My highlights of Thinking Digital 2013

Herb Kim gets TDC13 underway

Herb Kim the founder and creator of the Thinking Digital conference.

This is my usual best of Thinking Digital… Bear in mind I missed half the conference as noted here.

Julian Treasure got us thinking about our hearing and how important it is. I specially liked two statements he made. Sound has a impact on cognition and don’t architects have ears? He pointed to some very nice spaces with apple styled touches. The kind of place most people would agree is nice but once he mentioned the amount of sound bouncing around the surfaces and reflecting off the floor, it was a different matter.

Maggie Philbin is one of those people who you grew up with on screen and she had become a geek hero of many men in the UK. The Tomorrow’s world presenter talked about technology for a bit then got around to her main points about the lack of diversity. Something about hearing it from Maggie really laid it out for lots of people. I had the pleasure of seeing Maggie giving the Perceptive Radio a once over too. What a woman!

Maria Giudice

Maria Giudice was a interesting lady with an interesting story to tell but what I really took away was her DEO idea (Design Executive Officer). She correctly pointed out CEO’s mainly don’t have the background of designers and those who do, generally break through because they are natural disruptor, people centric, intuitive, imaginative, etc. She had a DEO toolkit which included…

  1. Change mindsets about design, Design = change and change leads to radical change
  2. Focus on people and relationships
  3. Think we not me, collaboration is the name of the game
  4. Champion creative culture, Write on the wall make it a creative space
  5. Iterate and change, be open to change
  6. Be true to yourself

I guess if I wanted to know more… I would have to buy the book which is coming out soon…

Aza Raskin
Aza Raskin I have had the pleasure of meeting before years ago when he was working with Mozilla. Then I also got to eat dinner with him during the first night with others. Aza is one of those people who you can’t help but like. It was a really interesting time chatting with him too because his company Jawbone had just bought Body Media for 100million. Aza had no problem with talking about such things and was happy to talk about the quantified self elements of Jawbone including the wrist band Jawbone up. It was even more interesting to me after just been at the Quantified Self europe conference a week before.

Aza’s main point was about Design being the art of turning constraints into solutions. But are we actually asking the right questions? Do we even really understand the problem were solving?

Lots of food for thought… And I’d love to know more about the Jawbone hack!

Sugata Mitra
Sugata Mitra is always impressive and was one of my highlights of last year but with New Zealand teachers Jo Fothergill & Tara Taylor-Jorgensen who had flown 1000’s of miles to come talk at Thinking Digital the talks were even more epic. You can’t help but feel the educational system will be fine when he talks. I also had the joy of hooking up Jo and Tara with mr whirl wind Alan O’Donohoe before they flew back to New Zealand. Chance and opportunity came together at just the right moment I think.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes on reflection was maybe the best talk of the conference.

On New Years Day 2009 Graham Hughes, set off on an epic journey from his hometown of Liverpool. He wanted to show that the world is ‘not some big, scary place, but in fact full of people who wanted to help you.’ He used buses, taxis, trains and his own two feet to travel 160,000 miles, 201 countries in exactly 1,426 days – all on a shoestring of just $100 a week.

I’m not usually the biggest fan of the talks about the amazing things people have done but there was something extra special about Graham. He was just a everyday  Jo. He made it into every single country on planet earth without flying not even once. Such a epic story and the story was told so well with some incredible sub-stories, when the videos come out for Thinking Digital 2013, you must see this video. Epic and so down to earth. I also like to think I helped him with an introduction to someone I know at YouTube. I believe his storys are good enough to make him a bit of internet superstar, hopefully the youtube connection will be the start of it. Actually I need to check in and see if anything happened?

Jack Andraka
Jack Andraka I didnt’ quite get at first but as he told his story how he applied his mindset to the problem of pancreatic cancer, after losing a family friend to it. Using just Google he researched a new pancreatic cancer test that is 168 times faster, 26,000 times less expensive and potentially almost 100% accurate. He’s only 17, openly gay and already been described as the Alan Turing of our age. His talk was exactly what you would imagine from a 17 year old guy. All over the place but understanding the gravitas of what he was explaining you couldn’t help but feel how epic his journey has been. I really wished I had stopped and chatted to him in the hotel the next day, could have called a taxi and still have made the train.

