For almost any conference, the talks that linger most with me are those that help me see things from different perspectives, especially if they give me insight into how design challenges are solved in other fields.
Three talks bubble up to the top in this sense, and if I could make a UX Week mixtape to hand out, three talks would definitely be on it, covering toy inventing, spacesuits, and the quest for creative inspiration.
Toy Inventing in the 21st Century: Hard Plastic vs. the Attention Economy
As a toy inventor, Bill McIntyre may well have the best job in the world. At least that’s the idea many of us came away with after watching his talk. It turns out many of the steps in the toy inventing process are similar to ours—brainstorming and sketching. His process almost always starts by asking, “What is fun?” In this case, Bill’s answer was “Robots!” and he uses Little Atomo, a robot he designed specifically for his UX Week talk, to walk us through the toy inventing process.
In his talk, Bill shares the many challenges inventors face when creating new toys, from kids who are getting older younger (watch the talk if that’s hard to wrap your head around) to shopping ideas around to “inventor relationship representatives.” In spite of the challenges, Bill says this is an area full of possibilities and fun, with huge opportunities for creativity and the inventive spirit.
(Bonus content: A direct link to the Little Atomo video on YouTube. He’s Thinkin’!)
Nicholas de Monchaux
Fashioning Apollo: The Infinite, Intimate Lessons of Technology, Bureaucracy, and Human Beings in the Space Race
This is a fascinating story of the development of the spacesuit worn by Apollo astronauts and the many threads of activity, technology, and competitive drama that accompanied it. de Monchaux illustrates the enormous complexity of meeting the design challenge within the military industrial complex and “systems thinking” that drove the space race.
While many candidate designs were developed by well known engineering and industrial conglomerates, most were hard, inflexible suits that proved ultimately ineffective for traveling to and working in space. For all the engineering skill that went into designing these suits, they failed because they considered the wearer just one of many component parts of a larger system. The successful design came from a seemingly unlikely source: the International Latex Corporation, a manufacturer of bras and girdles. ILC succeeded precisely because it focused on the wearer as the center of the design.
In the end, this is a story of craftsmanship at its best—deep understanding of the material, its application, and workability—and about adapting technology to the human form (not the other way around). Skill, extensive experience, and, I suspect, a good dose of intuition on the part of the designers and seamstresses, enabled them to produce the final Apollo spacesuit design that took man to the moon within Kennedy’s timeframe.
Steal Like an Artist
Austin traces his own development as a writer and artist, and his journey of discovery about the creative process. He provides great insight into how everything we do is built on what has come before, whether or not we’re aware of it when doing it. He shares what he has learned in the form of advice he’d give to his younger self, and I think it’s advice from which we can all benefit.
In the end, I believe Kleon’s message is about freedom—to explore, be influenced, take it all in, and to mix it all up with your own stuff. It resonates because of the way we work in UX—sharing ideas and throwing them into the mix for others to take and mix into theirs. This has no doubt been a big factor in the growth and success of UX as a practice—and as a product and service differentiator.
But, as Kleon points out, to make it all work you have to put the thing back out in the world for others to use and remix, and so that you can in turn become inspiration for the next crop of artists—or in our case—designers.
Watch on the iPad app
These talks and more are available on the Adaptive Path iPad app. Download the free app (or update to get the latest version) from the Apple App Store.
No iPad app? No problem. Watch them at uxweek.com.
Register for UX Week 2013 Now!
If you liked these talks, take advantage of our end of year events sale and register for next year’s UX Week now.
Through December 31st, register using promo code ‘RNSB’ and we’ll take 15% off the early bird price. Double discount! Do it! Right here.