Three Key Themes from the IxDA Interaction16 Conference

Interaction 16: 2.–4. March, Helsinki Finland from Interaction Design Association on Vimeo.

This year, the global conference organized by the Interaction Design Association took place in Helsinki, exploring the theme ‘What’s next?’ Almost 1,000 people attended the conference in the beautiful Finlandia Hall, a 1971 masterpiece by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. This designer’s dream was the ideal setting for three packed days of inspiration, exploration and learning.

A great turn out from the Toronto design community highlighted how much we have going on here, with several Toronto-based speakers: Matthew Milan, Matt Nish-Lapidus, and Kaleem Khan. Michael-Owen Liston was participating in the Student Design Challenge. Overall, a lot to be proud of in the Toronto design community!

The conference programming included 5 keynotes and 100 speakers over three jam-packed days. Here’s a taste of the themes and sessions.

Design in government

The Government Digital Service won the IxDA Future Voice Award, for ‘exemplary culture change through design.’ As we see the US and Australia following in GDS footsteps, design in government was on the agenda at the conference.

David Boardman of IDEO talked about how design has moved from ‘pushing pixels to reshaping Governments. He shared this quote from user research with people inside of government organizations:

‘Technology is what is done to us, not what is done for us’

– highlighting the continued need for user-centered approaches for those in civic institutions. He also highlighted the opportunity to learn from the ways that people work around the systems they have to use.

John Waterworth of GDS in the UK shared the approaches taken to create design patters from The key takeaway was that design patterns are about community – it’s up to the community to curate and define patterns that emerge from practice. Facilitating this community is the best way to ensure a style guide will be used.

Dealing with challenging situations in UX

Diversity has many realms – Yonatan Kelib. Pic by Savannah Niles

“Diversity has many realms” – Yonatan Kelib. Pic by Savannah Niles

The sessions this year did not shy away from difficult topics. Yonatan Kelib gave an honest and inspiring session about how his mentor Red Burn and his experiences at NYU ITP program shaped his perspectives on diversity. He shared McKinsey research that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform those that are not diverse. Caroline Sinders shared her research and work around using interface design to combat harassment. She talked about the power of language – how it is networked within a system but that computers lack the power to contextualize language. How do we create flexibility and conversational affordances on social media platforms? What does it mean to be a UX designer in a post-Snowden era? Kyle Outlaw shared the responsibility of designers to become ‘Chief Privacy Officers’ for their users.

The power of storytelling

A further theme was storytelling and designing stories as part of UX practice.

Tristan Ferne at the BBC research and development team showed two case studies of how the team took a data-driven but user-centered approach to creating new digital experiences. One of these was the Homefront story explorer, which allows users to get started, catch up, or replay storylines from the BBC Radio 4 series.

The framing and structuring of stories as a design tool for the Internet of Things was the topic of Janice Ahn’s talk – ‘Narrative Techniques in the IoT.’ She mentioned the idea of relabeling the internet of things as the ‘internet of you’ – placing the user at the center as the main character.

What’s Next?

Over the course of the sessions, many more themes were explored, such as data, algorithms, agentive tech and conversational UI. Design is on the cusp of a great shift in how we interact with the world.