“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Dan Saffer – The next “luminary” of interaction design?


Dan Saffer

It isn’t really so much what Dan has or hasn’t designed. I don’t know his portfolio of work. But I do know his mind, and more importantly how he has decided to share it and what he has decided to share.

The path that Dan has taken himself on, has been one filled with a keen focus on interaction design, but an understanding that the place of interaction design is next to, on top of, below, inside of and outside of so many more design, research, technology, business, and craft disciplines. While he himself is no Da Vinci ala Bill Buxton (who seems to do it all), his deep respect for the intricacies of great design comes through his work & teachings.

I’ve had the pleasure to work with Dan. As co-chairs for the 1st international conference on, for, with and about Interaction Design–Interaction 08 | Savannah–I got an up close glimpse of his passion about interaction design. But that connection I made with Dan through that work, has motivated me to focus more closely on what he has done outside of that context. Not only has Dan set up a great Interaction Design group at his former employers, Adaptive Path, helping them emerge from Web Design/Information Architecture irrelevance into becoming a true leader of human-centered product, service and system design, but he has also contributed 2 books to the canon. His first, “Designing for Interaction” is a must read for any budding Interaction Designer. His second, “Designing Gestural Interfaces”, is as important for anyone who wants to think beyond the now towards interactions of tomorrow.

But what has inspired this blog post (a rarity for me, as I tend not to laud my peers) is what he has done since leaving Adaptive Path. He has created Kicker Studio. A new design consultancy in and of itself is not such a big deal (and I know he has 4 other principals all as responsible as he is for the agency’s creation), but it is what he has done with his new found freedom.

Just look … Really look deeply at his entries on the Kicker Studio blog called “Kick It!” His continuing contributions in micro-slices about interaction design and the contexts in which interaction design works is just astounding. I was most impressed by his sketch mockups of gestural interfaces for the PC, but there is more and it is mostly subtle.

A year or two ago, I guess when Designing Gestural Interfaces was a gleam in his eye Dan posted a “call to arms” to interaction designers, asking that we find our generation’s PARC, and in that call he suggested that “gestures” may be the next mouse or Lisa. Dan’s leadership not just with a manifesto to follow, but how he is setting up a very open environment for people to follow his lead, puts Dan on the path of becoming the next Bill (pick one: Verplank, Moggridge, Buxton), Doug, Jef, Tog, etc.

Right now as I write this, I think I have an answer to Dan’s call to arms though. It is not a place, or a company, or a singlularity in any shape at all, (topic, device, mechanism, pattern, etc.) but in fact it is the metaphor and the strongest metaphor of this decade if not the last 3 decades–The network. The open network can be our space where we achieve our innovations, and work together more openly for achieving the same level of innovative breakthroughs of the previous 2 generations.

Ok, I’m sure that Dan is either laughing that I spent so many characters about him, or is hiding in a corner with a Guiness drinking away the embarassment. Either way, you should all know that Dan will be available to sign print-outs of this blog entry with headshots (just kidding) at Interaction 09 | Vancouver where he’ll be a keynote speaker and teaching at his currently sold out workshop on gestural interface design with Bill Derouchey (another great interaction design soul). I know I’ll be there in anticipation of a great show by Dan. Check back for a link to his great “Tap is the Next Click” presentation he gave at IxDA NYC earlier in 2008.

Endnote: I was about to hit publish when I realized that many are going to post their own nominees. Please refrain. That should really be done on your own blog. Feel free to pingback or trackback though if you do.

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  • dansaffer

    I’m flattered, but I’m in no way in the company of the folks you sited. I’m still finding my way as a designer–I just happen to be doing it in public on blogs and in my books.

    Being a great designer means having a body of products you’ve designed that are really world class and influence generations of designers, and I’m just not there yet. I hope one day I am. Right now, my body of work is too meager, my long-term contributions to the field almost nil, and the depth of my thinking too shallow.

    It is an honor to be nominated though. :)

  • dave

    Ok, humble denial wasn’t one of the options I listed, but appropriate. ;-)

    2 thoughts to Dan’s personal response:
    1. I think blog posts as opposed to “articles” are about speculation, introspection, and inspiration. Blogs are not just journals or logs as the name suggests, but the open/public sharing, not just of ideas or emotions but of aspirations. This entry is in that spirit.

    2. I think I was unclear (I hope this doesn’t come across as a downer) but that Dan is ON HIS WAY to becoming a luminary through the path he has taken and the means he is taking it. If Dan stopped right now with no further contributions then the answer to my question (and the title is a question on purpose) would be “No”.

    3. (Damn! I hate when that happens). I doubt that Bill(s), Dougs, Togs, and Jefs at any point in their careers said, “I’m a luminary now.” Usually it comes about as realizing that all of your conference invites are now as a keynote. ;-)


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