that because design is not neutral we need to think about the choices that we make in both the jobs we take on and how we actually design.

As Buchanan said, design is a powerful discipline and the choices we make can be a part of great good or evil. We need to be cognizant of this and choose with care the things that we do and do not do.

IxD & the New Media Pedagogy

Entrepreneurial journalism isn’t a term that I ever heard of while an editor for our college paper, but a lot has happened in the last five years and Steven Johnson is a professor preparing students for joining the workforce in this new age of digital media teaching just that.

Johnson teaches them beyond the journalism to the basic web developer skills that they will need along with interaction design, information architecture and user experience tenants. For example, he teaches them about site mapping by referencing the difference between a family tree and crabgrass (site mapping is the latter).

As a longtime Dilbert reader, one of my favorite sound bites of the day came from this talk.

“It’s Dilbert’s world and we just ideate in it.”

Many days that is exactly how it feels.

The Intersection of Physical & Digital Design

The last talk of the morning came from Lindsay Moore & Austin Brown of EffectiveUI. They shared with us ideas and examples of how digital interfaces could be developed to improve the interactions between people and the physical devices that they use.

One example they gave was of potential improvements to a thermostat that would not only give the consumers more system feedback like amount of time to heat and such, but also encourage community collaboration by tying into local energy challenges with neighbors. The idea being, of course, that community can provide collaboration and positive reinforcement that improve people’s habits.

Lunch and Beyond

Friday afternoon was our out and about day where we all headed off to different lunch locations and activities that we had signed up for ahead of time.

I was signed up for the design tour, so we went off to have lunch at Centro Latin Kitchen before hitting the sidewalks. Let me tell you, it was fabulous. If you’re in Boulder I recommend trying it.

Disney Online Kerpoof Studio

Our first stop was Disney Online’s studio in Boulder. They produce Kerpoof Studio, which focuses mostly on education as well as Disney Online’s Create section.

By no means do I fall into their core demographic of pre/young teen girls, but after seeing the work that they do on the create page I wanted to go and pretend that I was again. It was also interesting to hear how they handled things like innovation and development with a very artistic development environment.

Wall Street on Demand

Our second stop took us from art and children to graphs and money with Wall Street on Demand, a company which provides tools for financial services. They welcomed us with exercise balls for seating and a large bowl of chocolate then introduced us to their way of work through a presentation to the group.

Afterwards, we were invited to take the last few minutes to explore their space, check out their work on iPads and chat with their employees. It was obvious that they loved their jobs and they found something which many people might consider boring both interesting and exciting. It was great to see.

Crispin Porter + Bogusky

Our last stop was CP+B. A little further out of town than the other, they took what used to be an indoor soccer arena and transformed it into a really cool workspace. I may have gaped/drooled a little.

Here we did the reverse of the stop before by dividing up into two tour groups and then coming back together for a presentation about the company at the end. While I hadn’t been familiar with CP+B’s name, I have seen their ad campaigns and so it was interesting to hear how they came up with those ideas.

Each of the sites had a different product and energy, but what was interesting at the close was to think about how their processes were similar despite their differences (though not exactly alike by any means) and the ways that their company culture showed through whether it be in the architecture, work stations or the differences that did show through their work processes. It was definitely a great and thought provoking experience, especially with all the discussion of those subjects in the future of our office.

As for the evening, wow. There was a Coroflot recruiting/networking event already in motion when we got back which was the first event of the evening. Starting just a bit later were gatherings sponsored by Pivotal Labs, SapientNitro, Hot Studio & CP+B. At least, those are the ones that I was aware of. Needless to say, some folks were a bit, ehm, bleary-eyed the next morning. It was a great chance to meet people and connect further with those already met previously.

Recommended Reading from the Day:
Designing Interactionsby Bill Moggridge
Interaction Ritual – Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior by Erving Goffman

Interaction11 – Thursday

Thursday morning started out with coffee, banana bread, Bill Verplank and his conte crayon. A pretty good start to the day in my world.

Keynote: Interaction Design Metaphors

Bill started out with three questions that every interaction designer has to answer: How do you do? How do you feel? How do you know?

Within this he also discussed the difference between hot media, which is set without much room for interpretation, and cool media, which is much more open like jazz and cartoons, as well as how this plays into the matching of mediums and messages. The message needs to match the medium in which it is presented aka the medium is the message.

Another area that he covered was the difference between a path and a map. A path is more direct, but a map is more engaging and thought provoking.

The example he used was of the closed vs. open vending machines. The closed vending machine offers a few options, choose and go. It is a path. The open vending machine lays out all of your options where you can see them and choose that way. It is a map.

The last section of his talk had to do with mentalities and interfaces.

According to Piaget & Bruner, there are three different mentalities or forms of knowledge. The first we are born with, which is motor/kinesthetic/enactive knowledge or ‘do’ thinking. At about the age of 5 we develop ‘see’ thinking where the image is what matters. Then, as an adult, we develop symbolic or ‘know’ thinking. According to Bruner we suppress each type of thought as we develop the next.

