dConstruct 2010: My 2 cents

Like last year I’ve made my way to the beautiful seaside town of Brighton, England, to attend dConstruct. This year, the main theme of the conference was Design and Creativity, and the schedule promised some interesting insights into this field of expertise.

Very similar to last year, the fun started with the pre-party in The Fountain Head, a pub that has been chosen as the port of call for most dConstructers. Before I knew it I was discussing techie things with people. Of course I had to ask the Magento question then and there. Answer was: people knew it, found it too complicated, outsourced it to others :) This shouldn’t have surprised me really – after all, this wasn’t an ecommerce conference, and people were mostly doing frontend development and working with CMS systems such as Expression Engine and Drupal. But let’s skip the pre-conference fun (there must be plenty of traces of those in Fourquare, Gowalla and Twitter anyway) and dive into Friday’s sessions.

Part 1

The first speaker on the bill was Marty Neumeier, who talked about The Designful Company. He suggested a very broad definition of design (something like “something that is being done to change the status quo into a more desirable state”) and argued that companies needed to aim at creating a brand that is both good and different to survive in today’s marketplace. In my opinion, I couldn’t follow Neumeier’s application of design to what seemed brand development to me, so I didn’t find this first talk to be very insightful.

The second speaker was Brendan Dawes, who in his Boil, Simmer, Reduce-presentation talked about the creative process of first of all collecting ideas and inspiration (he claimed the iPhone and a notebook to be his collection devices for this purpose), then to reflect everything for a while and finally reduce the output as much as possible to get the best result. This three-step process happens more or less unconsciously and is true not only for design but for all creative work such as making music, writing texts etc. Thus, the message wasn’t new, but the presentation itself was quite vivid.

Next, David McCandless talked about how Information is beautiful. Using numerous examples of seemingly uninteresting and unrelated pieces of data that have been visualised and ‘designed’ as it were, he showed how new insights and relationships can be gathered from this procedure. I was mostly impressed by an infographic which showed media coverage about panic regarding diseases such as SARS and all kinds of flu epidemics; at the time of 9/11, there was a big empty gap in this timeline.

The first really hands-on presentation, in my opinion, was offered by Samantha Warren who quite enthusiastically talked about The Power & Beauty of Typography. For me as a non-designer she had a very interesting take on what a fonttype can do for a website: a font can be seen as a kind of shoe that either fits or doesn’t fit the occasion -  each font/shoe tells us something about the person that is using/wearing it.

Part 2

After that it was time for a lunch break. It could have either been the lovely (pebbly) beach, the great fish and chips, the nice weather or a combination of all of these, but I unfortunately missed most of John Gruber‘s talk on The Auteur Theory of Design, so I cannot say anything about it here.

This presentation was followed by Hannah Donovan who spoke about what Improvisation can teach us about design. Before her actual talk, she performed a short and improvised musical piece with two colleagues. Then, she described how improvisation is used in music and music education and how a framework is necessary to provide musicians with the tools to be able to perform improvised music together with others. This conceptual framework and the respective tools are also the prerequisites for the design process, as she showed with the help of some examples.

Next in line was James Bridle who shared his views on The Value of Ruins. He focused on the idea that in order to shape our future we need to make sure not to lose sight of what happened in the past. He drew the audience’s attention to the archiving and loss of information in the past, a famous example of which is the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. In order to present a modern take on historiography, he showed us a printed version of the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War which consisted of more than 10,000 pages (as far as I remember) – a very impressive set of volumes!

As far as I’m concerned, the most engaging presentation was held by Tom Coates when he talked about Everything the network touches. This presentation mainly dealt with the web of data and the way in which these days we can connect countless APIs to create interesting and innovative services. Although the subject of this presentation was not revolutionary – actually, much of it reminded me of Alan Greenfield’s talk on Elements of a networked urbanism from last year’s dConstruct - it felt like a convincing and well-arranged summary.

Finally, Merlin Mann talked about Kerning, Orgasms & Those Goddamned Japanese Toothpicks. Without any slides he delivered his views on geek and nerds, why nerds should care about things and how nerds should stay nerds because somehow it would eventually pay off. To be honest, this talk did not impress me at all and felt like a half-funny nerd stand-up comedy.

People

In summary I can say that the actual conference didn’t impress me as much as the people I had the pleasure to meet in all kinds of pubs and restaurants. I would especially like to thank the guys from Zemanta (whose very useful service I’m using to produce this article and find interesting cross-references and additional information) for the great discussions of things digital and non-digital. See you soon!

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Über Roman Zenner

arbeitet als Autor und Berater im Bereich E-Commerce. Er hat mehrere Fachbücher zu aktuellen Shopsystemen veröffentlicht und unterstützt mittlere und große Unternehmen bei der Planung und Umsetzung ihrer digitalen Verkaufsstrategie.
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