On October 25, I helped the IxDA NYC group put together an event we called “IxDA Studio”. The concept of the event was to bring together experts/design masters working directly with a group of design professionals in a studio/crit setting (like back in design school!). We wanted a place to design together outside of work and to learn new ways of approaching problems from our peers as well as from seasoned design masters. We found ourselves 2 masters to help us: Josh Seiden, Design Manager at Liquidnet and Ted Booth, Interaction Design Director at Smart Design.
This is how our night went:
6:00 PM people arrive, eat pizza and chat.
6:15 PM – Josh and Ted gave the team the design challenge and brief (design a resource center for the IxDA site).
6:30 PM - Teams of 3 designers went to their own corners to tackle the problem. They were asked to spend an hour in groups of 3 designing. The deliverable we asked for at the crit is a concept statement with some sketches that shows the concept.
7:30 PM – we gathered together for a crit. Each team had 10 minutes to present the concept and receive feedback from the mentors – five minutes each.
So what happens when you put 30 interaction designers in a room, some pens, paper, and a design challenge? Some of them come up with concepts they describe as “semi-permeable membranes”. Those with an engineering edge will give you patentable technologies like “the magic filter”. Some complete and well thought out web solutions; intriguing concepts that challenge the definition of this thing we call a “site”; and what happens when Yelp meets Kayak with a dash of fluidity? You also get a lot of laughter and a lot of useful learning experiences we can bring back to work. Basically a lot of fun and magic happens in three hours.
Let’s take a look at collaborative dynamics of these groups in action, their presentation and what happened at the crit.
Team 1: Faith, Bianca and Kate gave us a very strong start for the crit with really great thinking and creativity. Their design concepts were inspired by a set of design attributes driven off of the client’s brand identity – turning constraints into creative vision allowing them to push boundaries. You can see in their concept sketches below that they didn’t go for the traditional “web page” design.
Team 2: Harry, Laura and Nelia started off with a big statement, “the absolute is… there is no absolute.” They also gave thought to the different user groups of the site and defined their needs from a resource center. They used a set of key words to help them hone in on a concept: compelling, flexible/scalable, relevant/current, intuitive/transparent, open/collaborative. The functional requirement was that it has to allow for variable levels of engagement. They came up with a solid site design and architecture under an hour.
Team 3: Bryan, Carol, Cassandra and Xu focused on visualizing the information of “resources”. They used tag clouds as a thinkmap to explore the relationship of information bottom-up. They want the metadata to be nominated letting the community rank content, hence “curating” what gets bubbled up to be seen by all.
Team 4: Eduardo, Pauric and Ray pitched the “magicability of their filter” that will treat everything as a resource and organize by tags, authors and a very fancy taxonomy. They basically have the whole site architecture figured out. So IxDA board members, you know who to call if you ever want to build a Community Curated Zeitgeist. Maybe they will even be nice enough to let you use their patented “magic filter” for free since it’s for a good cause.
Team 5: Andrea, Masha, and Micah gave us yelp plus kayak and a dash of fluidity. This group was definitely a good example of how clear thinking gets you to a very simple and elegant solutions. Ted pointed out that they were the only group to talk about what is a resource and what is not a resource. Having clarity around the nature of the information lets them focus on the design. Their concept was about helping people find information in the most fluid way possible. Amazing what 3 designers can figure out in 1 hour!
Team 6: Karen, Pablo and Nick had a very methodical approach that got them to a very complete solution that combined some traditional web layouts with some jazzy browse and search concepts. They came up with 4 themes and 3 behavior patterns as design guidelines. 4 themes: accessible, live (community), fresh and relevant. 3 behavior patterns: the browser, the searcher, and the passive observer (someone who waits for the community to tell them what’s popular). Started out with user and purpose with some brand attributes got them to a very elaborate solution in just one hour. That good old interaction design trick really works!
Team 7: Lily, Emily and Donghwan focused on connecting people rather then just the content. Emily (perhaps a former biologist or maybe she’s just one of those designers who knows everything) called the concept a “semi-permeable membrane”. Focusing on the people got this group to push some interesting boundaries. They put this out there: perhaps, ultimately people are resources, people who are interested in the same things perhaps should know about one another in the community, and exposing what people know would make them a resource to the community and to those with similar interests. They also drew ideas from Johnathan Harris’ work with the Yahoo Time Capsule in some of their visualization concepts.
Team 8: Bruce, Lisa, Melania started off with “it’s all about me”. They visualized the content, the site, IxDA and all of the “things” around “me”. Putting the user in the dead center of the concept resulted in a design that looks outwardly from the user’s own page, kind of like a IxDA Myspace page. This design gives people a reason to put effort into doing things like tagging, organizing and creating “resources” for the larger community to consume.
The night ended right on time. The audience was very respectful, they listened well, and were eager to hear what the design masters had to say. Ted and Josh did an amazing job with the crit. They asked very good questions that pushed the design teams to think more critically about their concepts. They pushed where there is room to push. They also pointed out good techniques and approaches so the rest of us can learn new things to try out when we get back to work.
We think that this is an event we would like to repeat and if other local groups wants to do this and need help with logistics. Please get in touch with me at liya.zheng (at) gmail (dot) com. Fore more photos from the evening go to Flickr.