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VIII.6 Nov./Dec. 2001
Page: 27
Digital Citation

Design: Dutch Design Day

A. Henderson, K. Ehrlich

back to top  Introduction

The CHI2000 Conference on Human Factors, held in the Netherlands April 1–6, 2000, was accompanied by a special lab tour called Dutch Design Day (DDD). DDD was held April 7, immediately after the conference. The event was a design marketplace where leading Dutch interaction designers displayed and discussed some of their recent work. The event was aimed at helping to sensitize ACM/SIGCHI to the importance of including designers in its list of stakeholders.

At DDD, Dutch organizations involved in interaction and visual design presented small exhibits spread over several venues throughout the heart of central Amsterdam. A flyer was distributed describing each exhibit and showing a map to make getting between exhibits easy. The venues were all within a short walking distance of each other. DDD tried to highlight the latest and most advanced design projects from Dutch design companies and organizations. The exhibits included the latest in Web design, application techniques, human-computer interaction (HCI) products, and experimental designs. After the exhibits closed, the day ended with a party.

The purpose of the DDD was to present three major themes of the CHI 2000 conference:

  • Highlight European HCI (a further realization of the planned European HCI Village).
  • Promote interactions with HCI professionals interested in the latest work in HCI design work in the Netherlands.
  • Highlight design work at the CHI 2000 conference and bring design issues into closer contact with a broad base of HCI professionals.

DDD also allowed the conference attendees (who had been staying in The Hague for a week) to explore Amsterdam in a structured and user-friendly way. With more than 500 visitors, the day was a stunning success.

back to top  Background

During the mid-1990s CHI conferences became less and less attractive to the design community. The reasons were numerous, but the main reason was that venues such as the Interactive Experience and the Design Briefs were either stopped or phased out. Furthermore, there did not seem to be a good place for design papers, those focused on design rationale, interactivity, and client-consumer reception more than thorough scientific research.

As a result, the CHI conferences of the late 1990s had few venues for attracting designers. The products of ACM/SIGCHI (Web site, brochures, logo, conference booth, and so on) all showed little appeal and little care for design, which also sent a powerful "not welcome" message to the design community.

Consequently, CHI experienced a brain drain, as leading designers left CHI for the American Institute of Graphic Arts' Experience Design Group, Usability Professionals' Association, American Center for Design, SIGGRAPH, and other organizations. As these organizations have grown and found a niche in addressing our needs, they threaten ACM/SIGCHI's claim as the premier organization in HCI.

A group of designers who attended CHI99 thought it was time to demand a change in SIGCHI. They wanted a meeting with the conference organizers, which took place on the last day of CHI99. The outcome of the meeting was that nothing could be done for CHI2000, because it was too late in the planning. However, one positive outcome of the meeting was that many of the designers formed an informal "birds of a feather" (a SIG within a SIG). This informal group was responsible for various initiatives aimed at getting SIGCHI to change its policy towards designers. These efforts, of which Dutch Design Day was just one, were aimed at integrating designers with the SIGCHI community, not as an add-on but as an integral part of the HCI world.

Many members of this Design SIG, who were from the Netherlands, stayed in touch. When the CHI2000 committee said it was too late (neither time nor money was available) to add design events to the conference, many of us wanted to prove them wrong by not only putting on a design event but also publishing an interactive CD-ROM. [To the CHI2000 committee's credit it did stage venues to interest designers, most notably adding keynote speakers from the design community (John Thackara of the Design Institute and the Doors of Perception conference) and the now famous Interactionary.]

In October 1999, we met with John Thackara at the Netherlands Design Institute, where John was then director. At this meeting we discussed what we could do for the design community during CHI2000. We also wanted to show the CHI executive and conference organizers how design could fit in with a CHI conference. John came up with the idea of a design market, which he had successfully used for Design Institute's previous events. John even took the initiative to estimate a budget, commit 50 percent from the Design Institute, and give us leads for finding the rest of the money from other sources.

