Notes from Interaction12 Conference in Dublin, Ireland

Tobias Komischke / Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Several folks from Infragistics attended this year’s Interaction Conference which this time took place in Dublin, Ireland between 2/1-2/4/2012. Here are my notes

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Opening remarks from the Mayor of Dublin

The Mayor  talked about the Bike sharing stations they have in Dublin. He mentioned that in Paris 3,000 bikes got stolen per year because when you unlocked a bike at a station the station showed that slot number of your unlocked bike visibly to everybody. So other people would just grab your bike and take off. In Dublin they changed the design so that the number could only be seen by the person who entered the code.
As a consequence, they only lost 2 bikes in the first year (and found both of them again).

He also said that other European cities put the stations where tourists are. In Dublin, they put the stations where people live and where they work, because they want to connect those two places.

Luke Williams, Fellow at Frog Design

Luke gave his standard talk about disruptive design (see also Miao’s blog). Some key quotes:

  • “We don’t need more ideas, we need direction where to go with the ideas, which ideas to follow up on.”
  • “We don’t need incremental ideas that are just a continuation of the current business practice. We need disruptive ideas and actual change.”
  • “Be deliberately wrong at the start of a project to be right at the end.”
  • “Come up with a disruptive hypothesis: come up with an intentionally unreasonable assumption/question to question the status quo. One technique is: invert the clichés, e.g. if a soda shall be cheap, why not make it expensive?”

Mike Lemmon, Creative Director at Ziba

Mike introduced Design language as the cohesion within a product family or across platforms, e.g. surface, material, color, interactions, structure, etc. Building blocks of a design language are:

  • Consumer: what do they want and need?
  • Brand (Volvo = safe, Porsche = sporty, aggressive)
  • Structure (Simplicity, Interaction, Visuals)

Key quotes:

  • "Know the rules before you break the rules."
  • "It’s better do this: One designer is responsible for the same feature across platforms. Instead of: One designer is responsible for all features for one platform. Why? – because consumers look at features."

Michael Levin (female), Google Israel

Michael introduced the following Ecosystem design models (they are not fully discrete but can blend into each other):

  • Consistent (layout, flow, look & feel)
  • Complementary - different devices influence each other and make a better overall experience), e.g. soccer betting game goes together with watching the game on TV
  • Continuous (experience is shifted between devices), e.g. start movie on TV, continue on tablet. Or search a recipe in web browser, then cook one recipe using the smartphone.

Rachel Hinman, Nokia

  • “People don’t use technology with a plan, they use it ad-hoc.”. I don’t agree with this universal statement at all. It may be true for consumer products that casually use technology like a cell phone, but what about users of business application that work in a structured environment with tasks, schedules, etc?
  • “The context of use is different for mobile. Testing in a lab doesn’t make sense. You need to observe people outside or wherever they are.”
  • “GUIs are for tasks, NUIs are for consuming media, etc.”
  • “Prototyping for mobile takes 3 times as long as for desktop because there are no good tools out there yet.”

Rachel referenced Stephanie Rieger: the smaller the screen/display, the less chrome is important – content rules. This reminded me of Microsoft’s Metro design language for Mobile and Windows8. They call this focus on content “fierce reduction”.

She also mentioned a couple of UX patterns for NUIs/Mobile, incl.:

  • Nested Doll: go in and out detail levels, going in you narrow in and there is an end point.
  • Hub and Spoke: go in and out detail levels, going in is NOT narrowing in (the content space there may be as big or even bigger than on the parent level).
  • Bento Box: like the Japanese lunch boxes, everything is on one page.

Jonas Löwgren, Professor in Sweden

  • „You can’t nail requirements first and then design. That only works in engineering”. I think this is a very interesting point. In my opinion he’s right in that it’s almost impossible to exhaustively define requirements up front and never touch them again. On the other side, you need to base the development effort for a project on something, so a good set of start-up requirements is very helpful. Hence, I don’t interpret his statements as saying that requirements don’t work in design.
  • “Storyboarding for a movie is straight-forward, because you specify everything like you want the movie to be. In UI Design it’s harder because you don’t know how the user will use the product.”
  • “Sketches should be high-fidelity when you prototype interactions for unique and novel user experiences. You have to build in order to sketch.”
  • “Academia has a gestation period of 15 years”. That seems about right to me if I think about multi-touch technology. The systems have been around for 15 years, but only now they penetrate the mass market.

Angela Schmeidel Randall, Chief Experience Officer at Normal Modes

  • “If you provide a service, look at all touch points your customer has and make sure they’re not broken.”

Dirk Knemeyer, Involution Studio & Spout

  • “In the US, only 31% of employees are actually engaged in their jobs.”
  • “UI Designers have to code!” I object to that one. I don’t know why they should. Hasn’t UX design over the last 20 years gotten more and more specialized when it comes to the roles participating in it? I always thought about that as a good thing, not a bad thing. I also cannot name a lot of people that are really good in UX design and coding.

