Did you attend About, With and For?

Did anybody attend the About, With and For conference hosted by IIT in Chicago this past weekend. If so, I’d really like to hear folks’ initial reactions.

  • What did you hear that you really appreciated? disagreed with?
  • Was there something that you thought was missed? overlooked?
  • How does it make you feel (that one’s for Jump) about our industry?
  • Did you get what you came for?

Thinking about the “meta themes” of this year’s conference, it’s quite surprising to hear the number of presentations about how to play nice with the “suits”. In past years, a lot of discussions were about how to get the “render monkeys” to do our bidding, or simply get them to appreciate our role as design researchers and strategists. But now, as our field starts to stand on firmer ground (or am I just being optimistic?), we’re thinking about how to work well with folks outside of the immediate product development realm. We still need to add value to engineers, industrial designers, interaction designers and the like, but we also need to think about our counterparts in areas such as marketing, sales, distribution, supply and finance.

A few learnings that have stuck in my head from the weekend:

  • It’s important to understand the culture of your client, and learn how to speak their language. If they communicate amongst themselves through dry memos and long email chains, then you need to think about doing the same.

  • Sometimes you need to take on a smaller, less critical project in order to build trust with folks so that they WILL bring you on board when the stakes are much higher. It’s about building trust.

  • While you’re out there doing your design research thing, you need to keep the needs of your counterparts in mind. If your company is in the microchip business, it’s good to occasionally think about how stuff with microchips are affected by what you’re learning.

  • It’s important to get your clients involved in what you’re doing. Bring them out in the field. Help make it a productive experience for them. Help them help YOU. Don’t just assume that they won’t get it, show them why it matters.

Gosh, when I look at this list, it sounds like I attended a Dale Carnegie course this weekend!

What did other folks learn?

Some random thoughts about the event:

The networking is great - I always have a SuperFriends moment when I see all these folks that I know hanging out together - of COURSE they all know each other, but it’s trippy to see them together.

I do wish the conference organizers would do more active support for networking - physical message boards, email lists, time slots for dedicated meeting, attendee lists, or whatever the state-of-the-art is for this stuff

Of most interest to me is not so much what people have to say about design research, but how they are saying it. As a field, our terminology is all over the map, but the personal styles is also pretty diverse. No doubt I have my own personal jargon, but of course I don’t imagine that I do, and when I bump against others it really is jarring.

There was a strong attempt to create a theme this year - presenters submitted outlines/abstracts which were then reviewed - and as a presenter I got the theme, and heard other presentations with that filter on, but some of my casual conversations with other attendees suggested that they didn’t have a clue what the theme was or how the different presentations were in support of it. Kord, above, was a presenter as well, so he may be in the same bias-boat as me, but I’m curious what anyone else heard in terms of themes/not.

Forwarded from the AWF organizers
Speaker session presentations can be found at:

Workshop presentations can be found at:

And panel discussion presentations can be found at:

If a presentation is available for the presentation, the word Presentation will appear under the title.

I just thought that last bit merited repeating. Poetry!