Reconstructing dConstruct 2009

On September 4th, I attended my first ever dConstruct hosted by the great folks of Clearleft. This years theme was ‘Designing for Tomorrow’. I arrived on Thursday afternoon, with the dConstruct-related twitter ramblings in full swing – partly due to the fact that there were also two days of dConstruct workshops, partly because geeks are quite the social, drinking kind.

The Interesting Part

The Morning; Abstract, Practical and Flying Cars

The morning started out with two – yes, two – well deserved showers, an english breakfast and coffee. This was apparently my most epic idea this whole conference, because Adam Greenfield really got our heads spinning with this very esoteric talk on a networked, information-gathering society. It went in depth on a future situation in which almost every random object is addressable, therefore queryable and therefore scriptable. In this sense, the world will become a searchable place, much as the web has gone from browsing to search.

The guys and gals from Clearleft were very smart in programming a morning break after this.

Next up were two guys from Stamen; a design agency located in San Francisco. Mike Migurski started out talking about the tangible part, this being the user interaction and interfaces. After that Ben Cerveny went more meta on the same exact subjects. Eventually the Stamen talk ended up being somewhat of a showcase, to which I have to say that they should have added more animated material into it.

After my head had cooled down during the first break and the Stamen talk, Brian Fling got on stage and showed us a comprehensive view on the future of mobile design. Five minutes into the talk I was glad I remembered that there will be podcasts of the talks, because Brian’s talk was worth going over again. Brian’s talk looked at our past and into the future. A past where 9 years ago the iMac had less processing power than the iPhone and a future where the web will lose its single context of user, desk (or desk-replacement) and screen. Slides to Brian Fling’s talk on How Mobile is Changing Design

The Afternoon; Sci-Fi, Games and Emotion

After lunch Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel – a.k.a. The Sci-Fi Guys – showed us that they had indeed a vast amount of knowledge of science fiction and design within science fiction. One of the examples they showed was where sci-fi directly had influenced a real-world solution; a 3D topographical map table is currently in use by the United States Military. This table has been inspired by the film X-Men.

Nathan and Chris led us to the most controversial talk of the day, one that had the Twitter backchannel screaming for it to end; Robin Hunicke‘s talk. Robin talked a lot about the word Juicy as an addition to the game process of Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. In essence, Robin was talking about delight, and making sure your users have a delightful experience using whatever you created.

Designers need to get out more.

Then came the guy that had a lot to do with the Microsoft Surface table, August de los Reyes. August focused on the importance of emotion to user experience. His prime example of this was an anecdote of a family who had bought a Roomba – an autonomous vacuum cleaning robot.

The family’s Roomba malfunctioned and iRobot – creator of the Roomba – offered them to instantly get their Roomba exchanged for a new one. The family ended up demanding a repair of the current Roomba, even though they had to live without it for more than two weeks. This is because “.. Roomba has become a part of our family”.

Ending it off; Leisure, Kinder Eggs and a Wrap-up

That leads us to the final speaker – Russell Davies – who gave the perfect final talk, partly because he had props – Hooray! – and partly because he started talking in the periphery and after fifteen minutes instantly hit us with the essence of the talk. Russell extended into what Robin would say is “juicy” and what August would call an emotional connection in the form of Bubblino – a small, bubble-spewing machine that is controlled by Twitter.

The core of the talk was about the world having to look past digital infatuation and analog nostalgia, especially the notion that digital is always better. Russell went into what is called ‘redomaining’. When reiterating on a technology or strategy, plain reiteration will keep us in the same tunnel, whereas redomaining – taking useful elements from other domains, say gaming or economics.

The case pointed out was a project he did called Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008. In this project Russell and Ben Terret took the newspaper format and put digitally published content on it.

Similarly the bit at the top looked very naked without a running header. The printer requires each page to have a folio so I added a keyline and some of our favourite Tweets from the year. It felt better with that furniture.

In this way, last year has been put on a medium that is “so last year”. This outside the box thinking did make for a new concept with very big potential, Newspaper Club.

The Experience

dConstruct did what I hoped it would. It brought a lot of cool lads and ladies together in a way a web-related conference only could: a very open and social environment. My mind has been rattled ever since I stepped out of The Dome

I was fortunate enough to meet up with a lot of great folks in the likes of @drbparsons, @relativesanity, @yaili, Clearleft’s @nicepaul, @sambrown, @maxvoltar, @elliotjaystocks, @sazzy, @bbodien, @nikf, @czillgens, @goodonpaper who is organizing Build Conference (which I will be attending later this year) and many others, and got to hang around with my old friend @deanjanssen

The Big Picture

The big picture is what this dConstruct was all about. A lot of eclectic speakers have made this the exact conference a web designer or developer should go to, to get inspired and to get out of one’s shell of nuts and bolts, nooks and crannies, and stop typing mark-up or moving a mouse for a second.

dConstruct 2009 was about Designing for the Future in the broadest sense of the word. And one thing has become clear. The core element – and this is a paradox – of the future of web design context. The boundaries of the web are consistently being pushed forward, and the boundaries of mobile are catching up at a blazing fast pace.

We see a lot of web designers and developers putting their toes in the water with design and development for iPhone – one of the devices that pushes the advanced use of mobile forward. We see them putting their toes in because developing and designing for iPhone is quite accessible compared to other platforms. We see designers and developers moving forward in their design work, because on these mobile platforms there is a different context. Where on the web the context is screen size, on advanced mobile the context is screen size, location, and situation.

Mind you, I might revamp this last chapter, mainly because my mind hasn’t settled down yet. But one thing is sure, these are awesome times to design in.