|Review of Designing Interactions|
|Review of Hertzian Tales|
|Review of Shaping Things|
|Video documentation of all presentations|
|Conference Blog at "we make money not art" (by Sascha Pohflepp)|
By Gerd Waloszek, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – Updated: April 14, 2008
At the end of March 2007, several SAP colleagues and I had the opportunity to attend the Innovationsforum Interaktionsdesign in Potsdam, Germany. It was a small but excellent design conference held by the BA/MA Program for Interaction Design and the Interaction Design Lab of the University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam. Actually, the conference was not too small. The attendees filled the new and modernistic Hans Otto Theater more or less completely, reflecting the widespread interest in the forum. One might even say, the theater was overcrowded at times. It was also encouraging to see that a large number of students attended the conference.
Figure 1: The conference was held at the Hans Otto Theater
When I was invited to the forum, I was amazed at the number of high-quality speakers who were announced in the program, and I wondered whether all of them would actually appear in the end – and they did. At SAP, we did some internal marketing for the forum. Links exist between the organizers of the conference and SAP's Design Services Team (DST), as well as the new d-labs in Potsdam. Consequently, quite a number of SAP colleagues attended the forum, a fact that was well received by the organizers.
Figure 2: Boris Müller opening the conference
And in my opinion, the conference was worth the visit. It was very well organized and featured a well-compiled program; a pleasant and refreshing mix of practitioners' talks (for example, Mike Richter, Kristjan Kristjansson and Jens Heuer, Frank Jakob, Gesche Joost), more art- or design-oriented talks (for example, Tim Edler, Anthony Dunne, Dennis Paul and Patrick Kochlick), reflective talks (for example, Bill Moggridge, Gillian Crampton Smith), and visionary talks (Bruce Sterling) – with Bernard Kerr's talk on visualization techniques being unusual, but nonetheless interesting. As space is limited here, I regrettably cannot dwell on each presentation and can only pick a sample. I apologize to those speakers whom I do not mention explicitly. You will find a list of the presenters as well as links to their projects and companies/institutions at the end of my report. I have also provided links to the respective entries in Sascha Pohflepp's Weblog of the conference.
The "real" conference was opened by Bill Moggridge who – in a way – provided the framework for the conference by presenting snippets from his recent book Designing Interactions, which features more than forty years of interaction design. While this talk was well-done, it contained nothing new and surprising for me, having recently reviewed Moggridge's book, watched the book's accompanying DVD, and visited the book's Website. I am eager to learn from my colleagues about Moggridge's presentation at the opening plenary of the CHI 2007 conference.
Figure 3: Anthony Dunne during his talk
From my perspective, Gillian Crampton Smith's talk was the most useful. She asked what design is and investigated the relationship between design and research. She seems to have a similar point of view to me, namely that design is more like a craft than art or science – even though she admitted that some design may be research. As to be expected, Anthony Dunne presented several thought-provoking projects, such as designs for artificial meat, evidence dolls, and robots with unusual behaviors. Dunne's projects are often borderline experiments that touch the dark side of human nature, rather than explorations into the latest technology, even though technology is involved.
Figure 4: Tim Edler showing an interactive media facade for a building in Berlin (SPOT project)
With Jens Heuer from IBM Centers for Solution Innovation I found a former SAP usability colleague among the presenters. His and Kristjan Kristjansson's presentation about a design project for a student travel Website was in stark contrast to Mike Richter's highly commercial projects, such as daily soaps for mobile phones or Websites for young girls. I would also like to mention Tim Edler's huge interactive media facades for buildings made of neon-bulb and the museum projects based on genetic algorithms by Dennis Paul and Patrick Kochlick. I was somewhat surprised that in the discussion after their talk the latter focused on two observations: First Paul's grandfather once attributed human traits to his computer, and second one of their projects, the "Floating Numbers" exhibition, some visitors behaved unexpectedly, trying, for example, to catch the floating numbers. Don't we all do the former from time to time, particularly if the computer annoys us? Also since the book The Media Equation by Reeves & Nass was published, it is a common topic in the HCI community. Secondly, isn't "unexpected behavior" what designers of interactive museum installations should expect? By the way, many frustrated UI designers can tell you a thing or two about "unexpected" behavior from users. I was probably the only person in the audience pzzled by these minor points.
