Chi 2011 Computer Human Interaction Congress in Vancouver

Areal view in front of Ballroom

Computer Human Interaction and Design?

Designers don’t think about it all the time, but the products/services/websites/brochures etc. are made for interaction with humans. The mobile “revolution” (more about that later) extended the websites and Apps to connect to the real world through touch screens and other sensors and have become Computer Human Interfaces. Therefore the CHI is a good venue for designers.

I just peeked in at the “taste of CHI” for a couple of hours. For $10 I have visited the exhibition and seen a few presentations. I enjoyed most the talk of Bill Buxton and the presentation of his Buxton Collection, an archive of digital input devices. What we can learn from such a collection is that technology is evolutionary. Designers try to create an image of “creation” which comes from nothing. They try to hide where their inspiration came from and the legacy they build on.

This leads in his opinion, and I agree, to two bad consequences. Students in design schools learn from this kind of designers that creativity comes a genius spark and therefore they don’t learn how to improve existing things with better design for example. And secondly the speed of the innovation is slowed down. If everything seems to be magically new and have never been here before we think that we are progressing, even when we progress only a little bit or not at all.

The archive shows that things like the iPhone and iPad and other magical devices are not only nothing new (while improved) but that this kind of devices where already on the market 18 years ago. From the first Smartphone with touch screen, the Simon from IBM, to the iPhone basically the improvements are thinner, lighter, color and maybe a longer battery life. Not a big revolution in 18 years.

To get to the moon on the other site took just 9 years. Why? Because the USA had a legacy they build on – Werner von Braun and his technicians.

What can Designers learn from this?

Designers should not try to reinvent the wheel every time. Don’t copy and don’t be boring, but try to bring a design that inspired you into a new context and push it to another level. I know that it might seem abstract, but in reality it is not.

Moodboards are great way not only to get ideas and as collections for a certain style and design – but also as a starting point for your designs. And when you take the moodboards with you in the presentation your client can actually see where you started and how your design evolved from this starting points.

Impressions from the conference

The exhibition side was more like a design school graduate party. A lot of students showing their projects. Some are really funny but nothing new here. I have seen a lot of the approaches taken by this designer-engineer hybrids already in commercial products on the market or close to market – or in the keynote about Android at the Google IO this morning. I think the real value lies in the panels, but I couldn’t attend any – will see next time.

Here are now some images and movies I grabbed with my phone.
Areal view in front of BallroomInteraction through a frameBill Buxton talks about the SmartphoneErgonomic KeyboardTwo handed ergonomic keyboardThe first Tablet devicesThis Tablet (the go) never reached the marketSimon against the iPhoneSimon the first touchscreen SmartphoneFirst gen iPodsThe first mouse with touch padThe incredible Jeep TV for indoor use only