Andrew Hinton, Principal UX Architect at Macquarium

  • “Users don’t have goals, so let’s not pretend that and use it as a basis for design. People have desires and wishes in specific situations.” Again, I object (see above, Rachel Hinman).

Dana Chisnell, Researcher at UsabilityWorks

  • “Real users don’t do tasks.” Again, I object (see above, Rachel Hinman, Andrew Hinton).
  • “Usability testing isn’t telling us what we need to know for designing for social.”
  • “People don’t live in the world doing one task with one device out of context.”

Fabian Hemmert, Deutsche Telekom

Fabian presented various prototypes of cell phones that can emit air, moisture (=kisses!), and shift weight based on the content of a page shown in the display, etc. One of his ideas was productized: a pressure sensor under the call button allows recipients to see 3 levels of urgency for the call.

Abby Covert, IA at The Understanding Group

This was my favorite talk at the conference. Abby discussed questions to ask about a design:

  • Is it stable enough to support the weight of use?
  • Will it be effective in execution (when you build it)?
  • Will it last?

She mentioned the following IA heuristics:

  • Resmini & Rosati: Pervasive IA Heuristics (2011)
  • Nielsen & Norman
  • ISO 9241-12

Abby merged all of those together into this one set:

  • Findable – able to be located, e.g. across devices (she talked about search engine findability)
  • Accessible – easily approached and/or entered, e.g. sign in through Facebook. Can it be used via all expected channels and devices? Also includes Section 508.
  • Clear – easily perceptible, e.g. would a user find it easy to describe? Are there clear paths in the application?
  • Communicative – talkative, informing, timely, e.g. overview, feedback, situation awareness
  • Useful – capable of producing the desired or intended results, incl. usability
  • Credible – worthy of confidence, reliable, e.g. trust, timely update of content, ease of contacting real person, help content
  • Controllable – able to adjust to requirements, e.g. good error handling. TK: I think it’s not good to confuse this with error handling, but she comes from the web world.
  • Valuable – of great use, service and importance, e.g. desirability, improving user satisfaction. Can users easily describe the value? Can it be measured?
  • Learnable – to get it into the mind and memory, includes consistency, predictability, recountability
  • Delightful – greatly pleasing, doing something unexpected, exceeding expectations

Michael Smyth, Ingi Helgason from the Centre for Interaction Design, Edinburg, UK

  • “Ethnography uncovers meaning, it does not identify problems or solutions.”

Jeff Gothelf, Principal at Proof

Jeff talked about the need for UX professionals to de-mystify Design:

  • Explain to others what we do.
  • Draw together in a team. Anybody can sketch, you only need to know how to draw a circle, a square and a triangle.
  • Show raw work to others.
  • Teach about the discipline, incl. terminology, etc.
  • Be transparent to team mates and your whole company about what you do.
  • Take credit for your wins.

Jonathan Kahn, Principal at Together London

  • “We know how to do UX Design, but we don’t know how to do that in a sustainable, repeatable way in an organization.”
  • Org charts are based on railroad construction companies in the 1800s. They were meant to limit and streamline communication from top to bottom, because folks had to make sure that no trains would collide since there was only one track initially. Org charts were not created for transparency or efficiency.
  • “There will always be org silos and UX needs to cut through.”
  • “Organizations will always resist change.”
  • “Service design means to look at all touch points - even those that the customer does not see.”

He introduced Content Strategy as the composite:

  • Workflow
  • Substance
  • Structure
  • Governance

For him, web operations management includes:

  • Measurement
  • Execution
  • Strategy
  • Governance

Genieve Bell, anthropologist at Dell

There is a Chinese holiday where you burn paper versions of objects that were important to dead relatives. The iPad paper version was sold out 6 weeks prior to the holiday à technology is so important that we not only cannot live without it but also cannot be dead without them.

My overall impression of the conference

  • I liked the networking the most. For example, I met old buddies of mine that I haven’t seen in a long time. I also learned a lot about the job situation for UX professionals especially in London (there were quite some people from London).
  • I liked the workshop on Axure I attended. Was very helpful to refresh my knowledge about it. Good trainers and good use of time.
  • Dublin was a great location, even in February.
  • The talks I was not very impressed with. For my taste, there were too many talks about general ideas and university projects way beyond interaction design and not enough content about real-world interaction design challenges and their solutions.
  • There appeared to be 3 themes that were mentioned across presentations:
    • Old-world metaphors are out for digital devices. It doesn’t make sense to show a wooden bookshelf on an iPad for managing your ebooks.
    • UI designers need to be able to code. Like I mentioned before, I wouldn’t see why and they speakers didn’t give a good rationale, either.
    • Users don’t do tasks, have no goals, no plans when they use technology. Like I mentioned above, I don’t agree. Based on Activity Theory I would even argue that any activity is planned and directed and derived from a motif.