This ties into interaction and computing with the manner in which interfaces developed. The first computers were teletype computer which were all about symbols thusly ‘know’ thinking. From there we moved on to ‘see’ thinking with the birth of the GUI (Graphic User Interface) and interactive design.

So what next? If we continue in this progression we will be moving to ‘do’ thinking and have already started to see the entry of tangible user interfaces.

Obviously this has just been and overview, but my understanding is that the talks will be made live eventually if you’d like to learn more on this or any of the other speakers’ talks.

Proximus Maximus

What gives designers the confidence to say they can create something never before credited? What gives those they’re talking to confidence to believe them?

To address this Michael Meyer spoke on the 3 Design Imperatives. The first is empathy as we designers must develop and show for our tools. The second imperative is core, which is the essential material available to craft the products, services, etc. The last imperative is proxy or the things that represent the sum of you knowledge and communicate understanding and ability.

It is the combination of these three things – empathy, core & proxy – which answer the questions that began the talk in the first place for it’s those that determine the final arbitrators in design decisions.

What do you do anyway?

Carl Alviani brought to a point a recurring theme of the morning – how do we define ourselves as interaction designers? As probably comes as no surprise to anyone who has asked before, our field doesn’t have a really good answer to that question.

As Carl pointed out, internal stories do not equal external stories and the importance of a right story is that it turns skeptics into evangelists. He gave several definitions that people have of the field with my favorite being that it’s magic. Not that this lack of understanding is a good thing, but I appreciated the comment anyway.

In closing, he gave all those listening 5 To Dos:

1. An example would be useful – Examples ALWAYS beat abstracts
2. Tell an IxD at work story – w/ pics!
3. Don’t sweat the edge case, dialogs are protables
4. It is… don’t worry about the titles unless it’s vital
5. Start where the listener is

Consume, Consume, Consume

Peter Knoche came next reminding us that there is more to life than just consuming and, in fact, that consumption has never won an Emmy or written the Great American Novel.

With that he encouraged us to seek balance in our lives between the curation, creation and consumption that fill them and not only that, but to help our users find balance in theirs as well with the reminder that free cultures get what they celebrate.

Scandalous Interaction

Tim Wood started out his lightning talk with quite the scandalous slide – Usability is overrated! This was followed up with the question of whether usability really is overrated when it’s just one of many factors which drive us.

He ruffled a good many feathers in the twitto-sphere challenging the traditions, conventions and the continuing applicableness of these things. He asked us to truly consider before using these things for convenience and look beyond the model details to define the underlying structure and logic so that we understand the abstraction of the behavior.

After a scheduled lunch break…

Keynote: Designing at the Edge of the World

Erik Hersman kicked off the afternoon by sharing with us how technology is impacting Africa and the differences between there and other parts of the world.

One of the largest differences is that mobile rules. While we take for granted in many places that that people will have email addresses this is simply not true of Africa. Instead the phone number trumps the email address and so the technological culture there has adapted to this.

The power of the phone number does not, however, mean that people are loading their phones full of data and minutes each month. Instead they are only loading them just often enough to keep the number active. This has led to site like facebook allowing access to certain portions of their site at no cost to the user.

The biggest thing that can be seen is how this is making a shift from societies that have always been top down in their structure to working on building from the ground up.

He also cited a number of African sites/developers/organizations of interest including MXit, iYam.mobi, AfricanDigitalArt.com, Stonewall.co.za, NairoBits and Ushahidi.

Obviously this is just a very brief overview of his talk. You can find his thoughts after speaking here at his blog.

Design for the Developing World

Susan Wyche followed up on Erik’s experiences with her own much shorter exploration of the internet and Africa from when she did a short term study of how Africans who theoretically could afford to get internet in their homes interact with it.

What I find interesting is that those she spoke with chose not to add the expense of internet. To them the possible benefit did not outweigh the cost and they did not wish to have their lives consumed with this tool (as we Americans do). Instead they plan deliberate interactions with the internet using offline preparation to maximize their time online in the office or at internet cafes.

GrowBot Gardens

The next speaker, Carl DiSalvo of the Georgia Institute of Technology, switched stateside as he talked about working collaboratively with small farmers on building and designing robots that would benefit them in their work.

Bringing back the earlier topic of empathy, he spoke about cultural imaginaries and moving towards co-design and with that greater empathy for those we are working with.

He also talked about public design. That is the construction of publics, especially with the thought in mind of bringing together all kinds of people to interact and engage with each other.

It wasn’t a session I had initially thought I would find interesting, but working with the Mainstreet program I could see a lot of application for my area if not as much my paid job.

