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Interaction ’09: Recap

Interaction 09 - Robert Fabricant

This past weekend I attended IxDA’s Interaction 09 conference in beautiful Vancouver, BC. The event, in it’s second year, brought together creative thinkers, educators and corporate decision makers from across the world to share ideas, inspiration and future visions on Interaction Design. The conference was a mix of workshops, discussion panels, and keynotes from speakers such as Dan Saffer, Robert Fabricant, Jared Spool and John Thackara, to name a few.

Before I go on, I want to say a great thanks to IxDA for putting on an insightful and truly engaging conference that covered a great breadth of topics and drew some equally great minds to discuss them with. Also, the food was great and the host city was stunning.

Day 1 of 3: Highlights

My first day began by attending Drawing Ideas, a workshop hosted by information designer William Bardel and Mark Baskinger, a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design. The goal of the workshop was to teach basic drawing principles to people who, like myself, had no formal illustration background.

Mark and Will started us out by learning the basics of drawing: posture, hand position, lines and circles before quickly accelerating through more sophisticated principles such as complex shapes, notation techniques and finally storyboards. The critical takeaways for me were first, I can draw, and second, I learned to use sketching as a tool for communication and not just a means to iterate ideas.

Taking Notes: Before and After 'Drawing Ideas' Workshops

The workshop proved to be a great way to kick-off Interaction 2009 as it inspired me to change the way I took notes, allowing me to retain way more information for later use (i.e. this post).

Following a quick lunch we were enlightened (or burdened depending on who you ask) by John Thackara’s poignant presentation, Experiencing Sustainability. John talked about the state of the world via a series of “peaks” we have reached: Peak credit, energy, climate change, protein consumption and water to be more specific.

Like most sobering talks on where human consumption patterns have lead us, John presented a bleak state of the world that required great change to get us to where we need to be. Probably the most stark point he made was that even if we were to replace all methods of modern transportation with alternatives using clean, renewable energy we’d still have a great problem regarding energy consumption, climate change and mass transit.

Where John differed from a lot of talks I’ve seen was his ideas around how designers can play a role in this change. An ecosystem driven less by growth and more by a measure of human well being requires design thinking and action in areas such as community food management in urban centers, systems to manage multiple off-grid energy sources, creating direct channels between independent product creators and consumers and general resource sharing. Designers need to be engaged to solve these problems.

In short, John’s talk was far beyond the buy local, recycle, change a light bulb thinking we’ve come to associate with sustainable living and it was a breath of fresh air to see how these opportunities could engage designers. Needless to say, I added John’s book, In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, to my shortlist of must-reads following his presentation.

The day continued with a great panel discussion around the need for Interaction Designers and the limits of existing undergraduate and post-graduate programs to provide for it. The panel was made of up of a mix of educators and industry heavyweights including Frog Design’s Jon Kolko and Liz Danzico, Chair of the School of Visual Arts MFA in Interaction Design program. Though the discussion spiraled into a heated debate on how to better define Interaction Designers, so curriculum could be created accordingly for it, it was still insightful and provided discussion points among designers from all backgrounds for the rest of the weekend.

Before the day wrapped we were treated to a technically troubled (note: avoid using video in Apple Keynote) but overall inspiring presentation from Fiona Raby, designer and faculty member at the Royal College of Art in London. Fiona presented her student’s latest work, which I’m having trouble finding online but should not be missed. Keep her in your Google queue.

Day 2 and 3 highlights, including workshops on gestural/multi-touch interfaces, Frog Design’s Robert Fabricant and more, to come…

Derek Vaz More posts by Derek Vaz