Tom Scott burns his top to make a serious point

Tom Scott… What can I say. A talk you can only really do once and once only. Fire and Tom’s hoody, heck what more can you ask for? No but seriously Tom delves into the idea of archiving our memories. This is something I tried to do a while with my old phone. Memories are funny things, and they certainly make you pause for thought. I for example have my yellow Brazil football top, I’m surpised it even fits from 1998! The same year I went to Ibiza and go that crazy Brazil haircut. Maybe I should set fire to it too?

Aral Balkan

I already talked about Aral Balkin in a previous blog but he was rather good even if I disagreed with a lot of what he was saying. Well rehearsed and cleverly put together for the maximum effect each time. I won’t take that away from Aral, well done.

Also worth mentioning…

Chris Thorpe

Rachel Armstrong

Chris Thorpe and Rachel Armstrong for expanding our minds further than I could maybe take at that moment. My notes are pretty flat but I remember being slightly moved by what they were saying.

Alexa Meade

And finally, Alexa Meade for simply stunning pieces of art which I had only seen once or twice. Important never to forget the impact art can have in a new medium. Painting directly on to people is something very special and the time and dedication really impressed me. She was such a lovely lady too. I don’t know if I would ever let anyone paint on top of me. The feeling of uncleanliness would maybe drive me slowly nutty.

Another great Thinking Digital conference, I just wish I had seen more of the first day…

Storytelling from Thinking Digital 2013’s stage

Ian on Stage at Thinking Digital

Thanks to Documentally for the picture

Thinking Digital 2013 for me started on Monday with a lovely dinner with a number of other people in Newcastle. I find its always worth booking in and getting to Newcastle/Gateshead a day early so your not flapping around and carrying luggage. But this time I specially need the time to make sure Perceptive Radio was fine. Anyway at the dinner I met quite a few people including Aral, Aza and others.

The next day I spent most of the morning making sure Perceptive Media was working as it should. Surprisingly it everything worked as it should and brushed up on my presentation before heading to the Thinking Digital workshop Harnessing the power of story

Great leaders beginning with the Alexander the Great, have long known the emotional power of story in helping engage people behind a cause or a company. Today more than ever in our chaotic world of information overload, facts are not enough.  We want something that’s meaningful, a message that is compelling and memorable. Similarly, understanding our own story helps us to relate to others and the world around us, to understand how we can contribute and what drives us beyond a paycheque.

The course was fully booked and seemed to be filling up with even more people.

Mari talked about the hero’s journey in some depth and at the end split the group up into 3. Those wanting to exploit stories in presentations, those who wanted to use stories to get a better grip of there careers anwent for the d those wanting to better their lives. I originally signed up for the first and through the process of the hero’s story decided actually I’d like to see how this could help my career but by the decision point decided actually I’ll see what if anything this could do for my life.

I found the whole thing really interesting but the details I’m not going to reveal in my blog sorry… There was something very strange about the instructor. She seemed to know everything about me, I couldn’t work it out. Had she gleamed all this from our brief chat on the phone and by googling me? If so I’ve been far too public 🙂

Later it turns out that I did know her but hadn’t recognised her till she wore her glasses… I say this because it slightly freaked me out. But only slightly… By Wednesday I was running on adrenaline and you needed to be for the 7am start.

I love Thinking digital except this time I missed most of Wednesday preparing for my time on stage with manager Adrian. If it was just 5min talk it would be fine but doing a couple of workshops in lunch with something your not certain will work as expected was scary.

You know how they say don’t work with young children or animals? Can I add robots and machines to the mix. The biggest problem I had was the wifi which required you to press I accept to get online. How do you do this on a device which has no screen at all? On top of that each client was isolated on the network, so you couldn’t ssh, rdp, vnc, or anything into another machine. This made setting up the radio for the environment very tricky (to be honest I was tearing my hair out by 9:30pm)

Anyway I solved the problem and I decided the wifi leases were maybe long enough to allow me to take the radio offline. So I did and during the talk on stage I did the grand reveal of the perceptive radio. After the grand reveal and Adrian finishing up, I didn’t have the heart to grab it in the middle of Maggie Philbins talk, so shes got it on the counter while she talks about Tomorrows World. Ironic don’t you see…

After the talks, I took the Radio downstairs for the public demos. There were only meant to be 2 but due to demand we stretched it to 3. Anyway I can happily say they all went extremely well, with me showing some of the basic functionality and of course playing the whole Breaking Out play. Questions were well received and lots were new to do with the radio. Just enough adrenaline to do an audioboo with Documentally.

