Potential Conference Topics

In 2009, I submitted a topic for Interaction 09, but wasn’t selected. In 2010, I again submitted and still wasn’t selected. In 2011, I was on the conference planning committee, so I couldn’t submit. I’ve been rather unimpressed with a number of speakers I’ve seen recently, and I think I can do better, but the last time I spoke at a conference was at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) in 2000. I didn’t even attend another conference until Interaction 08. So, I’m starting to think seriously about what I could present and what other conferences I can submit to. Considering my teaching experience, a workshop may even be more to my liking. So tell me, if you were to attend a conference in the next year, which of the following would appeal to you?

Presentation: Working with Developers
I have over 10 years of experience working with software engineers on enterprise software. During that time, I’ve worked hard to integrate my process and tools with theirs and develop effective artifacts for communicating and specifying the user interface design. I have a lot of knowledge I can share in regards to this close collaboration.

Presentation: Interaction Design for the Military
I already gave a presentation on this topic to IxDA Pittsburgh and believe it has legs. As with the previous topic, I have over 10 years of experience working on US military contracts. These projects are a lot different than working on consumer-oriented software and websites, and I expect many designers would find it interesting. One problem with this topic, however, is the restrictions on what I’m able to actually show.

Workshop: Data Visualization
I’ve taught data visualization to graduate and undergraduate students three different semesters. Turning it into a half-day workshop would be a challenge, but I have ideas. It could be a lot of fun, and it is a skill that is becoming more and more important.

Workshop: Design Artifacts for Enterprise Software
This would be a workshop version of the first presentation concept—not just showing examples of design specifications, but leading attendees in creating their own.

Workshop: Typography for UI Design
Many interaction designers have not had training in graphic design fundamentals. With CSS3’s new font specification capabilities and the new options for web fonts, the details of typographic layout are again becoming important. I can teach designers what they need to know about working with type in the context of user interface and web design.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far. Please let me know what you would find most valuable. 

Interaction 11 Feedback

I make a point of meeting a lot of new people when I attend conferences, something that takes more effort as I form more friendships. There are many people that I quite enjoy spending time with, but only see once a year, so it’s easy to just find the people I already know and while-away the evening. This year, however, I had an additional motive to introduce myself to strangers: to gather first-hand feedback about the conference. I made sure to ask whether this was their first IxDA conference, and if not, which of the past three they had attended. The feedback from first-timers was great to hear, and was pretty much all positive. In fact, I think every first-timer I talked to was hoping to attend again next year. Most of them said something to the effect of “I feel like I found my people.” I recognize that sentiment, as it was exactly the way I felt attending Interaction 08.

More interesting, however, was the feedback from repeat attendees. Of those who had attended a previous conference, most had attended last year. A common opinion was that they preferred Savannah to Boulder. To a large extent, this had to do with the weather, but they also specifically spoke of interesting venues, such as SCAD’s Trustees Theater. Savannah’s historic district is beautiful, and lunches in the Pink House were excellent. Certainly, the University Memorial Center (UMC) at University of Colorado Boulder was not particularly interesting. It was very institutional, and there wasn’t much we could do to dress it up. The Absinthe House and Boulder Theatre worked out alright for the parties, but the Trustee Gardens facility at SCAD was my favorite party spot thus far. All that said, everyone appeared to enjoy the dine-around and Friday afternoon activities that took us out and about Boulder, and their appeared to be agreement that Boulder is a lovely city with great food.

As I posted previously, the session format seemed to be a hit—I heard a lot of positive comments about that. The keynote speakers went over well, but I did hear complaints that there was too much introspection and not enough craft. I wonder if that changed any on Saturday, as I thought many of the sessions—some of my favorites—were directly and immediately applicable to doing design. This was another area in which Interaction 10 and 11 contrasted greatly, with 10 weighing heavily on the craft side of the scale. As for myself, I like a good mix, and feel I got that this year.

