I’ve just spent the week in Limerick, in Ireland, at the European conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. It’s quite an intimate event, with just a few hundred attendees and one track (so everyone listens to every piece of work that is presented rather then having to select from parallel tracks and miss anything).
As a designer I feel a little like a fish out of water in these situations. The conference is REALLY for social scientists, primarily psychologists, anthropologists, ethnographers and other observers of human behavior. Many of the attendees have been steeped in the subtlety of their “art”, of ways of thinking of and describing the way people behave, for 20 or 30 years. As such I can’t really, on my first go, recognize the nuances of many of the presentations. I can’t see the layers of work that have gone before that have been built upon. And as a former product development guy, and employee of a corporation for 12 years now, I can’t really participate in the pub discussions about tenure, publishing, and the now ancient wars between different divisions within the disciplines.
Regardless, I don’t consider the visit to have been a waste of time. It helps give me some context for the history of the people I work with, and does help feed ideas I might have about the way that I work, and the way in which I fit into my team.
Besides which I think I managed to add a small amount of value as a design “practitioner” in my role as one the panel members for the Doctoral Colloquium. I also managed to demo BubbleBoard to a bunch of people.
The highlight for me was the closing keynote by Prof. Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. He’s an Irish pianist of high renown, and Professor of Music at the University of Limerick, as well as the Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. His talk was tenuously connected to the conference’s themes in that he discussed the interplay between musicians in a traditional Irish Session in a way that might be appropriate to the audience. Really, though, it was very absorbing and philosophical discussion about the nature of different forms of music, and their role in getting you into the zone. Very inspiring.