With Friday's morning workshops wrapped up (see above), day one of Interaction 09 moved into full swing with several solid afternoon sessions, starting with John Thackara's tweet-provoking keynote.
Opening with a fairly dismal end-of-the-world sort of call to action, the talk painted a picture of multiple coinciding peaks, and not in a good way: peak credit, peak oil, peak movement, peak embergy (embodied energy in manufactured goods), peak water, peak protein, peak climate change. The recurring upshot of all of these was an imbalance in resource usage versus carrying capacity, and an admission that some common behaviors, like regularly consuming food shipped from across the planet, are going to have to go away before too long, regardless of how much efficiencies are improved.
The doom and gloom, though lengthy and impassioned, was eventually used as an introduction to potential solutions and attendant design opportunities. The most immediate examples named were assessment tools: protocols with tortuous acronyms for names -- IBAT, MIMES, BBOP, TEEB, ESR -- that offer rigorous ways of accounting for the ecological and social impact of products and services. Such processes, Thackara argued, are crucial to long-term behavioral change, and moreover constitute some fascinating and worthwhile challenges for the concerned interaction designer.
Fiona Raby of the Royal College of Art provided an alternate trajectory to Thackara's, starting from a position of whimsy and experimentation and delving into the creepy and unsettling along the way. Showcasing student projects from the previous two years, her talk presented some examples of design as a discursive influence, asking if "in our quest to make everything right and efficient and smooth, do we accidentally iron out the wrinkles that make lives fantastic?"
The first video, a series of human-robot interactions (robot being very loosely interpreted here to include rings, cones and wood blocks with sensors and reactions) set a tone to be extended throughout the talk: some emitted nervous shrieks at the approach of a human, others moved out of the way, but all offered both humor and commentary on the degree to which imperfection is necessary to the expression of emotion.