Q: What do broken pavements, skangers and Nordic Walking Poles all have in common?

A: These items all featured heavily in the DEFUSE (Design for Use) night hosted by the IxDA as part of Design Week.

An example of the wide spectrum of design thinking in Ireland today and one of the highlights of this year’s Design Week, was most definitely the DEFUSE Ignite Talks presented by the IxDA (Interaction Design Association). Held on Tuesday November 3rd in Dublin’s Sugar Club – seemingly the design community’s venue of choice for these pecha kucha style talks, the DEFUSE evening aimed to ignite (forgive the pun) discussion amongst the design community regarding design and usability.

The night played host to no less than 13 speakers, each with 20 slides displayed for no more than 15 seconds, a format which is intended to encourage those in the waffly design community to get straight to the point and avoid losing the focus of the Bombay Sapphire afflicted crowd.

The range of disciplines and subject matter covered on the night was extremely varied, with a smattering of the pure industrial design usability (noticeably from Simon Dennehy and his ergonomic seating solution for school children and Fiachra Ó Marcaigh and his rant on Dublin’s user-unfriendly streetscapes) that was to be expected of a Design for Use evening, as well as some unanticipated perspectives on the topic.

Particularly interesting were some of the talks that delved into some of the more conceptual ideas of how design and users interact. Darragh Byrne’s ever-present “Sense Cam” records every aspect of the user’s day-to-day life, prompting questions on how technology’s all-seeing eye can invade/enrich our lives.

Deneva Goins‘ discussion centred around the phenomenon of how we interact with the internet – she asks what kind of personalities might different websites have (bringing this Cracked.com video to mind…), and suggests that if strangers spoke to us the way internet marketing campaigns do then they would probably end up with a black eye – an interesting concept considering how blase most internet users are about the relative lack of taboos and real-world-essential social niceties online. Interesting that something which would actively discourage interaction in the real world, seems to thrive in a virtual environment!

Bringing up the rear are the speakers who dealt with design movements for accessibility (such as Donal Rice from the CEUD) and conversely, on how to make good design ideas accessible to all through better funding and design development schemes (see Steve Gotz’s brainchild Alt|Start). And finally of note, was an emphatic appeal from the Intel Digital Health team member and anthropologist Simon Roberts, to stop designing pointless stuff and instead to design ways to enable, support and enrich activities that already exist, both citing Nordic Walking Poles as an example of this and lampooning their existence at the same time.

Broken pavements, scangers and nordic walking poles

All of these things are of innate interest to Irish designers.

Although these events can sometimes have a tendency of declining into “aren’t we creative types great” affairs, this particular evening did actively encourage audience participation (by bribing us with free booze) in a quick design challenge, stimulating conversation and debate on the things that really matter when it comes to usable design. Ironically enough, the prizes were the things most likely to hinder usability: a bottle of gin and a copy of Windows 7….

More information on Design Week events.