dConstruct09 deconstructed

It’s that time of year again when the faithful make the pilgrimage to Brighton to the dConstruct conference. This year there were a fewer people attending and sponsorship seemed a bit thinner on the ground, but otherwise the event was as thought-provoking and enjoyable as ever. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, and not all the talks hit the right notes all of the time, but taken as a group I thought the conference was a great success.

The theme was designing for tomorrow and there was plenty to think about, even if a lot was quite abstract and had a distinctly US flavour.

I’m not going to give a blow by blow account (you can check out the Flickr stream which will give you an impressionistic sense of the event….

…or the Twitter stream if you want the real-time experience as see through the eyes of some of the participants (obviously in sound-bites of varying literary quality).

Here, though, are a few random take-aways from the talks.

Adam Greenfield, Elements of Networked Urbanism

Everything gets networked, including physical things and that leads to a new trend: from ownership to services – early examples are here already in Spotify (subscription, on-demand music) and Streetcar (pay as you go cars). More will follow. Is this the beginning of post-capitalism?

Mike Migursky and Ben Cerveny, Let’s see what we can see (everyone online and looking good)

Visualisation is a very powerful way of exploring very large and dynamic data set. Some of the examples given were the Digg swarm (visualising interest as it builds), crime maps (great controls – particularly “commute” and “day and night” as more useful time filters), and live hurricane activity for MSNBC (great time-based interface). Think about the elegant design to help answer questions people actually want to pose.

Brian Fling, What’s next? How mobile is changing design

Context is key. Design the best possible experience and degrade gracefully, making the best experience possible of each device. Maybe, we’ll now start with designing for the mobile and migrate to the desktop, not the other way round (or not at all!). Example: Tweetie – starts on the iPhone and migrates to the Mac.

Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel, Making it so – learning from Sci-Fi interfaces

Sci-fi borrows from interfaces already invented (Buck Rogers and the video phone which tunes in like a television) and real life borrows from sci-fi – the StarTAC phone which looks like a communicator from early Star Trek.

Robin Hunicke, Loving your Player with Juicy Feedback

In may ways the most difficult talk as the central notion of “juiciness” was a bit too Californian for the sceptical British audience. However, in many ways I thought the idea of designing in “magic” into the interface to create the kind of emotional connection which games designers seek is a really powerful learning for web design. Why shouldn’t b2b website have some of that magic? The power of the Mac and particularly the iPhone comes from the magic of the interface. If we could design some of that into our b2b web sites the results might be amazing – and commercially rewarding.

August de los Reyes, Experience the Emotion Commotion

Backing up Robin’s talk with “work can be play” and “design for emotion in a world of abundance”. The same point above, reinforced. (And showed a very cool Microsoft video vision of embedded devices).

Russell Davies, Materialising and Dematerialising a web of data

Moving past digital infatuation and analogue nostalgia: “From representing the world on the web to embedding the web in the world”. He gives the example of printing newspapers of curated blog content. “There are magnificent bits of infrastructure just lying around” – underused printing presses, a postal system, DVD and CD production facilities and so on. Why not use them to add a dimension to the things that started out on the web? And the best quote of the conference with reference to the newspaper industry: “We’ve broken your business, now give us your machines”.

So, that’s it. Some thoughts about the day – not very coherent but hopefully of some use/interest.