I was lucky enough to travel to Nottingham last week for the return of New Adventures.
New Adventures holds a very special place in my heart. Along with dConstruct it exposed me to a community of practitioners who cared as much as I did about the possibilities of the web, and through both, I met people who are friends to this day.
So I was hugely excited when I found out that New Adventures was coming back. So much so, I asked my new boss for the time off, while I was on holiday in Berlin, before I’d even started my new gig (thanks John!).
Digital experiences are forming in new ways, requiring us to think smarter, be more efficient and collaborative. In the face of uncertainty, we must ask tough questions about labour and ethics, education and inclusivity, and rediscover ambition through weirdness and fun. Let's reconvene, recalibrate, and re-energise digital design.
Entering the Albert Hall on Thursday morning brought back a flood of memories. The gorgeous setting (it really is a stunning room), seeing familiar faces milling around, the excellent coffee. Sense memory is a powerful thing. So much so I found myself drawn to the same seat I occupied back during the original run (I know, I’m odd).
I won’t recap every talk as they were videoed, and the recordings will be released in the future, but I did want to share some of my highlights.
Jeremy Keith opened the day with yet another excellent talk, putting the architecture of the Web, the materials we work with, into the wider context of time and rates of change. Pace layers. Showing that if we work with the different layers, our creations are by their very nature more resilient.
This is something I’ve always believed and practised, but Jeremy’s ability to clearly articulate the reasoning why always gives me new ways of talking to others. And as usual, my reading list has grown because of his talk.
Clare Sutcliffe talked about her journey of becoming an overnight CEO for Code Club, going from its inception to eventual merger with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Clare also talked more personally about what New Adventures meant to her, and how she met her husband there.
I loved Jessica White’s talk on creating multi-disciplined teams by understanding the strengths and weaknesses in ourselves and others, and what we all have to bring to the conversation. Her request to create tiny bits of rebellion wherever we go is still scratching away in the back of my head.
Both Ashley Baxter and Brendan Dawes made me realise that I was spreading myself too thin and as a consequence I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. Time to cut back on some personal projects, and focus on others.
Helen Joy encouraged us to show compassion in our work. Through a series of examples from her own user research she demonstrated that empathy and understanding of social exclusion and situational disability is as important as permanent disabilities. A staggering statistic that I hadn’t heard before is that 11.3m adults in the UK are below point 5 of the Gov.Uk Digital Inclusion Scale. Basic digital skills, at point 7, is the minimum capability that people need to have in order to use the internet effectively.
She also drew attention to The Copenhagen letter. A Hippocratic oath for builders of technology:
To everyone who shapes technology today
We live in a world where technology is consuming society, ethics, and our core existence.
It is time to take responsibility for the world we are creating. Time to put humans before business. Time to replace the empty rhetoric of “building a better world” with a commitment to real action. It is time to organize, and to hold each other accountable.
Ethan Marcotte wrapped up the day talking about the inherent power in design, power that is increasingly being wielded by companies and governments who do not have our best interests at heart. Touching on Robert Moses’ racist architecture and examples of the freedoms promised but never delivered by technology of the past, it was a sobering look at the state of our industry today.
But, Ethan continued, there is hope, in us. There are challenges for sure, but together we can effect a change. It’s time for us to step up and take responsibility. I have no doubt this will go down as one of the most important talks I’ll see in my career.
Helen's excellent round up of the day beautifully articulates the feelings that I took away from Nottingham, and that continue to resonate with me.
It seems we have finally started looking outwards: identifying our responsibility and the associated consequences of our actions. We’re pushing past our early egocentric selves and are moving towards maturity. We’re still making our way along this path, learning from each other as we continue to grow. Ethan, rightly, encouraged us to approach this with hope. The talks at New Adventures showed a significant shift in our thinking and from the feedback, this year’s themes seem to have struck a chord.
My hope is that we see New Adventures return next year so we can see what direction these messages have taken us in. The call to action from the opening of the conference was “Now is the time.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s up to us to shape and build our industry, to help it develop and to make the web a better place. Let’s get to it!
I am so happy that New Adventures decided to come back now. It couldn’t be more timely.
This is a longer post, longer than I anticipated, so the tl;dr version is:
- dConstruct 2010 was great
- The talks are available on the conference podcast page
- Commentary and reaction can be found on twitter
- Photos are on Flickr
On with my ramble.
It’s taken me a while to get around to writing up these notes. In the past I’ve just thrown up the bullet points and then left it that, but this time I wanted to let things percolate for a while.
A nightmare train journey down from Oxford meant that I didn’t get into Brighton until gone 10pm and had to skip the pre-party, so for the first time in four years I didn’t have a hangover going into the opening talk of the day, The Designful Company by Marty Neumeier.