Technobrega: Tacky Techno

The last session ended up being a favorite of mine. Ana Domb brought us an inside look at the techno brega phenomena from Brazil. It is an interesting study in how a community took a system that was not working for them (i.e. the licensed music system) and through collaborative innovation developed a new system that used both social and physical currency supporting both the artists and the audience.

Because it is a true collaboration there is not bottom up because there is not bottom. The relationship is lateral so that instead of the audience being at the receiving end of the network it’s a node in the greater network.

“The history of art deals with innovators and innovations that won organizational systems.” – Howard Becker

Q&A

To close out the afternoon there was a Q&A with the speakers. Here are a few bits I found interesting from it

What is the role of designer in these environments?
Guide & translator, yet without trying to force our own cultural perceptions upon a place and people who are different from us.

What about cultural intrusiveness?
Balance expertise with crushing your own ego. Work with the culture not against it and, most of all, listen.

“We build stuff to make things change. That’s what we do.” – Erik Hersman

Effective UI/Adobe Opening Party

We closed out the evening with a bash hosted by Effective UI & Adobe at the Boulder Theatre which featured the wonderful taste creations of a top chef (the brussel sprouts were amazing) and two bands.

I’ll close out this post with a video of Itchy-O.

Interaction11 – Wednesday

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Interaction11 conference in Boulder, CO, with my co-worker Caitlin. Instead of trying to cover it all in one or even two posts I’ve decided to break it out by day lest the sheer amount of notes I’m seeking to parse into this becomes overwhelming.

On to Wednesday.

We actually set out to Boulder for the conference on Tuesday, which turned from a nice 8 hour travel day to something around 14 hours with a flight delay leading to a missed flight and then sub-zero whiteness in Denver on our arrival correlating to a late bus. I can now tell you from experience that walking 4 blocks with luggage in the slush and sub-zero temps with a Manhattener in the lead is really not the best way to go. Should I ever again face this situation I’m getting a cab. Anyway, we made it. I’ll leave Tuesday at that.

After a nice, full night of sleep we headed downstairs to acquire our badges (accompanied with some lovely swag) and headed over to the first workshop of the day – ‘Self-Ethnography, Collaboration & Play’ with Sara Summers of Microsoft. Of course, the first thing she asked was why we chose that workshop of our options for the morning, which falls into the data set known as ‘details I’ve ceased recalling’.

So what is self-ethnography? With Sara at the helm we boiled it down into 5 things:
– Empathy
– Observation of ourselves using things
– Emotional Intelligence
– Self-awareness
– Self-regulation

One example given of this was Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario Bros, who took inspiration from his own childhood memories to create the most lucrative and game-changing video game to date. His whole philosophy was to recreate the wonderment of being a child. Obviously that resonated and still resonates with his users.

As we continued with a discussion on the balance of creativity and our work lives a couple of notes that jumped out at me were the idea that creative work should be like traveling to a foreign country and that while planning is good we should remain open to those unplanned experiences as they are often the most interesting.

I also really enjoyed her analogy of describing bad UX as a bug to developers; a concept which we plan to start implementing in our workplace now that we’re back.

Our session was closed out with a collaborative thinking project. We were asked to write down the best business idea and worst start-up idea that we could think of. As I’m sure you can see coming, she tore off the good ones and had each table grouping choose (without looking) a bad one which we had a ½ hour to develop a business plan for presentation to a group of venture capitalists otherwise known as our peers.

Our business idea – an interface you interact with via smell.

Thusly Analyscent was born.

Here’s our new friend Phillip presenting our business:

Yes, I realize that the video is sideways. I haven’t yet had a chance to convert and flip it.

Caitlin was also kind enough to grab photos of some of our presentation materials and share them.

After grabbing lunch with several of our new friends, I headed back to Boulder Digital Works for an afternoon session with other IxDA local leaders. While I picked up a lot of great information and ideas for our local IxDA group as well as learning a good bit more about local groups globally (and the amazing rate at which they are growing), the best part of the afternoon session was the opportunity to connect with other people involved with leading local groups including one person from my own state I hadn’t met yet. I’m really looking forward to the collaboration efforts that are already starting to come from that relationship building.

After a relatively short trip to the bar with the group, several of us split off to enjoy some Cheesecake Factory for dinner (we don’t have one in Michigan) where we learned a little more about the local wildlife, perhaps more than made some of the group comfortable. Thankfully, I don’t think Justin had to try out his cat calming skills with any of the local mountain lions while in the area.

The evening closed out with karaoke at Juanita’s. For all of you who were there an didn’t go – you missed out on a lot of fun.

Looking back over the conference as a whole, one of the things I find interesting is that the people that we met on Wednesday ended up being a good portion of those who we bonded with and spent a good amount of time with as the week progressed. That is not to say that we didn’t meet or hang out with more people, just that many of those who I really see myself remaining in touch with were in that group and I am glad that we took part in those optional workshops and activities of the day.

Recommended Reading from the Day:

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connective Age by Clay Shirky

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nick Carr
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book by Linda Barry