Just like Lao-tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” My relationship with Frontiers of Interaction began last year, in 2005, when Matteo and Leandro asked me to work on some of the graphics for the conference Web site. Now, Frontiers of Interaction 2006 has grown in scale and relevance, drawing bright individuals to the Università Bicocca. But when you’re trying to craft an experience, you can’t just assemble a bunch of specialists and simply jump into another technological hoop. You have to work with people, and you need a multidisciplinary approach with experts in both technology and user experience.
Don’t forget the context in which Frontiers of Interaction occurred. Nowadays, Italy is hemorrhaging UX talent to the rest of Europe and overseas. Bicocca is one of the few organizations willing to take risks in order to spark creative conversations, providing invaluable support in terms of both structure and resources.
Other authors have provided more exhaustive reports about Frontiers of Interaction 2006. What I want to tell you about is the atmosphere at the conference.
As we entered the venue at Bicocca, subdued, bubbling dance music welcomed us, coming from a DJ setup near the stage. It was not your ordinary DJ setup, but a marvelous RANE system that bridges the gap between MP3 convenience and vinyl feel.
Later in the day, a Sony AIBO appeared. A crowd gathered instantly, and we couldn’t help but succumb to the overwhelming cuteness of a robot doggie. Each one of us thought in unison, “I want one of these.” And I really longed for the day when technology will shed its gears and icons and boxes, and we’ll be able to—stealing Fabio Sergio’s words—“caress the machine.”
But even while these cool technologies and their even cooler implementations were satisfying our inner geeks, the conversation remained steadily focused on people. Right at the start, Dirk Knemeyer’s introductory speech made it clear the focus would be on caring for people and emotion. It is difficult to find anyone more passionate about the future than Dirk, and he surely knows how to engage his audience.
This was, unfortunately, also the start of a long series of troubles with the video system. While this was a forgivable issue when live speakers were on the stage, it was show-stopping whenever Frontiers of Interaction 2006 was relying on video feeds—such as for Di Nocera’s enlightening speech. Overcoming these technological glitches, Flavio De Paoli, Matteo, and Leandro were always able to bring the show back on track.