Marty is the author of The Brand Gap (a book that it turns out is rated very highly by people I admire) and talked about the process of design, innovation, and what it means for your brand. When talking about competition he highlighted that most competition doesn’t come from other companies per se, but from the clutter that surrounds us every day. Whether that clutter be advertising, products or brand choice, you have to differentiate yourself through design.
Next up was Brendan Dawes with Boil, Simmer, Reduce. This is the cooking metaphor for the process he goes through when creating (although as he admitted himself he’s not the best in the kitchen). The boil is your chance to collect things. Ideas and objects that will inspire. After the boil comes the simmer, let things stew for a while, look out for connections. Then the reduction starts, where you hone in on a solution.
This is the point where you start to throw out the superfluous and your solution takes shape. Although don’t be too quick to throw things away. An example of this being the elastic scrolling in Apple’s iOS. It serves no real purpose apart from delighting the user (cf: the Dopplr guys talk at dContruct 2008), but like Brendan, I have spent far too much time playing around with it and it never fails to elicit a smile.
He left us with an encouraging truth. We, here, now, with the technology and tools available to us, are in the unique position of being able to make anything we want.
Luckily I’m way behind on TED videos as David McCandless announced that a version of the talk he was about to give, Information is Beautiful, had been posted on the TED site a few days before. Not having any real graphical chops myself I was fascinated by the thinking that goes into visualisations, and why a good visualisation can be so powerful.
They connect visual relationships, that our eyes find beautiful, to conceptual relationships, which our brains find interesting. Data is a creative medium, and in a connected world unconnected numbers make no sense. Visualisation can help us see patterns that connect the data.
Before the lunch break came Samantha Warren on The Power & Beauty of Typography. This was a call to arms to embrace 2010 as the year of typography on the web and get away from the standard set of web fonts through the use of technologies such as FontDeck and TypeKit. I have to admit that Samantha’s talk didn’t really help me with my biggest typography problem, which is that I have no real understanding of why certain fonts work or don’t work together. I get that a good use of typography can add emotion and personality to a site, but I’m always wary of going too far and making a complete hash of it.
Still, it’s encouraged me to do some more reading about the subject, so if anyone has some useful links then please drop them in the comments.
After lunch it was John Gruber’s first talk in the U.K. with his Auteur Theory of Design. A sober thesis on creative endeavour and the tendency for those involved to trend towards the level of taste of the decision maker.
In other words: “Benevolent dictatorship is more effective than democratic consent”. From my experience the same thinking applies to community management
Unsurprisingly, given his well known love of Stanley Kubrick he used this quote to illustrate his point:
One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony It is essential for one man to make a film.
All in all a very thought provoking, meditative talk that was perfect to ease us into what was to follow.
Drawing the threads together between musical improvisation and creativity she went on explain that for improvisation to work effectively there needs to be a foundation:
- Structure & framework
- Communication & expression
- Exchange of ideas
Once you have this foundation in place you can explore and improvise in the space they create.
She also drew an analogy between musical improvisation and the spontaneous call and response nature of the real-time web, but I’m going to need to go back a listen to the talk again to fully get my head round this idea.
I’m also going to have to seriously hit the guitar practise again.
I’m not sure where to begin with James Bridle’s The Value Of Ruins. I really think in a few years time it’s going to be classed as one of those “oh man, you had to be there” talks.
Starting off with an introduction that left us all wondering what terrible fate had befallen the vanished place that James came from (hint: Yahoo!) he then delved into a fascinating exploration of historiography, cultural preservation and the web.
Did you know that the Wayback Machine is contained within one of Sun’s portable datacentres? You could steal it with a truck if you were a nefarious sort. Which would be the 21st Century equivalent of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.
What about the game of Wikiracing? Start with two random Wikipedia articles and try to get between them in the shortest number of links (no editing and no diving into the article history). It’s using cultural knowledge as game-space.
(there’s an iOS app which will completely suck any spare time you have)
James explained that this deluge of information we seem to be suffering from has always been there, but now we have the tools to explore and understand it. To illustrate this he had the entire edit history of the Iraq War Wikipedia article printed and bound. It runs to twelve volumes and covers December 2004 to November 2009, 12,000 changes and nearly 7,000 pages.
It’s a cultural and historical narrative, and if we don’t start designing for these narratives we’re going to start losing pieces of them.
A phenomenal talk.
Expanding on his Designing for a Web of Data talk from 2007, Tom Coates’ Everything The Network Touches drew parallels between how the road building of Darius the Great in the 5th Century BC changed the nature of communication in the Achaemenid Empire, and how web APIs are the new roadways of the connected world, bringing together data from social software, geolocation tools, visualisation and the real time web.
One of the more “controversial” aspects of his talk was the slide entitled “Death to the Semantic Web”. Tom’s point being that the traditional idea of the Semantic Web takes a top down approach, trying to impose a sense of order upon the seething maelstrom of the web. That may work in some select disciplines but the web is more dynamic than that and we’re seeing success with an organic approach using APIs, microformats and simple feeds. A great example being Lanyrd, with its ingestion of data from various sources such as a social graph from Twitter and locations from Yahoo!’s GeoPlanet.
