Interaction 16 Conference from the UX Designer's perspective

Designer's job is extremely interesting and variant, but at times it is nice to completely break away from own work. And what would be a more inspiring way to do that, than participating in an international conference. In the beginning of March me and two of my designer colleagues headed to Helsinki to Interaction 16 Conference, which was organized by Interaction Design Association (IxDA). This was the first time the event was organized in Finland and it gathered together nearly 1000 design professionals, leaders, students and volunteers.  This year the main theme of the conference was "what's next in interaction design". In this post I introduce the point of views that, in my opinion, were the most memorable ones.

Think outside of the screen

Traditionally in user experience design we tend to focus on individual devices, such as mobile, tablet, or computer. In the future, the design is moving more beyond traditional devices, when both devices and our environment are becoming more digitalized.

Sol Mesz pointed out in her talk "UX in 2018: Designing experiences for a multi-touchpoint, multi-device future" that we already use several different kinds of devices for completing one task. For example, consider booking a trip: first you surf with your tablet on your couch, then you book the tickets with your work computer, do the check-in with airport's automat and show your ticket from your smartphone.

Mesz presented, that in 2020 a notable share of devices will be connected to each other and a single person owns approximately seven different kinds of interactive devices. Thus, instead of a single user interface designers should focus more on comprehensive problems and tasks that the users are dealing with. We need to move from device thinking to ecosystem thinking.

Devices can be used simultaneously and different devices can be used in different situations. Whereas a phone can be considered very personal and it is used to taking care of so called micro tasks, PC can be used by the whole family and it can be used for taking care of more demanding tasks. Wearables, on the other hand, are good for example for receiving information or simplifying tasks.

The challenge is to make the user experience as consistent as possible, despite the device in use. The transition between the devices should feel like a natural continuum.

Robots can make us more empathic

During many of the talks we heard about robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Kate Darling, Research Specialist from MIT Media Lab, introduced in her Keynote talk an interesting aspect of designing robots: robot ethics is not actually related to robots. Instead, it is related to humans. We consider robots surprisingly human even though they are meant to be tools. For example, we feel bad when robot"dog" called Spot is kicked as a part of a test. (Darling told that in YouTube comments some people even insisted Peta to be contacted.)

So, are there some benefits in humanizing robots? According to Darling, yes. Plenty of them. For instance, learning a new language is much more fun when taught by a robot instead of learning it by yourself.  As for social robots, they can help autistic children and a robot, which looks like a seal cuddly toy, has been noted to ease the loneliness of the elderly. Also, employees react more favorably to an efficient factory robot, if it has a name and it acts like a human.

Darling's message is that we don't have to be worried – robots will not conquer the world. Of course robots can have negative impacts as well: they can take away the sense of privacy and at worst they can substitute real relationships. But above all, robots are a great opportunity. We can do a lot of good with them.

Designers as world healers

"Are you the voice of your users?" asked Sumier Phalake, Senior User Experience Designer from Google, in his talk. Phalake's talk dealt with designing and implementing a map application for the victims and rescuers of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. With the map application it is possible to see in which areas the earthquakes have occurred and what kind of help is needed in those particular areas.

It wasn't easy to design an application for the victims of an earthquake – but it taught a lot.  Phalake mentioned that the user research is very different in the circumstance after a catastrophe. How to find out users' needs when they have lost everything? How do you start breaking down this kind of a situation?

Phalake's as well as many other speakers' lectures resonated with a certain kind of a deep self-reflection. Designer's work is found to be very important and designers should use their skills in a reasonably way. It is important that we share the joy of good designing to as many fields as possible. For instance, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino encouraged designers to learn to use Arduino circuit board and participate actively in the life of software developers – for example by attending events that are targeted for developers.

Deschamps-Sonsino also mentioned a fridge that is equipped with a computer, which is an example where IT and manufacturing industry come across. As an idea this fridge might be great but it is also important to think, does this fridge-computer meet the needs of modern users? What do people actually do with a minicomputer that is connected to a certain room? In order to meet the needs of devices and users, you need user experience design – not just a pile of features (no matter how great they may sound).

Interaction 16 Conference in a nutshell

Overall, the Interaction 16 Conference was a wonderful experience, which I can recommend to anyone interested in UX design. As a conclusion, if I sum up the Interaction 16 week in a couple of sentences, it would go like this: Designers, let's be proud of our skills and whenever possible, let's use our skills to benefit others, too. This way we can do our own share for making the world a better place.

Posted by

Kata Tolvanen
UX Designer
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