MozFest Weekend

Over the weekend I went to Mozfest along with a few other folks in the class to check out some speakers and meet some new folks. There were some really interesting projects on display and I even met people who I already follow on Twitter (Alex D-S at the Unconference Sessions), so I was a bit bewildered walking around the place with a few recognisable faces!

A lot of the talks and events were very focused on technology. This obviously is good – one of my big takeaways is how I want to vastly improve my coding capabilities, and looking at what people are doing in comparison to where I am at in my progress is quite interesting. I’ve set myself the challenge to complete a fun pressure project this weekend after my hand-in, which sounds like a nice relaxing contrast to the high intensity weekend spent down in London.

Going back to the focus upon technology however, it helped me align myself with what I want to do, and how I could learn from that. For instance, I was chatting with a woman who was with a company who had designed an open-source infrared projector, aimed at replacing fibre optic cables where installation is hard to achieve and costs are hard to come across. She was quite passionate about the technology, explaining how it works and all the technical development behind it, where I was more interested in how the open source technologies could be used for good – for instance adapting the core proposition to enable deprived communities greater access to these services.

It reminds me of something Graham Pullin, our lecturer in third year of University told us, and that was that we need to be geeky about design. I need to be more geeky about other aspects of design that I wouldn’t class as my forte. I’m very keen on human centred research and I feel very comfortable working within that area – but what I desperately need to improve on are my coding skills and my handling of more practical design skills like form and manufacture.

But enough of the self introspection. Mozfest finished with my favourite speaker of the weekend – Gillian Crampton Smith – a literal design genius. You know that way when somebody speaks you’re hanging off their every word? That’s how Gillian talks, she’s absolutely brilliant. Gillian gave the most design-ey talk that I went to (she is one of the pioneers of Interaction Design after all) which was a nice change to the discussion around API’s and stuff like that all weekend. Two things really spoke to me in her talk, which I had heard before, but had a bigger impact on me, especially within that context.

Gillian talked about a lot of the themes discussed in Donald Norman’s ‘Emotional Design’. Probably my favourite book I’ve read on design, Norman also wrote ‘The Design of Everyday Things’, where he lambasts the idea of making things look beautiful just for the sake of it. In ‘DOET’ he argues that designers place aesthetics above usability, when it should obviously be form over function, but in ‘Emotional Design’ he admits to the idea that in fact, beautiful things are more functional.

Gillian bid designers to make their products more fun and playful, leading on from the principles that Norman had set in place in his book. She said to make interactions enjoyable in order to add to the “beautiful moments” in which we experience on a day to day basis. In doing so, we will make our products easier to use, but more importantly, more enjoyable to use.

Her talk was ended with a clip from a BBC documentary on human centred design, in which Haiyan Zhang, a designer whom she once tutored and has worked for IDEO and other companies in the past, created an armband that combats the tremor effects in the hand of a Graphic Designer suffering from Parkinson’s. The lesson here was to use technology for good – to help people solve real problems in their life, not simply to win awards and garner fame and money. It was one of those moments where you look and think “that’s where I want to be”.

I write this on the bus back to Dundee (an absolutely fantastic experience I must say, no better way to spend 12 hours), and I’m so excited for the week ahead – to get a project and video done, and return back to reality. Part of the excitement stems from getting to lie in my own warm bed without 5 other people in the room; most definitely getting rid of the strange man who literally haunted my nightmares with his putrid bodily odour from the bunk below me. The other part of the excitement stems from finishing this project off, and moving onto something else new and exciting.

The first couple of modules in the Master’s has been quite difficult, but nothing too overwhelming. Excited to round this project off with a good week and bring the learnings into the project starting a week from now.

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