Looking back on a second This happened – Utrecht

Some more catch­ing up with things that occurred recent­ly; on Mon­day Feb­ru­ary 23 we1 had our sec­ond This hap­pened. I am quite sat­is­fied with how things went.

For one; we had some unplanned cohe­sion2 amongst talks.3 Three out of four talks dis­cussed the use of field research (to use the term broad­ly). It was good to have some dis­cus­sion of how this is put in prac­tice, as I often find ethno­graph­ic tech­niques being pre­sent­ed as some kind of sil­ver bul­let, but with­out any clear demon­stra­tion of its appli­ca­tion. It was also cool to see field research being applied effec­tive­ly in such dif­fer­ent con­texts (pri­ma­ry school, the elder­ly, South Africa).

To my relief, a sig­nif­i­cant­ly larg­er per­cent­age of the audi­ence (com­pared to last time) was female.4 This was some­thing we had worked con­scious­ly towards, since the first edition’s testos­terone quo­tient was a bit too high. In my opin­ion, a more diverse audi­ence is con­ducive to the kind of relaxed, open and hon­est atmos­phere we are pur­su­ing. The main way we tried to draw in a more bal­anced mix of peo­ple was by invit­ing more female speak­ers. Three out of four talks were by women. All of them were great. It seems to have worked.

I love that This hap­pened seems to be a venue for the kind of unas­sum­ing and hon­est pre­sen­ta­tions we some­how stop giv­ing once we leave design school (or at least I have). I can’t think of oth­er events where I am treat­ed to such won­der­ful war sto­ries from the front-lines of inter­ac­tion design.

The dis­cus­sions after each ses­sion were good again as well. Lots of thought­ful ques­tions, crit­i­cal, but fair. Alper was kind enough to keep min­utes, and has blogged the most salient parts over at his site (in Dutch).5

Our friends in Lon­don launched a new web­site that now con­tains videos and slides of all talks from past events. The Utrecht ses­sions are on there too, so go have a look. It already is an amaz­ing col­lec­tion of high-qual­i­ty con­tent. Some of my cur­rent favourites are Troi­ka, Crispin Jones and Schulze & Webb.6

The next This hap­pened – Utrecht (num­ber three) is set for June 29. Hope to see you there.

  1. Alexan­der, Ianus and I []
  2. Iskan­der spot­ted it first, this is a blog post in Dutch dis­cussing the par­al­lels between the talks []
  3. Hon­est­ly, this was not some­thing we had aimed for before­hand. []
  4. I real­ize in the tech scene this has once again become a hot top­ic, see for instance this dis­cus­sion over at Chris Messina’s blog. []
  5. I’ve col­lect­ed more posts on our sec­ond edi­tion over at Deli­cious. []
  6. While you’re there, why not vote for This hap­pened in the Brit Insur­ance Design of the Year 2009 awards at the Design Muse­um? []

links for 2009-03-18

On sketching

Catch­ing up with this slight­ly neglect­ed blog (it’s been 6 weeks since the last prop­er post). I’d like to start by telling you about a small thing I helped out with last week. Peter Boers­ma1 asked me to help out with one of his UX Cock­tail Hours. He was inspired by a recent IxDA Stu­dio event where, in stead of just chat­ting and drink­ing, design­ers actu­al­ly made stuff. (Gasp!) Peter want­ed to do a work­shop where atten­dees col­lab­o­rat­ed on sketch­ing a solu­tion to a giv­en design prob­lem.

Part of my con­tri­bu­tion to the evening was a short pre­sen­ta­tion on the the­o­ry and prac­tice of sketch­ing. On the the­o­ry side, I ref­er­enced Bill Bux­ton’s list of qual­i­ties that define what a sketch is2, and empha­sized that this means a sketch can be done in any mate­r­i­al, not nec­es­sar­i­ly pen­cil and paper. Fur­ther­more I dis­cussed why sketch­ing works, using part of an arti­cle on embod­ied inter­ac­tion3. The main point there, as far as I am con­cerned is that when sketch­ing, as design­ers we have the ben­e­fit of ‘back­talk’ from our mate­ri­als, which can pro­vide us with new insights. I wrapped up the pre­sen­ta­tion with a case study of a project I did a while back with the Ams­ter­dam-based agency Info.nl4 for a social web start-up aimed at inde­pen­dent pro­fes­sion­als. In the project I went quite far in using sketch­es to not only devel­op the design, but also col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly con­struct it with the client, tech­nol­o­gists and oth­ers.

The whole thing was record­ed; you can find a video of the talk at Vimeo (thanks to Iskan­der and Alper). I also uploaded the slides to SlideShare (sans notes).

The sec­ond, and most inter­est­ing part of the evening was the work­shop itself. This was set up as fol­lows: Peter and I had pre­pared a fic­tion­al case, con­cern­ing peer-to-peer ener­gy. We used the Dutch com­pa­ny Qur­rent as an exam­ple, and asked the par­tic­i­pants to con­cep­tu­alise a way to encour­age use of Qurrent’s prod­uct range. The aim was to have peo­ple be more ener­gy effi­cient, and share sur­plus ener­gy they had gen­er­at­ed with the Qur­rent com­mu­ni­ty. The par­tic­i­pants split up in teams of around ten peo­ple each, and went to work. We gave them around one hour to design a solu­tion, using only pen and paper. After­wards, they pre­sent­ed the out­come of their work to each oth­er. For each team, we asked one par­tic­i­pant to cri­tique the work by men­tion­ing one thing he or she liked, and one thing that could be improved. The team was then giv­en a chance to reply. We also asked each team to briefly reflect on their work­ing process. At the end of the evening every­one was giv­en a chance to vote for their favourite design. The win­ner received a prize.5

Wrap­ping up, I think what I liked most about the work­shop was see­ing the many dif­fer­ent ways the teams approached the prob­lem (many of the par­tic­i­pants did not know each oth­er before­hand). Group dynam­ics var­ied huge­ly. I think it was valu­able to have each team share their expe­ri­ences on this front with each oth­er. One thing that I think we could improve was the case itself; next time I would like to pro­vide par­tic­i­pants with a more focused, more rich­ly detailed brief­ing for them to sink their teeth in. That might result in an assign­ment that is more about struc­ture and behav­iour (or even inter­face) and less about con­cepts and val­ues. It would be good to see how sketch­ing func­tions in such a con­text.

  1. the Nether­lands’ tallest IA and one of sev­er­al famous Peters who work in UX []
  2. tak­en from his won­der­ful book Sketch­ing User Expe­ri­ences []
  3. titled How Bod­ies Mat­ter (PDF) by Kle­mer and Takaya­ma []
  4. who were also the hosts of this event []
  5. I think it’s inter­est­ing to note that the win­ner had a remark­able con­cept, but in my opin­ion was not the best exam­ple of the pow­er of sketch­ing. Appar­ent­ly the audi­ence val­ued prod­uct over process. []

links for 2009-03-13

links for 2009-03-07