We contacted two other members of the Design SIG, Joerka Deen of Oce and Eddy Boeve of Satama Interactive. The four of us put together the DDD Organizing Committee (made up of people from various HCI design disciplines) and operated under the Netherlands Design Institute, which kindly had donated its administrative resources. Jerome Bertrand of the Hogeschool voor Kunt-Utrecht (HKU) arranged a graduate student project to support the visual design activities of DDD (print collateral and Web site).

The rest of the sponsors were easy to find. In fact almost everyone we asked was motivated to help make the event happen. Other sponsors included the city of Amsterdam, Oce, Cambridge Technology Partners, and IOP/MMI (an HCI research organization attached to the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs).

The organizing committee members all tapped into their various networks of visual, information, interaction, and industrial designers. Everyone we contacted was excited about the project. We even got a large number of word-of-mouth contacts unexpectedly. In fact, as CHI2000 drew nearer, committee members started getting phone calls from people asking the price of tickets to the event. This took us by surprise because we had never thought of opening the event to the public. (Without any advertising at all, we ended up attracting more than 100 people from outside SIGCHI.) Everything seemed poised for a great success.

back to top  Dutch Design Day

Preparations for the mechanics of the day itself were intense, but there were also preparations for creation of the event and promotions at CHI2000, starting in December 1999 with an announcement for the Advance Program. In these preparations, the CHI2000 organizing committee facilitated and supported the promotional activities to the best of its abilities.

During CHI conference week, promotional activities intensified. Posters were hung everywhere that the conference space would permit. Flyers were added to conference packets. During the conference, the SIGCHI.NL booth was used as information booth for the DDD. Numerous Dutch SIGCHI volunteers helped with the signup of interested CHI2000 attendees.

Figure. Volunteers manned reception areas to help participants find their way. Here a volunteer waits for the arrival of participants at MonteVideo, one of the four different venues used during DDD

The day itself started the night before, when the design team (made up of volunteers from the HKU, and members of the organizing committee) began setting up DDD venues by decorating the space with the visual design collateral.

The challenge became how to make a conference-weary public excited about still more HCI events. The answer was to make each exhibit interactive and have the designers available to discuss their work. This way there would be active involvement of participants instead of the more passive conference model.

The Friday after the conference, the heart of the city center of Amsterdam, with its beautiful canals, was transformed into an interaction design market. The four venues, within walking distance of each other, focused on different themes. The venues were:

  • Multidisciplinary design: the Netherlands Design Institute
  • Cutting edge design: STEIM (Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music)
  • HCI and art: The Netherlands Media Art Institute, Montevideo/TBA
  • The Internet: De Waag (at the 16th Century city gates) where Rembrandt painted his famous Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and that now houses the Society for Old and New Media.

At noon, buses began bringing people to the exhibitions from the Hague. The schedule for the day was set up in the spirit of a leisurely day in Amsterdam. The DDD exhibits were open to walk-in visitors between noon and 6 p.m. Buses brought people to different venues. There they were given a map of the city, marking where the venues were, as well as nice cafés and bars to stop at on the way between venues.

Figure. DDD participants met directly with designers to view demonstrations and exchange ideas.

The Netherlands Design Institute was the central venue where, besides exhibits, several plenary activities were organized: an introduction to the DDD (see sidebar "Amsterdam City Council Speaks Out for HCI") and two panel discussions.

The first panel discussion, with the DDD organizing committee, was called "The purpose of the Dutch Design Day" and was moderated by Jonathan Arnowitz. The panel generated a discussion between the SIGCHI and non-SIGCHI members about how to attract more designers to the HCI community. The non-CHI people found it important to include design in an organization's own design work (for example, signage, logos), include venues that allow only electronic submissions, and have more bridge-building venues (that is, to not ghettoize the design community).

