The best of Interaction17

Interaction17 hosted by IxdA is one of the biggest interaction design conferences. Attendees have jobs in interaction Design, service design, design research or design leadership. This years conference was held in New York City. A very intense place if you ask me, but maybe I’ll write something about that in a different article.


What I liked about the conference in general:

  • Well balanced topics. Topics have a great mix between abstract views and practical insights for daily work.
  • The audience is great. Most people have a specialism in one of these three work areas: interaction, service design or design research. They’re mainly specialists. I like that.
  • The speakers take. Very often talks are not about teaching you new tools, tricks or methods. They’re more about the speakers opinion about a certain subject. It challenges you to agree or to disagree.

And as a bonus point:

  • Accessibility. During the conference there was this woman typing along with what the speakers where saying. Easy to read on a big screen next to the keynote. Big plus for the organisation if you have a hearing handicap or other constraint.
An example in the red circle.

This years theme was about the responsibilities that designers have. To think about the ethical values. Since there is so much to tell about this conference I’ll have to narrow it down in just a few topics.

Here’s a few of them.

Hopeful monsters

Marc Rettig and Hannah du Plessis held a great talk about what’s it like to work or live in big corporates or societies. How can an individual start moving this? How can you shift the conversation?

Hannah told us that hopeful monsters are the individuals that disagree with the established order. They’re the pioneers of larger organisations and societies. They question the current way of working and explore alternatives.

Eventually when the hopeful monsters start to connect with others the group becomes bigger and bigger. As a result they become the new order.

This whole process is further explained in this video that I found on YouTube explaining the Berkana model. Sorry, there’s no monsters included.

Berkana model explained

I see this happening at clients that I work for. Fresh monsters start trying to change an organisation. When they do, they bump into this big, grey, old ceiling with cracks here and there. They get in conflict with the current order. This ceiling is hard to break.

Connecting with more monsters might do the trick. But I also recommend bringing someone with mandate on board. When this person joins your monster crew he might bring in a hammer to break this ceiling for you.

Rural studio

Up next is Xavier Rendell, teacher at Rural Studio. This man was very excited and proud to present the work of his students.

At the Auburn School of Architecture student have the opportunity to go to Paris, Rome, Istanbul or: Rural Studio.

Rural Studio is located in the middle of nowhere in Alabama. The studio combines social problems with the skills of their student to solve these problems. All buildings are made from sustainable materials by the students.

A perfect combination to learn and improve the world little by little. Check out this video to get an idea about their projects and way of working:

Design for serendipity

There’s always this talk that’s super inspiring and cool but hard to implement in your daily projects. Well here’s Brendan Dawes. Designer and artist exploring the interaction of objects.

In his talk he showcased some of his projects:

  • DoodleBuzz: A chaotic system to help you find things you didn’t know you were looking for.
  • PlasticPlayers: A Playful Analog Interface for Digital Music.
  • Happiness Machine: A simple button reveals happy thoughts from people connected across the Internet

The main message of Dawes was to look at things in daily life in a different perspective and to celebrate your failures and make something new out of this.

If you have time please go check out some of his projects. It’s very inspiring to see Dawes his ‘childlike’ look on stuff. It’s almost like he has the ability to switch off the obvious when looking at products.

Here’s an example of his vision on a pencil. Nice right? And so true.

Since Brendan is obsessed with pencils he gives the audience a literature recommendation: How to sharpen Pencils by David Rees. Over 200 pages about the craft of sharpen a pencil.

Here’s a paragraph about the book to get you in the mood:

Robots are in a skeuomorphic phase

In my previous article about interaction16 I wrote a part about robotica. This was a huge topic during that conference. Lots of examples tried to make their robots look more human with eyes and an overdose over cuteness.

During one of the talks speaker Simone Rebaudengo made an interesting comment:

“Robots are still in a skeuomorphic phase.”

Just as in the early years of the iPhone, buttons looked like real physical buttons to resemble the previous physical products that the function was based upon. The same thing is happing with robots.

All this human stuff. It’ll pass.

Simone also had a great talk about smart objects. He creates smart-art-like objects. Here’s a multi-plug based on different political systems.

Politics of Power by Simone Rebaudengo

Artificial Intelligence

Multiple talks were about artificial intelligence (AI). Here’s some insights about this subject.

Feeding your AI

Simone Rebaudengo mentioned when Spotify released Discovery Weekly he was confronted with his taste for German techno. German techno only. As a result he started to listen to classical music. Just to feed the AI to compensate his dark taste for techno. His next Discover Weekly came out a lot better.

I think it’s an interesting thought that users start to take control of the AI just to make other suggestions pop up. That leads us to the third and last point.

Exposing the data flow

Two talks mentioned that AI should be understandable for the user. Users should be able to customise the AI. If so, we avoid the AI being a black box were unexplainable stuff happens. We start to expose the data.

I like this way of thinking. You put the user in control of the systems that they use.

“Does your car have any idea why my car pulled it over?” by Paul Noth

The beginning is near

Looking back at the conference. The main message about this years was about being aware of what you design for. In the morning reflections of the conference some ethical questions arose that connect with this message:

  • Why aren’t you talking about designing jobs away?
  • Why don’t you refuse to do work that is against your moral commitments?
  • Why don’t you take the opportunity to change consumption habits rather than feed technological addiction?
  • Why are there so many fucking photo apps?

All very reasonable questions that we have to take in account. Let’s start thinking about how we designers can make the world a better place.

Hope to see you all next year in Lyon, France!

‹ Previous story