Of course, all of this evidence is circumstantial. I didn’t take notes on who or how many said what. I’m just writing what I recall, but I believe it to be representative. I’ll be interested to see the results of the survey that closed yesterday.


I have yet to succumb to the siren song of Twitter. Most of my fellow interaction designers are shocked to learn that fact. It is assumed that everyone attending a conference is hooked into the “backchannel”. I’ve heard all manner of arguments as to why it’s better than blogging/email/IM/SMS/forums/sliced bread, or at least why it should be used in concert. I’ve even had an acquaintance insist that he follows me on Twitter. I just don’t have the time to write constantly about what I’m doing. I think it’s more than enough to write a daily blog post. If you think I’m signing up for DesignAnHour, you’re fooling yourself.

There are two things that have made me seriously consider signing up. The first was Interaction 10, out of fear that I would miss a lot. I don’t think I did. The other is the prevalence of tweet-based promotional give-aways. I’ve seen two or three promotions in which anyone that tweeted about a certain product would be entered into a drawing for a free iPad. There were two Mac software bundles I purchased for which I could have received an additional app if I had tweeted about the bundle. That’s great viral marketing, but I can’t even keep up with all of the blogs I subscribe to. Where would I get the time to read hundreds of tweets a day?

Interaction 10 Photos

Back in February, while attending Interaction 10, I carried my camera around with me to loosely document the conference. I finally spent the time to go through and clean up the photos. I did some cropping, some color correction, and some pruning of those that were too badly blurred. Take a look at the gallery to get a flavor for the conference. The two photos at the end show what I encountered in the airport parking lot when I arrived home.

Interaction 10 Redux

Last night, IxDA Pittsburgh gathered in the new Gates-Hillman building on CMU’s campus to watch videos of a few presentations from Interaction 10, the conference held in Savannah, Georgia this past February. The Human-Computer Interaction Institute was kind enough to provide the space, some light appetizers, and beverages. IxDA was nice enough to provide videos of every presentation from the conference on its website.

We started with Liz Danzico’s Frames: Notes on Improvisation and Design. Using examples of improv ranging from jazz to comedy, Liz asked us to think about providing frames in which our users can improvise, bringing their own contributions to the interaction, and encouraged us to move from creating closed artifacts with predetermined applications to designing for emergent behavior.

We followed Liz’s thought-provoking ideas with Mike Kruzeniski’s Poetry & Polemics in Creating Experience. Don’t let the title fool you—this presentation was grounded in real work being done within the entertainment group at Microsoft and has practical applications. Mike related an entertaining and inspiring tale about how his group of designers influenced the developers and product managers they work with to start thinking about features in terms of the soul, heart, and body of the product, rather than simply priority 0, 1, and 2. Mike described it as a beginner design vocabulary.

To cap off the evening, we queued up Paola Antonelli’s keynote, Talk to Me. From her description of the way objects speak to her, to her hatred of the Tamagotchi, to her attempt to acquire the @ symbol for the MOMA’s collection, Paola captivated and amused us with her unique perspective on the field of Interaction Design.

It was a very educational evening, and the students present especially appreciated the opportunity. We had a reasonable turn-out of around 20 people. We’ll be announcing our next event soon!

Savannah Schwag

The conference organizers for Interaction 10 made a point of sustainability in this year’s schwag bag. Rather than giving us another screen-printed satchel, they handed out small gift bags containing the following items:

The program was a spiral-bound, 5.25 by 8.5 inch tablet—2 colors printed on a fairly heavy stock. Large print and high contrast made it easy to read in the dimly lit theater, and the spiral binding allowed you to leave it open at the current day’s sessions, each day being a full spread. As there were four different session venues, each was marked with an icon for The Theater, The Restaurant, The Square, or The Pharmacy. The tablet contained several blank pages at the end so that it could be used to take notes during sessions. It has an FSC Mixed Sources certification.

Another spiral-bound notepad was branded by SCAD. It was all blank, unruled pages, suitable for sketching, except the very last page which was laid out for “important contacts” on one side and a two-year calendar on the other. That inclusion seems a bit silly in this digital age. It is certified FSC Recycled.

