A Developer’s View on a Design Conference

hcphotos_interaction09_-201 by helenchanchan

portraitLast weekend during Interaction’09 conference, I noticed there were quite a few developers in the heavily concentrated interaction designers conference. I was curious to find out what were their experience at the conference and why they chose this conference. Is it like a designer attending a developer conference such as PDC? I met Calvin Chan who’s a System and Database Developer working at the University of British Columbia and asked him to share his thoughts on the following questions. He also took visual notes of the conference. You can see them here. (Photo on the left taken by helenchanchan)

Why did you decide to come to the conference? What were your expectations?
"I am always passionate about usable and enjoyable designs. As a web developer, I care about the usability and aesthetic details when designing the web interface. The IxDA discussion board is one of the resources I subscribe for inspirations, and that’s where I heard about the Interaction’09 conference. My initial expectations were to see what is going on in the professional UX community, learn about formal training and qualifications for interaction design industry, and hopefully learn a few design tricks." 

What was your experience at the conference? Was it a good conference?
"I am glad to find out that this conference is not just about design theories and methodologies, nor it is only limited to software design.It covers a spectrum of topics including human behavior, environmental responsibility, art and creative, industrial design and so on. One inspiration is that we should put less focus on the technologies and techniques, and think more about the people we are designing for and what are the stories behind them. Robert Fabricant gave a good case study on the design process of a HIV self-testing kit in South Africa. The team found that the reason why people do not want to go to public clinic for HIV test is because it is embarrassing. After understanding their emotion, they created a testing package that one can easily use at home without special medical training, and then utilize the cell-phone network for communication and follow-up services, hence successfully increased the health awareness in the country. I really enjoy such stories."

What are your thoughts on developers learning or doing interaction design? What are some challenges and rewards?
"I believe that developers should not thinking JUST like a developer, but also be more empathetic to the people and environment surrounding us. Forget about programming details, and try to understand the stories behind everyday things and people’s emotion on them.

Why does my mom hate to use the DVD remote control? Why do I hate to use the company phone which I always mix up the combination for getting a street line and making an intercom? Do not just look from the software development perspective. It is not about stuffing more features to a product or adding glossy GUI elements; it is about trying to understand why and how people interact with your product.

With my programmer’s mind, it is not easy to tune down the rational thinking when dealing with problems. I must confess that when I teach my dad how to use the latest and greatest gadgets, it frustrates me when he doesn’t get the ideas after I’ve explained to him 10 times. It is easy to blame your user for not being smart enough to understand the technology, or too lazy to read the 200 pages user manual. But nobody likes to feel stupid. If they can’t easily figure out how to use the design, it is a faulty design. On the other hand, a good design will not only solves people’s problem, but also leave them a pleasant and enjoyable experience. To me, it is most rewarding to learn that my product really helps people and they really LOVE using it."

A bonus from the conference

Natural User Interface (NUI) is a hot topic at the conference. Check out the clip below I recorded during the session Designing Natural User Interfaces: Notes from the Multi-Touch, Multi-User Frontlines. Microsoft Surface and IPhone blended together and formed a really cool interaction.

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