Reflecting on Interaction 19 Conference

Image from Brenda Sanderson

My search for 2019 UX conferences began in October 2018. After a quick google search and reading a few articles on what UX conferences to attend, I chose to attend Interaction 19. It’s a conference hosted by IxDA (Interaction Design Association). The great thing is that you can go to their website and listen to previous talks giving you a quick feel for the type of content. Interaction 19 was held in Seattle, WA at the Amazon Meeting Center. Here’s what I experienced attending an IxDA conference for the first time!

Five reflections on Interaction 19:

1. Genuine Connection

As an introvert extrovert, I idealize myself being comfortable and confident connecting with strangers at conferences. In reality, nervousness creeps in when thinking of going up to a group of people already involved in a conversation. The truth is, I don’t like small talk and prefer meaningful connection. It was quite obvious that the design of the conference was to cultivate human interaction, meaningful conversations, and curiosity. The education summit, workshops, studio tours, happy hours, and breakout sessions provided an opportunity to connect with individuals in an intimate way.

One of the first connections I made was with Klasein, an interactive designer and artist. She presented, “Fight the Patterns & Battle Your Audience,” based on her EAT | TECH | KITCHEN social experiment. Klaisein’s talk was one of many that truly opened new gateways to perspective for me in the way I look at experiences, interaction, and human-centered design. It awoke opportunities waiting for me to unlock and inspired me to realize my potential.

When attending a workshop, conference, or event, this is something I’m conscious about, the chances of creating meaningful interactions. So whether you’re looking for inspiration, human connection, or being involved in a community, IxDA has a way of unlocking these possibilities.

2. Everyone is a Designer

As someone who didn’t get a degree in computer interaction, visual design, or information systems, I’m often intimidated by people who do have this “official” knowledge and/or experience.

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There’s often a gap present when attending a conference or networking event. It’s often this culture of experts vs. non-experts. This is often the case when it comes to panels. The experts are talking to the audience, not with the audience. Quite often, the in-between is missed. During my week at Interaction 19, there was a co-existence present made up of students, industry experts, and designers. Most importantly, individuals who do not come from any specific design background, but who are experts in their own unique way. A few examples were individuals who specialize in inclusive design, sociology, others in systems thinking, government, urban development, healthcare, data science, researching, building systems, places, or things.

Often times, there’s a pre-conceived notion that if you’re a designer, you must be in fashion, art, graphic design — you make things look pretty. This is why sometimes I hesitate to call myself a designer because I don’t have a degree in Liberal Arts or Visual Communications Design. I’m intimidated because I feel as though I never know enough. We don’t know it all and realizing that is okay. During Interaction 19 week, there was a realization that the definitions we associate with ‘design’ are on a pathway to reinvention.

We are all designers, whether you’re re-evaluating a new process, building furniture, putting an event together, writing a book, venting on social media about an experience you had, organizing your resume, or being an observer of interactions. We are all trying to figure out the best way to solve for something. To me, designers (often known as non-designers) are those who support, inform, question, provide feedback to those designing as a profession. The individuals we do usability testing with, interview, and receive feedback from are the individuals crafting the environment we co-exist in. Seeing value in non-designers is just as valuable as seeing value in designers.

3. Human Interaction > Technological Obsession

IxDA has a growing diversity of design education and practice. They offer workshops, interactive activities, talks in smaller and larger group settings, and even host a student design challenge. The fifth order of design is a workshop I signed up for and serendipitously ended up at another workshop. The room number had changed last minute and I ended up at a workshop focused on CALM Technology. Thank you, fate!

Image by Thinking Digital

Instructed by Amber Case and Jon Brown, the workshop shared 8 principles on CALM Tech through interactive activities. A post will be coming soon focused on my experience at that workshop. What I wanted to share for the purpose of this post was this conversation about how we might keep human interaction at the core of creating technology vs. allowing technology to replace humans.

