interaction18 a view of the screens

Building connections & shaping the future at Interaction18

Interaction18, IxDA's 11th annual gathering brought together hundreds of design leaders, professionals, and students from all over the world to enjoy a program of workshops, talks, and other shenanigans. Here's our take on the conference.

This year four of our designers, Daniela, Ilja, Katja, and Kaisa, were excited to take part in the design conference Interaction18 in Lyon at the beginning of February. The conference was built around the theme of dissolving boundaries and building connections, and the talks ranged from micro to macro. The conference began with more hands-on workshops and talks and grew into more systemic and global subjects. In addition to the talks and conference program, we also enjoyed the company of fellow designers from around the world over good food and, of course, karaoke.

What’s going on with design?

The talks that made up Interaction18 varied from highly inspirational and motivational keynotes to more hands-on sessions and discussions. However, they all intertwined and gave different perspectives on three main themes:

  • Design in and for a diverse and inclusive world
  • The role of the designer
  • Design ethics and designing with a conscience, i.e. the designer’s responsibility in the world we’re shaping

Talking about diversity and inclusivity

Diversity and inclusivity were manifested in many ways at the conference, and the conclusion was clear: We can only grow better as designers by embracing our differences, learning from them and using them for inspiration and insight – be those in our different abilities, cultural baggage or professional viewpoints.

The conference had many great talks about inclusivity and diversity. One was Lessons from the Incredibles by David Chesney, where he shared his learnings from working with children with severe cognitive and physical disabilities to be taken into use in general software systems design.

Design for inclusivity has also worked as a motivation for a great deal of superb design solutions already, see for instance Hiyan Zhang's examples in her keynote Innovating technology for a diverse world to get excited.

To enrich the mix, you should also see Farai Madzima’s Can being African make you bad at design? — Cultural bias in design that was probably the most tweeted and hyped keynote of the conference. It deals with how cultural differences affect our working, collaboration and communication and are therefore important to be aware of (both in ourselves and other people) to make our work thrive.

The conference itself had also put more effort to inclusivity than any other conference we had been into before. Starting from the fact that every speech was typed and projected on the screen as the speakers were presenting, and also translated into sign-language. Additionally, the people at the conference were very open and welcoming – you could really go and talk to anyone.

Designers shaping the system and the responsibility that comes with it

As designers, we have a huge role in building connections – not only between different people, but also on a larger scale – seeing the big picture and the systemic nature of it. Design is a synthesizing and systemic act – and when doing it, the tools and tactics from our nearby disciplines like systems thinking or behavioral science come as a great advantage. 

Get insight on these viewpoints on a more concrete level with for example the talk Designing a cryptocurrency by Jonathan Lewis. The talk states that in the context of designing for new technologies, blockchain and crypto tokens, the main question that needs to be asked is not about the technology itself, but the social and behavioral structures attached to a thing called money. How do people’s behavior and attitude towards everyday things change when money or monetization is brought into the picture?

(For a good listing of the talks on the systems side, and giving you tools in this framework, you might also want to have a look at London-based IxDaer's Jason Mesut's blog post My favourite systems related talks.)

Designing with conscience

Responsibility as a designer was also a major theme from beginning to the end of the conference. We the designers are the people who define how our technologies are being used.

In his keynote the Oppenheimer moment, Alan Cooper described the dilemma of Oppenheimer, the inventor of atomic bomb. One aims for something good and great, but in the hands of people the product designed can become something completely opposite.

It is our responsibility to take into consideration how the experiences we design affect our behavior and our social structures, how they can evolve over time and how they can be sustainable rather than destructive. We need to go beyond and ask even bigger questions. We need to examine and challenge assumptions.

Leyla Acaroglu concluded the conference circling back to systems again. With systemic thinking, we can avoid falling into the trap of designing in isolation and we can instead use design as a powerful tool to challenge the status quo. Designing ethically is about not only challenging ourselves to do better, but also challenging the systems that our designs are a part of.

With design, we create a better future. Let’s be good ancestors.

This blog post was co-written and co-curated by our lovely designers Kaisa Ruotsalainen, Ilja Tuomivaara, Katja Vakula, and Daniela Oria.