As Far As I Can Tell

DUX 2007 Session 1

I know that these notes are quite old at this point, and everyone else has already given their opinion on the conference. Better late than never though, and writing this helps me clarify my thoughts and revisit my experiences.

Putting together a coherent conference the topic of “designing for user experience” is a wide reaching challenge, made wider still by the theme this year to explore “changing roles & shifting landscapes” within the field. Accordingly, at DUX 2007 I met designers and researchers with varied backgrounds and responsibilities, a number of product managers, computer scientists, linguists, writers, dancers, academics of all stripes, and even proprietors of a yoga center. This was my first time as this bi-yearly event, conveniently held this time in downtown Chicago. My review of the proceedings is incomplete due to the varied level of attention I gave to particular presenters in my notes. Regardless, I hope that these remarks on the conference act not only as clarification and record keeping for my own experience but also encourage non-attendees to investigate the work presented.

Session 1: A Very Big Picture
The opening session felt like a grab bag, a place to put presentations that didn’t fit cleanly elsewhere except to illustrate the diversity of the conference, which was actually an okay way to begin. Moderator Pamela Mead, Zannel, began by discussing the theme of shifting landscapes, bringing up mobile platforms, social networks, user participation, and the complexity/necessity of managing different virtual selves in varying contexts. This opening presentation was on target with the conference theme, which unfortunately didn’t ring true for many others.

Peter Merholz, Adaptive Path, followed with a presentation entitled “Designing for Unbounded Experience.” He begin by decrying the word “innovation”, challenging all upcoming presenters to avoid using the term and say what they really mean instead. It was a point brought up again and again throughout the conference as presenters tried and (usually) failed to answer that challenge. He told a story about client work at Adaptive Path for a financial services firm (which I had heard before at a previous talk or podcast somewhere) that illustrated his point that design needs to address larger system and organizational issues to have true impact, not just a particular silo like designing a website. He argued that for design to have impact it must not be pigeonholed, that we should be designing for unbounded experience that address all touchpoints. Clearly this is something that many companies, and many in the audience, are already striving for — though it requires a high-level of engagement with a client or management group to accomplish. It seems like this is a particularly relevant line of thinking for Adaptive Path as they transition from their roots in web-based user experience and aspire to more holistic offerings.

Elizabeth Goodman, UC Berkley and Intel Research, followed with a project called “AnyPhone: Mobile Applications for Everyone.” The idea behind the AnyPhone project was to design mobile applications that can run on ANY mobile phone no matter how old — meaning no Java, SMS, Bluetooth, or even color screens. The technology they settled on was DTMF tones, which are simply the sounds you hear when you dial a touch-tone phone. An example application they prototyped involved a public screen with visual representations of each person’s mobile phone. People could call in to interact with the screen, and were identified by caller id. Commands were issued via key press to control their icon, and since feedback was happening visually people didn’t have to listen for audio messages or hold the handset to their ear; the phone was used as a remote control. Interaction could also go the other way, where a person could call in with a question and when their icon was selected the system could call them back. The prototypes demonstrated a way to engage an unknown public without excluding the less technologically enabled. The take-away was that creative use of old, but still operational technology is sometimes the best choice to create accessible and universal solutions.

Marc Pifarre and Oscar Tomico, University of Engineering and Architecture La Salle, Barcelona and University of Technology, Eindhoven, presented their work on “Bi-Polar Laddering,” which I found a bit hard to understand due to accents and mumbling. The process they were describing had heavy psychological underpinnings, but I found it similar the simplistic method “5 Why?” which involves asking “why?” five times to get to the underlying reasons behind a person’s behavior. It’s possible that their technique was more nuanced, and it was certainly more quantitatively and theoretically driven, but I didn’t find it different enough to warrant future investigation.

BJ Fogg, Stanford University, was not physical present to present his paper entitled “The Elements of Simplicity,” but appeared via pre-recorded video instead. I’m familiar with Fogg’s work on Persuasive Technology, but hadn’t read anything in his recent topic of study. The tone of the video presentation was kind of condescending; I guess it was a failed attempt at humor to go along with the video composition and editing styles of Ze Frank he was using. Maybe it was to counter notions of the “boring academic” or other such nonsense but it was off-putting. Fogg laid out a framework for Simplicity, noting that it is the resulting perception of an experience more than a particular attribute of a product, a useful point and one well taken. He then listed the features of simplicity: time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and routine. How simple something is relates to how scarce any of these resources are at a particular time. Honestly, I feel as if this is intuitive to designers and something we manage the trade offs of for every project we do. Does it help us to have a theory and framework to talk about it? Yes. Do I want it explained to me in a goofy and aggrandizing way? No, not really. For a less critical viewpoint on this talk look here.

Mick Wallis, Alice Bayliss, Sita Popat, Joslin McKinney, John Bryden and Matthew Godden, University of Leeds, presented “SpiderCrab and the Emergent Object: Designing for the 21st Century”. I started out skeptical of how relevant this work by performance artists could be to my own. The SpiderCrab is a work in progress, a robotic dancing partner that acts as a kind of Turing test for dancing with the goal of detecting intimate body expression and responding with appropriate changes in robotic movement. The key directive, based on a EU research question, was “How can we design robots that are socially acceptable to people?” I’m honestly not that interested in robotics and began to wonder if this was more appropriate at HRI than DUX but near the end as they were explaining their critical and theoretical foundation I made a note to give it another chance, to read the paper and dig into the thinking that couldn’t be conveyed in a short presentation. I’ve yet to do that, but based on other presentations by the same presenters I’m hopeful that when I do I’ll be presently surprised.

The final presentation of the session, and the day, was David Pescovitz, Boing Boing, Institute for the Future, MAKE, with a talk on “Sensory Transformation: How We’ll Sip from the Information Firehose.” His talk was a bit like reading his blog or magazine as he showed us example after example of interesting technologies and projects. He described his work as future forecasting, which he defined as developing “plausible, internally consistent views of what may happen.” To develop this sort of foresight he looks for patterns of “weak signals” — small but significant events often found in the sorts of technology or art project examples he was showing. Most of the projects mentioned I had seen before in some form, but this entertaining presentation drove home the oft-repeated William Gibson quote that “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

That ended the presentations for the first day of DUX. I hope to do similar write-ups for the following two days. There are photos on Flickr (none by me unfortunately) and hopefully the full proceedings will soon be hosted by the AIGA as they were in 2005.



Thanks for writing about my video presentation at DUX. A few comments … After being invited to present at DUX, I explained to the organizers that I had an unbreakable commitment in Denmark. They suggested I do a video. Of course, I would have rather shared this work in person. Nothing substitutes for being there. I did not intend the video to be funny or to imitate anyone. I had limited time to create the video, so the DUX organizers suggested a close shot. That seemed a good idea. I thought my approach in the video was earnest and genuine — just who I am. I tested the video with about 20 people before I submitted it to DUX. Some thought the pace too slow, and some felt the video needed more visuals to support the ideas. Next time, I’ll ask specific questions about the issues you raise. Your candid assessment will help me do a better job in the future. BJ Fogg Stanford University

Posted by: BJ Fogg on January 26, 2008 7:39 AM

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