The second panel discussion was with Aaron Marcus (AM+A), Thea Turner (conference co-chair of CHI 2000), and Austin Henderson (SIGCHI Extended Executive Committee). The topic was "The significance of Dutch Design Day," moderated by Boyd de Groot. All three panelists spoke of how they were impressed with and inspired by the day's activities. The main conclusion from the second panel was that design should indeed be an integral part of the SIGCHI community and CHI program, and that DDD was a fruitful first step in recreating this awareness.

The design market featured more than 30 Dutch interaction, visual, information, and industrial designers and companies presenting their latest work in HCI. For the market the designers had designed interactive displays with which the attendees could interact—not only with the designs, but also with the designers themselves. The purpose was to get to know one another's standpoints, work methods, design strategies, and so on. The purpose was also to see what could be gained from listening to and working with each other.

Because an important objective of DDD was to create closer ties between the traditional CHI community and the design community, and to help create a more relaxed environment for this forming community, DDD closed the day with a reception and party in the former 17th century church, Rode Hoed. The DDD committee did not have to put much effort into this! Attendees, exhibitors, and volunteers danced and had fun until the early hours of Saturday morning.

back to top  Acknowledgments

All the work in putting together DDD was done by motivated volunteers—everything from writing and sending out the call for participation, to the space planning, to organizing the ending party and setting up the buildings before the event and the breakdown after the event. Volunteer students from HKU did all the graphic design. The students made the project an official part of their studies. Their tireless energies were present both in the resulting Web site and the décor of the Dutch Design Day venues, which you can see in all pictures of the day itself.

We would like to thank the volunteers who saw this Dutch Design Day happen. First our colleagues on the organizing committee: Jerome Bertrand (Informaat and HKU), Eddy Boeve (Satama Interactive), Joerka Deen (Oce), Erna Theys (Netherlands Design Institute), Anemoon Elzinga (Virtueel Platform), Marjolein de Vink (Informaat), Pascal de Vink (Web Dudes), Dan Armstrong (exhibition and space design), and Rob Willems (PentaScope).

The Design Team: From the HKU: Milena Blagojevic and Iza Cwikla (visual design, print media), Simon van Lammeren (Web site and video production). From Cambridge Technology Partners: Donal Fean, John Cleere and Sarah Rutledge (CD-ROM production and visual design). Dan Armstrong, from Libertel, who designed the exhibition space.

I also would like to thank our sponsors, the Netherlands Design Institute, Cambridge Technology Partners (CD-ROM production and visual design), Informaat (Web hosting), Oce (print materials), IOP MMI, and the city of Amsterdam (reception). I am deeply grateful to SIGCHI for printing, copying, and distributing this CD-ROM.

back to top  The Future

Now, more than a year and several other design initiatives later, signs already exist that CHI is welcoming designers to the fold. Perhaps the first thing noticed is more electronic documentation. CHI2001 featured a CD-ROM documentation for the interactive tracks in the conference: the Design Expo and Interactive Video Posters. You are receiving the DDD CD-ROM with this issue of interactions. Design tracks are becoming a regular part of CHI conferences. SIGCHI is sponsoring more and more design-oriented conferences, such as the Designing Interactive Systems conferences, and the new upcoming Designing the User Experience conference. SIGCHI has also started rebranding its visual design and commissioned a new conference booth. Lastly, this year will see a new rebranding of the SIGCHI organizational identity, following next year with a new redesigned SIGCHI Web site.

