September 16, 2013
Creative Tech and UX Evangelist at Microsoft UK
What made the first beep and why did the first beep, beep?
Andrew’s talk focused on area of interactive design that is often overlooked: sound. One reason for this would be Andrew’s assertion that “decent audio is expensive”, it’s also time consuming. Despite the cost it was made clear to the audience that it was worth doing and doing well. A series of examples highlighted good and bad use of sound; though it felt a bit strange to hear a Microsoft guy criticise Apple for choice of sounds on the iPhone (Windows isn’t known for the beauty of its sounds after all).
One nice example of the power of sound to give us subtle hints about the object we’re interacting with was the quiz Andrew played with the audience. We were invited to match three warning sounds to the car they came from, either BMW, Seat or VW van. The audience quickly concluded that the highest quality sound belonged to the BMW, the next best to the VW van and the cheapest to the Seat. That something as simple as warning sound can convey a positive or negative impression about a brand should serve as a cautionary tale to any designer: reach for that clip sound library CD in the bottom of your desk at your peril. If you’re going to include sound do it properly.
Mobile Web Strategist and Front-end Designer
Death to Bullshit
Brad’s presentation dwelt on the amount of information being created today, especially when compared to previous decades and centuries. Of particular concern to him was Sturgeon’s Law: ‘90% of everything is crap’. The stats Brad produced for the amount of information being created are quite staggering. For example, in 1930 US citizens took 1bn photographs. In 2012 this figure 25bn photos were taken. Information creation has accelerated massively in the past two decades, yet Brad pointed out that the term ‘information overload’ was coined in 1970 way before personal computers, the internet and smartphones joined the data party.
The consequence of all this information was highlighted in a James Gleick quote: “When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive”. A series of slides demonstrated how little useful, relevant information can be found on some web pages, drowning in a sea of cruft. The pointlessness of this cruft was succinctly highlighted by Brad — “You’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad”. I think this gets to the heart of the issue for people in creative industries. It’s easy to get dragged into creating bullshit through our jobs (like designing banner ads), so we need to push back and try to only create things of value, though this won’t always be achievable.
Brad’s solution to defeating the sea of bullshit is ‘craft, honesty and passion’. So while the Chicago Sun’s decision to drop professional photographers in favour of journalists with smartphones was exposed for its contribution to the bullshit, the use of Github for sharing German Laws and drafting Twitter developer EULAs were lauded as positive contributions. As Brad says, “There’s never been a greater time in history to love what you do and share it with others”, just don’t contribute to the bullshit.
NB Having seen the number of browser windows and tabs Brad has open (slide 44), I no longer feel bad about my tab count.
Designer, Educator and Editor
Design and the Pragmatic Future
This presentation focused on interaction design and how it focuses on the relationships people have with other people and machines, and also machine to machine relationships. Liz encouraged the audience to look at the world around them, find invisible interactions and use design to make them visible and bring them to life. An example she offered of this is James Bridle’s Drone Shadow project.
Another suggestion was to look to human and animal behaviour to provide clues for interaction design. For example, the position of a dog’s ears can indicate its emotion.
Liz also introduced the concept of ‘user journey videos’ to communicate the entire user experience of a product over many years.
Finally, there were two quotes worth repeating here, the first from Silas Rhodes:
Even a great idea is only an idea until you make it real.
The second from Liz herself:
As designers it is our job to keep learning. If we don’t, we’ll become redundant.
Typographer and Graphic Designer
Is there life before death?
I’ve attended Reasons to be Creative/Flash on the Beach for the last five years, and this was the best talk I’ve seen in that time. Erik is famous for his fonts (FF Meta being probably the most famous and lauded) and his Berlin transit diagrams (not maps BTW) among many, many other projects. Yet we heard nothing of these, instead we were given an insight into the principles, attitude and critical thought that has made Erik and EdenSpiekermann so successful. For example:
Don’t work for arseholes! Don’t work with arseholes!
Idea generation is not idea selection.
Design is an intellectual discipline.
We don’t need leaders but moderators. We don’t need motivation but inspiration.
and my personal favourite:
If I see anyone in my office open Excel, they can take a fucking walk.
Erik also explained how he’d tried to create the optimal working environment for design: a concentric, circular design where all employees, from the most junior to most senior, would have to walk past each other to their desks. The reasoning behind this being that it would increase the opportunity for communication and sharing, fostering a more open and creative environment to work in. Unfortunately, Erik has not succeeded in finding a building which can accommodate his plans, and instead has had to compromise to make the best of the available space.
I urge you to make an effort to see Erik speak if he’s presenting in your area. He’s an engaging, intelligent and very funny speaker (with a range of very good British accents too). The comedian Henning Wehn plays on the British stereotype of Germans as lacking a sense of humour or not being funny (we know this isn’t true) and is very funny. But for those convinced of the veracity of the stereotype, watching Erik will be both rebuke and reality check. If Erik ever tires of type (very unlikely) an alternative comedic career awaits; though it would require Henning to revise his act significantly.