Figure 5: Mike Richter's project for Websites for young girls
The closing talk was held by Bruce Sterling, a renowned science-fiction author who has also become a respected design critic. Being aware of his role, Sterling changed two things compared to the other speakers: Firstly, he did without a supporting online presentation – he just held a "plain" talk. Secondly, he asked the organizers to open the curtains and let daylight in. All in all, this was a lively and enlightening talk, arousing much laughter and hopefully also some interesting thoughts.
Figure 6: Dennis Paul and Patrick Kochlick present their project "Floating Numbers"
Sterling started his talk with a few words on Spimes. I do not know whether everyone in the audience was aware of what Spimes are. Luckily, I had reviewed his book Shaping Things and therefore had at least a hazy notion – although to recall the six defining qualities of Spimes I had to refer to Sascha Pohflepp's conference blog. I can only guess, which aspect of Spimes Sterling would regard as the most important one. The notions that Spimes are manufactured as needed and designed for disassembling, for example, would – at least – have radical consequences: It would mean the end of industrial mass production and economic growth as driving force, which would be a revolution with respect to current mainstream thinking.
Figure 7: The daylight floods into Bruce Sterling's presentation
Another aspect of Spimes is that they leave a digital, historical trace behind. Spimes are still a thing of the future (with their prime time being from 2030 to 2070, and starting in about 2004), but already today we leave "virtual tons" of digital traces behind us. At a Symposium in Bonn that I attended last year, Microsoft's Mark Smith estimated that these will comprise about 4 terabytes during our life time. My guess is that it will be much more. Some people seem to be eager to leave traces, for example, by using GPS to track their location. Others already record their whole lives on video. Most of us simply buy on eBay and rate sellers, customers, products, etc. To my dismay, Bruce Sterling told the audience that he is not keen on toothbloggers but I fear he will not stop the trend for leaving traces. Actually, with his visions, he is helping to accelerate it. Thus, we all continually add to a "global data soup" into which we will finally dissolve when we pass away – with the added benefit of improving metadata, which is, according to Sterling, the seventh characteristic of Spimes. Isn't this like transcending into nirvana? In the 1980s, some artificial intelligence people wanted to dump their brains on CDs to guarantee eternal life (knowing that a CD – hopefully – would not be large enough; it was just an analogy). The current model for eternal life seems to be "merging into the global data soup" – more or less an analogy to what happens to our physical bodies.
Figure 8: Bruce Sterling's talk
At the end of the first day of the conference, there was a "6*60" session with presentations of student projects from European universities, including, of course, Potsdam. The conference ended on the second day with a panel discussion, led by Boris Müller from the University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam, who was the "front man" of the conference.
Even though this was, as Bruce Sterling pointed out at the beginning of his talk, a perfectly organized and staffed conference, nitpickers like me always find something to grump about – here it is: When registering for the conference, each attendee received a paper bag with all the information needed for the conference. "Oh," I thought, "that's ecological thinking at its best: no plastic bags – instead, ecologically friendly paper bags."
Figure 9: Conference bag
However, my enthusiasm for the paper bag soon vanished. When I wanted to take something out of my bag during a presentation, it rustled to such an extent, that I did not even dare to touch the bag at all after that. Therefore, my proposal for the organizers of the next conference in Potsdam is to please use cotton bags next time. They may be a bit more costly, but they make far less noise. And they are eco-friendly, too.
The Innovationsforum Interaktionsdesign was financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research's fund "Unternehmen Region." It is only part of a series of workshops and events on interaction design. Initiated by the BA/MA Program for Interface Design and the Interaction Design Lab at the University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam, it is based on an open network of companies from the Berlin-Brandenburg region, with one of its activities being the collection of interaction design patterns on an online platform. For more information, see the IFID Website.