“I don’t want to see technology making decisions for us, because that means the people who write the software are making decisions for us.” — Amber Case

As a consumer, I can get lost in idealizing a future filled with technology. Often times, I’m not prioritizing myself as a human and how technology has the potential to incapacitate or empower me. Lately, I’ve been thinking of how technology has become intrusive, loud, and frustrating. The introduction of CALM Tech’s principles have been at the forefront of my interactions as a consumer and most importantly, as a UX Strategist.

A computer mouse is a great example of a type of technology that helps us accomplish a goal. It helps us interact with a computer screen. A very intriguing example is how Possible, a digital marketing agency, developed an AI that detects hate speech on Twitter and then sponsors these hateful messages into donations for a good cause. The AI is not independent and instead a human moderator selects the most offensive and dangerous tweets. This is how we should begin working with technology rather than having technology work for us.

4. Empathy through a new lens

In design thinking, empathy is the gateway to solving for a problem. It is highly known as the first step. On Wednesday, Don Norman was a keynote speaker who touched on empathy and his belief or disbelief in it. Side note: If you don’t know who Don Norman is, he is the one who created and popularized the term “User Experience” in his most famous book, The Design of Everyday Things.

Image by GradNation

An interesting key takeaway was that he doesn’t believe in empathy. I searched the word empathy and found this:


1: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

Don expressed that we will never truly be able to walk in someone’s shoes, know at the core what they feel, what they experience, their true desires. I agree with this. We all have our own pathways and sharing an experience, a story, is like displaying artwork. We’ll never truly know the intended context, only know what awakens internally within ourselves.

He believes that when designing a solution for a problem, communities should solve the issues. In turn, how might designers not be the heroes of someone else’s story and instead help communities be the heroes of their own story? Great examples may be found through the research the Design Lab at UC San Diego (founded and directed by Don Norman) are involved in working on major societal issues. By working and designing with community experts (volunteers, village innovators, advocates), the solution becomes something all are proud of resulting in a much more sustainable solution.

5. Inclusive Design

When I think of inclusive design I automatically think of accessibility. Throughout the conference, this theme came up in various ways from individuals who have been on the other side of inclusive design — being excluded. One of the first keynotes was Liz Jackson, whose talk was titled, “Empathy reifies disability stigmas,” where she spoke on the importance of having disabled people be the experts in disability and having them be involved in the design process. She is the founder of The Disabled List, where creative disabled people are available to consult, collaborate, and support brands that are interested in reaching their disabled consumers.

Later that same day, Don Norman spoke about including community experts in the design thinking process. On Friday, the final day of Interaction 19 week, there was a talk titled, “Amongst the Forest with Wolves,” given by Ana Arriola and Jason Brush. The main takeaway was to see value in collaborating with other disciplines and fields. Designers cannot do it alone, as stated earlier, we do not have all the answers and that is okay. Embracing collaboration with data scientists, legal, governance, academic research, engineers, marketing, and product managers, are the way to understand how AI, technology, a process, an experience is inclusive. When working in silos, we take a risk in excluding marginalized communities, minorities, immigrants, and the disabled to name a few. Ana was giving away a few copies of Mismatch — how inclusion shapes design. I was one of the lucky one’s to receive a copy.

In it, Kat Holmes talks about the difference between inclusive design, accessibility, and universal design. Here are the differences:

Inclusive design: A methodology that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.

Accessibility: 1. The qualities that make an experience open to all. 2. A professional disciple aimed at achieving № 1.

Universal Design: The design of an environment so that it might be accessed and used in the widest possible range of situations without the need for adaptation.

Reading Mismatch is making me aware of the habits we create as a society, how to detect biases, and establish ways to be inclusive not only in my professional life, but also personally.

This experience helped me gain insight into who I am as a person, a designer, a receiver of interactions. It unfolded what has been and introduced me to what could be.

Have any questions on my Interaction 19 experience or simply want to connect? Contact me here and don’t forget to 👏👏👏 if you enjoyed this read. :) Interested in Interaction 20? It will be hosted in Milan, Italy! For details, go here. Thank you!