dConstruct 2011

by Foolproof

On Friday, we made our annual trip to Brighton for the dConstruct conference, this year billed as exploring ‘how designers can bridge the gap between the physical and digital world’.

It sold out in only seven hours and yes, you should join the scrum too if you’re looking for commentary from old and new voices on the future, but not if you’re looking for practical tips to take away.

The day began with its headline speaker Don Norman, whose talk tackled the emotional side of design. He challenged Google’s approach and championed Apple’s, which is not too surprising given that he was a vice-president at the latter. “Most people say ‘we’re the users and the product is advertising…” he said of Google, “But in fact, the advertisers are the users and you are the product.”

Rising star Frank Chimero was another highlight with an appropriately titled talk, ‘Oh God, It’s Full of Stars’. In contrasting analog and digital products, he discussed the problem of collecting so much information on the web: Delicious bookmarks, Flickr photos and so on. Additional value could be found, he proposed, if this old but still useful information could be resurfaced and highlighted. It was one of the more interesting concepts of the day.

The best was left for last though. Matthew Sheret discussed the intimacy of technology, specifically devices which can fit in your pocket. He juxtaposed his heirloom pocket watch, handed down through several generations of his family, to his phone which is unlikely to be treated the same. Through references to Doctor Who and an exploration of the possibilities of RFID, it was an entertaining talk that seemed hard to follow.

Kevin Slavin was more than up to the task though. In what he called an ‘American-style interrogation’, he challenged the purpose and validity of augmented reality applications. It was a compelling argument which I hadn’t heard before, and one that typified the day.

dConstruct was a challenging mix of old and new this year, and a conference that we’ll definitely be returning to next year. While other conferences provide practical trade craft, this was a good opportunity to step back and think more broadly about the past and imagine the future.

What do you think?