What I learned from Interaction19

“I’m feeling both inspired and challenged at the same time” — said Surya Vanka, Co-Chair at IxDA.

This is exactly how I felt at the Interaction19 Conference, which took place in Seattle this month. For me, I felt that I grew as a strategist and creative. Overall, the talks challenged my thinking and approach to strategy and gave me a new perspective on how interaction design is perceived globally. Here’s a little summary of my personal highlights and learnings.


Persona to Placeona

Bill Buxton kicked off the conference with his keynote “Wild Design for Living in the Wild.” A fellow Canadian, he spoke about the importance of situated intelligence. In the wild, places are transitory and so we ask: how can we connect these experiences of going from the home to our mode of transportation to work and other places? The problem currently is that these experiences are siloed by separate products and services that do not serve a human’s continuous interaction. So he concluded,

“The next big thing is not a thing. It’s the change in social relationships amongst things.”

This speaks greatly to my job as a design strategist working with startups at the forefront of technology. When building companies, we should think more about the contextual history of the people we are designing for. This can help us to create a better experience as well as make more valuable business decisions.

Do It Right or Don’t Do It At All

I said earlier that I felt challenged by this conference, and the best way to describe it is with The Inclusive Liz Jackson’s talk, “Empathy Reifies Disability Stigmas.” This is a topic I have been wondering about for a while, thinking about how to include accessibility in my design process without being pathologically altruistic and truly understanding what empathy means. Often in product design, we can easily go from empathetic to sympathetic and or ignore stigmatism during product development, even simple wording and message can change perspective. However, this also means that empathy would be highly focused on the gesture rather than the impact, and this is the key failure of products that aren’t wholly designed with accessibility in mind.

Designers often endorse the participatory or co-design approach, the act of involving all stakeholders including customers in the design process to ensure the result meets their needs and is usable. Through many examples, Liz demonstrated that in current co-design methodologies, the designers decide when to bring in users. Her organization, With approaches inclusivity slightly differently. The With approach puts the power into the hands of the users you are empathizing with, and allows them to decide. She ended by saying:

“We don’t need your empathy, we need your solidarity.”

Storytelling for Strategy

People often speak about the power of storytelling and in Jon Kolko’s breakout session, I learned one really useful application in conveying strategy. Effective stories cause cognitive dissonance, and this feeling of uneasiness is the exact emotion you can leverage to change belief and convince stakeholders. Then, resonate with your stakeholders by using real, highly curated stories to illustrate your point. Imagine, instead of telling your clients why they should choose you, what if you told a story of why working together is the perfect scenario. This is a methodology I’d like to try and infuse more into my work.


Don Norman ended the day off with his keynote where he spoke about the role of the designer in the modern era, “I don’t believe designers should design. I believe people should design, ” and what he full-heartedly meant was that designers are rarely the expert of the domain they are designing in. However, they are the best to bring people together and become coordinators of different disciplines. As the design industry is always in flux, like any other industry, the role of the designer may transform and become wildly valuable in unexpected ways.

Influx and Experimentation

Day 2 was all about experimentation. The talks circled around wild explorations, new concepts and industries, such as body hacking and how to set expectations within these fields. In Andreas Markdalen’s break out session, “Democratization, Industrialization and Augmentation: Where Creativity and Design Craft is Going Next,” he talked about the commoditization of design. Tools like Figma and Invision makes that part of the design process more accessible and doable for everyone. With the influx of simpler and cheaper design tools, designers need to understand that their craft is changing and it’s important that they can facilitate design literacy for everyone.

Marty Neumeier made a point in his keynote that new ideas need nurturing, “otherwise it’s like throwing out a baby because they don’t have a job.” This is important when strategists work with stakeholders and their teams to cultivate new ideas. One tactic is parallel thinking, where when new ideas are raised by someone in a group, the facilitator should try to get everyone in the group to go towards the same direction, at the same time and fully explore the idea before going into the critical thinking phase. However, critical thinking is just as important later in the process. So, he proposed the methodology of swarming in agile strategy.


Instead of planning strategy as a linear process of goal setting, research, brainstorm, strategy, design, and test, try to approach all areas together bound by a common goal. This is because in the linear process, each area tends to be deemed as finished and closed off before the next. The agile strategist is much like a painter; painters don’t create a painting by starting from the top of the canvas and works their way down.

The Maker-Talker

The last day of the conference was all about reinvention. I loved that someone I really look up to, John Maeda, said “I don’t do as many talks anymore because I’m busy learning,”. Learning and reinvention are my personal goals this year and John told his story through the concept of a maker and a talker. A maker is someone who values craft more than anything, and a talker is someone who has the ability to tap into their target audience and sell an idea. But he convinced the audience to think about talking as a different way of making and exposed the importance of transforming from a maker (as we designers often are), to a talker, because it is extremely empowering to know that change occurs when enough people believe in it, and makers don’t know this, but talkers do know.


I feel that I am currently making this transformation by challenging myself to make more of a case for what I am making and in return, I am learning the values that I’ve gained when being a talker.


So just like that, many of my conventional practices have been challenged, I’ve ventured into new horizons, and am humbled by the constant reinvention that other interaction designers are going through. I would encourage anyone to review the full talks when they are revealed as this is only my takeaways from Interaction19.

So just like that, many of my conventional practices have been challenged, I’ve ventured into new horizons, and am humbled by the constant reinvention that other interaction designers are going through. I would encourage anyone to review the full talks when they are revealed as this is only my takeaways from Interaction19.


About the author

Betty is a design strategist at TribalScale Venture Studios working in trend forecasting, product and service strategy and research. As an interaction designer and mixed-media artist, she creates immersive experiences and installations in digital and physical spaces. She is currently exploring gestural interactions, sound installations, and wearable technology.

TribalScale is a global innovation firm that helps enterprises adapt and thrive in the digital era. We transform teams and processes, build best-in-class digital products, and create disruptive startups. Learn more about us on our website. Connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook!

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