IxDA Board Retreat – August 2009

Steve Baty

Hello IxDA,

The Board of Directors of the IxDA met recently – over the weekend of August 14-16 – to discuss the progress the organization is making towards its mission to advance the discipline of interaction design. We’d like to share with you some of our discussions and decisions from that weekend.

The Organization

The role of the Board of Directors for the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) is multifaceted. We are charged with overseeing the work of furthering the mission & vision of the organization, which is to advance the practice of interaction design.

We pursue our mission through the IxDA community, which is founded on the principles of open participation, inclusiveness, and volunteer-led programs and initiatives. This community can only thrive if we support it with:

  • a sustainable infrastructure, operations & support; which in turn enables IxDA to
  • catalyze community, focused on the theory and practice of interaction design; and to
  • grow awareness of interaction design in the broader design and business communities.

The Retreat

The annual retreat provides the opportunity for the Board of Directors to gather together from around the world. We spent two full days discussing the challenges ahead; reflecting on the effectiveness of our past efforts; re-evaluating the mission, vision, strategy & priorities of the organization; and planning for the coming period.

This year’s retreat was held in San Francisco — a city with a strong IxD community (the IxDA SF local group lists around 900 members) and a convenient destination for the international members of the Board. The retreat was held at the San Francisco office of Cooper, who generously donated the use of their space to the Board for the weekend. We would like to thank them for their gracious gift and generous hospitality.

During the weekend we dedicated sessions to:

  • an around-the-table of what a sustainable organization looks like and the main challenges we see ahead
  • the progress and status of the Conan project (IxDA’s new website platform)
  • a discussion on local groups, including a report from community lead Tonia M. Bartz
  • a meeting with the local community to discuss general issues, organized by IxDA SF leaders
  • roles and responsibilities of the board, volunteers and the potential need for paid staff support
  • tactical means of achieving organizational strategies
  • objectives, responsibilities and deadlines

The Themes

Over the course of the weekend some clear themes emerged, which helped guide and shape our decisions.

The first is that, right across the world, interaction design is experiencing an explosion of interest, activity and exposure. This is occurring at an academic level with new graduate programs in interaction design being formed, and with demand from the academic community for appropriate publication channels. It is also apparent from the growth in the number of design practitioners identifying themselves as interaction designers, or articulating an interest in interaction design practice. The IxDA LinkedIn group now lists over 13,000 members and continues to grow steadily. The number, size and vibrancy of the IxDA global community of local groups – now over 80 groups worldwide – is further testament to the passion and energy amongst the community around interaction design.

The second theme is that members of the Board feel a great deal of pressure balancing the day-to-day requirements of their roles with the pressures of work, family and other responsibilities. Presently, the Board is often tasked with more tactical work and is less able to be more strategic and visionary in approach. As the organization grows in size and scope and the importance of interaction design grows with it, we need tolook at ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Board through the use of paid assistance in the form of virtual accounting, legal & administration staff.

A third theme was ‘money complicates everything’. We recognise the need for the organization to be placed on a more stable financial footing, which is more predictable and — as a result — better able to be planned against. And yet IxDA was founded on principles of open access and participation which would seem to preclude a paid membership model. We are dedicated to having no barrier to entry to the core value IxDA provides, but at the same time can see opportunities for paid services and access to discounts and offers from partners that would not be made freely available.

Of course, the Interaction conference played an important part in our discussions. The annual IxDA conference — with Interaction’10 to be held in Savannah, Georgia, USA from Feb 4-7, 2010 — provides the opportunity for those interested in interaction design to come together to talk, laugh and learn from each other. The conference is critical to the ongoing success of the organization and furthering of our mission.

Lastly, we recognized that the work of volunteers needs to be better structured and rewarded so that the community can be made aware of these contributions and can show its appreciation for the work of volunteers across the organization. We continue to observe amazing work being done at a local level — consider the formation of more than 60 local groups in the past year alone — as well as working directly with volunteers at a global level for conference organisation, Conan, mentoring, education, communication, and outreach programs.

The Strategies

We also identified five areas of focus for the Board over the coming six months, which, taken together, directly support and reach closer towards our collective mission. These are:

  • To deliver the Conan website project smoothly and effectively, including the transition over from the current platform
  • To investigate options for introducing virtual administrative support to the Board so that more time can be spent on directing the large-scale programs, initiatives and strategy of IxDA and the IxD community
  • To identify and investigate options for introducing a tiered model of membership whereby a contribution of money, or time through volunteer programs, could be rewarded in some way
  • To expand the level of support and “official” guidance provided to local groups around the world so that they can more readily form, grow, and conduct local events
  • To continue to grow the mentoring program; the education initiative and accompanying outreach to colleges and universities around the world; pursue partnerships with Mozilla Labs & Johnny Holland to conduct design challenges that span engineering and design disciplines; and generally provide platforms for collaboration (beyond Conan) to connect isolated pockets of interaction design interest

In addition, the Board and organizers of IxD10 will direct some efforts towards reaching out beyond the existing IxDA community to attract design and UX practitioners who do not immediately identify themselves as interaction designers to the conference.

These areas of strategic focus represent just the beginning of our ongoing efforts. We see IxDA operating at a tipping point, representing a juncture with tremendous potential for the growth of interaction design and the IxD community to help make the world a better place. To meet the pressing and future needs of our community, IxDA must grow as well — by being smarter, more efficient and doing more with less — and by matching the energy, passion and talent of the interaction design community with the same level of passion and energy from the IxDA Board.

The next Board meeting will be held (via conference call) in a few weeks’ time in early September. At that time we’ll be able to update you on some of the items above, and begin to layer more detail onto these initiatives.


Steve Baty

Note:  Travel expenses were paid with IxDA operational funds. coming out of the conference.  All funds raised during the recent fundraiser are marked specifically for the Conan infrastructure project and were not utilized for this retreat.

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