Design Consequences @ BarCamp

When I finally had the opportunity to grab a ticket to BarCampLondon2 last Thursday – in the midst of a busy week at work and with weekend plans already in place, it was very tempting to just let this one go through to the keeper. It’s now Sunday evening and I’m pretty exhausted (although, I’d have nothing on everyone who camped on site overnight and were up to all hours playing Werewolf!), but I’m very glad I went along. It was a great weekend.

For me, I found that I got more out of this BarCamp than the last one. There seemed to be a lot less navel gazing around ‘being geeks’ and lots more just getting on with it. Also, I wasn’t able to coerce any of my workmates to come along with me, so I had much less of a safety blanket. This is a great strategy. I met lots more people at this BarCamp and had so many interesting chats. It does make walking into a room a little scary at first, but you just do it. Walk in. Find someone who doesn’t look too scary. Talk.

Speaking of talking, there were lots of great presentations. I went to some… the bummer about BarCamp is that you miss more presentations than you can see. Some highlights for me included Ian Forrester kicking off with a talk about cool things you can do with Pipes; Andy Budd with a great overview of the importance of Design, Usability and User Experience; Riccardo Cambiassi talking about ‘Always On Brainstorms’ and using social software like Skype as everpresent and inclusive channels for idea generation (‘creating a playspace for imagination and creativity’); Tom Coates evangelising and defending the importance of social software and giving insight into what works and why; Simon Willison enlightened me, at least, as to what OpenID is and why I need one (I have one now); and lots and lots of people either angsting about Microformats and/or RDF; and a really interesting talk on Artificial Intelligence + Emotion by a guy whose name I just couldn’t remember (not for want of trying… sorry!)

Not to mention all the other great chats in the breaks between sessions or in front of the ‘wall’ trying to work out which session to go to next!

For my presentation I managed to make people who turned up do most of the work :) I ran a demo of a homespun design workshop technique I’ve recently started using which we currently call ‘Design Consequences’. It’s much more approachable and fun than the name suggests, so I’m issuing a call for suggestions to rename it! I’ll do a write up of what Design Consequences for anyone who was there and wants the notes, and those who missed out, in the next couple of days. Thanks to everyone who came along and participated in my session. I had lots of fun! (Update: I’ve written up the technique here if you’re interested in trying it yourself)

Something else I find really interesting about BarCamp are emergent themes… little topics that keep popping up over the course of the weekend in somewhat unrelated ways. Here’s a few I picked up on:

  • Play & Fun – I heard these words mentioned in quite a few sessions I attended. More times than I expected. This makes sense to me. You should be spending your life working at something that you enjoy, that is fun. Integrating play and fun into work is something we should be more conscious of, I think.
  • Time – in particular capturing and navigating time… either time we’re spending right now, or content we’re creating now that we and others might want to retrieve in the future, as well as content created in the past that we want to retrieve in a way that is specifically related to that time and place. I don’t think we think about this very much at the moment. I bet we start doing this a lot more soon. It’s going to be very interesting. I keep thinking of IA/IxDA and Microformats/Semantic Web. I think these two communities will be spending a lot more time together in the near future and rightfully so.
  • Working together and thinking about ‘normal people’ – there seemed to me to be a much smaller delegation under the design/usability/accessibility flag at this BarCamp (see above re: me not being able to coerce co-workers to attend at short notice… although it could have been that it was a larger BarCamp so we were a little more dispersed?). Last BarCamp I got the sense that the developer community were a little bemused to find so many ‘not-proper-geeks’ had turned up to BarCamp. This BarCamp I got the feeling that there was a growing concensus that we all need to be working much more closely together. That together, we’re much greater than the sum of our parts and we can do much greater and more effective work that way. 
  • The Power of Social – there were a few presentations that were dedicated specifically to social software, but it really pervaded almost all of the presentations I attended in one way or another. It makes me think of what Om Malik wrote recently about social networks being ‘just a feature’ – part of the offering of sites that set out to meet particular needs, rather than an end in themselves (which, perhaps, is just meeting the need of ‘being social?). I suspect we may look back and laugh at all the time and effort we spent in trying to ‘architect’ social spaces. That, in the places they add value and are powerful, social networks will just evolve. There are certainly some good examples of that already. More on that later.

So, that was BarCamp for me. Next up, I’m fortunate enough to be spending Tuesday and Wednesday this week at the Future of Web Apps conference. So, it’s likely there’ll be more posts in this vein before the week is out.

Anyone else going alone? I’m flying solo at this one too! :)

6 thoughts on “BarCampLondon2

  1. Ooh, I’m not sure I’d necessarily lump “play” and “fun” together so directly. Obviously, they often go hand in hand, but “fun” is a much more subjective thing and I’m wary of using it in work contexts (particularly because I find things “fun” that other people find “boring”). Similarly: things you enjoy are not always fun. Work should be satisfying, and enjoyable, but sometimes that has to exclude fun – especially on stuffing envelopes days.

    Play, though: I can get behind that wholeheartedly. There’s an awful lot wrapped up in that word. I can strongly recommend Pat Kane’s The Play Ethic, which is a very interesting tour of the various ways play can influence society. It’s at its most interesting when it veers into the highly hypothetical – the chapter focusing on the “national wage” is fascinating.

    Anyhow, I’m sure I can bat more ideas like this around at FOWA – do say hello. I’ll sort-of be on my own too…

  2. thanks for the book recommendation Tom (if only you got reward points at Amazon *sigh*). I look forward to reading that.

    I think that what I was thinking when I wrote the point about fun/play is that there does tend to an assumption that work isn’t a space where either fun or play should be expected.

    I know that when I’ve structured ‘play’ into workshops, for example, I’ve sometimes had much more success than when I’ve gone with the strictly dry and professional approach.

    I think there are lots of opportunities to take an more playful attitude to our work, and maybe even create the expectation of fun… maybe even on the ‘stuffing envelopes’ days :)

    (Although, as a sidenote, I read an Amazon review of the Pate Kane book where someone said it was fine for those people who have jobs that *are* more fun, and that making nursing or policing more fun could be problematic…. I’m glad I have a job that has much more inbuilt potential for play and fun)

    I’ll keep an eye out for you at FOWA. I’d be interested to talk about this some more!

  3. I wish I was still in London. I lived there for 4 years, and it wasn’t til I returned home to Sydney that I began wanting to attend these conferences, and find the best ones are in the northern hemisphere… that being said, there is a BarCamp in Sydney in a week, so maybe I’ll attend. I was worried it would be a little to far down the ‘geek’ end of the spectrum, but perhaps not, eh?

  4. hey Gordon. BarCamps are designed to be ‘roll your own’ so you could always organise one up your way! :)

    (I know there is some talk of a BarCamp further up north later in the year… not quite as far north as you I think).

    @ Leith: definitely go. Even if it is a little on the geeky side, you’ll probably get lots out of it. And it’s always good to have lots of clever geek friends!

  5. Milan, Turin, Rome. Italy it is waking up, too. Next barcamp here (Genova) will be held in April. “Force” all your friends to partecipate to this events, we must build a better internet :-)

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