It’s been a week since I returned from Interaction 11 and the fresh air of Boulder, Colorado.  I’ve had some time to marinate on my 4-day experience before posting something. This isn’t a play-by-play or a thorough retrospective—many talented folks have already posted more timely accounts—but I’ll share my observations and a hefty serving of sketchnotes.

The Good

The outsider’s perspective.

Some of the best talks were from non-designers who have embraced our discipline, or from designers who had past lives in other industries.  Adjunct Professor Steven Johnson discussed how the principles of IxD have been integrated into the journalism program at USC.  Ex-filmmaker Adam Connor shared techniques for attaching storyboards and beat sheets to user experience projects. “I am your victory condition,” said science fiction writer Bruce Sterling in his closing keynote, “an outsider who drank your kool-aid and joined you.”

Stories from the industry.

Scout Stroud recounted the 4-week design process for the NPR iPad app and how his team still made time for prototyping, exploration and user testing.  A designer from the Windows mobile team talked about Metro and how it can facilitate seamless experiences between apps and devices.  The storytelling continued after hours at events like deLUX (kindly hosted by Pivotal Labs, Cooper, Hot Studio, LUXR, SideReel and Atomic Object), where designers swapped war stories and advice about Agile, lean UX and product stewardship.

The community aspect.

Once again, the conference staff did a great job creating a unique experience for attendees, setting up Friday afternoon activities to get smaller groups of designers out into Boulder, and coordinating events that fostered more conversation.

The Bad

An overabundance of rhetoric.

Before I left for Boulder, a coworker admitted that she’d picked SXSW over Interaction 11 this year because she wanted more meat and less theory.  I can’t argue her choice. There was rhetoric in spades at IxD11, far outnumbering the case studies and data points. While we should never stop asking questions, we excessively worry about defining interaction design or determining if something is moral. Bruce Sterling accused us of having “User Stockholm Syndrome” and reminded us that what really makes us better designers is “a fanatic dedication to craft and no fear of failure.” Student Russ Maschmayer expresses the same feelings in his retrospective. A healthy balance between rhetoric and example is something next year’s organizers (and speakers) should carefully consider, otherwise we’ll just come across as designers with a chronic case of analysis paralysis.

The “lightning session”.

In order to run the conference on 2 tracks while offering a variety of speakers, the non-keynote talks were limited to 20 minute “lightning sessions”. This format exacerbated the feeling that there was too much rhetoric and lack of substance. Most presenters couldn’t dive into the details of their subject matter in such a short period. No breaks between sessions meant that the switching of presenters ate into the next time slot.  I’d be happier with more substantial 50-minute sessions next year, even if it means having to choose between 4 or more tracks.

The Ugly

Hating on CHI.

There was a lot of CHI-bashing from the speakers and crowd.  To what end?  Doing this doesn’t really add credibility to our craft.  We’d do better to acknowledge what CHI has done for us and build on top of that. I’ll quote Bruce Sterling again, because he’s just so damn quotable: “Look at your white haired relations in ACM SIGCHI, and learn — they have history, regulations, decades of effort, and research. Don’t just viscerally react to those that came before you, otherwise you’ll disappear sooner than they did as people move towards another social network.”

Now, on to the lighter stuff…

The Sketchnotes!

From Bill Verplank’s “Interaction Design Metapors” and Michael Meyer’s “Design Imperatives from the Roman Empire to the Nasa Space program and Beyond”

Carl Alviani’s “What do you do, anyways? – Describing IxD to the Outside World”

Peter Knocke’s “Consume Consume Consume”

Mike Kruzeniski’s “Personal, Relevant, Connected: Designing Integrated Mobile Experiences for Apps and Web”

Scott Stroud’s “Leaning Back with NPR:  How We Created A Relaxing Experience For The iPad”

David Cronin’s “Healthcare interfaces:  How interaction design can help fix medicine”

Peter Stahl’s “The Rhythm of Interaction”

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