Small Planet

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Dispatches from Interaction 17

Spoiler Alert: People in creative industries tend to be very self critical.

Stephanie Casper

Stephanie Casper

Art Director

Organized by the Interaction Design Association (IxDA), the Interaction 17 conference brings together over 1,000 design professionals and students for a week of events, talks, and awards. Interaction 17 asks the beautiful and complicated question: “How does environment shape interaction, and how should we, as designers, respond?”

The Small Planet design team is attending this year’s conference and absorbing a LOT of knowledge! We go to industry gatherings all the time, and IxDA really does bring together diverse speakers for sessions that inspire.

In addition to creative directors and lead designers, we’re hearing from academics, authors, architects—professionals across many disciplines who create powerful and unique experiences.


Day 3: In smart homes we trust.

“What do you get when you cross a computer with a camera? You get a computer.”
– Kevin Gaunt (paraphrased from Alan Cooper’s book The Inmates are Running the Asylum)

There are some awesome tech wearables out there. Liza Kindred showed us some amazing smart products that are in stores and coming soon. There’s Joule, the earring back that’s also a fitness tracker. It fits on the back of any post earring. GlassOuse glasses use eye tracking tech for people to use computers who do not have use of their hands.

The stylish Eone watch allows the visually impaired to discretely tell the time. And there is a felt fabric made of nano tubes, power felt, that could one day act as a battery to charge your phone while it is in your pocket.

Humans would rather have incorrect information than no information. People don’t like having gaps in their knowledge. The more we hear a piece of misinformation, the more likely we are to believe that it is true. To help ease users into the correct information, one suggestion it to use a warning word.

Phrasing something that is not directly in contrast to the user’s knowledge, but subtly points them down the correct path. If users do not dismiss the information right away, they are much more likely to come out with the truth. Shout out to Chelsey Delaney at PPFA, great presentation!


Trust in your smart home. People will only adopt smart home technology if they feel that they can trust the technology to fulfill their entrusted task. The more we trust our smart devices, the more we will look to them to perform tasks. Natalie Philips-Hamblett and Madoka Ochi point to a woman who wanted Alexa to act as their child’s confidant when they feel uncomfortable talking to an adult. Now there’s some serious trust!

Localization matters in smart devices. People from different cultures interact and with smart devices in different ways. The design, tone and capabilities of a device needs to fit the society that they will be a part of.

What do we think the future holds in the home? Take a look at what people thought the year 1999 would look like from the year 1967 in 1999 A.D.


How about Microsoft’s uncanny take on the not-too-distant future from the beige perspective of 1995? Some of the food conversations are chillingly accurate.



Day 2: Feeling All the Feelings

“Meetings should be visual. Always, no excuses.”
– Katie McCurdy and Jeremy Beaudry from University of Vermont Medical Center

Brck is making the world a better place. Internet connectivity within Africa is a problem, especially for education. 70% of people in Kenya are not connected to the internet. The KIO kit created by brck brings internet and tablets to schools, all contained within a rapid charging weatherproof case. During the day children can learn using the tablets, while at night the tablets are used to teach women valuable financial skills. Learn more and donate at

Shake the feeling that you’re not good enough! People in creative industries tend to be very self critical. You don’t have to be Steve Jobs to be great, and you don’t need to have all the answers. What you need to be able to do is to frame your story in a way that helps you and your team solve the problem, its a process.


Show people how much fun you are having working. If you are having fun with your work, and you look like you are enjoying what you are doing, others will gravitate toward you and want to be involved. It’ll also encourage them to do their work better. Excitement is contagious.

You can get people to interact with each other in a public space. When creating an interface designed for collaboration, incorporate elements that make the product work better with more than one person. For example, having a spot for 20 finger placements in the interface, it will make it obvious to the user that it is meant for two people.

If you want to encourage conversation, have background noise in the space. A space that is quiet keeps people quiet!  Keep people’s mind’s open and make your interactions obvious. Adults don’t want to look like they don’t know what they are doing in front of other people, and we all tend to ignore written instructions (especially if they are long!).


Beware of survivor bias! This part of Tony Chu’s Design in a World Where Machines are Learning session was very interesting. During World War II, researchers looked at surviving airplanes that came back and assessed where most of the damage was done. The government wanted to reinforce areas of the planes to make them safer.

The first thought everybody had was to reinforce the “shot patterns” from the planes that came back. That wasn’t the right approach. Why? Because these planes actually came back…the ones shot outside those patterns never made it home! So it is better to reinforce the airplanes in the area outside the shot patterns. The lesson from all this: find the gaps in your experience that are happening at the beginning of the funnel, rather than at the end.

Machine learning is never perfect, and that’s ok. Machine learning is not magic, it’s software with the same shortcomings as any software. If you get it right, you save people a couple seconds, so don’t wait for it to be perfect. Want feedback? That’s easy, just add a feedback button or some other way for a user to easily share their concerns.

“The opportunity for machine learning is where friction meets data.”
– Tony Chu




Day 1: Conversational UI

“The happiest day of my brother’s life was when he got a fb message from Taco Bell inviting him to join a private tasting.”
– Elizabeth Allen on chatbots

Context is everything.The more a CUI can know the less input and work the user needs to do themselves. If someone knocks on your door at 12pm, it is a very different thing than when someone knocks on your door at 3am.

Bots need a personality! It depends what medium you bot is in, a bot in FB messenger will have a different tone than a text message or an email, but giving your bot a personality will give people something to connect to. Humor can also be a good way to diffuse a situation where a bot may not be able to perform a task.


Talk to your users! Have a build-a-bot workshop where one person is a human and one is a bot using your target audience. Using specific limited actions from the human and an information chart for the bot, you can find out the holes in your interface and come up with a template for the personality of your bot.

It’s not about conversation, its about the speed of interaction. People do well when given options, having a completely open ended interface can create more frustration than free will.

Prototyping tools like invision and axure are just not going to cut it. You need to test out conversational UIs in tools that were meant to help you create a conversational UI like, IBM conversation, or Bot framework.


“When creating VR experiences, think like an architect or a magician.”
– Gary Hustwit talk on Cinematic VR