AIGA Experience Design Summit #5

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Every year, for the past five years, the Experience Design community, now part of AIGA, gathers together for two days to think about the state of the profession and to have conversations around a particular aspect of the world in which Experience Design lives. The summit happens each year as a check point to the profession.

“One has to isolate what is going on out there from the perception of what is going on out there” —James WoudhuysenThis year was no exception. 70+ people came together in Las Vegas, Nevada to network and talk about the big ideas and issues that face the profession today. The weather was hot and the strip was hopping. The fountains of the Bellagio danced with the heat and the Cirque de Soleil’s “O” was the experience of choice.

Despite the state of the economic climate today, there was a good showing. Many attendees were from California (cheap flights) but there were several folks from as far away as Canada, England and Italy in attendance and there were many new faces in the mix.

The theme this year: Integrating our values, processes, and insights into the business community

The summit began with the traditionally well-attended cocktail hour on Thursday evening, followed by dinner.

Terry Swack, Clement Mok and Nathan Shedroff welcomed the group and initiated the beginnings of conversations by asking a handful of new attendees to share with the group who they are, what they do and why they were attending.

AIGA-ED Summit attendees, George Olsen, Rebecca Blood, Patrick Hunt, David Hoffer’s back, Jesse James Garrett

Julie Stanford, Nick Ragouiz in the background

Amanda Willoughby, Peter Merholz and Molly Wright Steenson

Dinner, which was beautifully presented, finished off with small groups breaking out to gather for drinks and explore Las Vegas.

Friday, July 12, 2002
The first full day of the summit was programmed to provide different viewpoints around the topic of design’s relationship to business. There were a range of speakers from James Woudhuysen, a design forecaster, to Artie Wu, founder of Vividence, to David Rose, professor at Harvard School of Design and principle at Ambient to Lou Rosenfeld, consultant and IA spiritual leader and Peter Morville, Semantic Studios.

James Woudhuysen, from London, started the day off with an inspiring commentary on the nature of design, IT, business and their place in the global economy. He spoke about risk and risk aversion. Woudhuysen took the larger IT discipline to task for failing to overcome their fear and not innovating. He blamed the casual, frat boy, play is work mentality prevalent in IT and Silicon Valley for much of this. He also warned against becoming so USER CENTRIC that we lose the edge of innovation and become overly driven by users rather than guided by their needs.

James Woudhuysen was inspiring and made some very good points, in particular about fear and the differences between being inspired by users and being informed by them rather than being led by them. This stifles creativity and innovation which are as important to design as creating something useful and usable.

Measuring Value
Following Woudhuysen were three presentations that looked at some practical ways to measure the work of design – in economic terms as well as social, environmental and ethical terms. Allistair Williamson, WebCriteria, Artie Wu, Vividence and Anne Willoughby each presented.

Artie Wu began by asking us to consider the context for measuring ROI. The main thrust of his presentation lay in the premise that if you aren’t on the critical path to success or are and you fail, then you won’t get funded or you are irrelevant. The goals of design and the success of design in making the relationship with business work are inherently tied to whether or not the project you are working on is on the critical path for the project sponsor.

He went on to show some examples of how the role of design and the impact of design in a project could affect the bottom line. He spoke a bit about Vividence and the type of work they have done for clients. Wu’s presentation did not become a pitch for the company but stayed on track. The information presented was important to hear – “If you can’t measure the impact you cant defend the value”. What was not discussed or presented were more tangible techniques design could take into the process for actually making measurement claims on the work.

“Understand what matters; measure what matters; change what matters.”He was followed by Allistair Williamson, who continued the mantra of learning to speak the language of business in order to be understood and valued by business. He recommended that design be prepared to boil down its messages to their most basic elements. Business folks will not listen to the subtleties. He also emphasized that every project must have clear, measurable customer centered business objectives and that these provide the guidelines for what can be measured later. He emphasized the need for clear before and after comparisons as one way that design can specifically point to change.

The last speaker on this topic was Anne Willoughby. Her focus was to look at alternative ways to measure the impact and value of design. Environmental and social actions should be important to design as they work with business and in many cases, these factors are as important as the economic factors. There was no real specific example given of how this could or should be done, but the presentation was a reminder to us all that design has a social responsibility as well as a monetary responsibility to the field, to business and to the world.

Redefining the Practice
The second topic of the day was redefining the practice of experience design. The presentations began with Nico Macdonald, Design Agenda, and then replacing Alan Cooper, who was originally scheduled to speak, a roundtable report by Clement Mok and Davis Masten, Cheskin.

