I am currently attending the 2008 Participatory Design Conference.

When I got the email a few months ago through my school listserv, I thought it looked interesting.  And, since the worlds of HCI, and Participatory Design (PD) intersect nicely, and since usability is part of HCI, and since it was going to take place right here on the IU campus (which means no travel, lodging, or other extra expenses), and since I am a full-time student and could get a discounted rate, I figured I’d ask my boss to let me go on the department’s dime. She was awesome and said yes.

At the time I signed up, I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn about PD, since I’m not too familiar with it.  Plus, I enjoy attending conferences.

Now, that I’m in day 2, I realize just how incredibly lucky I am to be here!  This converence has been happening every 2 years for the last 20. This is the first time it’s been in the US.  It’s usually in Europe, though the last one was in Canada.

The wealth of papers that are scheduled to be presented are quite impressive.  There are so many good ones, it’s really hard for me to decide which sessions to attend.  I love, though, that I was given a book that contains all of the papers, so I can at least read the ones I’m not able to see presented.

Oh, and during the “Introduction to PD” session yesterday, I realized that I DO already know what it is and have in fact been studying and practicing it for the past year.  It’s just that the term “Participatory Design” isn’t what we’ve called it at the School of Informatics in my HCI courses.  Contextual Inquiry, Prototype Testing, User Testing…those are all PD.  Yesterday I walked in feeling like a total noob in the world of PD.  Today, well, I’m still a noobie, but at least I don’t feel like a total noob since I’ve got a year of study and 3 months of work at it under my belt.

Some general thoughts/observations about the conference:

  • I am in the minority in that I am an American.  The majority of the attendees are from Europe (Denmark, Germany, Sweeden, Italy…) Yesterday, I was in a session where I was one of only 3 Americans, and the only one from IU.  I really expected there to be many more IU folks, since it’s right here on campus.  (But, I now realize I’m very lucky in that I was able to arrange to miss classes and my work allowed me the time…and paid for it.  I’m sure cost and other commitments prevented many people from attending.)
  • The attendees sure do love their coffee!  I arrived about 15 minutes before the Keynote today, and all coffee was already gone.  During the first break, the first carafe of coffee was gone in less than 10 minutes. I usually have a cup or two at home in the morning and that’s it.  But, yesterday, I found myself drinking coffee all day long since it was available.  Of course, I had problems falling asleep last night!  So, today I didn’t have any before the Keynote (since it was gone LOL), but by the morning break, I was feeling sleepy, so I am having a cup now.  But, that’s all.  I’ll be switching to water for the rest of the day.
  • This is the first conference I’ve been to where they gave you travel coffee mugs and encouraged you to use them throughout the conference, instead of paper or plastic cups.  I think it’s a great, and simple idea to promote sustainability!  I just wish I saw more attendees using them instead of the paper and plastic cups.
  • You can definitely see the influence of the European background to this conference.  The coffee breaks are scheduled for 30 minutes; lunch is an hour and a half.  All of the other conferences I’ve attended just put coffee out in the hallway and you grabbed some during the 10 minutes you had between sessions, and lunch was 45 minutes.  Also, not one single session or talk or paper presentation I’ve been to yet has started on time.  I thought I was running late this morning when I walked into the auditorium at 9:02am for the Keynote that was to begin at 9:00.  But, I was only the third person who had arrived.  The first speaker actually walked in after me.  It’s no big deal.  Just interesting to me, as most other conferences I’ve attended were very strict and tight with their schedules.  (I do want to point out that even though they’ve allotted longer times than I’m used to for breaks and lunches, they are packing in A LOT of sessions, so content does not suffer.)
  • I guess this is the first “academic” conference I’ve been to.  All other conferences were corporate.  That could explain some of the differences, too.
  • As I said before, there are a lot of Europeans in attendance.  There was one person from Japan and one from China in one of the sessions I was in, but the majority are white.  I find that interesting because in the HCI/d program here at IU, there are a large number of Indian and Chinese and Korean students.  I was assuming the same would be true for here.  I enjoy when my assumptions are proven wrong.  Makes me think more! LOL
  • As usual, the lounge areas of the IMU is full of sleeping undergrads.  I find it rather amusing, but wonder if it makes other conference attendees think that American students just sleep all the time.  LOL

Ok, the first paper presentation is about to begin, so I’ll stop here.


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