The Birth of a Book: Part 1

On January 7th, 2013, I received an email message from an Acquisitions Editor at Morgan Kaufmann. She had come across my name in the program for the then upcoming Interaction 13 conference. I was leading a half-day workshop on production-ready CSS. She was interested in speaking with me at the conference about a possible writing project, explaining that conference sessions are often good frameworks for books.

I was intrigued, but I didn’t put a lot of stock in it. I assumed that they probably contacted a lot of speakers at the conference and that very few would actually pan out. Besides, she couldn’t have thought too much about it, because she told me that she was looking forward to my session, but then said she would be arriving Sunday evening. The workshop was Sunday afternoon.

We scheduled to meet during the Tuesday afternoon break. She asked me if I had ever thought about writing a book, and I replied quite honestly that I hadn’t, not seriously anyway. I had read Dan Saffer’s Designing for Interaction and thought that I might like to write a book like that some day, but there’s a big difference between that kind of thought and the drive to do it. That said, ever since I had received the email, I had been rolling the possibility around in my head.

Our discussion wasn’t very long. She was familiar with my writing here on DesignAday, so I guess my blogging has finally resulted in something more than an academic exercise. We parted with an agreement to pursue the idea. She would send me a proposal form, and we would go from there.

To be continued…

Three Things You Should Know This Week

  1. Midwest UX published their call for speaker proposals on April 1st—no foolin’! The conference will be held in Indianapolis, October 23-25. They’re looking for 30 and 45 minute talks, as well as full and half-day workshops. The submission deadline is June 1st. Get on it.
  2. Macaw, a new web design tool that works like a graphics program but writes semantic HTML and clean CSS, went on sale Monday. You can try it for free.
  3. Unicorn Institute announced today that they are accepting applications for full-time UX educators (aka Unicorn Wranglers). I’d apply myself if it weren’t for the fact that I would have to move to Tennessee. Nothing against the state, mind you—I’m just very happy where I’m living now.

Interaction 14: Books & Badges

Usually, after any conference, I make a post about the schwag. They did give out a schwag bag this year, and personally, I prefer that. I’d rather my money (and sponsor money) go to improving the conference. They did give us one lovely, little, hard-bound notebook. The cover featured this beautiful shot that also graces the conference website.

I decided to go ahead and use the first few pages of it to capture notes during the sessions I attended.

I thought the badges were fairly well designed this year. The best feature was that the front and back were identical. There were no problems with them flipping around, though the name could have been larger. The badge contained tabbed cards that could pivot out to reveal the schedule. These were also mirrored front and back. To keep the badges to a reasonable size, sessions were only listed by presenter name, not title, which made them a little less useful. Name order corresponded to the room, though that wasn’t indicated. Each morning, as we entered, we were presented with booklets containing full details on all sessions and activities for the day. Before the opening keynote, I would go through the booklet and underline the presenters on my badge that I wanted to see.

Interaction 14 Venues

One contributing factor to the awesomeness that was Interaction 14 were the venues. It started with the welcome party Wednesday night at De Bazel, a library and history museum, host to the Amsterdam City Archives. We were in a large, open hall, but we packed it pretty tight.

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Of course, we spent most of our time in the main conference venue: Westergasfabriek (Western Gas Factory). It’s construction was completed in 1885, and it produced gas used for street lighting until 1967. The building was cleaned up and repurposed in 1992 as an event venue and workplace for artists and entrepreneurs.

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The interior of the enormous space was divided in half. One side was set up with vendor booths, Interaction Awards exhibits, and catering stations. The other half was the main presentation room.

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The lighting, in IxDA’s blue-green, highlighted the industrial architecture, creating an ambience perfectly suited to our community. The stage was decorated with props that tied thematically to the conference website. The production values of Interaction 14 were off the charts.

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We finished off Saturday night at Het Scheepvaartmuseum (The National Maritime Museum). We were taken from Westergasfabriek in boats through the canals of Amsterdam, arriving at the pier where the replica of the East Indiaman Amsterdam is docked.

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The center of the building was, at one time, a courtyard open to the sky. It has been roofed with an intricate glass ceiling that, during the day, brightly illuminates the interior. At night, the web of beams supporting the glass are dotted with lights like the stars, and the brick arches that surrounded us were up-lit with colors to match the category introduction slides.

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Fabulous food was served before the awards ceremony. Then the chairs were whisked away and the dancing began. It was the perfect end to an exemplary conference.

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Amsterdam

I spent last week in Amsterdam for Interaction 14. I’ll write about the conference this week, but I want to begin by relaying my observations of the city.

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Amsterdam is a beautiful city. If you look at it from above, you’ll see that it is defined by a series of arcing canals. The streets follow the same curves, and every street is lined on both sides with buildings. The buildings are constructed side-by-side. You can’t see very far down any given street due to the curve. Also, the fronts of the buildings tend to lean forward at slight, inconsistent angles, giving them a quaintly haphazard look.

Bicycles are the primary mode of transportation. Most streets have bike lanes, and you don’t want to be caught walking in them. Of course, walking on a sidewalk doesn’t protect you—bikers are king. Even walks that specifically state “NO BICYCLES” are the domain of cyclists. It’s rather intimidating to a foreigner, and I was constantly looking over my shoulder. The sound of a bike made me jumpy.

Roads busy enough to have crosswalks with crossing signals typically have one, sometimes two, bike lanes in addition to the multiple lanes of traffic. Narrow, brick islands separate bike lanes from car lanes, as well as the directions of car lanes. So a crosswalk may cross as follows:

sidewalk > bike lane > island > car lanes > island > car lanes > island > bike lane > sidewalk

Walk signals are then found on the islands. However, don’t mistake a walk signal as applying to a bike lane. They only tell you when car traffic is stopped. Bikes never stop, and they will run into you.

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When sidewalks aren’t full of parked bicycles, they are often impeded by parked trucks and vans. All of the sidewalks are brick. Workers replacing bricks were a common sight.

There are actually cheese shops! Yes, entire shops with shelves full of big cheese wheels. I walked by one in particular every morning on the way to the conference venue. It smelled wonderful.

As in many European cities, smoking was much more prevalent, but only outdoors. Of course, I smelled pot as often as I did tobacco. Apparently, you are even allowed to drive while smoking a joint.

All of the toilets have two buttons: a small button for number one and a big button for number two. Of course, my first Amsterdam experience, after passing through customs, was the urinal fly.

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Grand Conundrum

Attending Midwest UX last year was a no-brainer. My talk was accepted, so I only had to pay for my hotel room and gas. This year, my workshop proposal wasn’t selected. Given that they received 23 workshop proposals and only had 8 slots, I’m not surprised. But now I have to decide how badly I want to go. My company has already agreed to send me to Interaction 14 in Amsterdam—a rather expensive trip—so if I’m to go to Midwest UX, it will have to be completely on my own dime.

Fortunately, it’s a very affordable conference. $350 is a reasonable price for a two-day conference, and I’m excited to see that they’ve incorporated Excursions Friday afternoon, a concept that helped make Interaction 11 in Boulder a stand-out. Looking over the destinations, I’m very intrigued. The keynote speakers are solid, and I have a number of friends whom I already know will be attending. Besides which, Grant Carmichael, a fellow I’ve come to know and love over several conferences, is one of this year’s co-chairs,

Grand Rapids is a bit farther than Columbus, but still within driving distance for me, so I’m looking at the registration fee and two nights in a hotel. The conference hotel looks really nice, and at $129 per night, it appears to be the best deal within a reasonable distance. That will put my cost right around $700—a fair chunk of change.

Maybe I should give Airbnb a try.