The story behind our Interaction 21 program

Manon Gruaz
5 min readMay 11, 2021


Typographic illustration on a neon green background. The title is The story behind our Interaction 21 program written in fluorescent pink. To the title, a memo emoji is added in the right corner of the image. Below the title is added 10 emojis representing people.
Typographic illustration @manongruaz

When building an online conference, it’s easy to think that the content of the talks is what matters most. But that’s not really true. Above all, a story needs to be crafted. A story with a rhythm, a sequence of topics, and a suite of emotions for the audience to experience. Yes, even online.

We crafted the program around 3 emotional pillars: Anger, Accountability and Action.

I want to break these down and share the thinking behind the emotional narrative that will drive Interaction 21.

Day 1: Anger

Let’s explore why we first chose to make you feel Angry. Our intention with the first day is to burst your bubble. We decided to do this by doing the opposite of the band-aid method, if you know what I mean. It will be painful (sometimes), but not quick.

Are you afraid? Great. Because you should be. For several years, design conferences were always optimistic, full of hope, and promoted an everything-is-fine attitude. This year we’re visiting the flip side of that. Even without COVID-19, shit is hitting the fan for too many of us. Now, we can’t look away anymore.

We need to call out how dark things have become.

You will disagree with some speakers. Some talks will put you in an uncomfortable mindspace. You will feel anxious, overwhelmed, lied to, betrayed and even angry at the conference. (Why are 3 white men presenting in a row? ARGHH)

Sometimes you will think the system is rigged. It’s them, not me. I am one of “the good ones.”

Spoiler alert: We are all part of this. We, as designers, citizens, humans, are accountable for this.

Topics for Anger include racism, misogyny, harassment, burn out, climate change, and misinformation.

Our intention with the first day is to burst your bubble.

Day 2: Accountability

After the first day, your reflex might be to crawl under your weighted blanket or scream at the top of your lungs. We won’t blame you, but we also won’t stop.

We contributed heavily to this mess.

Our intention behind the second day is to accept where we are. We need to ask ourselves not whether we contributed to this, but how we contributed to this.

In our day to day practice, we talk about easy, delightful, faster interactions. But do we ever stop and think about how seamless interactions drive inequality? About how we impact lives that are not ours? We are so certain we are designing everything from a place of empathy, but are we really?

Spoiler alert: If you want to stay in denial, that’s up to you. But you will be left behind.

We need to listen, we need to surrender, we need to accept. Accept where we are to be able to move forward.

Topics around Accountability include truth, indigenous people, homophobia in the industry, journalism, trust, therapy, and racism in Canada.

Our intention behind the second day is to accept where we are.

Day 3: Action

After the first two days, you might feel exhausted or torn by mixed emotions like grief, shame, sadness, fear, anxiety or anger.

When you begin this third day, you have to remember something; we’ve designed these days with love. Tough love, but love nonetheless.

We didn’t do it this way because we had no choice. Quite the contrary. We made the decision to focus on what it takes not solely to survive, but to thrive as a community.

Resilience lies deep inside the human spirit. The ability to suffer, to persevere and ultimately succeed comes from within. Resilience is a hard choice that demands, above all else, action.

Our intention for the third day is to leave you with new, actionable ideas and yes…. HOPE.

There are great opportunities to be found in adversity. And that begins with each one of us.

Global challenges require us to make meaningful sacrifices, both individually and collaboratively, right now. It’s time to let our ego system die and act together to build an eco-system.

Spoiler alert: now you actually have to DO something about it.

Topics about Action include sexism in the games industry, porn, justice, terms and conditions, privilege, unemployment, protopia, utopia, resilience, and progress.

Our intention for the third day is to leave you with new actionable ideas and yes…. HOPE.

It takes a community to craft a program 💖

All of this wouldn’t be possible without A LOT OF PEOPLE. Crafting this program was colossal and took a whole team more than six months of hard work. I want to send out some love, because they all deserve it.

I would like to thank Brenda Sanderson, Brenda Laurel, Elaine Matthias, Alexis Morin et Gilles Demarty for their trust, support and experience. They gave me the strength, confidence and energy to lead this program when it was my very first.

I would like to thank Sami Niemelä for his support and laser-sharp questions. He helped us have the best time during our all-weekender on Zoom.

I would also like to thank the extended program team: Emily Keller, Lisa Ma, Jessica Greco, Nicole Tanska, Eric Oosenbrug and the best liaison Jude Baril-Bédard for their hard work, for laughing at my bad jokes and for always making me feel safe.

I also want to thank all the reviewers who examined 378 submissions in only two weeks: Ike Saunders, Cassini Nazir, Shweta Shidhore, Jocelyne Dittmer, Grace Abuhamad, Angelos Arnis, Birgit Geiberger, Faten Habachi, Thomas Fogarasy, Brian Hochhalter, Jessica Greco, Stephanie Aaron, Jeni Bulcock, Francisco Hui, Peter Boersma, Eric Oosenbrug, Lisa Ma, Leo Chen, Jude Baril-Bédard, Daniela Busse, Gilles Demarty, and Poppe Guthrie.

Their boundless love of the community, their commitment and their tireless work is inspiring.

Finally, I would like to thank you, the future attendee. I hope Interaction 21 will wake us up, connect us and make us act together. I believe this unusual conference can foster real human moments, even online. All these moments of anger, grief, love and hope will make us more truly compassionate towards one another and make this world a place where everyone belongs.



Manon Gruaz

Are you passionate about Compassion by Design? Affective Computing? Resilience? Benevolent Innovation? Welcome, Home. Let’s be joyful rebels together