Interaction 13: Photo: Richard Cerezo
1100 designers entered the belly of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where we collided to help “define our role as guides through social interactions, digital, and beyond.” The Interaction conference, held in our home city of Toronto (January 28-31), was also a celebration of 10 years of IxDA with OCAD University as the event sponsor.
Monday began with a keynote by Ravi Sawhney, Our power to empower: The satisfaction of designing for social impact, which reached into a cornucopia of historical figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and John Lennon. The talk focused on drawing parallels between different eras of design. Sawhney posited that if we could look outside our own bubbles to the world at large, we’d recognize that there are many others who have had great influences on society, even if they weren’t designers explicitly. We too can be just as influential as those great minds by utilizing our power to change the world through design. Creating this social impact is one piece of a far greater whole that “flows through our fingertips as we conceive and create not only new user experiences, but in fact new, highly empowered users… everywhere”.
Mr. Sawhey’s keynote highlighted a day that segued into many other inspiring presentations including Dan Saffer’s MicroInteractions: Designing with Details. Saffer’s presentation asserts that the difference between a “good” product and a “great” one is in its details. He termed these “microinteractions”; the small moments inside and around features, which are typically not on any feature list and often ignored. All these little moments can change a product from one that is tolerated to one that’s beloved. This talk provided a new perspective on designing digital products as a series of microinteractions that are essential to bringing personality and delight to our experiences with applications and devices. After leaving this talk, I could not help but think it was fundamental user experience knowledge that we had collectively forgotten, polished up with a new name. All in all a great presentation!
Later that day a number of mini presentations (10 minutes) were inserted before lunch. Of note was Health on the Go: Designing Electronic Health Records for Mobile. This is a growing hot topic today, and one with an undoubtedly long way to go as issues of privacy and security make it very complicated.
Tuesday arrived with cold rain and slushy snow – not exactly how we want our city remembered. However, all this was forgotten when Jer Thorp took the stage to present Data and the Human Experience. In his talk he focused specifically on the juncture where these two aspects meet. He also detailed a number of projects involving diverse data sets, including the 770,000 words in the Shakespeare Folio, astronomical measurements from NASA, text from nightly news broadcasts, and real-time air traffic reports. Jer discussed how, by framing data in a human context, we can use it more effectively, and ultimately foster better practices for data-focused design. For the mathematically inclined designers in the room, it was a crowning moment. Never had data looked so sexy; the presentation was meticulous both in process and aesthetics. Ben Shneiderman would have wept tears of joy.
Later that day CNN UX Designer, Judith Siegel, took the stage to present CNN and the UX Challenge of Presenting Long-Form Stories. This was another of my favourite presentations and a great juxtaposition to Jer Thorpe’s data presentation. “Textual information” was the focus here, and Siegel addressed some of the design challenges with “long form journalism” in an age where textual consumption is faced with short spans of attention.
Just when we thought the day could not get any better, Sara Cantor Aye graced the stage in a rather engaging presentation, Designing Everything but the Food, which first had me wondering how it made the program. However, although this presentation was more architectural in nature, it underscored some of the key principles in user-centric design. By using design methods, the team at Greater Good Studio helped improve a middle school cafeteria through ethnographic research to inform industrial design. Through a series of changes to how the food was presented and distributed, they managed to dramatically improve how the kids ate their food. That in turn led to less food waste. It was an inspiring and interesting talk. Social Change? We think so!