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? []

Strategy — fourth of five IA Summit 2007 themes

(Here’s the fourth post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here, the sec­ond one on ‘social’ here and the third one on ‘web of data’ here.)

Like oth­er design dis­ci­plines, IAs are typ­i­cal­ly brought in to solve a prob­lem. The extent to which the design prob­lem is defined and expli­cat­ed is a huge deter­min­ing fac­tor in the suc­cess of their under­tak­ing. More often than not, an IA would take a prob­lem and run with it, not think­ing whether this is the right prob­lem to solve, or even a prob­lem at all!

This has always seemed like a sil­ly sit­u­a­tion to me. Some of the most enjoy­able ses­sions at the sum­mit there­fore were the ones that dis­cussed ways in which IAs can join in on strate­gic think­ing. This way, we can help dis­cov­er the actu­al prob­lem that needs solv­ing, which gives us a bet­ter chance of actu­al­ly deliv­er­ing a suc­cess­ful and valu­able solu­tion.

Gene Smith and Matthew Milan dis­cussed con­cep­tu­al mod­els (which I’ve been play­ing around with for a while) and the more involved rich map­ping, from soft sys­tems think­ing. Key take­away for me was when mod­el­ling a sys­tem we should also describe its con­text (includ­ing the project itself). Oth­er good stuff by peo­ple of Crit­i­cal Mass (Milan again togeth­er with Sam Lad­ner) was pro­vid­ed in the form of ‘back­cast­ing’, a very visu­al brain­storm­ing method to be used in a work­shop ses­sion with a client in order to envi­sion desired project out­comes and map paths from the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion to those out­comes (notes at The Chick­en Test).

Peo­ple from Avenue A Razor­fish (Gar­rick Schmitt, Marisa Gal­lagher) talked about their frame­work for tying togeth­er lots of dif­fer­ent user research such as click stream analy­sis, search logs, eye track­ing and oth­ers. This remind­ed me of Jared Folkmann’s excel­lent talk at last year’s Euro IA Sum­mit in Berlin.

Final­ly, I attend­ed one nice talk (by James Robert­son) on the val­ue of con­tex­tu­al enquiries, which if noth­ing else has made me all the more deter­mined to try this myself the next time an oppor­tu­ni­ty presents itself.