Interaction 19 — Back from the Wild

I just returned from a week of “Design in the Wild” — the 2019 theme of IxDA’s annual conference for interaction design. This edition was held in Seattle and shaped up to be one of the most thought-provoking yet.

Frontify booth at Interaction 19

The main event was a three-day conference that took me on a journey from Discipline In Flux (Day One) to Millions of Experiments (Day Two), concluding with an emphatic push to Reinvent Yourself (Day Three). While few of my colleagues were managing our Frontify booth — hosting demos, meeting designers, and dishing out cool swag — I worked to soak up as much as possible during the sessions.

One thing that I was constantly aware of is the fact that interaction design has evolved into a discipline beyond pushing pixels, drawing wireframes, and creating content. It’s all grown up; a serious business that has a very real and powerful societal impact. It was only natural that the topics of ethics and responsibility continued to appear, rounding out talks and conversations throughout — especially in connection with all the buzz around machine-learning and artificial intelligence.

It’s a tall order to summarize the 90 or so presentations that were given by thought leaders and practitioners over the course of Interaction 19. Instead, I’ll focus on a handful of talks that struck me most, and provide a strong glimpse of what IxD19 was about.

“Design in the Wild” kicks off!

Bill Buxton’s opening keynote reminded the audience that design has always been, and still is, less about the technology, but more about the intelligence behind the interactions, that humans have in an ever-changing context. In short, good design is about creating and supporting a flow between these contexts. Design should strive for 100% continuity of conversations (interactions) — which are always transitioning between contexts — and to provide consistency through accessibility.

Designers love frameworks and blueprints, and Gabriel White’s talk on “The Ethics of Everyday Things” included the use of heuristics and patterns to assess if the things we design are good and right, not just useful and appealing. A helpful resource to understand more about this approach is Small Surfaces’ Ethical heuristics tool; check your design work against the eight “Ethical Heuristics for Design” to see how you fare.

Day two of Interaction 19 honed in on experimentation, with many talks about the areas designers need to prototype and work in today.

Alok Nandi, president of IxDA, gave one of the opening keynotes on day two with the kind of presentation that triggers all the synapses and sticks with you long after the applause. In his talk, “Diversity: de-ambulation, monocultures, pluriverses,” plenty of Venn diagrams were used to map out what one might refer to as “fields of thought” that should be considered when designing. I highly recommend checking out the video of this presentation once it’s available on IxDA’s Vimeo, along with the other talks from the event, to experience the value of Nandi’s delivery for yourself.

“How to Get the Writing Done” with Scott Kubie

Scott Kubie provided a fast-paced overview of writing for designers in his talk. Covering the areas in which writing plays a role — microcopy, documentation, briefings, criticism, and so on — along with how to actually do the writing, he gave practical advice on refining a discipline not many designers are all too familiar with.

Exploring the relationship of non-designers and design teams, John Lynch’s “Tell me, Honestly” was essentially a case study on what happened when his co-workers (non-designers) were asked how they honestly feel about working with designers. I’m actually looking forward to asking this question to some of my colleagues, to see if our thoughts align.

Another great session was “Emotions in Motion” with Chris Seifert, principal sound designer for Amazon devices Echo and Alexa. Seifert stated that the three roles of sound design are to 1) acquire focus, 2) guide emotions, and 3) provide meaning; applying to how sound can be created, conveyed, and trigger different sentiments.

Brand thought-leader, Marty Neumeier, tackled “Agile Strategy: Designing in the 21st century” with excerpts from his latest book Scramble. In it, he discussed multiple business strategies alongside principles of design thinking, refined through agile strategy to create disruption. One quote I can’t shake reminded me a bit of the way a musician might play jazz: “Business today is more holistic. In times of change, notes can’t be played as they were written.”

“The Design System of the Italian Government” with Roberta Tassi

Roberta Tassi from IxDA Milan presented some insights on what it means to create and maintain a design system in “The Design System of the Italian Government.” For a country experiencing volatility and fragmentation, nothing is more necessary than consistency. Through a constant interaction among learning, ideation, and making, it’s possible to establish a design system that adapts.

Talk about unstable situations, the weather played a bit of an unfortunate roll in the conclusion of IxD19. The last day was cut a bit short with a snowstorm takeover of the Emerald City. Kudos to the organizers who managed to rearrange and update the schedule on such short notice. Sadly, that meant no closing party for 2019, but something to look forward to in 2020.

Next up? Interaction 20 takes place in Milan to introduce “A New Dawn.” Count me in.

Daniel Demel, Design Lead at Frontify

PS: In addition to watching the IxDA Vimeo videos of the sessions, consider joining one of many Interaction 19 redux events that will be organized by local IXDA chapters.