HQP experience at Interaction Week 19 in Seattle, WA

As I was leaving Vancouver after attending the thought-provoking annual AGE-WELL Conference in October 2018, I received an email with the title “AGE-WELL ACCESS Award” – informing me that I was a recipient for the award, making it a week to remember.

My proposed activity for the award was to attend Interaction 19 – a week of design events for interaction designers from around the world, featuring an education summit, workshops, and the Interaction 19 conference held at the emerald city, Seattle, Washington in February 2019.
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I am a Master’s student at the University of Waterloo and part of the Intelligent Technologies for Wellness and Independent Living (ITWIL) Lab in Systems Design Engineering, supervised by Dr. Jennifer Boger. My research involves studying the experiences of people living with mild cognitive impairment or early-onset dementia who’re still working. Designing a digital tool to better assist people with MCI/dementia at work – (MCI@Work). My research inspired me to propose Interaction 19 as my intended activity for the ACCESS Award.

Design has always fascinated me, whenever I ask people why they use a certain product (even in our focus groups), the most frequent answer I receive is “because of its design!”. As an engineer/designer and a researcher, I always try to seek what it means to practice good design and what ethical heuristics I should follow as I design technology for people living with dementia.

Interaction 19 began February 3rd. The first couple of days of the week were part of the education summit, tours of Microsoft Studios and networking sessions with interaction designers, UI/UX designers, product managers, and researchers like myself from around the world. I had the opportunity to get a tour of Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab and speak with Bryce Johnson, co-creator of the Xbox adaptive controller which aims on making gaming accessible to people with broad range of disabilities. I read this quote on one of the walls of the studio space, which stood out to me – “When you do not intentionally, deliberately include, you will unintentionally exclude”.

Following the education summit was workshop day at the University of Washington. I picked the “Visual thinking for interaction designers” workshop because a) I love visual representation of ideas. So much of my research involves developing models and combining frameworks to understand our qualitative data, resulting in design ideas and decisions for technology creation. I felt a need to master my visual thinking. b) I’m one of those people who “can’t draw a straight line”, hence this workshop felt like a perfect fit to express my ideas effectively. I drew curved lines, shapes in the rhythm of the music playing in the background, understood how certain shapes imply meaning, the science behind visual superpowers and eventually built confidence to grab a pen (or pencil) and give form to ideas. I learnt how to get my hands dirty, literally.

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The last 3 days of Interaction week was the Interaction 19 conference, which had around 1,500 attendees from around the world. This was a very unique conference for me given its scale and how industry-focused it was, compared to academic-centered conferences I had attended before. Over the span of 3 days of the conference, I attended around 40 talks and keynotes. Here are some of my memorable ones and my takeaways from them:

The conference’s theme was “Design in the Wild”, with Bill Buxton kicking off the conference, suggesting the use of the word: Ubiety, instead of Ubiquity. Bill explained, ubeity is the condition of space in respect to place or location, whereas ubiquity is the condition of being everywhere. Ensuring focused design – having the right thing at the right place – taking physical context into account, instead of having things everywhere. Applying this to my research, I’m trying to understand how the physical context of the workplace might affect the person living with MCI/dementia’s interaction with tech/tools being used – I try to elicit this through our focus group sessions. Bill’s talk made me think on how I can take these physical contexts into our design decisions.

Paul Cohen‘s talk on infusing behavioral science into healthcare to change people’s lives pulled three big ideas rooted in cognitive psychology into practical lessons. Idea #1: Design for defaults, Paul gave an example on how a paid subscription service is designed to renew automatically. Idea #2: Design for identifiability: People do things when projected by people they know, as compared to “groups”. He explains how a person is 53.1% more likely to get a flu-shot when prompted by their doctor’s name on their app versus 43.6% when the prompt mentioned a generic “medical team” name. Idea #3: Design for active choice: provide the end-user with a choice on interaction/decision-making, for example in telehealth consultation with doctors -giving the option of video call versus office visit. It was interesting for me to see how cognitive psychology concepts are finally making their way to design in industry.

Decide to give a damn: An alphabet of accessibility was a talk by Anne Gibson. The talk framed accessibility through the lens of 26 people who need accessibility considerations. Anne discussed on how millions of people correct their vision and how “vision correctness is what mainstream disability tools look like”. It breaks down, on how we think about assistive technology and reaffirms on how we should design with inclusion.

All the talks I attended, designers I spoke to during Interaction week gave me an idea of what it is like to design products in industry and sparked design ideas for my research at Waterloo.

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I’m grateful to AGE-WELL for providing me with the opportunity to attend Interaction 19. I can confidently say that I’m inspired and motivated to put everything that I’ve learned during this week into designing our initial prototypes for the MCI@Work digital tool.

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