Westergasfabriek - The administration of the Western Gas Factory in front of the newly constructed main gas container building, 1903
Interaction14, the next highly acclaimed interaction design conference, is 100 days away. Moreover, the event, which is organized by the Interaction Design Association (IxDA), will take place in the lovely city of Amsterdam.
We asked the two conference chairs, Alok Nandi and Yohan Creemers, to tell us more about what has been planned.
Core77: Interaction14 will be in Amsterdam in a few months. What will be different from the previous editions?
Alok Nandi & Yohan Creemers: This will be the 7th edition of the annual conference and the second time it takes place outside North America (in 2012 the conference was held in Dublin). The upcoming edition will definitely be the most international yet, as it is the first time the conference will be held in a non-English speaking city.
Our vision is to make sure that there are dimensions specific to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Europe. Otherwise, why travel and come here?
So the first answer to your question is the city, the location. It will be different, but we are hard at work to make the attendees feel they are at home, in a creative city, and that they have the space to experience Amsterdam for its own sake.
The second answer is that there will be more non-Americans, both in terms of speakers, and most probably also in terms of attendees. The upcoming Interaction14 conference showcases in other words how global IxDA has become.
In terms of content and experience, our team wants to make sure to cater to different types of attendees, from the ones looking for inspiration to those wishing to connect and be part of the community, and from the newcomers to the regulars. Very early on, we actually created five personas to bring the typical attendees to life, and they have guided all our planning.
Finally, this year we also want to find ways to better engage the 50,000+ members of IxDA members worldwide. The 4-day experience of the 850 conference attendees and the knowledge that is generated should ripple back to this community.
You have recently announced all six keynote speakers: Peter Greenaway, Irene Au, Daniel Rosenberg, Saskia Sassen, Scott McCloud and Gillian Crampton Smith. What was your logic in selecting them?
The guiding 'theme' we gave to the conference is "Languages of Interaction Design." We want to see the theme in a very large, inspirational sense. Clearly, it is not about linguistics, but about exploring the diversity and hybridity of our practice(s) and craft(s) while getting inspired by other disciplines. So, if we think of terms like conceiving, connecting, engaging, empowering, optimizing, disrupting and expressing—which, by the way, are the six IxDA Awards categories—how can the attendees benefit from two types of content: those provided by keynote speakers and those by our community based on a call for speakers?
In the end, we wanted to shortlist different types of topics and points of view. Initially our list of potential speakers was very long, but the conference theme and the overall motto of IxDA—"Interaction Designers create compelling relationships between people and the interactive systems they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances; Interaction Designers lay the groundwork for intangible experiences"—allowed us to narrow it down.
Storytelling, urban design, education and enterprise were some keywords we had included explicitly in our roadmap, and these topics were brought to life through the five personas that I mentioned earlier.
We think these six speakers offer a balance between different points of view, inspiration sources, expertise and experience in various fields connected to interaction design. The keynote speeches will of course be taking place in a context of talks provided by 50+ speakers.
In fact, the full program has just been published. What can you let us know about it?
We have seen a tremendous number of submissions this year. There were over 450, and we only have 50 speaker slots. About 100 members of the IxDA community volunteered to become reviewers. This enabled an objective and blind review process, as well as democratic one: The selections represent what most attendees will want to hear.
The program committee was therefore able to focus only on the proposals that were pre-selected by the reviewers. The committee's final editorial choices were guided by the conference theme and by the appeal of content to the personas we had designed.
It was quite a long and iterative journey with long nights and many discussions, but so far, reactions of potential attendees via the social networks have been great.
Taking 55 out of 450—a ratio of roughly 1:8—means that many speakers who were not selected are disappointed. But it also shows that practitioners (after all this is not an academic conference) are eager to share their insights and we can definitely vow that the quality is very high this year.
The location is unique: an early 20th century former industrial site in Amsterdam. Tell us a bit more.
At the end of the 19th century, two coal gas factories were built to supply gas for street lighting in Amsterdam. The Westergasfabriek (Western Gas Factory) was completed in 1885, strategically located near to waterways, the rail network and access roads. Amsterdam-based architect Isaac Gosschalk designed the buildings in the typical Dutch Neo-Renaissance style.
When the factory shut down in 1967, it was hard to find a new purpose for the area. Adventurous entrepreneurs and artists flocked to the site. It became the meeting place of choice for creative and innovative Amsterdam residents. The creative buzz around the site ultimately led to the industrial clean-up and redevelopment of the area into a permanent cultural park. The historic buildings are completely renovated, but still bear their old names—such as "gas holder" and "transformer house"—referring to their former function.
Amsterdam is a city which calls up many images in people's minds. What are the social and evening plans like?
Designers are curious by nature. They won't travel to Amsterdam just to see the inside of a conference venue. We want to offer the attendees the ability to explore and experience the city culture beyond the cliché. Yes, Amsterdam calls up many images in people's minds. On Friday night, attendees can join us on an Amsterdam Journey to adjust or reaffirm their image of this multicultural city, that people from 180 different nationalities call their home.
The high population density in the Netherlands requires rigorous planning and design. The government recognized the importance of design for the well-being of its citizens and created a climate where design and design education can prosper. It should come as no surprise that Amsterdam has the highest number of creative professionals per square kilometer in the world. On Thursday night several, local creative communities will host a social event to exchange their passion for design with the Interaction14 attendees.
After the closing keynote by Peter Greenaway, attendees will have had four days of workshops and talks challenging them to improve the human condition through their work as interaction designer and it will be time to celebrate what we've achieved. On Saturday night, examples of excellence in Interaction Design will be recognized with the 2014 Interaction Awards.
Can people still register?
Yes, at the time of this interview [October 20, 2013] there are still tickets available for the conference and for each workshop. But every previous Interaction conferences sold out, and we expect to sell out well ahead of the conference again this year. Thanks to the fact that the whole event is organized by volunteers, and thanks to the support by sponsors, we have managed to keep ticket prices at an affordable level. We do our best to make the return value priceless.
Mark Vanderbeeken is a senior partner at Experientia, an international experience design consultancy, based in Turin, Italy. He is also the author of the successful experience design blog Putting People First. Mark is a specialist in visioning, identity development and strategic communications and worked in Italy, Denmark, the USA and Belgium. He was communications manager of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, European communications coordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (or WWF), marketing director of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects (USA) and chief press officer of Antwerp 93, Cultural Capital of Europe (Belgium).