#Update2011 Conference Brighton Review : Afternoon (Part 2)
This is the third and final part of our review of the Update 2011 Conference in Brighton on mobile development and usability on Monday 6th September. You can also check out our posts on BrightonSEO Friday 9th - see #BrightonSEO 2011 – Attracting Quality Links
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The morning session, featuring:
- Matt Gemmell on Usability
- Jeremy Keith on The One Web
- Chris Evans-Roberts – Ithaca Audio
- The Native vs Web App Debate
The first part of the afternoon, which featured:
- Seb Lee-Delisle – Angry Birds Corona Workshop
- Sarah Parmenter – UI Design for iOS
- Relly Annett-Baker – Arse Over Tit
- Interview with Ronald Wayne – Apple Co-Founder
Joachim Bondo – Going Beyond Delicious
Following the enthralling interview with Apple co-founder Ronald Wayne, we heard from Joachim Bondo - who Chess fans may be interested to hear is the creator of the Deep Green game – originally for the Apple Newton, and latterly for iPhone and iPad. So a clever chap!
As with some of the previous presentations at Update 2011, Joachim’s focus was on user experience. He stressed that ‘delicious’ apps give users more pleasure and are likely to be used and shared more than those that are ‘undelicious’
Joachim is a watch collector, and his presentation essentially used watch design and manufacture as an extended metaphor for app design and development.
In his view – although Apple’s products are designed by ‘dudes’ in California and manufactured on production lines in China where ‘people kill themselves’ (rather than being hand crafted in Switzerland like the watches he loves) – that they are on the right track with their attention to detail and ‘delicious’ product design and user interfaces.
However Joachim maintained that app developers have the opportunity to go beyond delicious – i.e. to look further than just a sleek user interface, and make sure that every component and every line of code is perfect.
His overriding point was that quality takes time – like the manufacture of a carefully crafted wristwatch, if you want your app to go ‘beyond delicious’ take the time to test every component, and that users will flock to a great product.
If I’m honest, I think Joachim’s presentation took rather a long time to make one point via an extended metaphor – and many of the other presentations at Update 2011 provided much more in the way of practical advice. However he’s clearly passionate about attention to detail in both watches and app development, and I’m sure his passion made some of the developers in the audience think twice about rushing half-baked apps to market.
Anna Debenham – The Digital Native
Anna is a front-end developer based in Brighton and delivered an eye-opening and heart-felt presentation about how ICT is currently delivered in UK schools – a subject close to our own hearts here at Silicon Beach. As training providers to industry we strive to ensure that everything we deliver is up to date with current standards. Whilst you could forgive your local comprehensive for not offering a course on the latest build of jQuery – it is truly shocking to hear that students are still being set assignments where they design and publish web sites using Microsoft Word and Powerpoint!
Her main argument was that today’s students (‘Digital Natives’ who have grown up with technology) are not the people that our education system was designed to teach - a system presided over by ‘Digital Immigrants’ who don’t believe that students can learn from TVs and mobile phones.
Our current education system sees mobile phones as ‘offensive weapons’ and schools have the power to confiscate them, examine the data on them and destroy the data on them.
Anna provided a brilliant example of why this attitude is so outmoded by showing a video from European Zeitgeist 2011 – Embracing Young people where a young South African entrepreneur described how he had written his entire 8,000 word business plan on a Nokia 6234 (a basic mobile with only alpha-numerical keys) because it was the only technology he had access to.
For our own, privileged education system with all of the technology to which we have access to have such a blinkered view of the future of the IT industry seems even more absurd when contrasted to this kind of endeavour among young people.
Other shocking facts from Anna’s presentation included:
- Many schools' computers and laptops monitor EVERYTHING that students do on them.
- The View Source feature is disabled on many school’s web browsers as they see it as ‘dangerous’ that students should be able to examine a web-site’s code.
- There are lots of videos on YouTube published by students who have worked out how to hack their schools systems to circumnavigate firewalls (and in the process can gain access to fellow pupils data)
- The number of GCSE ICT students has dropped 51% in the last 5 years – Anna identified the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s English Baccalaureate scheme as a major factor in disincentivising students to study IT, as they are seen to have less worth.
Anna also expressed concern at the extent to which technology today is hidden inside sealed boxes – students can’t see the technology behind the magic of modern devices. One antidote to this is the Raspberry Pi – a simple, open (in every sense) mini computer costing around £15 per unit which can be given to kids to experiment fully with – break, and mend! Anna pointed out that it can’t be a coincidence that Aral, who organised Update 2011, was told by his father “do anything you like with the computer – you can’t break it”.
If you, like us, are shocked to hear some of these statistics - Anna provided some practical tips for what people can do to help change the situation:
- Encourage kids to play with simple programming tools like Scratch, or Hackasaurus, which teaches kids the fundamentals of how HTML works.
- Become a STEM Ambassador. If you work in IT, or know IT well, you can volunteer to go in to schools and give talks to inspire kids to work with technology.
- Find out what monitoring software your kids' school uses and find out what they’re doing with the data. Suggest alternatives to the software that kids are being told to use.
- Write to your MP and the Education Secretary
You can also learn more here.