The goal for this topic was to look at some of the trends in the field as the economy has evolved and shifted.

Macdonald, a journalist specializing in writing about design and technology, presented some thoughts and observations from many interviews and conversations he has had in the last year.

The practice has seen layoffs and shifts into freelancing and smaller boutique firms being created. Innovation and opportunity are still all around but design as a practice is having to evolve and adapt as clients are more cautious, expecting more for their money and becoming more customer centric. The climate is one of change and adaptation as design figures out its role with business as well as what it needs to learn from other disciplines in order to continue to be a valued member of the team.

The roundtable report by Mok and Masten, was from a dinner that was held a few months ago. The dinner brought together designers, business leaders and other thought leaders including:

  • David Liddle
  • David Kelly – IDEO
  • Paul Saffo
  • Susan Rockrise – Creative VP Intel
  • Todd Holcomb
  • Nancy Hill – Hill Holiday
  • Christopher Ireland – Cheskin
  • Tahl Roz, Inc magazine
  • Ray Riley

They discussed the nature of the economy and the design practice within the business environment. They talked about structural issues, cultural issues, and education. Masten and Mok shared a few quotes from the conversation

“Designers wander around looking around for their higher purpose the way a golden retriever looks for his tennis ball… I just know there’s something here if I could just claim it… like this itch that can’t be scratched” —Paul Saffo

“The more successful the relationship the more able you are to change the conversation to where you need it to go.” —Susan Rockrise

It sounded like an interesting dinner, but seemed somewhat out of place and not so practical for the summit attendees. Interesting quotes, but how does that help the Product Designer when they go back to work on Monday?

The q&a discussion around this topic offered some interesting models that the field could look into adopting. Analogies to the movie studio production model as well as the union model were offered for discussion as well as thoughts about what exactly the problem was in the first place.

Repositioning the Practice
The final set of conversations on Friday were loosely collected around the idea of repositioning the practice; what changes in thinking, in working, in doing need to happen in order to keep the practice of Experience Design moving forward and vital.

Kicking off the discussion was Peter Morville, Semantic Studios. He put onto the table the notion of Findability as a dimension of Experience Design that offers an interesting and robust opportunity for the design community.

Morville offered several examples of what is not working currently and how adding the layer of findability to the table can create better products. Google, the Flamenco project from Berkeley and others were offered as beautiful examples where findability was in the forefront of the objectives. He challenged the audience to think about this concept —findability equals beauty —in their design work —beyond usability —and to look for this beauty in new places.

Lou Rosenfeld followed with a very pragmatic presentation around organization and organizational structure. He proposed the creation of strong autonomous Experience Design groups at the enterprise level of business. The model for the group would offer a variety of services and solutions and would look to create a centralized vision for long term and short terms needs within a company. He put forth a very well thought out model that not only had practical application but had a built in business model as well. The idea of becoming a more entrepenurial styled organization within a traditional business organization is interesting and may yet prove successful for those with enough clout and vision to pull it off.

Rosenfeld was followed by David Rose, of Ambient Devices. Rose talked to the group about a series of initiatives he and his company have been working on in the wireless space. The goals in thinking and products they have been prototyping have been to decouple (a word heard quite often over the course of the two days) the interface from the technology. Rose had several devices on hand to demonstrate some of this thinking, including an orb [show picture] that plugged in and glowed different colors to indicate the stock market activity. Another example was a pair of picture frames that blinked and glowed lights as messages when the person shown in the picture was physically near a companion picture frame. The philosophy that they have taken involves capitalizing on people’s awareness of the environment, on everyday objects and adding layers of meaningful but not overwhelming or confusing information to those objects. This was a very interesting presentation and offered up to the group new ways to think about design and the design process. Interface does not always equal screen.

The last presentation was Jeffrey Huang of the Harvard Design School. Jeffrey presented a more traditional sort of conference presentation – a recap of some of the work he has been doing with his design curricula at Harvard around visualizing information and then went into an overview of a recent project that took some of the ideas from the class work and research and applied them to a real project. The recent project was done for the Swiss Consulate and consisted of the creation of what is known as the Swiss House located in Boston. The project entailed the design and creation of physical and virtual environments. Utilizing multiple layers of technology and full wall size curtains of information projection, the Swiss House attempts to create a feeling of single spaces of interaction across multiple disparate physical locations. The project was extremely interesting to see and is an example of how design can combine physical and virtual technologies to create new business architectures for everyday activities.

