After attending the interaction18 conference in Lyon two years ago, I came back to work fully inspired and with a stronger sense of how my design colleagues in the industry are pushing the boundaries and shaping the responsibility that our field has in defining future products and technologies. This year in Milan was no different.
The conference kicked off with the amazing Giorgia Lupi taking us through some of her data-driven projects that she has created or collaborated in with institutions, brands and fascinating individuals.
You can dive into her projects here: http://giorgialupi.com/
On a personal level, this was my favorite talk since her projects really resonated with my interests and visual style, and her examples will certainly guide some of my decisions in the solutions I design even in enterprise applications.
The format of the conference allows you to pick different paths for the break-out sessions, so I tried to attend those that were more closely related to the issues or topics I deal with in my daily work. On the first day, that meant exploring the Mixed Reality and AI sessions.
Developments in the area of spatial computing and mixed reality are changing the way we can interact with each other over a digital platform. Designing these new contextual locations needs a whole new set of considerations in order to make these spaces feel natural. How do we balance interfaces with on-demand information, yet make them fell like they belong in the physical space around us. Considering what needs to be presented “here” next to the user or “there” as part of the environment can enable exciting new ways of communication and collaboration.
Design is also making its mark in the area of AI. Companies like Microsoft and Google are putting out the first guidelines on how to deliver “intelligent” products in a human-centered approach.
The second day continued with an impressive key note from Audrey Tang where she goes over social initiatives that she drives. Policies are more participatory and better informed, therefore made more inclusive by leveraging technology in positive ways.
When we see “internet of things”, let’s make it an internet of beings.
When we see “virtual reality”, let’s make it a shared reality.
When we see “machine learning”, let’s make it collaborative learning.
When we see “user experience”, let’s make it about human experience.
When we hear “the singularity is near”, let us remember: the Plurality is here.
Marco Steinberg also went over his work in the public sector, where innovation is necessary in order to reimagine existing institutions without disrupting them.
In the topic of Climate, Juli Sikorska presented a refreshing perspective to inspire change without always depicting the future in an apocalyptic manner. Instead, we should present how changes are impacting the human experience today and be optimistic about what can be accomplished.
Jan Knikker closed the day off with a look into transformative architectural projects in urban environments. The principles of sustainability, diversity, and happiness, are applied from small scale projects to entire cities. This perspective serves as an example to be carried over into any area of design.
Continuing the trend of inspiring talks from the last two days, Awa Caba in her Keynote talked about her initiatives, granting women in rural areas opportunities to transform their agricultural businesses with digital solutions.
As for the breakout sessions, I thought these were the strongest of the three days, with talks focusing on Ethics and Leadership.
Benjamin Evans from Airbnb, presented a very compelling case study when it comes to balancing people’s biases in critical areas of your product. In his talk, he shared his own experiences with discrimination and how these informed his own perspective when approaching a design challenge within Airbnb’s platform. Ultimately, a simple UI change was able to have a very impactful and positive effect in reducing discrimination across their community while also boosting their business metrics.
In the Leadership track, the common message of driving the importance of design and making it visible to the rest of our organizations by using design artefacts really resonated with me. It motivated me to keep working on my own initiatives to produce assets that benefit the whole product team and having a systems way of thinking that makes us more efficient. Having a seat at the table is not enough. The value that design brings to organizations or products is not communicated by constantly telling people about it, it is demonstrated by taking practical approaches and showing the results.