Soph, Andy and I wandered up to the RSA this evening for a few short talks and a panel discussion with Jeremy Myerson, Bill Moggridge of IDEO, Fiona Raby and Tony Dunn. I'd not heard of the other guys, but was particularly looking forward to see Fiona speak; I remember her being mentioned by Mr Jones as one of the inspirations behind Twitchr, and at the time I bought a book of hers which made my head hurt.

My notes from the evening are a tattered scrawl, so I'll draw just a few points and observations from them here:

  1. JM: Interaction design is being changed by digital;
  2. BM showed off some good videos - the godlike Jeff Hawkins talking about design constraints in the Palm Pilot (price, size, sync-as-standard and fast-as-paper) and a mention of his new company; the Googlers, who in an interview done a few years back seem to have stumbled on their success by accident;
  3. A video where Bill Verplank talks about his approach to interaction design: answer three "How do you.." questions: how do you do, how do you feel, and how do you know? Corresponding to input, output, and internal state/processing;
  4. Geography as a metaphor for the web: are web sites destinations we visit as much as applications we interact with?
  5. Getting users to sit in front of a mocked-up PC and talking out loud about their aspirations for software as a design technique (which filled me with a similar sort of horror to what I imagine modern doctors feel when they read about medieval amputations - necessary but Christ it must have hurt);
  6. Tony Dunn talking about decoupling interaction design from digital and applying it in other fields: using bees as bio-sensors, or investigating dispersal zones (part of recent police powers against protest) to examine interactions between communities and the state;
  7. "A truly futuristic future would alienate us and be incomprehensible" - "It's an alternative NOW";
  8. Fiona talking about the disjunction between utopia and the reality, investigated through four robots (either massively advanced or hideously autistic, I couldn't tell the difference) which articulate particular behaviours. Quite far out for my tastes, but a nice way of examining emotional reactions to technology;
  9. David Wood of Symbian asking why the UK doesn't retain design talent, and not really getting an answer from the panel ("the internet means you can do it anywhere", "London is a service design centre", "my students struggle to stay in London");
  10. An age-old question kicking off a short riff on how to blend interdisciplinary teams: basically, stick them in a room together for 6 months and pray;
  11. Fiona talking about the increasing physicality of Japanese phones, and surprise at their size (it's 7 years since I went to Tokyo, can anyone verify this?)
  12. A question around the limits of metaphor within user interfaces and whether it's time to start exposing internal state;

I found some of the evening a little bit uncomfortable (high-concept stuff often jars slightly with me) but overall quite thought-provoking and fun. It got me thinking about our relationship with software and hardware products... with hardware we seem to enjoy much more emotional relationships, whereas with software everything's more intellectual (when was the last time you heard someone rave about a software package, or hold up their use of it as a status symbol?). What can we do about this?