Sunday, March 10, 2013

Two Ideas for IxDA's Interaction14

At a few different points during Interaction13, I felt that designerly feeling that something could be done better. Now, sometimes when I have that feeling, it's only about preference, or mood, or some other temporal issue. But I pay a little attention and see where the feeling takes my thoughts and if they go somewhere productive, then I pay a lot of attention.

One of the times was an easy target, and one that others saw improvement possibilities for, as well. So, while I love the idea behind The Great UX Debate, the execution leaves much to be desired. First and foremost, it's lacking actual debate. Debate needs to involve opposing positions, strong argument, and even judgment about who wins and loses. What happened in The Great UX Debate of 2013 was more like a really boring salon in which only a few people who didn't really disagree got to talk and the rest of us politely pretended to listen. Snore. We should do better.

To that point, my first idea is easy: Have a real debate! Or even series of them. We have plenty of controversial material: changing behavior, influencing for revenue or choice, to Adobe or not to Adobe, etc. And we certainly have opinionated people to spare. So, give them time, space, rules, judges, and topics. In fact, on the last night of Interaction13, some of us did just that. In a little dive bar on King, we did a topic brainstorm, picked sides and judges, and let it rip on whether designers should know how to code, among other resolutions. And, to underscore this point even more, someone in New York had a similar idea and started the Designers Debate Club! (They need to drop the apostrophe, so I did)

We can do this! Let's have truly Great UX Debates in Amsterdam!

By the way, I really want to go to Amsterdam!

The other idea sprang not so much from a misguided use of a concept, but more the unease I felt watching talks that were not what they could have been. I mean this in a couple of ways. 1) Some topics felt small and shallow by themselves because they were about aspects of things, not the things themselves. 2) Similarly, other talks seemed incomplete; about a part of a whole, not the whole. Yet several times these talks came in loosely associated clumps. They were on the same track or even back-to-back, though clearly not directly tied together in any purposeful sense.

So the idea flashed through. What if conference organizers detected those binding elements earlier before the conference for a couple of hands-ful of potential speakers and had them work together? Imagine getting three people with mildly interesting insights that would make an okay 10 minute presentation to work together to more deeply and broadly address an important area resulting in a killer 30 or 45 minute session? To me, the value for the audience and the speakers would be exponentially better. Harder to pull off? Sure. Much bigger payoff? Absolutely! And a great result is much more certain. Aren't we pushing collaborative design for just such reasons? Multiple perspectives brought together for a solution subjected to iterative improvement raises the possibility of success every time.

So there you go. I offer these because the past several years have brought constant wishes for doing conferences a different way. I want to be more excited and fulfilled by conferences. I want Interaction to be a continuously trailblazing conference. We know that we should be leading the exploration. Yes, a mixture of in-depth and lightning sessions is interesting, but we can go further. I offer these because we should be better.

Let's do it!