The future is (almost) here
I've been to many conferences so far in my burgeoning life as a web designer. There are some that seem heavily used for PR efforts and some that are just an utter mess, so it's nice when it feels like a really well-organized, sincere and thoughtful event. dConstruct is one of the good kind. I left Brighton on the speedy train back to London last night filled with loads of motivation, mind-bended by some of the incredible speakers. Yay, Jeremy Keith, best one yet, many people said afterwards.
My biggest overall takeaway from the conference is that we should think beyond the user interface, at least the concept of the UI as we know it. With the bajillion input types that Luke described, ubiquitous computing and ambient location, designers should be focusing ever more on user behavior than visual design. How and why is someone interacting with the web, at what time, and in what context? These will be the biggest questions in the near future. Web products will wrap themselves around our lives and customize themselves based on our behaviors, instead of us sitting at a desk visiting a static web page.
As (cyborg anthropologist) Amber Case was saying, the best technologies will get out of the way and let people live their lives, but when we need assistance to help us with a task, then that technology will become visible.
There are two more things that have stuck with me since the conference, besides Adam Buxton just being insanely funny. One is the shared Google doc that Maciej Ceglowski distributed to Pinboard fans for user research, and the other is the CCTV footage that Dan Williams demanded from his UK bus company.
The Pinboard google doc became something like 55 pages of self-regulated feedback that required intensive study by each user before adding a comment. It's unbelievable to think about opening that can of worms but it's actually not a bad idea. The community was already close-knit and passionate - they cared so much about the product that they would spend hours to make it better. Fervent fans provide all the accountability you will ever need. In his book Undercover User Experience Design, Cennyd Boyles recommends using the same technique for consolidated user feedback and I might use it for beta testing the web app I'm creating now for a startup in Cambridge.
Another good point from Maciej: building a website and adding some social media options does not a community make. It can't be engineered; a thriving community develops organically over time.
Dan Williams was a great speaker, charismatic and passionate about the persistent surveillance infiltrating our lives. He brought detailed (and difficult to find) research to illustrate all of his points. I didn't even know about the surveillance drones planned for NYC, although the Bloomberg quote "get used to it" sounds just like him. Bloomberg argues that we are already under surveillance from every building on practically every street corner - what's the difference between that and unmanned aircraft snapping our candids?
Dan mentioned the hilarious CCTV filmmakers project, which uses footage from existing CCTV cameras to produce short films and performances. He thought he would try it out when he found out that his entire bus ride through the UK was filmed. However he could only get one photo (you can request footage through a freedom of information act - info on the UK government site here. CCTV is required to obscure everyone's face except for the requesting party, so they would have had to manually black out (with what looked like a sharpie) everyone's faces in every frame for the entire three hour ride.
Also didn't know and was shocked to find out that there are cameras in some bars in the US tracking customers gender, age, and physical characteristics to pass along to services like dating apps or for advertising.
Besides being creeped out at times, what a great experience and I'm so glad I went. I'm going to try to stay in that mind-expanded space as I work on web applications for clients, and develop my own product that will push the limits of augmented reality and ask how technology can provide a deeper connection to the world around us. I especially want to dive deeper into geolocation.
So often with web design we talk about conventions and staying within what users already know. I think that's valuable advice, but let's not be restricted by it so that we end up creating the same website over and over again. We can move beyond traditional interaction patterns as these new technologies become more accepted, slowly but surely.
However, none of the speakers were as titillating as the conversation I had with Jeremy Keith and Richard Rutter of Clearleft afterwards. At what point does a french fry become a "chip"? A question that has perplexed me ever since I moved to London three months ago. Where is that dividing line - what is maximum french fry size and what on earth pray tell is minimum chip size? Someone help, before I lose any more sleep over this.
Oh wait, one more big takeaway (and good note to end my epic blog post) that Nicole Sullivan brought to the table - don't engage with the haters. Focus on the positive things that people are saying and give the negative, non-constructive (usually anonymous) feedback none of your time. In fact, sometimes we can even be our own worst enemy and troll ourselves - true fact. Cheers to a troll-free life for all. You heard me, drink up!