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IxDA Interaction 08: Day 2

Well, I’d intended to post the second day roundup on Monday, but I’ve been sick ever since I got back from Savannah. Now that I’m feeling healthy enough to get back on the computer, here it is.

The second day of Interaction 08 was just as exciting as the first. The morning keynote by Bill Buxton was titled, “The Design Ecosystem.” Buxton was on fire – vehement, exasperated, inspiring – and he wasn’t taking it easy on us. Some choice quotes:

  • “If you don’t know what value you bring to the organization, you don’t bring any.”
  • “There’s a reason why designer rhymes with whiner.”
  • “Design isn’t invention, innovation, or creativity. Design is a compromise.”

He started off by emphasizing that designers alone cannot take credit for any great business solution; everyone in an organization has equal value – and he noted the tripod of design, engineering and sales. He spoke about Apple’s success and the industry’s tendency to credit its principal designer Jonathan Ive. While Apple certainly turned itself around through industrial design, admits Buxton who is a principal scientist at Microsoft Research, credit is as much due to the Apple lawyers who managed to convince the major record labels to let them sell their songs for 99 cents each, and to the advertising team who came up with the unmistakable silhouette commercials.

The second half of his speech was focused on the importance of sketching in design, his most recent favorite topic, and the subject of his book, Sketching User Experiences. He notes that while iterative design will help you get the design right, it won’t help you get the right design. Instead he advocates for enumerating a set of meaningful options and then using heuristics to make the best choice. He railed against the agile process for design because it is a single trajectory and doesn’t allow for enumeration.

A couple more great quotes that I had to include:

  • “The only way you can engineer the future of tomorrow is to have lived in the future yesterday.”
  • “There is no such thing as low fidelity or high fidelity renderings. There is only right fidelity and wrong fidelity.”

Before lunch I attended Aza Raskin‘s talk titled “Don’t Make Me Click” and Matt Jones‘ “Designing for Spacetime. Building in no-time.” Aza’s central theme was that our job as designers is to minimize the interaction. “No interface is the best interface…If we do our job well, no one will know we did our job,” echoing the sentiments of Jared Spool. His company was recently bought by Mozilla, so he showed a cool prototype of redesigned tabs in the Firefox browser that stacks pages on top of one another so you can simply keep scrolling when you’re done with the previous one.

Matt Jones of Dopplr.com gave a very theoretical and almost academic lecture on human existence and the role the web plays in interweaving our personal trajectories… or something like that. He was outright hysterical – his British self-deprecating humor didn’t hurt – and got the crowd to forget about the self-promotion. After all, pretty much the entire talk was about Dopplr. But I found it to be a worthwhile case study and enjoyed hearing about the challenges of being a start-up, despite all of their success thus far.

After lunch, I heard Michele (Misha) Tepper talk about “Interaction Across Disciplines,” Chris Bernard‘s “Classic Design Movements and IxD: Kissing Cousins?” and Dave Cronin‘s “Design for Flow.”

More detail can be found on Core77 here and here.

The closing keynote was given by Malcolm McCullough on “Dense Notation, In Context.” He spoke mainly of “walkable urbanism” and the skilled users that are more apt at navigating it. He encouraged us to get out and walk through the city; that living in a city forces you to use your motor skills, which ultimately makes you a better designer.

He called sketching “taking a line for a walk” and likened online social infrastructure to city planning – “what endures changes its functions over time.”

I know I should have a lot more to say about his speech, especially since I found that it gave me a renewed sense of pride in having grown up in a city. But it’s been four days and I’m hopped up on Tylenol, so I just can’t describe it all now.

Sunday night after the conference was over, I walked around the city with Christian Crumlish and Chris Baum. We had a long, long conversation about the interaction design and information architecture community intersections, and about design in general. It was great to have a quiet dinner after the commotion and excitement of the weekend. It was really nice to connect with these guys who obviously have a lot of experience in the industry and have a lot of wisdom to impart. I appreciated them sharing their time with me and I hope we keep in touch.

All in all, the first IxDA conference was a wonderful experience. I learned a ton, expanded my professional network by about a hundred people, and had so much fun doing it. I can’t wait for next year!

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