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Posted by James Oliver on 11 November 2014

Positive feelings from Day 2 on the growth of digital talent in the north-east

Day 2 was all about the speakers – first up was Dan Rubin – who described his talk as more of a ‘rant’! He was trying to highlight the fact that many companies & individuals are guilty of hyping up a new product/service before it’s even had a chance to be seen & tested by the public. What I took away was to be as honest & always to keep the end users in mind, especially when a new deliverable is still being built. Post-build marketing should be simple & only make claims that are true, hyped marketing language just doesn’t resonate anymore.

Next up was Jordan Casey, a 14-yr old from Ireland who has already created 2 companies and produced several games! He was obviously a little more softly spoken than other presenters, but still impressively realed off his achievements to date and discussed how valued his opinions on new product ideas are. I could feel an air of envy mixed with disbelief in the room! This guy is sure to go onto big things, a name to remember…

Onto the 3rd talk of the morning – Graham Odds from Scott Logic. Graham is a designer/developer & regular speaker with a passion for techniques to visualise data. He introduced the Gestalt laws of grouping, along with many other useful visual slides featuring various graphs, pie charts and other variants which essentially combine different techniques – but also with a nod to newer interactive methods of data visualisation. I loved the psychological angle that his presentation took – and advise anyone to read up about theGestalt psychology. I also liked Graham’s presentation delivery – as he appeared to be using Prezi or something similar – the slides pan across the content, often showing a piece from a previous slide to help jog the user’s recollection. Useful when you have some visual elements or perhaps complex infographics.

After lunch, we reconvened for Naomi Timperley’s talk – which focussed primarily on her personal entrepreneurial journey through self-taught discovery of social media & guerrilla marketing techniques, motherhood and then Dragon’s Den pitch with her Directorial role as UK Director for Baby Loves Disco, with her US business partner. She later left this business, has always been an advocate for helping the youth & women succeed in business. Naomi’s honesty & upfront approach made her a very human & easy person to relate to – and is proof that it isn’t all about higher education and financial support – good ideas can come from anywhere & there are now plenty of free digital tools to help learn, develop & promote your ideas.

Michael Hobbs from Accenture was next, who’s talk was titled ‘From Or to And’ – a simple observational discussion which focussed heavily on banking examples –from bricks & mortar branches to online banking & newer mobile apps & emerging concepts. My main takeaways were that we can never be complacent in the digital world as how we complete daily tasks is evolving & changing so quickly, but at the same time it is an exciting place to be as the power of a good idea could change an entire industry! The only thing that has remained & continued to grow is the demand on mobile solutions.

We next had a short intro to Dan Riley – who’s company Spearhead Interactive had rapidly put together an Occulus Virtual Reality application – recreating the Biscuit Room space– including a new robot bartender & roaming drone! I enjoyed trying on the virtual reality head-set later on that eve – it does make you feel a little disorientated at times – but think I’m finally starting to see a commercial usage for this technology. The quality has certainly improved & more and more companies seem to be dabbling in this area now…

Harpal Singh was up next, a Designer/Developer from Sage. His presentation took us through his working process of creating a international Wordpress template used by all Sage’s marketing teams  - and gave an insight into the challenges & complications that this type of global project can bring. Comparing the solution to the old design, you could see clear improvement & good design principles being adopted – but the template had enough flexibility to be customised per region. I’m not convinced Wordpress was the best platform for such a template, but the beauty of our industry is that we don’t have to settle, solutions can always be iterated & improved.

Last up was the keynote speaker Cennydd Bowles from Twitter – who’s talk had an air of armaggedeon – but with valid observations on the ethics of what we are all doing as designers & developers. It was all about looking at ourselves and questioning the digital products and services we are creating for the mass market. Cennydd was clearly a great academic, and a lot of his speech actually aligned with Dan Rubin’s from the beginning of the day – that we are sometimes guilty of losing focus on the user & their interests. His speech touched on some very political & thorny issues around capitalism, manipulation techniques of marketing, and accessibility. He highlighted extreme disruption in radical industry shifts, meaning huge changes in digital products means our work has put others out of work. The environment & climate change catastrophies also were linked directly to designers – and, although not an easy one to respond to, he asked us to find a way to respond and help the human race survive! We were asked to consider the many forms of design we create for multiple devices – and how disguarded devices are contributing to increased landfill. So with some tough political material to digest & take away, my reaction was to try to evaluate all the work I do, and ensure that I maintain honesty & pride in my work, but not to ignore or hide anything from the intended users of products. There was a clear message to communicate better & speak with my colleagues & peers about any concerns– and not to ignore what we can’t see.

So in summary, having met some of the local UX & Development community, as well as listen to some very prominent industry speakers in their related fields, I came away with new insights and a positive feeling about the positivity and growth of talent in the north-east as well as recognising the superb organisation at attracting such a high calibre of guest speakers to the event. Roll on DIBI 2015…

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