Thursday, August 5, 2004

DIS 2004: Day Two

The second day of the Designing Interactive Systems conference was, to my mind, the best day of the conference, featuring as it did the excellent Designing for Hackability panel, a tour of local design studios and research labs, and an evening barbecue in Somerville. I also got to spend some quality time with not only my CMU comrades, but also a bunch of new friends and acquaintances including Matt Jones, Dan Hill, Chris Heathcote, Peter Merholtz, Eric Wilcox, Liz Goodman, Jofish Kaye, Michele Chang, Katja Battarbee, and probably a host of others I'm forgetting. Meeting people and hearing about their work was definitely a conference highlight and certainly more interesting than most of the papers and presentations I heard (more on that later).

The Designing for Hackability panel was the best "official" presentation I heard. The definition of "hacking" floating around was pretty loose: everything from appropriating things for not-designed-for purposes to breaking open devices to rewire them. Thus, a lot of stuff was considered hacking and it became an unofficial buzzword for the rest of the conference. (Leaning against the wall became "Hacking the Wall" for instance.)

The interesting conflict on the panel for me was whether or not we should bother trying to design for hackability. Panel moderator Anne Galloway pretty much said there was no use in doing that, since people will find a way to hack things even when the manufacturers specifically design something not to be hacked. But I found a more interesting answer in Dan Hill's comments about creating "loose layers" on top of a more permanent structure. This allows people to peel back and hack the loose layers while keeping the base solid. Dan also had another interesting comment that I wish had been followed-up on in the Beyond Human-Centered Design panel: namely, that HCD/UCD doesn't scale well. When you have millions of users, UCD methods are inadequate for designing for them.

There's a lot of great ideas from this panel I am still unpacking. If only the rest of the conference had been as interesting.

For the studio tour, I visited the beautiful office of Orange, saw some really interesting work on threaded conversations and group information management at IBM Research, and saw the start-up spirit at work again at Ambient Devices. I really enjoy seeing other designer's work spaces.

The day ended with beers and BBQ at an MIT student's house in Somerville, eating ice cream sandwiches in the dark, talking about design.

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