“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

Interaction — The IxDA Conferences … Maturing 08 > 10

(I started this post over 3 months ago and finished it today. Sorry if it feels a tad disjointed, but I still like it. Hopefully you will gain some inspiration and motivation by it.)

In 2008 I had the pleasure of co-chairing the first Interaction Design Association (IxDA) conference, Interaction 08 | Savannah. My partner in crime, Dan Saffer, provided a tapestry weaved through his vision of what would make a great program for the interaction design community, and I had a shared vision of what the conference experience should/needs to be.

There were many success criteria that anyone sets for themselves but the overwhelming response (and associated almost 200 person waiting list) of Interaction 08 were the pre-success factors that led to more important ones later, such as rave reviews and well the number of returnees to this year’s, now 2nd annual, conference, Interaction 09 | Vancouver.

The new chairperson, Greg Petroff, under new constraints led a tremendous team of volunteers to create an even better event than its predecessor. Greg, followed much of the same parameters of programming that Dan set up, with is own unique twists, and he had a different city with different challenges & opportunities that he was able to use to his advantage to create a great total experience.

As the logistician, in my organizing of the 1st conference, I was convinced that the logistics made the event, and I was totally wrong. They frame the event, but they don’t make the event. What makes the event are the people. Hands down, this year had an energy and a sense of community that last year did not. The critical mass of Twitter & Facebook had an undeniable effect on how people not only communicated, but also related to one another before, during and now even afterwards.

People talk about the “summer camp” atmosphere of the conference, but not in a bad cliquy way. Why? Because anyone and everyone can have instant entre into the world of the camp itself. There is an almost zero barrier to entering the world of Twitter and following being such a passive act with little obtrusion to those you are following, means you can connect anonymously and assert yourself on your own terms.

But the conference was not Twitter by any means. The other piece that people brought into the conference is their voice. The voice of the conference was everywhere. The true desire to use our skills and talents towards improving the human condition was infused throughout the conference. This wasn’t by design, except to say the design was to let the natural voice of the community find itself. It came through the organic conversation between speakers and attendees and sometimes between speaker and speaker.

Being at the center of it all, I often wonder if I’m just kidding myself. Is this feeling just for me? Did all 450 or so people at the Four Seasons & Fairmont in Vancouver have any semblance of the same experience? (Please let me know if you didn’t.) I am constantly challenging this, so I don’t get too myopic in my world view.

What I hear though is that many, and I would argue most of the people I met (many of whom for the 1st time physically or virtually) had some level of contentment and connection to what was created in this gathering.

But back to the voices and what they were saying and how they were saying it. Despite the many technical difficulties the one recurring thought I have when I think about this year versus last year is that we all from keynote to lightning round speaker to hallway conversationalist matured. Our tones, our topics, our means of connecting with one another have all gotten more professional, more intelligent, more thoughtful, and more human.

The other piece of the conference that was there for me, was a sense of positivism. Not necessarily optimism, but positivism. What’s the difference? Well to me, one can still have a sense of the negative nature of the world we live in, but still feel as though they can have a positive effect towards changing it. Obviously, the sustainability folks (talked about on many other forums) have put out their call to arms to help save the world, but Dan Saffer & Kim Goodwin put out in my mind an equally important call to arms–BE DESIGNERS!

Dan Saffer’s presentation did a great job of invigorating the audience about what is at the core of what we DO and to get out there and just DO IT! Kim’s was more reflective and urged us to understand the connections between us as people/practioners as human beings, and to take on the challenges of our practice, especially the one of education.

As the next Interaction conference looms, back to Savannah, where I now call home and hosted by the Savannah College of Art & Design, which I now call employer, I see something even more new beginning to grow. A next step for the interaction design community and the user experience community as a whole.

1. The frame we are creating for Interaction 10 | Savannah is going to be completely different. The new co-chairs, Bill Derouchey and Jennifer Bove (@billder & @jlb), have been listening, but also exploring the possibilities of what we haven’t thought of before. They are designing with the help of a great team a new type of conference. One that the UX community has not seen before.

2. SCAD is working harder to make sure the logistics are even that much better than before. We have more venues (none are hotels, except for the pre-conf workshops) that really bring out the spirit of both SCAD and historical Savannah. Two venues date back to the 1700’s.

3. But this isn’t about history, but more about inspiration. This event will have new voices emerge (or old voices using new tones) that include student contests, interactive art exhibition and film documentaries.

4. Don’t just listen, but get active, engage, do. The pre-conferences aren’t going to be the only place to engage in dialog, or work with your hands. There will be inspirational talking heads, but there will also be discussions and activities to participate in both days of the conference.

There are a few things from the ’08 conference to continue to look forward to. Odds are the weather will be better than Vancouver (we have a 67% chance of better than north of Dixie weather in Feb in Savannah). And most importantly we are planning on bringing back our old caterer for a couple of the parties. Our event at Interaction 08 | Savannah won our caterer accolades in the press all around the Southeast. So she’ll be coming back.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, there is the most important thing again–the voices. There is no better voice to bring to Interaction 10 | Savannah than your own. So bring it. Make a submission of the various types of presentation and leading opportunities and rise up in chorus with the many others who will be presenting and leading this coming February.

I’d love it if peeps would leave a comment if they have even the slightest inkling that they’d like to lead something at Interaction 10 | Savannah. But more importantly go to http://interaction.ixda.org/ and submit your abstract(s) for consideration.

See ya there! (I mean here! I live here now!)

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  • http://www.portigal.com Steve Portigal

    Good timing – I spent yesterday developing the set of presentations and activities I wanted to submit.


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