The day ended with groups breaking off for drinks, dinner and many of us attending the grandest of all experiences Cirque de Soleil’s “O”.

Saturday, July 12, 2002
Saturday’s agenda began with an overview for the day and a look back at what the Experience Design group had accomplished over the last year. The CHI/AIGA Forum and the Case Study initiative were the two major undertakings for the last year. There are plans for more case studies, evolving into several different types of cases as well as the new DUX (Designing User Experience) conference that is in planning with CHI and SIGGRAPH. Terry Swack and Clement Mok mentioned that the AIGA is also working on initiatives that represent the process of design rather than the design artifacts. The AIGA-ED initiatives are part of the larger picture of the shifting organization.

Julia Whitney presents a recent project from WGBH

Straddling the two presentation rooms, attendees get a little of both show and tells

Eugene Chen from Aaron Marcus and Associated presents a recent project

Show & Tells
The formal part of the day began with a morning of Show & Tells. Seventeen presenters, one hour and ten minutes, one room with a couple of divider screens and a whole lot of attendees moving back and forth between simultaneous presenters, made for a really interesting and dynamic part of the summit. The presentations were given by Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path, George Olsen of Capital Group, David Shavrick of ModemMedia, Davis Masten of Cheskin and Nathan Shedroff, Gillian Crampton Smith from Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, Molly Wright Steenson of Razorfish, Gilmer Maluyao from the ACTION project, Kristee Rosendahl of Classroom Connect, Julia Whitney from WGBH, Thomas Mueller of Razorfish, Angela Shen-Hsieh and Mark Schindler of S+A Visual I/O, Eric Wilcox, from IBM Research, Molly Rutten from Intel Corp., Julia Stanford of Sliced Bread Design, Sharon Poggenpohl from the Illinois Institute of Design, Chris Jones of Small Pond Studios and Eugene Chen of Aaron Marcus and Associates.

The presentations ranged from conceptual looks at the future of brand (Masten and Shedroff) to the latest project launched at WGBH (Julia Whitney) to the set of deliverables created for a recent consulting project (Kristee Rosendahl) to a scenario and concept presentation pitch to Kodak (David Shavrick) to what’s been going on in the first year at the new Interaction Institute at Ivrea (Gillian Crampton Smith). The presentations were all interesting and the discussion very lively. This was one of the most dynamic and enjoyable parts of the summit because it had to be quick – presenters were given seven minutes to present and three minutes for questions.

Following the Show & Tells, the entire group posed for the traditional group photo, gathering outside into the 110 degree plus weather and then returning inside to talk about the break out section of the day.

Break Out Sessions
Throughout the two days of conversations, presentations and their followup discussions, Swack and Mok, as well as the presenters jotted down themes, questions and big ideas that surfaced, onto large white tablets. In addition, attendees added thoughts and other questions to these pages. At the end of Friday, the planning committee gathered to review the ideas and group them into common themes. These became the topics of conversation for the break out sessions.

Five topics, with discussion facilitators were introduced to the group. The five topics were offered for discussion and the large group was given a chance to choose which topic interested them. The next three hours, including lunch, were spent in these groups. The goal, to come back to the larger group in the afternoon with some ideas, some initiatives and next steps that could be taken on as projects for the AIGA Experience Design group for the coming year.

After the allotted time was up, the groups came back together and presented their thoughts and ideas. There was lively discussion after each as well and it was apparent that this was a favorite of the summit.

1. ROI and development of consistency and standards in descriptions and communication, Allistair Williamson


  • You have to care about business results
  • We need more, clear, evidence of business results
  • We need a framework for linking attributes to business benefits to measurable objectives
  • We need research around existing measurement systems
  • Business values people who care about their results rather than some just delivering widgets

2. Vocabulary / Criteria to articulate value, Rick Robinson


  1. First condition for talking about designing.
    Saying that something can be a design = thing A can be changed through an intervention
    we x to y in order to z

  2. an activities   – objects    – outcomes
    defining     product     business
    reasoning     service     social
    delivering     process     objectives

    what makes design design and not meddling?
    The way in which you make the choices, the standards and principles that guide the process – the thread that ties the community together

  3. Decisions within the process are informed by the value to the constituent.
    (useful, usable, desireable)
    Design brings value to the constituent
    Design makes decisions based on standards
  4. What do you get by having the design organization that designs
    you get capabilities, outcomes, comprehensibility, clarity
    The design organization has ability to innovate, to imagine, to deliver something that didn’t exist before
  5. Tell this story clearly to
    other professions

