Interaction19: Favorite Sessions

Ten years ago, the second Interaction Conference was held here in Vancouver, British Columbia. Back then, it was my last semester of school, and I also just started a new part time gig. Interaction 09 in Vancouver happened and I wasn’t even at the concert. I would keep tabs loosely over the years, but never decided to punch the ticket. Fast-forward ten years later, I finally got to experience the conference as a first-time attendee.

Today, Interaction Week is simply put, a week of design events for interaction designers from around the world. The 12th edition takes place in Seattle.

The conference kicked off mid-week to an abnormally frigid morning. With three streams and a few volunteer commitments, my attention participation is quite limited. Nonetheless, I want to share my experiences in the form of recommended talks. I’m going with a 3×3 format, three of each of the three days, in no particular order other than scheduled time.


Day One: Discipline in Flux

Is the practice undergoing a disruption just when I am re-finding my foothold? Should I be worried about Artificial Intelligence? For day one, the talks call into question the things we are comfortable with. There were some odd volunteer hiccups but I managed to sit and stand through most of the talks, and my three standouts were:

Wild Design for Living on the Wild

BILL BUXTON / 2019-02-06 0910

When I say mobile, it is about the mobility of the activity, within the context of the ecosystem.

Bill Buxton opens the day with a dive into the wilderness. He emphasizes ubiety, not ubiquity — not everywhere, but the quality in relation to the current place. And ‘placeona’ instead of a persona. We’re in what Bill terms the ecosystem wave where mobility does not mean a single device. I agree and we can easily get carried away when we jump on the consistency bandwagon. This keynote reminds us to mindful of other contexts and the meaning of place.

Empathy Reifies Disability Stigmas

LIZ JACKSON / 2019-02-06 0950

Savior mentality is reinforced because the pet cannot verbally express an opinion of its own, the owner may project whatever interpretation he or she wishes and do so without fear of contradiction

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the keynote that followed. I came out delightfully surprised after Liz Jackson’s keynote. She deconstructs the empathy business and asks if we’re all pathological altruists simply looking for a portfolio or brand enhancer. Do we always apply our attuned skills to fix things [we think] need fixing?

Stories: The Way to Our Heart, and the Key to Design Strategy

JON KOLKO / 2019-02-06 1430

Stories shape and sell a strategy

No, this is not yet-another-storytelling-presentation. I thought Jon Kolko went further in depth of his stories to describe the power of the cognitive dissonance. Then backs it up with science and leaves us with some frameworks to start with. It almost feels like a re-introduction to a tried-and-tested tool — updated to modern standards.



Day two promises new ways of working. New frameworks and methodologies. From the presentations I got the attend, here’s my three:

Diversity: de-ambulation, monocultures, pluriverses

ALOK NANDI / 2019-02-07 0955

Design starts with a narrative. Our job is to understand what happens in between the frames.

What I got from IxDA president Alok Nandi’s keynote standing in the far corner as A/V support is an exploration to reframe the viable-feasible-desirable overlap. There’s a lot to digest in this talk. He gives a reminder that transaction does not necessarily mean economic-influence; and one must find the “sauce”. The talk can feel fragmented at times, but it certain carries an experimental vibe with it to set the tone for the day.

The Algorithmic Fashion Companion: Making Machine Learning Human (and Fashionable)

VILMA SIRAINEN / 2019-02-07 1315

Fake it till you know it is worth time + money to build a machine learning solutions

In contrast to Alok’s keynote, I felt Vilma Sirainen’s talk delivers an easy-to-digest case study for designing AI-powered features. Her short presentation memorably stood out among the AI-dominated topics in the “tech” stream. My favorite takeaway is in prototyping, you don’t necessarily need to have AI early on. We already have the intelligence, and it’s not artificial.

Agile Strategy: Designing in the 21st Century

MARTY NEUMEIER / 2019-02-07 1645

By the time the product reaches market, it has been tortured, watered down, polluted, and starved of attention

Marty Neumeier wraps up day two by looking at the “agile” process and its challenges. He presents a simple reframe of the design thinking and process, one that better fits the business narrative. He also advocates design swarming as a technique to attack challenges from all sides. This might help us better de-risk risky ideas. Ultimately, it gets me thinking about how do I set [our clients] on a winning position; but first, getting design a better seat at the table.



The final day of the conference was cut short a bit due to the coming snow storm, but definitely didn’t fall short on content.

Recovering and Reinvention

JOHN MAEDA / 2019-02-08 0915

People don’t work for you or against you. They’re working for themselves.

In school, John Maeda was one of the pioneers we’d study, especially his book The Laws of Simplicity. His keynote keeps it simple, narrating his early years in Seattle, CD-ROMs and tofu. In between he interweaves the divide between “maker-maker” or “talker-talker”, and making the journey to “maker-talker”. John delivered a keynote that resonates with a hat-switcher like me, and reminds me of the importance of sponsors and champions.

The Life of a Changemaker: Lessons from the Battlefield

MARIA GUIDICE / 2019-02-08 1245

Give up perfection and learn the art of compromise.

Maria Guidice’s talk covers the lessons she learned leading design at Autodesk. She describes the need to shift company culture from being rooted in technology to becoming more human centric. Sounds familiar? Maria advocates designers to lead change management, but reminds us that it is still everyone’s responsibility. And with change, the circumstances will change, the problems are not fixed to a point in time.

Being Responsible for 1.2 Billion People

JACK MORGAN / 2019-02-08 0915

Every data point is a person. Every person has a story.

Jack Morgan mixes numbers and storytelling to great effect. His talk on how Duolingo shapes the lives of refugees can tug at the heartstrings. I was wrapping up a shift when he started but I’m glad I caught most of it. I was glad to see the words “responsible”, not a “project for 1.2 billion people”. After all, the landscape will keep changing.