iDesign - Working the Walk
We’re delighted to say that Tuesday’s iDesign conference went down a treat. If you wanted to know where exactly this country is up to with interactive design,and where it’s going, then we think the Dynamo team nailed it with this event.
Simon Waterfall - our conference chair - laid out the shape of the day and explained why this discussion was so important. Simon’s rigorous time-keeping, intelligent contributions and withering put-downs kept the day running smoothly and we’d like to offer a virtual cheer for his efforts here (Yay!).
Tom Campbell - head of creative industries at the LDA - explained why the digital design industry is so important. Eight percent of this country’s business revenues can be directly linked to the creative industries, potentially outstripping financial services as our most important export. This segment’s growth is double the rate of the rest of UK industry at the moment. There’s still a lot of work to do, though, and Tom wants to hear from potential contributors in need of funding or other assistance.
David Kester from the Design Council explained why it’s so important that digital, interactive design receives the credit it’s due. The creative industries as a whole are burgeoning, but it’s interactive that leads the pack when it comes to solid financial growth: the London design scene, in particular, is humming. While policy and design might seem like opposites, it’s the Design Council’s job to put those two things together.
The second session of the day emerged as something of a head-to-head. Psychologist Dr. Nick Baylis explained how our love-affair with technology might be endangering far more important parts of our lives. Are we spreading ourselves too thin by taking on virtual friendships when hugging and kissing our ‘real-life’ friends would make us healthier? Baylis believes we’re spreading ourselves too thin by attempting to maintain dozens (hundreds?) of online friendships. His nemesis - arguably - came in the form of BBC technology writer Bill Thompson, who argued that technology was innocent. The Internet is giving 14-year-old girls (and the rest of us) a freedom and flexibility that not even Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV, experienced. What followed was certainly ‘healthy debate’: technophiles raged against the suggestion that their lives were less full or their relationships more shallow because they chose to conduct those relationships through online media. Our speakers, on the other hand, ended up agreeing with each other on some significant points!
The first panel session of the day was pretty diverse, but united around the theme of how design and technology is affecting the lives of everyone, not just a digital elite. Toby Barnes, who heads up Pixel-Lab, explained the state of play in computer games. He argued that more is not always better. Commentators on this scene often obsess about the degree of graphical detail in games, for example, but there are far more important challenges around involving the mainstream in gaming, especially when it comes to women. Benn Achileas of Neoco spoke about the elements of good and evil in digital marketing. His main point was that the vast amount of content on the Web means that marketeers need to offer real value in order to compete with the free material that is readily available. Gerry Griffin spoke about the difficulty experienced by people trying to educate in the current climate. He had the modesty to avoid talking about his own product, Skill Pill, which might alleviate that situation - it’s mobile learning in short segments, delivered through your mobile phone.
Helen Keegan gave a great overview of the mobile scene as it stands, with a keen insight that while location-based services appear to be the flavour of the month, context-based services offer considerably more promise. The information we would like to receive standing at Piccadilly Circus at noon on Tuesday is considerably different to what we want to hear about at 9pm on Friday night, for example.
During the breaks, thanks to our good friends at Cybersalon, there was the opportunity to see some of the more avant garde elements of the digital design world with contributions from design projects based at Channel 4, Cambridge University, Sennep, Troika, Someth;ng, Proboscis, Fijuu and Igloo. However, the lunchtime presentation from former pop idol and now major music theorist Martyn Ware with contributions from SHowstudio, Jason Bruges Studio, Newangle and Fabrica was very much in danger of stealing the show. The feedback from that session was extremely positive and we’ll be approaching Martyn with a view to a standalone session very shortly.
The afternoon consisted of two panel debates, united under the banner of ‘the design response’. Given the fragmented, multi-media world that people today inhabit - the morning panel’s theme - what are designers to do? Clive Grinyer from mobile operator Orange discussed the extent to which designers need to take leadership on product design. If products are designed for ‘normal people’ and designers are (loosely) normal people then their insight into what works and what doesn’t ought to take precedence over marketing managers obsessed with average revenue per user and the feature-count on the side of the box. Grinyer spoke of the debt of responsibility designers carry: while he’s an advocate of knowing the audience in order to inform a design, handing responsibility over to that audience in the form of voting or user-created donations seemed to him an abrogation of that duty. Elliot Jay Stocks came from the opposite side of that debate. He talked about how he’d engaged his (former) audience in the re-design of Carson Systems’ site, blogging and discussing changes and new ideas with users in minute detail.Their insight - both positive and negative - had allowed the design to more properly respect the views, tastes and ideas of the community that used the site. Also, how the internet designer bugbears of usability, accessibility, standards and guidelines might also be our friends.
Two case studies of interactive design in the public sphere followed. Steve Flaherty gave an outline of his company, Starsight. Starsight is solar-powered streetlighting that contains an integrated wi-fi hub that is powered by the same battery. Aimed at the developing world, the design considerations included the need for variable ingredients for the construction of the lights, so that they could be made from local resources in any part of the world, and the ways in which they could be made secure - in places where any metal has significant worth - by feeding into the community through their educational contribution (internet access, light for tradespeople working at night) and thus becoming protected by the communities it is placed into.
Channel 4 commissioner Adam Gee described the bigartproject. Members of the public take pictures of public art using their mobile phones and upload it to the website, to be shared with other contributors and viewers. The project is destined to be a short television series next year and is perhaps unique in the way it is ‘crowdsourcing’ the subject matter of those programmes.
Our final session challenged four leading interactive designers to present the work of another designer who had inspired them. Nat Hunter presented the work of Yugo Nakamura, from his earliest web toys to his engagingly toy-like work for clothes store Uniqlo. Tom Roope discussed the work of Hans Bernhard, a digital design interventionist whose work embraces the concept that design might not be about appearances, but ideas. Berhard has created interventions such as voteauction.com (no longer around, it seems), which hit news headlines and challenged ideas about the sponsorship of political campaigns in the States. Eva Rucki from Troika talked about the need to re-introduce subjectivity into technology if we want to engage people, with examples like the Newton Virus and the Cat Piano. Finally, Malcolm Garrett presented the work of Cogapp for the MoMA gallery: not a flashy piece of work, but exhibiting real genius when it comes to information design and recognition of what users really want and need when they approach a gallery site.
Photos by Darrell Berry, BigShinyThing.com.