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Interaction 11: …Let’s Get Back to Work

In a critical recap of Interaction 11, second-year student Russ Maschmayer urges interaction designers to move beyond broad theorizing and return to the workbenches.

Well, that’s it. I’m home. After five days, enough nice-to-meet-yous to send my voice packing, and more free booze than I care to admit, I’m back in my citified Brooklyn apartment, safe once again from the call of the Rocky Mountain Wild. Boulder was, of course, beautiful, and Interaction 11 managed to buck the routine of typical conference hum-drummity by pushing its bleary-eyed practitioners out of the ballroom doors and into the fresh air… at least for an hour or two.

Interaction 11, absinthe, Boulder. Image credit: Stephanie Aaron
Interaction 11, absinthe, Boulder. Image credit: Stephanie Aaron

Interaction 11, absinthe, Boulder. Image credit: Stephanie Aaron

Then I remembered Interaction 10. Suddenly, I realized why existential questions reigned supreme this year: it was designed that way. However, I couldn’t say that I see why. The presentations chosen by the committee were almost indiscriminately focused on broad theorizing and philosophical waxing about ethics and naval-gazing questions about where we’re going. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of it was great stuff, but much of it came at the expense of discussing our craft.

Where was the experimentation? Where were the new boundaries in interaction design application? Brenda Laurel’s brilliant presentation was the high point of this year’s conference. As I watched her detail thirty-five years on the forefront of interaction design from Atari to virtual reality, sussing patterns of emergence and cultural change out of the soup of our profession’s history, I was left with this one thought: I want to make stuff like that.

I think we need to return to our workbenches; let all these existentialist fears extinguish themselves in our wake. One of Bruce Sterling’s closing comments hit home for me: “What will make you a better designer is a fanatic dedication to craft and no fear of failure.” I don’t think many of us would have found ourselves in a profession so off the beaten path without both of those virtues in spades. And whether we like it or not, our output will be the only thing left to defend us. Our medium is our message. Our interactions speak louder than our words. The proof will be in our pudding. So, let’s get back to work.

–Russ Maschmayer, Class of 2011

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