Dconstruct 2010: Design and Creativity


A last burst of sunny warmth before the trees start shedding their leaves. Must be time for dConstruct at Brighton Dome, the ‘one day conference for people designing and building the latest generation of web applications,’ from our friends at Clearleft. Both our Producer Sam Wander, Designer Ollie Aplin and a thousand other geeks all rejected a dose of Vitamin D and attended the one day conference- the theme this year being ‘Design and Creativity.’ Luckily for you - if you weren't there or if you weren't paying attention, Ollie and Sam have both written about their highlights of the day, which I have hopefully intermeshed to create a comprehensive roundup of the days talks, covering topics from brand and design theory to the power of networks, via infographics, typography and musical improvisation.

OA: The conference kicked off with Marty Neumeier from Liquid Agency and immediately we were all immersed in new ways to develop the inner creativity in us all. Marty raised the awareness of the need to be different in today’s current climate, ways in which to do this and looked at the brands that are succeeding with this model and those who are not.
Then Brendan Dawes took to the stage. His talk was witty, clever and overall, brilliantly refreshing. Brendan was keen to express his fascination with making things simple. How to take challenging projects that at first seem largely complex but to use his method of ‘boil, simmer, reduce’ to make the project a success. He also expressed his frustration with current devices and websites having too many functions and surfacing too much content at once. His messages being do one thing only and do it well.
SW: Next up was David McCandless who is an infographics torchbearer, his talk on how 'Information is Beautiful' was lively and absorbing. Infographics, for him, are about finding patterns and connections between numbers that are otherwise not always obvious. In a connected world, unconnected figures don't make sense. For example, the US may spend more on defense than any other country, but as a proportion of GDP it's relatively modest (4%). The defense budget in Myanmar is 26% of GDP. Visualising this data really helps us perceive these nuances, it tells a story we might not otherwise see. In a visually literate world, we have a desire for and trust in designed information.
If you're interested in this fascinating design form, I recommend a blog called Information Aesthetics (as well as David's blog of course).
Being a frequent Daring Fireball reader and one of John Gruber's 86,521 Twitter followers, I was looking forward to his first appearance in the UK. His talk was on 'The Auteur Theory of Design', seeking to explain why some creative projects never reach the quality expected from the talented people behind them. Collaboration is important to us at Cogapp, we swap desks every few months and ensure the departments mesh as much as possible. John explored the difference between a lone author, a director and an auteur; using the history of cinema to cast a light on how we work collaboratively in modern creative industries.
He has an interesting thesis: "The quality of any collaborative creative endeavour tends to approach the level of taste of whoever has control." Certainly seems to work for Apple.
Mid-afternoon, John Bridle took us on a riveting journey from his lost home of Geocities, through the destroyed library of Alexandria, to a shipping container in California containing 150 billion historical webpages. Cultural destruction is rife through history; invaluable artifacts and collections have been lost time and again. Do we reflect on this as we produce our terabytes of intangible digital artifacts? I miss Geocities too, what else will we lose in our somewhat atemporal digital flatland?
To rather wonderfully illustrate some of these ideas, John created a twelve-volume history of the Iraq war. It captures every revision to the Wikipedia page for the war, expressing the attitudes to and understanding of the war as it unfolded. The history of a document as history of an event. When you visit Wikipedia you generally only see the current version of an entry, his physical object illustrates the depth and time lying behind.
John also introduced those not in the know (me) to 'Wiki Racing'. Choose a subject as a goal, hit random article and see who can reach the goal purely through clicking internal article links. Everything is connected in a hyperlinked encyclopedia.
OA: The last speaker of the day was Merlin Mann. I’d never heard of him but I will never forget him. On whole the audience was primarily from a technical background and for them, Merlin was a legend. He spoke frankly about the industry and how he was proud of all the ‘nerds‘ in the room. He was surprisingly refreshing to listen to after an intense day of talks and analysing. His talk was like a comical evaluation of everything we had learned throughout the day and how we should just keep doing what we’re doing because as an industry as “we are the future.”
On the whole the conference was completely different to what I had expected. It was a creative conference but based on creativity within a technical framework. This was not a design conference aimed at designers like I had perceived. However, what I learnt was important as I managed to observe how technical individuals and organisations value design within their own work and how they manage the expectations of a users experience. Personally I think it was as much of an eye opener for them as it was for myself as a designer. 
Many thanks to Clearleft for organsing such a good day- Same time next year?


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