Event Review: This Happened… Utrecht #7

October 5, 2010

in Event Review

Logo of This Happened...

The 7th edition of This Happened… Utrecht (web, twitter, hashtag: #thutc, videos, photos) took place on October 4 2010 at the Theater Kikker in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The event was organized by Alexander Zeh, Kars Alfrink and Ianus Keller. The Utrecht edition is a satellite of the event founded in 2007 in London by Chris O’Shea, Joel Gethin Lewis and Andreas Müller.

This Happened is made for interaction designers coming from different backgrounds with the goal of defining what interaction design is, not by giving a straightforward answer but by showing the whole field that is out there, showing how did real hands-on projects/products happen(ed).

According to the organizers, at typical events on interaction design, the speakers talk about the end result/product. To make a difference, they work hard to have speakers presenting the dirty details of the “making of” a project and not so much about the final outcome. They try to make the audience aware about the end results before coming to the event so the speakers can concentrate on the process, from initial sketches to the final presult. According to Kars, “it’s kind of a DVD-extra for an interaction design project”.

This happened is a series of events focusing on the stories behind interaction design. Having ideas is easier than making them happen. We delve into projects that exist today, how their concepts and production process can help inform future work”

Interaction design companies are often too closed off to the outside. We want to encourage people to be more open in their methods and ideas. We aim to have a mix of established practitioners, commercial companies and students. We want to encourage the perspectives from the other side of the fence, so will also be inviting curators and commissioners of work to give presentations” (source: thishappened.org).

The format provides each of the four speakers with 10 minutes to present followed by a 10 minute Q&A session with the audience. An interesting tip for conference organizers is that to ensure a good time-keeping, the countdown clock was placed on the stage on a certain way that both the speaker and the audience could see the remaining time (see photo), thus generating social pressure on the presenter to respect his slot. The 10 minute presentations seemed a bit tight, maybe because none of the speakers actually rehearsed enough the delivery of their content in such a time frame.

Alex, Kars and Ianus talk about This Happened, the format, goals and biggest challenge:

I was invited by of one of the organizers and was attracted mainly by the positive word-of-mouth that circulates around the conference, a sort of you-don’t-want-to-miss-this-occasion aura. The experience was very rewarding, with a fresh and enthusiastic feeling and good interaction between those on stage and the rest of the room. The fact that the whole event lasts around two hours and fifteen minutes (with a short intermediate break) makes it a perfect after-work gathering.


Theater Kikker is located in the center of Utrecht, just a short walk from the train station. The main room acted as the core of This Happened while the inner bar was the meeting and networking point. The rows of seats in the room had a very steep vertical layout, which guaranteed a clear view of the stage. The stage, broad and uncluttered, had a very minimalistic setup made of a lectern in the center, the countdown clock on the left and a small table to the right for water, glasses and an extra microphone for the moderator.

The stage of This Happened


The event attracted about 120 people, mostly in their 30s, with a male-female ration of 70-30. The atmosphere was informal and professional. From those I met, it was clear that most of them were involved in interaction design in one way or the other.

The organizing tam says that the biggest challenge is having the right mix of people in the room, keeping them engaged but at the same time avoiding having a clique. With speakers it’s easier because they have direct on who they are, while the attendees sign-up for free (though last time the places sold out in 8 minutes or so) and there’s no particular filtering attached to the registration process.

The audience of This Happened Utrecht #7 (photo by Kaeru on flickr)


The evening was moderated by the three organizers, taking turns to  introduce each one of the speakers and manage the Q&A session with the audience (the moderator was responsible for giving the microphone to those that requested it).

The first speaker, Richard Boeser -an industrial designer turned into game design- made a passionate presentation about the origin and now production phase of the videogame Ibb and Obb. The game requires the collaboration of both players to move forward with the characteristic that the screen is split into two dimensions in which the force of gravity behaves in an inverted way respect to each other. His speech felt warm, approachable and a bit naive too, as he shared how he got the main idea (“it came after a lot of experimentation”), the delays and wrong decisions and the overall process. Richard explained how for him “most inspiration comes out of trying things, not by planning on paper” and how he postponed the commercial licensing because he wanted to keep full intellectual property, a difficult thing in this industry: “I really like game design but I’m not sure I’d do so much if someone [a company] was limiting my creative freedom”.

Richard Boeser presenting Ibb and Obb

Ronald Rietveld presented Vacant NL, an exhibition made at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010 to make a statement about the potential of the big amount of unoccupied buildings that could be repurposed to contribute to the ambition of the Dutch government of becoming one of the top five international players in the creative knowledge economy. The installation represented 4,326 vacant buildings, from the 17th to the 21st century and was complemented by the production of the Dutch Atlas of Vacancy, including more than 10,000 buildings available around the Netherlands.

A view of Vacant NL at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

The third presentation was by Anne Nigten about the city game Go for it! and was the one that less resonated with me, IMHO because the speaker didn’t plan appropriately the usage of the little time available. The two insights I took from it were that “making and playing are crucial elements to engage with our target audience” and the contrast between the concepts of playing vs gaming, something Dan Hon pointed out too during his presentation last week at TEDxTransmedia.

Q&A between Anne Nigten and the audience

Last was Edwin van der Heide with Radioscape, “an immersive environment that redefines the radio medium, establishing a new bodily relationship to the medium and adding a new layer to a region of a city”. Edwin described, sometimes with too much technical detail, how he created a parallel world made of sounds where you could navigate and mix the composition of the emissions of the transmitters by walking around a physical space. Even though the project had an artistic scope, the audience was curious oabout the possible commercial derivatives of it.

Edwin van der Heide (photo by Kaeru on flickr)

The "badge" of This Happened Utrecht #7

The countdown timer is visible both to the speaker and the audience

Cool Sketchnotes of the event by Erik van der Pluijm (click for link to original article)

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