3. Redesigning practice and our fit in organizations, Nick Ragouzis

“ We have the students focus on designing the right thing and designing the thing right.” —Gillian Crampton Smith, Director, Interaction Design Institute IvreaHighlights:

  • Design wants to be more effective in
    – business
    – society
    – environment
    – greater good
  • define problem
    – can simplify and summarize
    – can visualize
    – typically generalists
    – self perception is a detriment
  • strengths
    – in communication
    – different useful toolset
    – we are doers, get things done
    – able to quickly prototype
  • weaknesses
    – credibility
    – lack domain knowledge and common vocabulary
    – not conversant in business
    – we’re generalists but not necessarily managers
  • opportunities
    – become better known in business and part of business
    – can act as change management and change consultants
    – act not just as problem solvers but project definers
  • threats
    – design perceived as a commodity
    – designers are outsiders – culture is threatening
    – brought in too late to really solve problems and then are scapegoats when they dont go well
    – internal resources, or incorrect resources brought in – substitutes for us
  • Plan
    – continue to work through this process in the nine areas
    – further distill the commonalities
    – put in place a plan of action for acting on our learnings

4. Stepping away from the screen – what ideas are out there in this new landscape and what do designers need to know to participate, David Rose


  • Questions were to help understand what it means to step away from the screen
  • Who has the money to do these things?
  • How do we get invited to the table to ask why?
  • What skillsets do we need to know to cross these barriers?
  • What tools, techniques do we need?
  • Technologies, knowledge base?
  • How is design positioned to be a critical component in designing products
  • Why do we care?
  • Positioning Ubiquitous
  • The advance of beyond-the-desktop is inevitable. The infrastructure for embedded wireless is nascent which creates important windows of opportunity. The ED community needs to drive the dialog or our role as designers will be limited. Designers need to acquire a new skill set to participate and have a valued voice. And as true advocates for users we can lead the emerging and critical conversation around ethics and privacy.
  • How do we help shape these decisions?
  • Research topics for ubiquitous
  • What is the framework to balance convergence devices and divergence
  • Tactical
  • Find new partners for this community to learn from and interact with
  • Research education initiatives – where should training come from
  • Develop a more holistic skills taxonomy and road map for progression. Address deep core skills and wide skills
  • Develop a new technology radar system, establish scouting and forecasting roles and publish to the community
  • Establish a process and structured format to critique new products

5. Where opportunities for design may lie in the future, Nico Macdonald


  • Looked at the areas where there might be opportunity for design in the future.
  • Transportation
  • Medical
  • Education
  • Family
  • Financial
  • Government
  • Narrowed down to transportation.
  • Looked at the notion of transportation in context of public and private modes.
  • Opportunities in a travel scenario might include creation of devices to harness the community of travelers on a plane, messaging between travelers, or the need to broadcast information about the nature of the travel method – are there seats in the full subway car, or the line at the airport check in is 300 people long.
  • Future things designers might need to know in this space include traffic patterns, census growth, government initiatives, research and observation about travelers

The breakouts seemed to be one of the favorite activities for the summit, and this attendee wishes they came earlier in the programming. The presentations and discussions fed the breakout, but by the time they actually happened, the group was tired and not as focussed as they were in the morning.

The summit officially ended after the last of the break out groups presented. Terry Swack and Clement Mok invited attendees who were interested in pursuing some of these initiatives as well as others mentioned throughout the weekend, to join the steering committee meeting happening the next day.

Overall, the summit was informative and offered a lot of high level conversation and discussion around a few key ideas. The need to discuss these ideas and come up with strategies and solutions is important in our industry. The parting mood seemed positive and there are changes afoot in the way these ideas and initiatives are going to be pursued in the next year, which is hopeful. The failings of past summits have been the lack of follow through and the little evidence of practical initiatives that have actually come to pass as advancement for the practice. This year’s discussions and plans are encouraging to look forward to over the coming year.

Books mentioned during the Summit

Erin Malone is currently a Product Design Director at AOL in the Web Properties division. She has been a practicing interaction, interface and information designer since 1993.


  1. Could someone please get some design sense and change the sky blue color used for hyperlinks? It’s so bloody hard to read! Hasn’t anyone realised that yet? Hyperlinks are supposed to stand out. These practically disappear. They hurt my eyes. Pick a navy blue or something.

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