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March 22, 2016 /UX/UI Design /

Trends from Interaction16 in Helsinki

Over three jam packed days, and over one hundred speakers, Interaction 16 explored interaction design of many flavors. Over the years the conversation has evolved, and as Josh Seidan put it, we are no longer asking ‘What is interaction design?’ The discipline is evolving and growing more confident in its place in the world of AI, data, conversational UI as well as web and app work.

The overall conference theme was the future of interaction design, and that came through strongly. Topics like data, self-driving cars, conversational UI, algorithms all got plenty of attention.

With such a wide ranging program, many themes emerged that can be seen from many perspectives.

Designing with Data

Data and big data continue to play an important role in the designers toolkit. We have more data than ever and need to figure out how best to use it in the design process, as well as the risks that come with data.

New types of data are available, as Sarah Henry mentioned in her talk ‘emotional data.’ Technologies like Affectiva, an emotion sensing and analytics tool are becoming accessible enough for design researchers to start playing with these forms of data. Sarah says there are three types of emotional data:

  • video, where we can observe facial expressions and behaviour
  • bio data, looking at biological responses like heart rate and skin moisture
  • coding/categorization, the application of certain codes by the researcher to written notes

Design scientist – blending research, design and data at Airbnb | Photo credit: Ricardo Aguilar

Amber Cartwright from Airbnb talked about the company’s new approach of blending research, design and data to create exceptional experiences. Their pricing tool has evolved based on input from blending design approaches with pricing algorithms, user testing and feedback. This has allowed them to tune and optimize the experience.

However, it’s not all rosy in the data garden, and UX should not be ready to swallow the trend for quantitative data wholesale. Tricia Wang elucidated the risks that come with using data: “we think data is neutral but in reality, all data is designed”.

Creating conversational experiences

This has been a rapidly emerging topic in 2016, for example with the Quartz news app. Conversational UI brings new challenges and design considerations to bear, and these are being explored in the design community. Interaction16 was no different with many discussions of conversational UI, ranging from gender and status in voice user interfaces to writing for digital assistants.

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Josh Seidan talking about the importance of tone of voice in conversational UI | Photo credit: Thomas Fogarasy

Alexis, the male advice service that Josh Seidan shared, was an example of this in practice. Josh shared cheeky examples of the types of things users ask Alexis, including ‘what are you wearing?’ For everyone who has ever trolled Siri, this will be familiar. The design question becomes, how do you keep the conversation clean while staying true to the brand spirit? When we are designing conversations the importance of tone comes to the forefront.

The Student Design Challenge also included an example of this, with Michael-Owen Liston’s project which explores what it might mean to be able to get information about services through a text messaging experience. The project prototyped an SMS chat bot to facilitate civic engagement.

Chat bots and conversational UI is clearly a space to listen out for!

Internet of Things / Agentive Tech

The idea of the Internet of Things (IOT) enabling new behaviours was a strong theme. What does it mean to have connected objects that can learn?

Artificial intelligence overlaps with the IOT – as we combine computing power, algorithms, connectivity and physical things, are we breeding AI? Chris Noessel gave a compelling case for ‘agentive technology’ being the future of design. He defined agentive tech as working on the user’s behalf to complete tasks. Thinking of technology as an ‘agent’ means a new approach to UX – people move from users of the technology to managers of the technology.  

Wayfinder are creating an open standard for audio based navigation, and opening up new possibilities for low-vision users.

Wayfindr, an open standard for audio based navigation took home two Interaction Awards – ‘Best in Show’ and ‘Best in Category – Empowering.’  This incredible project uses connectivity to assist blind or low vision users to navigate the city though Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons which enable voice cues to assist users in navigating. This solution which looks deceptively simple uses connectivity between smartphone and beacons to empower the user in a radical way. Here the potential of the IOT come to life.

New Frontiers

Threaded throughout the discussions at Interaction16 was a sense of the need for new design approaches and tools to deal with the challenges ahead. What does it mean to design with data, to create conversations, and to be part of creating artificial intelligence? These technologies are exciting, and with the involvement of designing these things comes a certain level of responsibility. A recognition that we need to take stock, understand our perspectives and evaluate the risks as well as the potentials speaks to the deeply rooted human centred-ness of design.

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