Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And now, the end is near ... taking digital risks

As we approach the end of the conference, I am under the influence of the usual mixture of exhaustion, elation, a faint sense of regret at everything I didn't manage to do, and a definite sadness that it's all over for another year. So I'm looking forward to being cheered up by our Light Programme, which kicks off with Brendan Dawes from magneticNorth, imploring us to "Stop Making Sense". That should be easy enough, given my mental and emotional state.

Those pesky robots
Machines, on the other hand, don't have emotions. Brendan shows us "desire lines" to remind us of the random nature of human desire, in comparison to machines' programmed processes. He distinguishes between human and machine communications using "It's a Clock" (which tells the time like a human, rendering "it's nearly quarter to nine" rather than "The time is eight forty three a.m." - *BIG laugh*).

Humanising through risk-taking
To create connections between human beings and objects, for example by creating beautiful architecture, you don't always have to create the most efficient thing, says Brendan, and this goes against machine logic. He shows us a Cecil Balmond bridge with a big kink in the middle - "bonkers.. but everyone loves it. And the bridge was much stronger, as a side effect." Why aren't we taking more of these risks digitally? "No-one's going to die, taking risks, digitally."

Enhancing data with context
Next up he quotes Jimi Hendrix (yes, Jimi Hendrix, not Ginny Hendricks). "You've got to know more than just the technicalities of notes; you've got to know what goes between the notes." It's about what he *doesn't* play. And we get a comedy rubbish robot reading of "Under Milk Wood", by Brendan's Mac, versus a sonorous rendition by the lovely Richard Burton. "If you apply that logic to data in an RSS feed, the way you present is very important. The flow of the information is important - transitions. The iPhone makes things more human because of the transitions."

Rethinking how we interact with the web
"I like the idea of discovering things over time" - objects, people, persons. The rules of information design are not written in stone, and there is always more to discover. Brendan's company have created a gestural interface for navigating content - forget clicking, it's all about drawing shapes and lines to reflect the way people naturally do things in the way that they browse. "It was just offering an alternative." The iPhone has been a game-changer - "it's an exciting time".

"The universe is made of stories, not atoms" - Muriel Rukeyser. Focus on the human elements, not the science. (As a marketer, I completely agree - and in the context of a conference, for example, the best presentations are those that focus on a story, a structured narrative, not just a wealth of information to be imparted.) "Wonderful things come out of serendipity."

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