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Three questions I asked myself after attending IxDA’s Interaction 17

How presentations about death, bathrooms, and “lovely little inconveniences” relate to my work at Vox Media

Designers write what they will do to make 2017 better.
Throughout the conference, designers weighed in on what they’d do to make 2017 better.  
Sanette Tanaka

Last week, I attended Interaction 17, Interaction Design Association’s annual conference. Alongside more than 1,000 other designers and makers, I listened to dozens of presentations about applying design to real world problems. I heard folks detail the challenges of expanding internet access in far-flung regions of Africa, designing interactions for automated cars, and staying mindful while still engaging with wearable technology products.

As a designer who works primarily with the web, many of these presentations concerning cutting-edge domains and social impact challenges transcend my usual purview. Nevertheless, I found myself pausing and reflecting on much of what was said and its relevance to my own projects.

I’m going to recap three of my favorite presentations last week, along with some questions I asked myself in the context of my daily work.

All Roads Lead to the Bathroom: Why Thinking of Visitors as People Makes Museums (and Everywhere Else) Better

By Elissa Frankle

The big idea: Museums and other cultural institutions produce quality content and stimulate minds, but can drop the ball in prioritizing their visitors’ comfort and basic needs. Paying attention to their visitors’ physical selves, like providing spots to rest or supporting sound wayfinding to bathrooms, is crucial to a positive experience.

What I asked myself: How are we considering our audience’s physical comfort when designing our products?

What if they have been on their feet for hours? What if they are hungry, or too hot or too cold? Are there ways we can be more attentive to their needs in our products? What is our role as digital producers to the physical self? Brittany Holloway-Brown’s thoughtful save-my-spot feature in Polygon’s 30,000-word oral history of Final Fantasy 7 is a wonderful example of being sensitive to a user’s context.

Final Destination: Creating a Better Afterlife for Our Digital Treasures

By Melissa Martin

The big idea: Designers tend to design rich experiences by focusing on their users’ journeys, but neglect to consider that the journey continues even after death. Designers need to consider death as an inevitable and relevant part of the experience, and continue to prioritize both the deceased’s (and their loved ones’) needs.

What I asked myself: How can we handle a writer’s content and legacy when they are no longer with us?

What do their stories look like? Their author profiles? How do we empower them to collect, preserve, and pass on their content to their loved ones in a meaningful way? How can we support their loved ones logistically if they want to access, and either maintain or retire, the writer’s account?

The Beautiful Inconvenience of Things

By Brendan Dawes

The big idea: We want machines to be bigger, bolder, and more exciting than ever before. But some of the most charming interactions are very distinctly human. Designers should consider baking in human tendencies and mannerisms—the “lovely little inconveniences”—to strengthen the emotional connection.

The image shows a gadget with a handwritten note reading “Email from John.”
This gadget by Brendan Dawes quietly raises a handwritten note at the appropriate moment in lieu of a digital notification.
Brendan Dawes

What I asked myself: How can we better convey emotion in our products?

For instance, as Brendan Dawes posited in his session: “What if notifications were a little shy?” What if, every time we alerted our audience members through newsletters, RSS, notifications, etc., we did so slightly apologetically? What if we expressed this timidity in more than tone? If users aren’t engaging, what if we sent fewer, shorter messages until the user reciprocates our kind gestures of outreach (and cease the service entirely if they don’t)?

Image showing Interaction 17 signage and handwritten notes reading “be well” and “you are loved.”
Words to remember from Interaction 17
Official Instagram feed for Interaction 17

I left Interaction 17 with more questions than answers, but to me, that meant the conference was a success. We owe it to our users to be relentless in our questioning, to pull and pry at the seams of our products so we can ensure we’re delivering the best solutions that we possibly can.

So designers, go forth and question!

What do you think? Have these topics sparked any questions for you? Please leave them in the comments below.

Special thanks to my colleagues Ryan Gantz, Josh Laincz, and Kelsey Scherer for their thoughtful edits.