Thus, progress has been substantial since DDD. It has, of course, played only one part in the effort by many CHI members (and ex-members). We also want to acknowledge the leadership role of the CHI Executive Committee, particularly Marilyn Tremaine, Wendy Mackay, Dan Olsen, and Elizabeth Dykstra-Erickson, who responded positively to the designers' calls for change.

back to top  Authors

Jonathan Arnowitz
User Experience Specialist
Nuon Valley

Boyd de Groot
Satama Interactive

Design Column Editors
Kate Ehrlich
89 South St, 2nd Floor
Boston MA 02111
(617) 531-3700

Austin Henderson
Rivendel Consulting & Design, Inc.
P.O. Box 334
8115 La Honda Rd. (for courier services)
La Honda, CA 94020 USA
fax: +1-650-747-0467

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. Volunteers manned reception areas to help participants find their way. Here a volunteer waits for the arrival of participants at MonteVideo, one of the four different venues used during DDD

UF2Figure. DDD participants met directly with designers to view demonstrations and exchange ideas.

back to top  Sidebar: Amsterdam City Council Speaks Out for HCI

During Dutch Design Day, Saskia Bruines, the councilperson of design and culture for the city of Amsterdam, addressed participants on the importance of Dutch Design Day. The text of her comments follows.

Hello everyone. I want to welcome you to the city of Amsterdam. I can imagine it must be a great relief to visit our wonderful city after being cooped up in a smaller Dutch city all this time. I hope you have been enjoying our city and hope you plan to stay longer.

One of the purposes of the Dutch Design Day is to bridge the gap between designers and other human-computer interaction professionals through building community and creating awareness. However, for me the most important purpose of this event is to create awareness and build community not just around HCI but in our collaborations with computers, the new media, and the new economy.

Progress and computers have become closely tied up with one another. In order to assure that this progress develops in the right direction, in the user-friendly direction, awareness and community needs to be created among all technological players. Usability is one of the cornerstones of this community. No matter if you are a developer, researcher, psychologist or designer, the usability of computer products is your major goal, or should be your major goal.

The city of Amsterdam saw the Dutch Design Day as an opportunity to foster this awareness and community forming, which is why we wanted to make sure this event was a success. Because a success in the cause of usability means a victory in making computers more humane—not just user friendly but also people friendly, as unusable applications affect much more than the end user. I will cite just a few examples:

  • Waste of precious resources
  • Physical health issues
  • Mental health issues
  • Wasted resources

Almost 90 percent of the software developed is developed with little regard to usability. This results not only in computer programs that get developed but never accepted, it also leads to wasted resources such as:

  • Overhead effort—unusable products have higher help desk demands, customer complaints, bug reports (i.e., bug reports that are actually usability problems and have nothing to do with the functionality of the program).
  • Unusable products hurt the credibility of the company and sometimes the credibility of a country as well. Credibility is lost by promising to deliver a product that, even though functionally is correct, is so unusable that the end user does not understand how they can achieve their goals with the product.
  • Reprogramming—applications often have to be quickly (and also inefficiently) rewritten because of user/client complaints.
  • Lost revenues—one study from DEC estimated that lack of usability cost them 80 percent of their sales of their database tools.

Physical health
Poor usability is a major cause for computer related sicknesses, among them:

  • Headaches and other stress-related illnesses from user frustration and increased mental taxing for what should be simple tasks.
  • Repetitive strain injury—poor usability often forces users to repeat steps over and over again because the application is not assembled to meet their tasks.

Mental health
Users who must use poorly usable applications are faced with yet another mental strain in their already high-pressured positions. Poor usability is often the "straw that broke the camel's back," resulting in extended sick leave, loss of productivity, or even loss of employment.

What can be done

Usability is not a mystery; there are not only known methods for attaining usability, there are also simple methods for achieving it. There need be no business incentives for switching over to usable product development, for even though this requires an extra investment from businesses, studies have shown that incorporating usability methods is actually cheaper for the business.

Usability needs to be made more visible and the people active in usability need to be brought in touch with all product developers, and I sincerely hope that this Dutch Design Day can be one step in that direction.

Likewise, I certainly hope future CHI conferences will take advantage of this initiative and use it to build more durable community-forming venues for designers and other HCI professionals. Lastly, I also hope that you have enjoyed our city, and perhaps think of us when planning CHI2006.

back to top 

©2001 ACM  1072-5220/01/1100  $5.00

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