Geek Ninja Battle Debate – Design Challenges
Next up was the second of the day’s ‘Geek Ninja Battles’ (or debates to the rest of us)
This one was far less heated than the first and prompted the panel to provide their views on the biggest design challenges when designing for mobiles.
Again chaired by Aral, the panel this time were:
Aral kicked off by asking “What are the biggest challenges designing for mobile?”
In Sarah’s view “less is more” on the iPhone – so the biggest challenge for her was working with clients to agree what can be left out, to help her to strip designs back to 3-4 screens. You really have to get people to think about what the primary reason is that people will open the app, and design around that.
Cennyd challenged the question itself and asked “What do you mean by mobile?” Sometimes that can refer to the device itself, and sometimes to the person using it – so you also have to think about context – where is the person using your app, and on what device – and to design around those needs – for example the ergonomics of where users will need to tap on the screen given what they are doing (running, playing golf etc…) If you’re including a pinch zoom how easy is it going to be if the user is only using one hand – and always make sure you’re not discriminating for left-handedness.
Joachim agreed with Sarah, in that simple design is hard to achieve. In the mobile version of Deep Green he had to reduce the number of buttons in his dock from 6 to 5 and it took him a while to find the solution. He pointed out that simplicity doesn’t happen easily, whereas complexity does.
Relly – who is a copywriter - said that one of her biggest challenges is the limited amount of space on small screens for copy, and that people often don’t read properly when they are on the move, so like Cennyd she agreed that you have to consider context when writing. As an example she cited the Legoland site which only gives you the mobile version on the iPad – which doesn’t include information on what is going on that day – just the sort of information mobile users want!
Remy also agreed that context is a major consideration, as if your app isn’t designed to be used on a mobile device you’re essentially designing for desktops. From a developers perspective he recommended prototyping with the jQuery mobile library.
However Remy also recommended getting down to the bare bones of your code, and to programme without libraries if you are able to do it as it will make your code as lean as possible (continuing some of the themes that Joachim discussed in his presentation – simple can take longer)
Aral then asked “Is context king in mobile?”
Cennyd responded that – in theory – yes it is; but in practice figuring out context is harder and just as important. A lot of people see context as being the magic bullet – e.g. using geolocation services and the accelerometer to work out where people are and how fast they are travelling to deliver them content relevant to their precise environment requirements. He warned against over-engineering in this way – but pointed out that some apps rely entirely on context to function, using the example of Golf Shot, an app that helps you to judge distances and decide which club to use on the course. The beauty of this app he said, was that whilst it is engineered for precise context – it goes beyond that by storing data about your performance with particular clubs and so on which adds more value later - outside that specific context.
That was about it for the main part of the debate – in which most people agreed with what each other were saying – so not quite as fun as the first debate!
Finally – Aral asked the panel to provide examples of their favourite and least favourite apps. We thought this would make a nice separate post, which we will write up separately – so watch this space
Closing Keynote - Cennyd Bowles – The Things of the Future
So – we found ourselves at the closing keynote for the day. And to the credit of Aral and his team they had put together a conference agenda that still had me paying attention and engaged at the very end – which isn’t always the case at conferences!
Cennyd Bowles' closing keynote looked to the future - often going beyond mobile design and development to consider how products and services in general should be deigned as the 21st century moves on.
He started by asserting that late capitalism has excelled at giving us products that serve no user need (mode blades on razors etc…) and that we have tended to create an awful lot of crap, which then has to be sold to us by increasingly banal advertising techniques.
However he argued that this can’t last. In a world of increased social networking, consumers are starting to see through the crap and feel more apathetic towards the businesses that are feeding it to us. People don’t want to just be consumers any more – we want to contribute and to share.
Add to that the fact that our oil is running out and that consumer confidence is low, Cennyd argued that the “things of the future” will be shaped by different principles.
Products will need to be more “human” and some already are – he used an example of a Breville toaster that has a “bit more” button – which shows that the designers understand their end users behaviours.
We now have the technology in our phones to make what we do more human. Our phones know a lot about us – who our friends are – where we go and so on, and combining that with declarative technologies and social media can create some useful tools for day to day life.
However Cennyd argued that we can take that a step further, and design apps that are not just useful but which tackle societal problems and issues, and help put a stop to wicked business practices.
So - how can we make sure that are not just contributing to the digital landfill in what we create?
Cennyd suggested that we consider the following equation:
overall value = business value x customer value
In the future - if either of the above values is 0 you don't have a business. There will be no place in the future for products and services that add no value to the customer.
Cennyd finished by giving some practical tips on how to achieve this:
- Put design first. Hire a great designer. They are in demand, but will pay you back many times over. Great designers will ask searching questions about your users.
- Trust intangibles. Have faith in creating things that go beyond numbers and create delight for people.
- Don't Differentiate - Disrupt. Don’t just differentiate your products from your competitors. Render your competitors products redundant.
- Aim for value and significance. Look at what is good for customer value and for society.
As a final piece of evidence to prove his point - Cennyd drew our attention to the UX fund - an investment index based on companies that were innovative and demonstrated care in the design of their products and websites. This index of shares performed better than any other - which can be no co-incidence.
We had a great time at Update 2011 and met some really interesting people at the after party too. I hope you've enjoyed this comprehensive write up - we'll see you at the next one!
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