Monday, February 23, 2009

IxDA Workshops – Stretching the Brain Muscles

All right. I will make this happen and get my rememories of IxDA'09 up here. Bronchitis still hanging on, but I am determined. Here goes.

Thursday, the 5th, held the first of three workshops I had signed up to attend. First up was a Design Studio led by Jeanine Harriman & Liya Zheng from LiquidNet. Not only did they make me envious of their design-focused environment, they led me through the first real studio exercises outside of voice design that I’d ever participated in. I loved every second. Yes, the anxiety about being new to this world was there, but I dove in figuring that the faster I displayed my ignorance the quicker I would get helped to see the right track. However, I quickly discovered that I had a place here, that my ideas wove easily with those of others. Guided by Jeanine and Liya, we worked through three exercises that moved us along a design path from a narrowly focused interaction design of a new way to engage online clothes buyers to a service design for a clothing retailer seeking to create positive relationships with customers, society in general, and the environment 30 years in the future. In this one session, we discussed online avatars, self-cleaning, disease-resistant clothing, and everything in between. Design-wise we produced storyboards, strategy documents, and a service map. It was fantastic, especially getting to know and working with Brian, Dante, and Adler. I left the session incredibly energized and looking forward to everything else so very happy to be there.

My scritch-a-scratch sketching.

After finding some lunch and chatting with my sweetie, I settled in for a very crowded session covering Adobe’s CS4. This quickly went over my head since I have only dabbled a bit in Photoshop and Dreamweaver over the past few years and know next to nothing about Fireworks, Flash, and the rest. However, the presenter was doing a great job showing off the power of the tools in the suite and, if I ever have the need and chance, I look forward to learning more. I left this session early and decided to catch up on email and some reading.

That evening the conference held a pubcrawl. We managed to make through about 4 spots around Gastown before I called it a night. I met a number of great people such as Daniel N., Jack M., and DeniseP. talking kids, home automation, martinis, work environments and design, of course. It was also my first chance to say “Hi” to some NYC area designers (Dave M. and MJ) I met when I spoke at the IxDA meeting last March at IconNicholson.

Friday morning’s workshop subject was the thing that’s all the rage these days, touch-screen and gestural interactions. Bill Derouchey from Ziba and Dan Saffer from Kicker led. I was extra-psyched to see Dan since I had recently read his first book (which I in turn passed on to a nephew thinking about interaction design as a career. Hey Matt!). I had high hopes for this session. They were more than fulfilled. The two of them gave us a 45 minute or so overview of what types of touch and gesture-based interfaces exist so far, technologies underlying them, and special design considerations they have, including problems, tips, and tricks. Funny that fingerprints can cause problems! They also covered how sensors, such as the iPhone accelerometer, are the secret sauce that really help touch and gesture be effective.

Displaying Dan

Then time to work! The two main exercises had us creating a 6x6 interactive area for a record store to bring customers back into the shops and re-engage the store-based buying experience while incorporating the alluring qualities of today’s digital interfaces. Using touch and gestures, of course. Awesome! And the, er, kicker was that we had to produce paper prototypes that would be interacted with unguided by a member of another group. A rapid design session followed by instant user feedback. Instant adrenalin! Each of the five tables had about 8 people, which was a little much for every single person to contribute ideas constantly, but we settled into a pattern of taking turns and notes and making things. We created a 5 seat table that allowed simulated record bin browsing, looking at covers and jackets, listening, sharing with others at the table, a shopping bag, and a means of checkout.

Shaun M. draws really well!

We were the slowest about creating our materials, but we ended up being the last group to present, so we snuck in some extra work while listening to the others. There was an amazing range of ideas and I must have said “I wish I’d thought of that!” about a dozen times, but as our turn came up I felt really pumped about our approach. I had suggested that we say next to nothing to our test participant after seeing that other groups got very hands on about walking through theirs. I felt that would be the strongest test, just seeing what would happen. That was a great idea because the woman sat down at our “Turntable” and began verbally and manually working through the prototype. As she said and did different steps, we would put different artifacts or simulated screen changes in front of her. And it worked really well! The biggest thing we learned was kind of a “doh!” moment, when it was pointed out that she just slapped her forearms down on our touch-screen, which would have probably caused all kinds of weirdness. Lesson learned, but quickly and cheaply, if this were a real project. After a bit of summary, we wrapped up with homework: take an everyday mechanical object around us and redesign it using touch and gesture. Look for that here in the future.

This workshop just added to my joy at being at the conference. I felt like I was compressing tons of learning into a little time and really finding myself as a designer among all these others who have so much more experience in these area. It was great to feel like I could swim right alongside them.

Next, the conference proper. Hopefully this bronchitis won’t cause another slow down in posting the rest.