There was a small, zippered bag that was hand-made locally. There were a number of different versions of the bag—mine is black on the outside with a gray zipper and pink on the inside, those being the conference colors. Rather than being silk-screened, it has a tag on the inside with the conference logo. I’m not sure what I’ll use it for, but it is a very nice bag. It contained a cheap, SCAD branded ballpoint pen, a fine-point Sharpie branded with the Interaction 10 logo, a postcard advertising Mate: The Game, an iPhone app designed by SCAD Interaction Design students, and a moo.com sample business card that acts as a coupon for a free pack of 50 cards. Moo was one of the conference sponsors, and SCAD, of course, hosted.

There was a one-sheet from Morgan Kaufmann advertising Tamara Adlin and John Pruitt’s new book, Essential Persona Lifecycle, Jon Kolko’s Thoughts on Interaction Design, Beyond the Usability Lab by Bill Albert, Tom Tullis, and Donna Tedesco, and Tharon Howard’s Design to Thrive.

Finally, the gift bag contained a Klean Kanteen, another environmentally conscious product, branded with the conference logo. It’s one of their new, wide mouth bottles.

All in all, it was a very useful, green, schwag bag that didn’t result in a lot of refuse.

Service Failure

As you have probably we, we’ve been slammed with snow here in the north-east. I spent the better part of five days down in Savannah for Interaction 10 where we had some rain and temperatures in the forties and fifties. I took a light jacket with me.

When I returned to Pittsburgh Monday night, I knew what I was coming home to. I figured I would have to clear some snow away from my car to get out of the parking lot. What I found was disheartening.

That’s 10 feet of snow between my car and the path left by the plow. It’s about 20 inches deep, and the wheel base is close to 5 feet. I had to clear it with a snow brush. It took me about an hour in the 15° air. I went hobo-style, putting a pair of socks on my hands as mittens.

When I was finally ready to back the car out and clear off the windshield and hood, a woman walked by on the way to her car. I wished her luck, and she told me that she had called and they were sending somebody to dig her out. Sure enough a couple guys pulled up in a plow-laden pick-up and, using snow shovels, had her out in a few minutes. As they were driving away, another woman stopped them to ask if they could help her. They told her that she could call in and get on the list.

So, apparently, the airport was keeping a wait-list of people that needed to have their cars extracted. I appreciate that they were helping people get out. However, there was no information to let people know about this. There should have been an announcement made as we left the plane, or at least a sign placed near the exit to the parking area. I had know idea that the service existed, and once I learned of it, I had only a vague idea of how to utilize it.

Name Tag

The conference name tag is an interesting design problem. The tags at Interaction 10 were a lot different than those of past conferences. They featured the first name, big, bold, sans-serif, all-caps, with the last name tucked in underneath at a smaller point size. Below that, even smaller, was the name of your company. At the very bottom, Twitter handles were reversed out. Pink stripes above the name indicated what role you were in—a presenter, for example.

The back of the badge was a pocket containing a number of cards. There was a schedule card for each day with morning sessions on one side and the afternoon sessions on the other. Another card presented a map of the area. A second pocket was made to fit a small stack of business cards. The cord from which the tag hung was adjustable, and the size of the tags kept them from easily flipping over—a problem with past tags.

All-in-all they worked well. It was easy to see people’s names, and easy access to the schedule was very useful. I did see one person using it to hold business cards. However, the tags had some issues as well.

The tag was missing any mention of an attendee’s geographic location, which became the first question everyone asked when meeting. The pink stripe indicators were exactly the same for speakers, local leaders, and volunteers. The text in them was small enough that you couldn’t easily tell which one of those a person was. I don’t tweet, so my grey bar at the bottom was blank. I ended up writing “DesignAday” above it, but it would have been nice to have been able to have it printed there instead of a Twitter handle.

So Long Interaction 10, Hello Interaction 11!

