Interaction 09: How to Change Complicated Stuff

by Luke Wroblewski February 7, 2009

Marc Retting’s How to Change Complicated Stuff keynote at Interaction Design used stories to outline a number of lessons for bringing change into the world through design practice.

  • The Great Turning: going from old to new ways of living and working that can continue indefinitely. It’s a shift in commerce, manufacturing, and lifestyle.
  • Many interaction designers talk shop but do not talk about the people whose lives they affect. Design is personal, intimate, sensitive.
  • Many things that improve people’s lives are not measured with engineering metrics but can be addressed with design solutions.
  • Design is intimate even when the product isn’t. In every household studied in the past four years, consumer devices affect household relationships, power structure, and individual self-image.
  • Whatever you are working on -you are causing emotions with your output.
  • Design affects people’s emotions, relationships, and thereby changes the world.
  • Designers spend a lot of time in data collection but not enough time in analysis & how to gain usable outcomes
  • Designing: understanding, using that to conceive possibilities, bringing that into the world, seeing what works, and repeating.
  • Lesson: the work of change is social. Deliberately plan for ripple effects. Nurture their outward spread by nurturing people and relationships.
  • Lesson: most meaningful changes require more than a single project. Instead think about programs of change. Think about what difference you want to make then plan projects.
  • Map social web of how things will get done, understand what difference is worth making, conceive and try possible ways to make a difference, continue understanding and trying until the difference is made. Propagate the ripples of understanding and empathy.
  • Lesson: immersion experiences wake the team up and see they are connected to the people whose lives are changed by each design choice.
  • Lesson: we often work with the wrong level in the system. We often take a mechanistic view when an organic model might be more true.
  • In healthcare, the household is the patient and the device is not the cure. The system of care is the cure.
  • Relationships are more important than the things themselves. Want to identify opportunities to heal the system by creating boundary objects, unblocking flow across relationships, making new relationships possible.
  • Households are organisms. Same for communities and neighborhoods. They have internal state, relationships, cycles, personalities, etc.
  • Lesson: a consequence of working for change: you can no longer be satisfied with shipping the product. You must establish the change to create conditions for the “new normal”.
  • Relationships are their own thing to be designed, not just connectors.