Interaction 11 recap

I have a habit of returning from incredible, inspiring conferences with a notebook full of insights and a schedule devoid of free time. I’ve let a few weeks pass while I’ve marinated in my impressions from the recent Interaction11 conference (held in Boulder Feb 9-12), and today I’m going to pull together some of my thoughts & summarize the big themes.

Time and materiality

During the conference a debate arose: what is the ‘material’ of interaction design?  Michael Meyer, in his talk ‘Proximus Maxiumus’ said that to be an expert interaction designer is to know our ‘material’ inside and out, know its capabilities and potential, and understand how to ‘craft the experience’ with this material. Richard Buchanan claimed that the material is ‘whatever you think is interacting.’ A man took the mike during the after-talk Q and A and stated that the material of interaction is Time. This pronouncement was met with a lukewarm reception from the on-stage speakers, which surprised me because it felt very true to me. Bruce Sterling, in his closing keynote, reinforced this concept when he said ‘we [interaction designers]  deconstruct reality into events and time.’

I love this idea. We designers try to help people accomplish tasks that take place over a period of time; we make sure that transitions are seamless; we try to create delightful experiences that keep people interested and continue to provide utility over time. I happened to sit across from Maria Cordell of Adaptive path at lunch one day, and I was reminded that she gave a great talk at last year’s ixd10 conference on ‘Interaction Design for the Fourth Dimension‘ – Time.

Though I missed the talk, Peter Stahl presented on The Rhythm of Interactioncheck out his slides for more.

There’s another aspect of time that emerged especially during Bruce Sterling‘s keynote, and that is our limited ‘time’ doing interaction design as we know it.  If Sterling is right, and since he’s a futurist I trust his instincts, we’ll become obsolete dinosaurs much faster than our CHI forefathers; he encourages us to look harder at our CHI/IxDA institutional memory and figure out how we can better integrate and become a real professional organization (instead of a ‘social network,’ he said with a sneer before taking a swig of beer.) Bruce Sterling is kind of my hero, which is why I got this awesome autograph from him:

Bruce Sterling knows just what to say

Desirability & Delight

Richard Buchanan described desirability as the degree to which we identify with a product; the degree to which it fits our circumstances and culture and speaks in a voice that you are willing to bring into your life.  He described a continuum of useful/usable —-> desirable, with things like a fireman’s uniform belonging on the lower end and haute couture gowns belonging on the desirable end.

Stephen Anderson’s talk on sustaining passionate users also speaks to time and desire – how can we get people to fall in love with our application and stay in love?  He claims that giving users appropriate challenges and delightful/playful challenges will help sustain interest over time.  This brings to mind Csíkszentmihályi’s theory of flow: “the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.”

Morality, sustainability, evolution

Design ethics was a hot topic this year.  Kaleem Khan‘s Design for Evil: Ethical Design talk spurred some conversation and this interesting blog response about our own accountability for the upstream and downstream impacts of the products we design. Megan Grocki‘s ‘Marketing is not a Four Letter Word‘ presentation inspired many a lunch table debate about ‘good’ marketing vs ‘evil’ marketing – see Johnny Holland’s write-up for a great synopsis.

I thought there was some interesting blurring of lines between humans and technology. Bill Verplank talked of an ecological worldview in which machines may become part of evolution, perhaps evolving on their own. Brenda Laurel stated, ‘we can’t blame technology.  Technology is us. We do it, we intend it, we make it.” She talked about swarm intelligence, evolution and evolutionary symbiosis, and ‘authoring for the planet’ – she calls for a convergence of technology and nature, instead of continuing on diverging paths. Brenda’s talk was complex, theoretical, moving, and slightly over my head at times; but it was a highlight for me and for lots of the twitterverse – people ‘got chills’ and ‘became choked up.’ I will definitely revisit it once the video is up online.

The ever-quotable futurist and novelist Bruce Sterling had a number of admonitions for the ixd field, which are probably best communicated via direct quotes:

“Design is not very good at morality”

“The best you people will come up with is morality in permanent beta”

…and perhaps a moral judgment: “15% of users are no damn good because 15% of the general population is no damn good.”


This isn’t so much a theme, but I wanted to highlight one presentation that I found extremely interesting, relevant, and practical – Adam Connor‘s presentation on Applying Filmmaking Tools and Techniques to Interaction Design. His appropriation of ‘beat sheets’ to bring intended user emotion along through the design and development process was an interesting idea that I think a lot of attendees were interested in experimenting with.  See his slides. (They’re pretty awesome.)

Outdoor sports!

Because the conference was in Boulder, I was able to finagle some extra ski and mountain time on either end of the event. I was elated to be able to spend some time outdoors in the bit mountains; I got to ski before the conference started in Breckenridge, hike as part of a conference activity, and hike again after the conference ended. Here are some pics:

View from the top of Breckenridge - sick pow, yaw'

At the trailhead for the conference Flatirons hike

Our expert guide explaining the flora and fauna to the conference group

There’s so much more to say, but overall the conference was fantastic and I can’t wait to apply some of what I learned to my jobby-job.  Check out links to other awesome write-ups below.

More Interaction 11 recaps and commentary

Johnny Holland Interaction11 Reports: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

Love in the Age of Robots | Chloe Gottlieb’s posterous

Recap from Frog’s David Sherwin

Great post on morality and ixd spurred by Kaleem Kahn’s talk

Emenel’s on ixd history, critique, where the field is heading, moving beyond software, etc.

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