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Interactionary 2000 - The Hague (CHI 2000)

By Scott Berkun, May 2001

In an attempt to create a fun way to teach interaction design, I came up with the concept of Interactionary. The idea is to use the exposition and competitive aspects of sports in combination with the field of web and interaction design, to create formats and events that are both educational and fun to watch.

The first incarnation took place at CHI 2000. I worked with three designers and usability engineers from Microsoft to define the details and make it happen: Chris Konrad, Debbie Cargile, and Sarah Zuberec. The four of us took this idea and worked it into something that could be done in 90 minutes, under the guise of a panel format at CHI. Kudos to Jean Shultz and David Gilmore, and all the CHI folks that trusted us to put this together.

This page describes the event, and gives some information about how we put it together. We did a reprise of the Interactionary format at CHI 2001 .

Interactionary 2000

Interactionary is a game show type format that allowed 4 teams to work on the same design problem, live on stage. Each team worked one at a time, and were given ten minutes to work through the problem. The goal is to expose the dynamic intangibles of design in progress, and allow an audience to listen in on Team Malmo works on their design four teams and observing how they work. The challenge was two fold: To make the session fun without being silly, to provide value, without. Waiting teams were placed in a separator sound proof room to eliminate any order advantage.

Bruce Tognazzini, Steve Rodgers, and Susan Dray were our expert panelists, and they provided commentary and judging for the event. The panelists were on stage, across from the whiteboards that the teams used when competiting. The four teams were from Sapient, IBM, Razorfish, and the University of Malmö. Every team member wore a live microphone, an the audience and the panelists were able to hear their conversations, and view their work as they did it.

The education value of the experience was in allowing the audience to watch four different teams of designers approaching the same problem. Viewers could compare and contrast the different techniques and approaches used as they watched different teams. The hope was that we could capture some of the intangibles of brainstorming and designing that are difficult to capture in conference papers and proceedings. Even though this was sport, and not engineering, we felt this simulated enough of the dynamics to be worthwhile.

Scoring and Judging

We used a system of three categories for scoring: teamwork, process, and final design. Each category was worth ten points, and each panelist scored every team. Teamwork consideredKonrad talks with the judges how well the team worked together, and how they organized their time and approach. Process considered the "methodology" they used for evaluating the problem, using the whiteboards, and evaluating design alternatives. The final design considered the usability, feasibility and quality for their final solution.

After each team was announced, and was ready on stage, we read the problem out loud to them and the audience. Then we started the clock, and gave the team two warnings, at five minutes and one minute left. We recommended that teams use their last minute to describe to the judges their final design idea.

The Problem

We created a pool of potential design problems to use, pulling from a wide set of different kinds of interaction design (web, software, architecture, industrial design, etc.). Many problems came from interview questions that I use when interviewing designers or UI project managers (it's something of a hobby for me to invent design problems). The challenge was to find problems that were broad enough that they did not require much explanation, while simultaneously being challenging and tractable in only ten minutes. Here is the problem used at CHI 2000:

You are to design an airport food vending machine for the year 2005. The machine will dispense a variety of prepackaged food items including candy bars, potato chips, as well as three freshly brewed hot beverages (tea, hot chocolate, and hot coffee) that are created on demand. The specific problem you need to solve is how users purchase and select the item(s) they want to buy.

The action

TeamThe problem with Interactionary is that it's impossible to document the essence of what took place - this is precisely why we wanted to do it in the first place. Each team took wildly different approaches to both organizing their time and approaching the problem. Some teams such as IBM  and Sapient, used the first  5 minutes to divide up certain tasks, such as doing a needs analysis or developing potential approaches to the problem. Other teams such as Razorfish used a group approach, appointing one person to run the whiteboard, while the others discussed and communicated ideas. The University of Malmö divided the whiteboard space into predefined sections, which helped them to organize their time and communicate their final ideas.

Some teams took advantage of the CHI audience, and solicited commentary and informal survey information about how vending machines were used.

The results everyone on stage

The final results were tabulated live on stage, while our M.C. Chris Konrad entertained the audience. We initially reported the wrong scores, due to human error in the tablulation process (First rule of working with Scott: when in doubt, blame Scott). The final results are listed below:

1. Sapient
2. IBM 
3. University of Malmö
4. Razorfish


The teams, players and judges

This event required great courage from all of these folks. They all approached this with a professionalism and sense of humor that made it really fun to put together. My thanks go to them.


IBM (aka "Big blue brothers")

University of Malmo


*Isabel Ancona
David Zienowitz
Alder Yarrow
John Payne

Pat Cox
John Karat
*Alex Little
Jack Scanlon

*Zayera Khan
Isa Hardeuro
Petter Karlsson
Edison Gomez Lattes

Elizabeth Hare
Vincent Santo
Karin Dauch
Amy Bassin
*Neil Wehrle

* denotes team captains


Bruce Tognazzini , Nielsen-Norman Consulting
Susan Dray , Dray Associates
Steve Rodgers, Razorfish (Phillips design at time of interactionary)

After hours voting

We handed out questionaires to the 500+ CHI attendies in the auditorium to collect feedback on the event. We also took the opportunity to give the audience a chance to do their own scoring of the teams to see how closely it would match our panelists. As it turns out, audience scores were comprable to the judges. Here are the averages from the audience scores.

Audience Scoring:

Sapient :  27.6
IBM :  23.8
Razorfish: 21.54
University of Malmo: 21.51


Almost 300 audience questionaires were filled out and returned to us after the event at CHI 2000. All questions were based on a 7 point likert scales, 7 being the most positive response.


Average Response (1-7)

Was the time limit per team the right amount of time to witness design work without getting bored?


Was watching other designers work in this format educational or informative?


Was this entertaining or enjoyable to watch?


Was this a good use of your time?



More information

We have more pictures from the CHI 2000 event. Some are large, and the descriptions are sparse. View at your own risk. Thanks to Douglas Pyle for all of these photos. 

We performed a second interactionary event at CHI 2001. Different teams, different judges. Modified format. Trumpets included.

I'm planning on writing a paper about the techniques used by the different teams in Interactionary, including some recommendations for how to do well at this sort of thing. The techniques are useful for brainstorming or design review meetings.  Check back on uiweb.com if you're interested or write in.

As long as we find venues for doing these sorts of events, we'll continue to do them, and I'll continue to post reports on them here. If you have an idea for me, or want us to put this on somewhere, send me mail.

Have a question for Scott? Comment on this issue? write in.

Check out the previous issues in the column archive.


© Copyright 1999-2001, Scott Berkun < Contact scott>. All Rights Reserved.