Perceptive Radio and Me

You don’t want to miss the Audioboo Documentally recorded after I finished the workshops, to be fair I sound knackered but it still came across well. Cheers for the photo too 🙂

I won’t lie, once my commitments were fore-filled and alittlebit had gotten me a very lunch (bless her motherhen reactions), I crashed as the last of the adrenaline left my body. The live lounge was my paradise for the next 20mins (dark with a projection of what was happening next door) while I caught up with some nap time. Kate assure me I wasn’t making a sound, so thats great. That power nap really did something to me and I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.

User experience design with Aral

Safety dip

Before I start on this little rant, its worth pointing out this is following a talk from Aral Balkan’s talk at Thinking Digital 2013. I have still yet to write my review of the best talks and my own experience with Perceptive Radio but I had to stop and moan about Aral’s talk.

Aral is a friend and I like him a lot but even in the early days I disagreed with him on so many things.

Aral showed many examples of really bad user experience design, many where they got the focus wrong.

User experience bugs me, I agree with a lot but then there are many examples where it seems like a simple no brainier. I would generalise what Aral was showing but I lost my notes by accident in the wifi handover (hoping there still on my tablet and just need to load up evernote and sync the notes. So as I was saying user experience is important but they sometimes go too far…

Here’s something I tweeted last year…

“Frankly this is the worst keypad layout I’ve seen in the wild. should be a shamed of this! http://yfrog.com/odgevclj”

Aral spoke about washing machines and how complex they are. He suggested all you need is a some places to put the washing powder and fabric conditioner. A button or two to maybe start a programme and thats it. Well no I disagree. My mum is a genius with the washing machine and she knows exactly what to put in for the weight and volume of clothes. To be such a expert required time and effort, shes proud than shes mastered the washing machine.

Having a single button machine would rob my mother of her mastery of that machine.

Now I imagine Aral would say, for the bulk of people, all they want to do is get there clothes clean and they don’t really care. And he would be right. I generally don’t care but robbing people of the ability to master a system or device seems a real shame and I’d say is criminal.

After Arals talk and a slight break for audience clapping. He launched into how he’s been involved in helping the next generation to learn how to get their digital skills. How ironic that most of us got our start by mastering the computer by ultimately being geeky.

If you subscribe to the idea that we are almost all geeky about something (coding, design, cars, cooking, paintings, trains, stamps, celebrities, tv shows, beer, phones, films, cocktails, gardening, farming, sports, etc). Most of these require experience, understanding and mastery. Robbing someone of this seems at least to me anti-human.

Not that I’m saying you should have to go through an ordeal to get a ticket for the train/metro/tram. The example of the CTA machine is a total joke, I remember looking at it when I last was last in Chicago and thought what level of hell does this machine come from?

Heat control

I would say the showers in most modern hotels is up as a example of a great user experience because they have that recommended option but if you know better you can press the button and get even more heat. Yes the button protects you from burning but it can also be easily bypassed. Now thats my kind of user experience.

Aral mentioned a few other things which had my fingers tapping.

“Design can not be democratic, design is opinionated and full of assumptions.”

Design can not be democratic? I say rubbish, designers work in small groups and collaborate on problems all the time. I would go as far as to say design in isolation is art. Design doesn’t have to be opinionated, in actual fact user experience design is about designing around the accordances of the user. This means working around them and not making assumptions…

Anyway everything I’ve said is just my view and I’m sure I would say the same to Aral’s face. Looking forward to next time we meet and of course 🙂 Which will be soon… Good talk even though I was screaming inside 🙂

Talking at Thinking Digital 2013

Ian Forrester, Show and Tell

3 years ago I was meant to stand up at Thinking Digital and call an end to BBC Backstage, although I bet my reasoning wouldn’t be so well reasoned back then due to the obvious. A year before that I had the honour of speaking at Thinking Digital the next generation (a one day event aimed at young people of school age to twenties) and just after that hosting the makers workshop/panel. But having been at Thinking Digital right from the start, I had made talking on stage at Thinking Digital one of my aspiration in life.

Now I’m sooooo excited to announce I will be talking at Thinking Digital about one of my favourite subjects right now – Perceptive Media.

I will be sharing the slot with Adrian who will talk about BBC Connected Studio, like a phoenix rising from the end of BBC Backstage and BBC Innovation Labs.

I have been planning a different type of presentation from my usual one I did everywhere last year.

Expect short sharp and pretty intense… On top of that I’ll be showing something which we believe is a worlds first.

Yes your not going to want to miss this years, Thinking Digital conference