Webstock 2017 — an impression

4 months ago by

Written by Gerbrand van Melle

The week before last was Webstock week. Yes, there was an incident. Yes, you can read all about on the Internet. Yes, Sagmeister’s tasteless joke was over 8 years old. Yes, Natasha and Mike from Webstock responded accurately and conform the conference code of conduct. Chapeau!

What else happened on Thursday and Friday? Tim Kadlec opened this year’s edition and set the tone for the rest of the conference: “All forms of communication have a gap of ambiguity. We are political. We are biased.” Tim was so kind to confront us with an example of the loading of a single web page that can cost a monthly wage in some countries in 3G network costs. It raised the question whether information is available for everyone and how we tend to be completely biased from a privileged technology point of view. This inclusive thinking was continued by Kim Goodwin who presented her view on scenarios. She shared her vision on plausible future stories of personas and made sure that this does not concern some kind of user roles but a real person’s. And how we designers should get the whole story of real people. How it is the designers duty to add something unexpectedly good for. She asked: “What would a thoughtful human do?”

And there was Trump. The majority of Webstock speakers is US based. Of course there was Trump. Lisa Welchman made it clear, “Something seems to have gone wrong”. And assured us of hope and continued the theme that was arising. An idea of inclusiveness and that we are the reason why things will get better, as the web belongs to us all. New Zealand speaker Sacha Judd took us down the online rabbit hole of One Direction fan-fiction to come out the other side with a strong message that we still need to work on the idea amongst young people around tech. To assure them their ability to contribute to the tech industry to establish more balance in gender and diversity.

Then Cal Henderson took us on a rollercoaster ride of the history and relevance of emojis. He took us all the way down to 1999, the introduction of the emoji for the i-Mode handsets in Japan, the marvel of online communication of 18 years ago. This was the kind of talk that makes Webstock so great. It covered design, code and pop culture in a twirling rainbow of functionality and joy. Patricia Moore, who unfortunately had to record a message from her hospital bed, continued this innovation mantra: “Care by design. Provide joy through design.” Thank you ‘Patty’, your story touched all of us.

The second day was opened by Jonathan Colman. He took the St James Theatre on a possible journey of communication solutions for people whom we’ll never know in our lifetimes. How do we design a nuclear waste waring system for future visitors to planet earth? “Ray cats?”. He used the ‘fail fast’ analogy to make things a little bit better. Not to actually fail fast, but to learn quickly. This understanding of learning was taken into a organisational level by Jared Spool. He talked us through models of design implementation and assured us of the huge difference between one off design projects versus an infused design culture. Jared shared his vision on the unpredictability organisations and how his vision is based on looking at organisations as systems instead of processes, and how immersive exposure and a shared experience vision can lead to a continuous learning culture. Oh hello daily scrums and design thinking. An essential difference that Jared proposed was the learning component in this agile environment: “What did I learn and how will it change what I’m going to do?”.

Jeff Gothelf followed this pathway of leaning and shared his vision on how one should scale principles and not try to scale processes. He left us with four guiding principles: customer value = business value, value learning over delivery, strive for radical transparency, and accomplish humility in all things. Listening to and valuing your customers was the core of Janine Gianfredi’s work as the former Chief Marketing Officer of the US Digital Service, a start up at the White House to improve government services for Americans. The examples she shared we humbling indeed.

Indy Johar asked, “How do you deal with authorship in a distributed agency model, in a 21st century of governance?” He showed us how western thinking for over the last 300 years taught us to look at the world through individual objects and how that does not comply anymore in a decentralised complex world. It’s an old worldview. Darius Kazemi presented on screen from Hypercard. Woop! He assured us three activist technology rules of thumb: don’t think of solutions, technology is terrible, and don’t create, but mutate. The fact that Hypercard crashed and he had to code live on stage was a fresh and delightful experience.

Anthropologist Genevieve Bell proposed three questions to ask Artificial Intelligence: What’s your name? Who raised you? What do you do everyday? And oh, what are your dreams AI? She showed perfectly well how deeply rooted, smart systems must be interrogated for their provenance and bias. Lest we model our future only on our past. This thinking about the ethics of technology was underlined by the talk of Anil Dash. He shared his enthusiasm for humane technology and his growing lack of enthusiasm for the tech industry. He pointed out how our internet went from opening up new free markets to creating a series of Fake Markets that exploit society. This article goes more into depth, showing the world of Facebook and Über we all know so well. And then there was Sagmeister.

Thank you Webstock for an inspiring start of 2017. Again it was unexpectedly good. Thank you speakers, audience, and crew for sharing the things that matter most in our day to day life. If I could wrap it all up in just one word it would be “inclusiveness”. But that would exclude so many inspiring conversations at the afterparty… Thanks heaps for the Websocks!


Read Shane O’Connell’s Webstock review here.



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