potsdam conference

24 April 2007, 00:31

About two weeks ago I visited the two‐day innovationsforum interaktionsdesign conference. It was—very well—organised by the fh potdam, enthusiastically and without any schmalzy commercial overtones. Good job.

presentation style

Over the two days, two factions in presentation style emerged.

classic powerpoint…

Really… plainly… powerpoint. Bullet points containing sentences that were read out loud by the presenter. The smell and fabric of powerpoint was all too clear.

The guys from IBM topped the bill here. They started off with some genuine powerpoint slides from hell. Think 30 bullet points in three columns, or 30 boxes connected by 60 lines to show an integrated process.

Later their slides lightened up a bit, and it became clear to me that those first slides came courtesy of the business consultancy side of IBM. A study in not communicating.

…contra minimalism

Three huge white words on a black background.

A single photographed artefact against a solid white background.

You had to listen to the presenter. You had to make the connection between what you saw and heard yourself. You could not tell which software had been used to produce these presentations.

Some of this went overboard: text either so large, or pressed into a geometric shape, that one had trouble reading it. But in general this was a superior presentation approach.

arts and crafts movement

What a brilliant moment it was when Gillian Crampton Smith explained the audience that interaction design is a craft, mastered through many years of experience. I say it also takes talent to begin with, else you do not make it through the 15 years to become a master. Which talent exactly?

No amount of usability testing can substitute this craft. Gillian went one further and warned against using too many usability methods in a project: it will just squeeze all life out of it. The guys from IBM later proved this, showing a sizeable website redesign project where they applied plenty of market research and usability testing, and came up with zero interaction solutions for their customer.

intuitively, my dear Watson

I met Carsten Mohs at the conference, and during our S‑bahn trip back to berlin we discussed his PhD topic: intuitive. In five‐seconds‐flat we agreed that intuitive user interfaces do not exist. All interaction is learned.

When innocent bystanders talk about intuitive UI, they mean that one of the 3E’s is supposed to be pretty good: ease of use; ease of learning; or ease of remembering.

Carsten is aiming to prove this, but after painstakingly defining intuitive UI, runs in to the problem that it involves the subconscious. Good luck measuring that…

second time lucky

The process of creating interaction solutions however, relies on intuition. The siena blog entry, which is intertwined with this one, contains three examples of this.

The three major solution models described there came intuitively. Yes we sat down to create solutions. Yes, I asked some provoking questions that got us looking in a certain direction. But there was nothing linear and orderly about the way we arrived at the final results.

Even the provoking questions came to me intuitively. Carsten called it ‘intuition of the second kind.’

close encounters of…

The third kind of intuition is the one that makes you realise that a particular solution is the solution. Again it cannot be explained, but suddenly all the dots are connected and you have something elegant that fits the problem exactly. This means one can move on to tackle the next challenge.

For our project partners (developers, managers, graphic designers) this can be perplexing. It is usually only the usability folks who ‘see’ what we mean straight away. We then have to backtrack to construct fully logical arguments to convince the other people we work with.

For interaction architects both forms of intuition are a vital talent. With experience come more ‘dots’ to connect with. And we learn to trust it. Whatever project we get involved with, just use our methods to get involved with the project domain, and our intuition will take over to deliver the solutions.


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