UX Week Keynote Speaker Amanda Dameron on Making Design More Human

If you’re a fan of Dwell magazine, you’re familiar with its unique take on modern architecture and design in the home. Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron is a passionate advocate for the philosophy of design exemplified by the homes, decor, and furnishings showcased in Dwell. In this interview, I talk with Amanda about that philosophy, the changing role of design in our culture, and her keynote at UX Week 2014 in San Francisco this September. Jesse James Garrett: One thing about Dwell that I think makes it distinctive among media entities that cover architecture and design is your emphasis on the real-world implications of design for people’s lives. Aesthetics are great, and everybody loves beautiful things, but I think that in a lot of design media, the emphasis on aesthetics becomes so overwhelming that it detaches from reality. Amanda Dameron: I think, especially in this visual culture in which we’re living, that objects and object appreciation verges into fetishism very quickly. Dwell has always thought to tell the story of the materials and the methodology that goes into a design object, going far beyond what it looks like. I think that you can’t assess the design simply by looking at an object. You really must understand the context and the techniques that go into actually creating it in the first place. Then it’s also about the experience with the object, how does it work within a life, how does it work in its relationship to the human being that’s using it. All of those things go into the way that we talk about design. JJG: Dwell is about 14 years...

UX Week Keynote Speaker Ken Jennings on Maps and Design

When Ken Jennings stepped onto the stage of the game show Jeopardy! back in 2004, he was a humble software engineer from Salt Lake City. 74 wins later, he stepped off that stage as the winningest contestant in game show history. Since then, Jennings has continued to indulge his interest in esoteric knowledge of all kinds as an author and columnist. One of his books, Maphead, digs into the world of maps and map enthusiasts, looking at the past, present, and future of maps as a fundamental part of human experience. In this interview, I talk with Ken about the connections between the ideas in his book and the concerns of designers, and get a preview of what he’ll be talking about in his keynote at UX Week 2014 in San Francisco this September. Jesse James Garrett: To start things off, let’s briefly introduce people to your book Maphead and what it’s all about. Ken Jennings: So when I was a kid I was obsessed with maps and geography. I was very aware that this was super weird, that I lived in a culture where America famously didn’t know where anything was and people thought maps were confusing and bad and you only looked at them when you were lost. So I felt very odd that I could read a road atlas for pleasure the way a normal kid would read a Hardy Boys book. I found myself thinking many years later, “What’s up with that? Why was I such a weird kid? Were there other people like me out there?” So I wrote this book called Maphead about...

Why I’m Going Back To GDC

Next week, when I’m not at Adaptive Path’s MX: Managing Experience conference, I’ll be heading to the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco for the fourth time. It may seem strange for someone outside the game business to attend an event like this. After all, this isn’t one of the big consumer-facing game industry events like PAX. It’s an event by insiders for insiders, talking about the issues insiders care about most. But even as an outsider, I still get enough out of GDC to want to go back. Every time I’ve been to the event, I’ve found it a refreshing and stimulating look — from a slightly different vantage point — at many of the same issues we face as designers of other kinds of products and services. Looking ahead to this year’s edition, I’ve thought of a few reasons why I get so much out of GDC: It’s a culture of (relative) openness. While game developers can be extraordinarily secretive while a game is being created — games are often in development for years before their very existence is even acknowledged — once the game is released, it’s a different story. I’ve been especially impressed by the willingness of game designers to talk about the failures and stumbling blocks they run into along the way. I’ve seen more concepts that went nowhere, abandoned features, and failed prototypes at GDC than I’ve seen at any UX conference. Games are complex systems. The experiences that games create for players are emergent — the result of the interaction of interlocking systems that dictate what can and can’t happen in the game. (This isn’t unique to video games;...