Interaction12: Dublin’s Journey

The Interaction 12 conference took place in Dublin, Ireland in February 2012. This annual event is put on by the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) and is *the* conference for the global interaction design community.

Interaction 12 was a four day conference for the attendees, but for me, it was a journey that stretched for nearly two years, starting off as bidder and ending up as conference Co-Chair. For me, the story’s epilogue was the recent Dublin IxD12 Redux, which revived many forgotten moments I had from last February’s conference.

So, I couldn’t let 2012 finish without taking some time to reflect, to reminisce, and to… …what is the verb form for catharsis? So, with this blog post I will start to recount my journey for prosperity’s sake, and hopefully, to provide insight to would-be conference planners who would follow in my path.

Be Careful What You Wish For

The Interaction 12 experience will always be dream-like for me! When Dublin actually won the bid, to my absolute surprise and delight, my “what if” actualised into a “why not?” in front of my eyes, and the dream became a reality.

To think, that only a few months prior (on the 26th of February 2010 to be exact), conference chair Steve Baty had announced that Interaction 12 would be hosted in Europe. Two months later (on the 7th of April 2010) Steve officially opened the call for proposals for European cities to host Interaction 12. Somewhere inside me a little spark of inspiration ignited a deep felt belief I had: that Dublin was the perfect location to host this conference. This notion had emerged from a variety of thoughts.

In October 2008, I had started IxDA Dublin with Ben Arent, an experience which amongst other great things, spawned the “hottest” annual event at Dublin’s design week: Defuse: Design for Use. During this time, my main mission and role, as a Dublin local leader, was to promote and evangelise design, and especially Interaction Design to my peers in Ireland. I started to discover more and more Irish design organisations and realised I was surrounded by many vibrant and thriving design scenes in Dublin. As my awareness and passion for Irish Design grew, I started promoting Irish Design to a global audience at every opportunity. I even attempted to TT #IrishDesign and #DublinDesign. This evolution led me to think about the possibility of the Interaction Conference being hosted in to Dublin. The whole process started off in my head, as a wacky idea when I was literally walking down the road one day.

Then, in May 2010, a few weeks after the call for European cities to bid on Interaction 12 was announced, I was in Lisbon to present a talk at UX-LX. I remember meeting and being inspired by Bill DeRouchey, the co-chair of the (then) recently finished Interaction 10 |Savannah (looking back a somewhat random and coincidental encounter). I returned to Dublin with my mind made up – I had a new mission.

I thoroughly reviewed the bid requirements for the confernece which reaffirmed my idea that Dublin would be an ideal candidate to host IxD12. I saw Dublin’s potential as a global design hub. We have the brains, the talent and creativity is in our DNA. We have the multinationals like Google, Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, Yahoo, Linked In, Twitter etc. We have a very walkable city, with friendly, interactive folks – a truly natural social network. I could go on…

Dublin is not *known* for design. Dublin is like a pint of Guinness. We are renowned for our arts and cultural related offerings: Oscar Wilde, Ulysses, Vikings, Riverdance, U2 – these are the creamy head. But, if you dive beneath the surface, you will discover a vibrant and diverse design scene, that to its detriment, does not promote itself globally enough. I remember hearing Bill Xiao once say at a conference, the Irish ICT scene “is not hiding under the bushel, but burying itself in the sand.”

To win the IxD12 bid, I knew the biggest challenge would be finding a design college that would be willing to partner with the conference, which also had a strong interaction design program at undergraduate and graduate level. I spent the next month researching online and asking peers if they knew of design colleges in Dublin that met the requirements. I found several colleges in the Dublin region and throughout the country that had very strong programs. My cold calling of educational institutions began, but to my disappointment, most of the relevant contact folks in the appropriate design departments were on holidays, or sabbatical – it was the Summer, and school was out!

A friend from IxDA Dublin, Celine O’Neill emailed me, stating that IADT was an ideal candidate for a partner design college. I contacted the official at the institution shortly after. I recieved a response immediately:

“Thank you for your message. I am currently away from the office until Wednesday 1st September”.

I had reached the end of the line. The Dublin bid was not meant to be. I gave up on my quest, and carried on with my Summer.

A week later, out of the blue, I received a call from Bernard Mullarkey, Secretary and Financial Controller at IADT. He informed me of their interest in being a partner for the Interaction Conference. He believed IADT were suitable candidates because of their curriculum, vision and overall direction.

Two days later Bernard informed me that he had enlisted the support of The Dublin Convention Bureau, (part of Failte Ireland, the government body responsible for promoting Ireland). A meeting was set up for Thursday the 8th of July between Bernard, the Dublin Convention Bureau committee and myself to begin work on the proposal.

With IADT and DCB involved, I felt that we had a good chance of submitting a strong proposal. We divided up the requirements: IADT worked on the co-host parts, DCB on the Dublin tourism and venue related parts and me on the Dublin Design scene parts.

I requested endorsements from my Irish Interaction Design peers, asking them to state why Dublin would be an ideal location for the conference. I started researching Dublin and Ireland’s Design history and culture. It was through this endeavor I met some fellow Dublin Design evangelists, who had been fighting the good Irish Design promotion fight, long before I ever had:

It truly takes a village. With the help of IADT, the DCB, my Dublin designer peers and Ben Arent, IxDA Dublin put together a wonderful document.

We submitted our proposal the day before the deadline. Our bid was unexpected, our stealth tactics added surprise to the quality of the content of the bid document. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

Within weeks, Dublin was announced as the location for Interaction 12. We had done it!

Be careful what you wish for, it might actually happen, and often does.

Next Time: Well Done! Now, can you help us plan and run the event?

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