Jon Kolko and MJ Broadbent took the stage to announce Interaction 11, which will be held in Boulder, Colorado. I’m especially excited, because I’m part of the planning committee. We’ve already been working on it for several months, and it’s a relief to finally be able to talk about it. I’m responsible for logistics and currently lining up hotels. Here’s the official announcement:

Interaction’11 in Boulder; Save on registration for limited time

The Interaction Design Association and Boulder Digital Works at University of Colorado are thrilled to announce that the Interaction’11 conference will be held in Boulder, CO, Wednesday, February 9 through Saturday, February 12, 2011.

IxDA—the Interaction Design Association, home to over 10,000 members—will offer this annual conference with a focus on progressive methods, theory, and discussion of interaction design. The conference will be hosted by Boulder Digital Works at the University of Colorado (CU), which offers 21st Century graduate education and workshop programming centered around today’s pervasive computing, emerging technologies and integrated thinking. A joint effort of CU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the College of Engineering and Applied Science, Boulder Digital Works is a project-based initiative led by acclaimed practitioners and researchers from business, creative and technology disciplines.

Boulder, Colorado is a thriving hub of creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation, and CU contributes to this legacy with world-class academics and research. Boulder is where West Coast technology and enterprise has fused with East Coast creative culture and business savvy to become a destination for today’s entrepreneurs and start-up companies. At Interaction’11, IxDA and Boulder Digital Works will gather the interaction design community at CU’s main campus to connect, educate and inspire.

“At Boulder Digital Works, an essential part of our model is partnering with the business and technology communities to put interactive at the center of everything we do,” said David Slayden, Boulder Digital Works Executive Director. “We are thrilled to be hosting the IxDA and to further the dialogue between industry and academe that is essential to developing the integrative thinking that thrives in today’s digital environment and inspires tomorrow’s innovation.”

To celebrate this partnership, early registration will be open for Interaction’11 at a greatly reduced price for a very limited time. For the duration of the Interaction’10 conference, online registration will be available for $250 less than regular price. In addition to registering at the lowest price possible, the Interaction’11 planning committee is cooking up a special luncheon for early registrants to meet and chat with conference keynote speakers.

Visit http://www.ixda.org/i11/ between Thursday, February 4 through Saturday, February 7, and be among the first to book your registration.

You can also follow Interaction’11 on Twitter: http://twitter.com/interaction11

At the end of the conference, this announcement was followed with an extension:

Due to popular demand, we’re extending early registration to the end of the week. Registering by this Friday, 2/12/10, saves you $250 off the regular registration price.

The past three conferences have created a trend that will be a challenge for us to maintain. But I can already tell you that we have some great ideas cooking. Skiing anyone?

Thursday at Interaction 10

I spent the afternoon in the local leader’s workshop, as I am co-leader of IxDA Pittsburgh. We got a demonstration of Conan, the new website that has been developed for the organization. It has been developed using Drupal, and will be of great benefit to local groups. I’ll be able to set up a site specifically for my chapter the will allow our members to set up accounts. We’ll be able to manage event announcements with RSVP functionality and post resources for our community. We’ll even have Pittsburgh-specific job postings. I’m excited about the improved presence the new tools will give our group. Kudos to Liz Danzico, Matt Nish-Lapidus, and the entire team that has been working on this initiative.

I also had a discussion with local leaders from Chicago, Columbus, and Michigan about the possibility of a regional conference. It sounds like this is going to be a big part of the local initiative this year. What would you want in an IxDA mini-conference? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks also to Dan Saffer and Kicker Studio, which sponsored last night’s kick-off party at the Moon River Brewing Company. We were down in the cellar—great atmosphere, and the chocolate-covered strawberries were delicious. It was great to catch up with friends I only see once a year at this conference, and meet some new ones. From the conversations I’ve had, it sounds like work is picking up for most people. Everybody seems to be employed and enjoying their work. That’s great to hear, and a marked difference from many of the stories I heard last year.