Another issue is that network connectivity is becoming a commodity (a similar proliferation happened with LCD screens when the cost dropped so low, everything had a screen) so objects are becoming connected, and people are using these connections in new and interesting ways. Personal informatics from systems like Nike+ and Withings are changing our relationships with objects.
Connected things are transforming the world, we’re effectively building roads for future generations to use and improve upon. As Tom said with his final slide, the world, our Blue Marble, is both the brush and canvas for future endeavours.
Oh, and 150 transitions in one slide. Kudos!
And so to the last talk of the day, Merlin Mann with Kerning, Orgasms & Those Goddamned Japanese Toothpicks (there should be an award for a title like that).
In a wide ranging, slide-less and free wheeling talk Merlin explained that we’re all nerds, but it’s okay. Creativity comes from that nerdy gene that we all have. The important thing is to not succumb to tunnel vision. Look at the horizon every once in a while and don’t become blind to new things to nerd over. You have to keep learning.
As Xander described it on the way to post-conference drinks, it was possibly the best commencement speech ever.
And so that was dConstruct 2010.
Podcasts of all the talks are available on the dConstruct site, reactions and chatter can be found via the #dconstruct and #sausagebap (don’t ask) tags on Twitter, and Jeremy Keith has been curating a collection of photos on Flickr via the machine tag for his take on the conference.
See you next September.
Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the Future of Web Design conference this year, partly because of the ongoing integration work (if you're following me on Twitter you know what that's been like) and partly because I wanted to save some cash for dConstruct 2008.
Roll on 3rd September.
After a couple of days to recover from the wonderfullness that is Brighton I felt ready to try and knock all my d.Construct 2007 notes into something more coherent.
I failed spectacularly.
So instead what I've decided to do is offer up my (almost) verbatim notes scribbled during each of the talks. This gets them out of the semi-encrypted format that is my handwriting as well as creating a pretty accurate reflection of what points struck me as important or relevant at the time.
Now that they're online it may also give me the chance to revisit them at a later point when my brain has had time to absorb everything.
Jared Spool – The Dawning of the Age of Experience
- 85% of new subscriptions to Netflix were via recommendations from existing customers
- 93% of existing Netflix customers evangelise to their friends and family
- An unnamed big-box retailer spent $100 million on a redesign, resulting in a 20% drop in sales. Changing the experience may not be a good thing
- Successful experience design is learned but not open to introspection. Successful experience design is invisible
Peter Merholz – Experience Strategies
- The experience is the product
- Compete on experience, not features or technology
- Products are people, they have personality, character and integrity
- Build from the outside-in, start with the UI. Users don't need to know what's happening under the hood
- Have an “Experience Vision” to get from here to there. Know your direction and destination
Leisa Reichelt – Waterfall Bad, Washing Machine Good
- Solving complex problems is a synonym for design
- Agile methods such as SCRUM go back to the 80s
Cameron Moll – Good vs. Great Design
- Be solution focused vs. problem focused
- How Designers Think by Brian Lawson.
- “Great design yields meaningful communication”
- First Principles of Interaction Design by Bruce Tognazzini (having trouble tracking this one down)
- User productivity trumps machine productivity
- Design tips: Grayscale and blur your UI to see if the structure makes sense. Use Google Translate to fill your site with other languages, does the UI hold up? Remove colours and images to test typography
George Oates & Denise Wilton – Human Traffic
I didn't write a single thing during this talk as I was completely sucked into the history behind b3ta.com and flickr.com and the relaxed conversational manner that George and Denise used to tell those stories. One of the best talks of the day, and not just because of the gratuitous swearing (although that helped).
Matt Webb – The Experience Stack
- Too many options are a mark of lazy design
- Users will assume everything is purposeful and meaningful, even if you didn't plan it that way
- Approach, Engage, Commit
(I wrote a lot more notes during this talk, but to be honest they're a bit gibberish and don't make much sense. It was such an information dense talk that I'm going to go back and re-read Matt's posts and see where that gets me)
Tom Coates – Designing for a Web of Data
- Small multi-disciplinary teams are the way forward
- We're designing systems for a world that's not quite here yet, but it's on it's way
- We need:
- Data sources
- Services to explore and manipulate that data
- Ways to connect them.
- 90% of Twitter's data comes via the APIs, not the website.
- Your product is not the website, it's wherever the network touches
- Navigating data is key
- Capturing metadata:
- Data created during production of the object
- Data from direct analysis
- Data from user contributions
- Data from behavioural analysis
- More metadata. It's not Folksonomy vs. Taxonomy. Use both, all, everything, as much as you can.
- Your product is not the website
- Main navigation is becoming less about getting you to your goal and more about being a jumping off point to explore the data