Over the course of the event a few major themes emerged from keynote presenters, sessions, and general conversation:
- Making the world better (Sustainability)
- Aesthetics of Interaction Design
Making the world better
John Thackara and Robert Fabricant both gave keynote presentations on types of sustainability and how they relate to design. I found these sessions incredibly inspirational, I think we all wanted to leave the room and start working on the world’s problems right away!
John Thackara’s (http://www.thackara.com/) opening keynote, “Experiencing Sustainability,” set out to highlight the large scale problems facing the world, and how we as designers can work to solve them. He talked about “peak” markets for many of our major resources - water, food, oil, credit. We’ve hit the peak levels of production and demand for those resources, and starting now they will all begin to decline.
He presented some really amazing examples of how design can be used to combat these huge issues. Things like smart drainage systems (SUDS: Sustainable Urban Drainage System) that use natural material, like gravel, to filter and store water locally.
Robert Fabricant (http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/author/robert-fabricant) also spoke on how design is needed to solve the large scale problems we are currently facing. His approach is slightly different than John Thackara’s. Fabricant says that our medium as interaction designers is behavior, not technology.
One of the most inspiring moments of the entire weekend was hearing Robert speak about the HIV testing project he worked on in South Africa called Project Masiluleke (http://www.poptech.org/project_m/). HIV testing has such a negative connotation in South Africa that many people never get tested at all. Project Masiluleke aims to alter people’s behavior and perception in regards to these tests. It combines an SMS campaign urging people to get tested and giving them the information they need to proceed, and a new type of home HIV test, allowing people to take the test without the public shame associated with it. The home tests haven’t been released yet, but early studies show that they could have a major impact on the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.
These examples point to a shift in the types of problems addressed by design, and by designers. Design is now seen as one of the leading ways to tackle huge, world changing, issues.
Aesthetics and Education
The other two major themes, aesthetics of IxD and education, had a lot of overlap. The basic idea is that we need to figure out exactly what interaction design is, how to present it to people, and how to teach it to them. In order to do that we need to evaluate the IxD practice in design terms, those of a specific aesthetic.
Dave Malouf, in his presentation on foundation of IxD, talked a lot about what we can learn from industrial design education. When comparing IxD to other design disciplines there is one big difference, all others have what’s called “foundation.” Foundation is the basic tenants of the design practice, the means by which you can evaluate the qualities of design. For example, in industrial design some elements of foundation are plane, colour, material, and line. Dave proposed a set of working foundations for IxD:
- Negativity (space, time, etc)
He went on to say that establishing these things would allow us to engage in a more productive critique/studio practice that makes design what it is. He called it a “critique beyond usability.” This is a very important idea, and brings me to Dan Saffer’s keynote, “Carpe Diem.”
One quote that really struck me from Dan’s keynote is,
“Nobody gets excited about a wireframe”
The reason this hit a chord is because wireframes, although a common deliverable for interaction designers, are not our actual output. The output of interaction design can be seen in the qualities of the final product, and based largely on Dave Malouf’s foundation outline. How does the product or software feel? How does it make you feel? Does it help or hinder? Is it enjoyable to use? These are the real questions that interaction design aims to answer. Dan made the point that we have to engage people’s emotions, make products that our customers/users can invest in and enjoy.
He also asked some other important questions of our community. Where do went look for inspiration? He suggests we should reach out for inspiration, look to film, architecture, science.
One thing I saw in Vancouver is immense passion for our work and community. The general feeling of the conference was unlike any other that I’ve attended (except last year’s Interaction conference in Savannah). Our practice is still in relative infancy, but there is amazing momentum and a great sense of importance driving us forward.
I highly recommend finding your local IxDA group and getting involved, or starting one if your city doesn’t have one already. The IxDA community is truly open and inviting, it’s inspirational, and will help you grow as a designer.
Check out www.ixda.org for more info, and stay tuned for videos of all the sessions from Interaction’09.
Posted in Opinions on March 12, 2009blog comments powered by Disqus