“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

At the crossroads – Design & IxD (not for the metaphorically challenged)

You will have a distinct advantage reading this if you are very familiar with the highways of the East Bay of California’s San Francisco Bay Area.

I have been trying to figure out how to talk about the experience of Interaction 10 (@ixd10) for the last 2 weeks. I knew I had to blog something about it. I have had some thoughts scattered and disconnected over the Twittersphere. But the theme I feel the most is “Crossroads.”

What do I mean by crossroads? The term is usually a metaphor that implies choice between at least 2 directions, which in itself implies a splitting from one. I know as I write this that it is easy to pick apart the metaphor and I can live with that. We are not splitting from one thing to another, but really we are in the process of coalescing our already existing splits to the point where there are new affinities that now have critical mass around them to identify on their own (or soon will be).

The analog in my head will only work for people who live in the Bay Area and cross the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to the E. Bay. I’ll try to describe as best I can.

When you enter the bridge everyone is the same. There are only 4-5 lanes of traffic and except for that really rare person who gets off at Yerba Buena Island, everyone is committed for what they feel is a single destination, “The East Bay.”

Sometime around the tollbooth on the other side the signs begin the task of segmenting people. They are still on the same road, but they start to create new temporary identities based on the signposts above.

Then the splits begin. People leave for south, north (which is oddly called East & West at the same time; and we think IAs and IxDs have problems!?!), and East. This split though is not the last of it.

To the south we have a clean split (one would think) but to get there you used to have to go east first and then south (oh! the glory of the big-one back in ’89). To the East though there is a split between true east and south east (24 v. 580). How do you want to go east? The tunnel is pretty direct but the foothills are windy and picturesque. (I had to make this decision for 2 years; living at the interchange of 580 & 680.) Then to the north is a long road that eventually will split due west or continue north to hook east.

Wait! did I just end with 3 options that all head due east no matter what?

Damn! this metaphor is working out better than I thought because this is exactly how I see things going right now with the design world and interaction design. we are all committed to heading due east, but some of us temporarily whether blinded by the sunrise or just intrigued by the mountains, tunnel or coast line we pick a distinct path. This is an analog to thinking in 3D (Industrial Design), 2D (Graphic Design), information (IA), Activity (IxD/Service), space (Architecture) etc.

At some point these choices will invariably take people who continue on their journey to relatively the same point. Yes, we are getting there with a different set of experiences, and probably different communities behind us supporting us, but the arrival (again for those who keep pressing forward [not too enamored with their current place]) form something completely new and different.

What’s also true is that we make these journey’s repeatedly and each time we have the option to keep taking the same road or to experience new things. Sometimes it is good to skip the travel experience almost entirely, especially for the longer rides.

So now that I’ve beat that dead horse of a metaphor into the ground and probably only those who live or lived in the E. Bay really get it, I’ll move on. …

Interaction Design is one of the legs on this highway system. It’s destination is defined as East as much as any other design discipline. What is East? emergent, beautiful, bright, human, emotional, technological, contemporary, holistic, (and a host more). Our road way takes us on straightaways of rationality mixed with winding roads of exploring the nature of movement and activity towards accomplishments based on self-motivation. We take the tunnel because we are less concerned about “the view”, but after the tunnel we take the local streets to observe the people instead of staying just on the highway passing by.

But at some point there will be another split (you people realize I’m in Contra Costa at this point, right? along 24). We’ll hit the big mountain that inspired us this far (ha!) and we’ll have to pick north vs. south for a bit. And I think it is this split where A) my metaphor ends and B) is where IxD has stood for a little bit. This year the affinities are beginning to coalesce deeply.

The split here is between those who still want to think of interaction design as stopping at the focus of fitting people’s lives and creating efficiencies and those who want to work deeper; leaving technology to those who fetishize it; focusing not on what people want but what humanity needs.

At Interaction 10, Allan Chochinov (@chochinov) of Core77 among other attributes put up this slide!

A. Chochinov Slide

This slide alone more than any other at Interaction 10 has stayed with me. It was more than design mumbo jumbo, it was a tacit call to arms for designers to get off their ass and start designing for real problems and not the ones that society has made up for them to design (most of those ARE now the real problems we have to design against).

The call to activism as a designer really hits the heart of the interaction designer who is taught first and foremost to have empathy, but then to convert that empathy into dispassion. We come to that empathy from a dispassionate place for the most part as if we are filling an empty vessel.

And this is going to be a part of the next big split. Not the difference between meaning and experience, or hardware vs. software (definitely not the latter). We are going to be split at our core between those who design passionately from a place of knowing the end results and want to drive people towards that result and those who feel that knowing the result breaks the rules.

I’m not sure that this split will even lead interaction designers to the same end point. Is this split of North vs. South going to lead any of us back west before we head east again? Will any of us head east at all?

I am so inspired by Jon Kolko’s new Interaction Design school in Austin and I know as I think about shaping my own design education practice I will look towards his and other great examples.

Even our winner of the IxDA Student Interaction Design Competition, Ahmed Riaz, demonstrated how altruism and driving people towards social responsibility should always be at the forefront of our designs.

I can’t wait to see how this all ends up.

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