Got home late last night from a long weekend (Feb. 5th – 8th) spent with some amazing people at Interaction ’09 in Vancouver, BC, Canada which was held in conjunction with the folks from Simon Fraser University (SFU).
Interaction ’09 was the second annual conference put together by the Interaction Design Association, better known as IxDA, and my first IxD conference experience. Sadly, I was unable to attend the inaugural event last year in Savannah, GA because of a client’s site launch and other work obligations.
For some perspective here’s a quick background on my relationship to IxDA. I’ve been on the email list for a few years now, and try to participate as much as I can w/out hurting my productivity. I have attended a few events in NYC, not nearly as many as I should, and most recently missed an event that was less than a block away from my office. Despite my limited activity, I’ve been lucky to meet some great folks in the New York IxDA community and take part in some very thought provoking online conversations via the mailing list and Twitter. That said, I was really excited to get to the conference to meet some of my online acquaintances and the personalities who have influenced my work, and really explore what the IxD community is all about. In all honesty, I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider looking into the community, and was a bit nervous about whether or not I’d be accepted into their tribe in person.
For the curious, here’s my take on the event. Please note, that I don’t feel up to doing a lot of research, so any “facts” mentioned are “to the best of my knowledge”. Also, I won’t go into the specifics of the talks because that would be too much work.
The conference was run pretty damn well for being only the second conference put together by a team of people with full time jobs. Much props to the organizers. Downtown Vancouver was a great location, the hotels chosen were the best I’ve been in for any conference (Four Seasons Vancouver and the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver), and the food was halfway decent. I’m pretty sure most everyone who attended felt well looked after and comfortable in the environment. My only 2 beefs with the location were the international data roaming charges for using my iPhone, and that the residentially challenged in Vancouver were surprisingly assertive.
First off, the conference was a pretty sharp contrast to many conferences I’ve been to in the past. It seemed like almost everyone knew or knew of each other. This was likely because of the visibility of the community, high level of interaction on the mailing list and Twitter, and the activity of the local IxDA groups. Being at least a little active in the community was a benefit, though both welcoming and a little intimidating. Luckily enough, I was able to meet up with some online acquaintances and active members of the community @semanticwill, @mariobourque, @pnts, @emenel, @mjbroadbentand @Yoni almost immediately (Note that when I put “@” in front of a name it’s in reference to their Twitter handles and because they’re people you should follow). They introduced me to some other “good to know” folks right away, and the fun began.
(Note: To anyone already on the mailing list but not on Twitter, sign up now and start following folks. You’re missing out on a lot of great interaction if you haven’t yet.)
Second, the conference, unlike many others, was intentionally not themed. The organizers opted instead to invite some of the most active, accomplished, and interesting members of the community to speak to the topics that were on their mind. The speaker list was a real “who’s who” of authors, teachers, practitioners and innovators in interaction design. This created an interesting dynamic because you could tell that the speakers were passionate about their topics, even if their presentations weren’t necessarily as polished as they would have been if they had been recycled. The end result was a professional conference with the liveliness of a Barcamp. A definite plus in my book.
The conference format was divided between optional workshops, lightning talks, sessions, and keynotes. I only attended one workshop and found the hands on experience great exercise, and next year I hope to attend a couple more. The lightning talks were shorter talks with specific topics. I attended as many as I could and my only regrets were that they overlapped and weren’t longer. The time constraint especially limited the discussion lead by Josh Seiden (@jseiden) on the effect of the current economy on IxD because good discussions always need more time. Overall the sessions and keynotes were thought provoking, current, and diverse. The only negative was that, for folks not on the mailing list or active in the community, some of them might have felt a bit insider. Key themes that pleasantly surprised me included sustainable design, effect of IxD on human behavior, and interaction design in art and innovation.
Talks I really enjoyed include but were not limited to:
- Design by Community: The Drupal.org Redesign by Leisa Reichelt
- Design for Life by Identifying the Lifecycle of an Experience by German Leon Osorio
- Carpe Diem: Attention, Awareness, and Interaction Design 2009 a Keynote by Dan Saffer (@kickerstudio)
- Designing the Viral App by Christina Wodtke
- Play in Social and Tangible Interactions by Kars Alfrink
- Understanding Contexts of Use by Miles Rochford
- Each One, Teach One a Keynote by Kim Goodwin
As I mentioned earlier, despite the great talks, it was the conversations outside of the talks that really caught my attention. The conference set up was so that there was a good amount of time and space allocated for just meeting people and talking with a couple typical social events and a centrally located bar for the really good conversations. One really cool thing I noticed was that the speaker to attendee ratio was amazing. It was fairly easy to shake hands and make attempts to engage the speakers without waiting in lines or feeling too awkward. If you didn’t know this already, I’m actually a bit shy and feel quite awkward in social situations of more than a couple people. Luckily enough, my passion for expressing my opinions on just about everything and the level of engagement by everyone at the conference really helped me get over it. I had the chance to interrupt quite a few conversations without feeling too guilty and talk to some folks doing amazing work. The overall feeling was extremely welcoming.
Now time for some blatant name dropping!
This section is dedicated to all of the great conversations I took part in and the ones I missed. I do regret not having met, by no fault of theirs, Dan Saffer, Dan Brown, Aza Raskin, Luke Wroblewski and a handful of others whose work I’m a big fan of. Though, I did get to talk to a bunch of other folks whose work and efforts in the community you should probable pay attention to including: Josh Seiden (@jseiden), Nasir Barday (@nbarday), Greg Petroff, Jared Spool (@jmspool), David Malouf (@daveIxD), Louis Rosenfeld, Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess), Todd Zaki Warfel, Ian Swinson, Nathan Moody, Jim Leftwich, Elizabeth Bacon, Lennart Andersson, and a host of others. Sorry to say that I am 100% certain I’ve left some deserving people off the list, but I think that fact alone is enough evidence to show how active and accepting the community was. The level of conversation was higher than any I’ve been around in a while, even with the disagreements and rivalries that happen in every close-knit community. Of course, if yo want to be included, or even excluded from mention in this blog post, feel free to ping me @joshviney and I’ll see what I can do. No guarantees.
Time for a conclusion cause I’m tired of typing. If you knew about the conference and didn’t attend because you’re lazy – You missed out. If you couldn’t attend because of work or other obligations – I’m sorry but I understand. If you are reading this and didn’t know about the conference – It’s not your fault and you should seriously consider going next year. I think one key call to action from the event was to increase evangelism, so you can be assured that at least some folks will get noisy about interaction design in the coming months.
For more 411 you can search #IxD09 on Twitter for some great back-channel chatter and brief recaps of some of the talks and keynotes.
Now time for a blatant plug for my business!
Anyone reading this interested in web or mobile application design/development or some product crafting on an existing app, hit me up. My company, Eastmedia, would love the opportunity to work with you.