Interaction Conference recap


Picture by @ekskloosiv

Last week, I was fortunate to be able to check out the three-day Interaction 15 conference here in San Francisco. It was a great time, and I loved having the chance to hear some awesome talks, see old and new friends, and even rub elbows with some of my biggest interaction design heroes. Some take-aways:

Social responsibility
Several speakers stressed the need for designing for social good and not simply chasing the dollar. As companies grow larger, Jan Chipchase argued that they emphasize replicability of process and deliverables and lose their creative edge. Be mindful of the “walk/talk” ratio: the disconnect between the idealistic and humanitarian actions that companies say, and the corporate and profit-seeking actions they actually engage in.

Tristan Harris and Kristian Simsarian asked: what if instead of designing for clicks and repeated use, we instead prioritized how well our interfaces supported human thinking styles and relationships? What if apps were certified for their potential to create “good times” between two people? The Redefining Software to Serve Life project hopes to explore these questions and more – check out their newsletter to stay in the loop.

Design agencies are NOT a thing of the past
In a conversation with Alan Chochinov, Tim Brown argued that although companies are increasingly beefing up in-house design teams, design work will always be in high demand and thus, consultancies will continue to provide value. Further, consultancies will excel in offering a more diverse skill set and outsider viewpoint and transferable methods that in-house teams can’t always compete with.

Designer humility
Although it wasn’t discussed directly, several talks touched on the importance of staying humble as a designer. Being in such a high-demand field, being increasingly showered with perks, and sitting higher and higher in the business and strategy realms of companies can inflate one’s ego and cause us to lose sight of our mission. We should remind ourselves that although our process and creative working style may set us apart from colleagues, we’re first and foremost connectors and facilitators for our colleagues and stakeholders.

Culture is paramount in fostering good design
Several speakers reiterated the importance of workplace culture and how it can be a boon for good design. Phi-Hong Ha shared many of her favorite methods for fostering workplace wellbeing, including the heartwarming practice of “love showering” colleagues and the  importance of regular off-sites for unwinding and reflecting as a team.

“I am not a designer”
Of all the talks, I found myself really digging  Ayah Bdeir’s presentation on her journey as a designer engineer human and how it lead to the success of LittleBits, a new language for people of all ages to make and invent new ways of interacting with electronics without needing to know their way around a breadboard or a command prompt.

Fun fact: The first prototype of Ringly was actually made with LittleBits!

“Designers: You have been lied to”
Mike Monteiro’s closing keynote was the cherry on top. Once again, his humor and “tough love” speaking style brought us insight into how not to fuck up our client presentations, while giving us enough laughs to bring tears to our eyes. In his thirteen-step checklist of mistakes designers make, he emphasized the importance of confidence, accountability, and earnestness. A well-earned standing ovation.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Avoiding confrontation is increasingly expensive.” – Not to get too deep, but I’ve seen this to be true not only in design, but in all personal and professional relationships. I agree with Monteiro in thinking that one of the most valuable skills a designer can have is being willing to get fired for advocating good design. This isn’t to say your opinion is always right, but not speaking up may just land you a pink slip when the project fails after letting things fester for six months.

Mistake #13: Asking “Do you like it?” – You’re not a third grader in art class. You’ve gotten your approval along the way – don’t “sabotage” yourself “by inviting subjectivity into the room.” Remember that liking something on a personal and subjective level doesn’t necessarily mean that it will lead to a success for your client.

“My cockpit.” Don’t pass the buck – confidence is part of the job. As a designer, your client should depend on you to lead the presentation (exceptions, of course), and confidence “isn’t about you” at all – it’s about making the client feel at ease.

You can find videos for all the talks on IxDA’s Vimeo channel.

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