by Katharina Cyra

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London calling…

A week has passed since the Future of Mobile came to an end and “The Brewery”, located in the heart of the City of London, closed its doors to mobile geeks and aficionados again. Time to look back on the event.

Report by Katharina Cyra, information architect, day 1-2:

The #FOM12 (together with the Future of Web Apps 2012) had been publicised as an event that would not only attract visionaries from the mobile sector, but would also, in particular, provide cutting-edge insights for developers and (UX) designers. And the event certainly delivered on its promises: in three tracks, a total of 39 speakers revealed their insider knowledge in 44 presentations – which certainly kept us conference visitors busy.

The keynote speech made by Jeffrey Zeldman (@zeldman), founder of A List Apart, on “The New Craft of Web Design” kicked the conference off and used a number of illustrative, albeit far from spectacular, website examples to allow the participants to reach a clear and simple conclusion: given the sheer endless abundance of (mobile) devices, we simply cannot make concrete assumptions about the user context. What are the implications of this for web design? We need a design that is as essential as water….or salt. Is that a bit too esoteric? Ok, let’s be a bit more straightforward: web design always has to work. How? Content and accessibility first. It really is that simple.

Rising star Dan Donald (@hereinthehive) took a similar approach with his presentation on “Reactive Web Design: Designing with context” who started by pointing out that: websites have to be understood as a flexible concept. Responsive design does not only refer to fluid grids and JQuery. No, responsive design also means, in a sustainable sense, cultural change. Now that it is almost 20 years old, we can say that the web has reached adulthood. And we, too, have to break ties with static thought patterns. Data only makes sense if it is linked and ultimately benefits users. Another thing: we can’t keep up with the development of new devices. But our digital products definitely have to be able to. And once again, our speaker sums things up with the words “content first”, referring to Karen McGrane and her idea on “Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content”.

My personal favourite ends the day with a presentation that is a little unusual for this sort of conference: a look reminiscent of university life in Cambridge or Oxford and a presentation made without any sort of technical support at all. After running through the evolution of devices, web and payment solutions, facts, clients and Lean UX, the topic of the presentation brings us back to the hard facts. The presentation made by Ben Hammersley (@benhammersley) on “Stillness and Mindfulness in Digital Design” starts with the question of how many telephone numbers we actually know by heart? Two or three? That’s as many as we actually need to remember. After all, we’ve got everything saved on a device lurking in our handbags or trouser pockets. But this basic function of all handsets is far from the only thing that our smartphones do for us. The exponential growth of their capabilities and possibilities is not only something to get excited about, but is also causing a few drops of sweat to accumulate on the brows of many – especially political– decision-makers. Allegedly, there is too little interdisciplinary exchange and, most importantly, critique of the political and cultural ideas that are behind digital offerings. Ben Hammersley appeals to the audience to think about the assumptions underlying, and the background to, our own (digital) consumption before allowing us to leave and enjoy a well-deserved evening off.

Erin Zinman: Native, HTML5, and Hybrid Mobile App Development: Real-Life Experiences; photo courtesy of Future Insights

The second day starts with a keynote speech by Daniel Appelquist (@torgo) and “The Future of the Future of the Machine to Machine” and shows us, in particular, the playground for developers that is emerging in the form of Arduino, an open source prototyping tool in this area. This low-cost micro controller allows users to link up and control various different devices… like a fabulous fish-feeding app! It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it aptly demonstrates Daniel’s point: “Think outside the rectangle (= Smartphone)”. It is only if we are able to observe what is happening out there in the wider world, if we experiment and try things out that we can develop new multimodal “experiences”.

Louisa Heinrich also tackles the issue of machine to machine in the afternoon in her presentation entitled “Where does Service Design go in an Internet of Things?”, stating that: “Digital – It’s gone from option to necessity”. Well, that’s something we’d already guessed. So what’s new? It’s new for a lot of companies that cannot be described as digital and that offer users a large number of singular, digital service design solutions (one example being the C&A Fashion Like) – many of which completely bypass user needs and reality. The future is in living services. It is all about supporting human life in a relevant manner (→ e.g. Marcel’s article on Quantified Self) and linking new forms of interaction. And in order to cope with tomorrow’s multi-multimodal world, which presents us with new challenges, we should also be using new skills. Why not seek advice from a choreographer, a quantum mathematician or a sound designer when you want to interpret data and develop something truly novel?

After being presented with so many visions of a networked world, Bruce Lawson (@brucel) rounds off the second day of the conference with a few helpful tips on “How to destroy the web”. In a highly entertaining and subversive talk, he shows us which standards we have to ignore to build a web for a small number of privileged, selected people.

So what did we learn from London and the FOM/FOWA 2012? – It’s all about people. And context. Experiment with everything! And a few fun facts: an average mobile phone user (in the western world) looks at his or her mobile/smartphone 150 times a day, which translates into one glance at the device every 6.5 minutes. In Africa, the same figure stands at “only” 85 times a day. And we have more mobile devices on our planet than we do toothbrushes.

On that note: As creators of the web we shape the future of the web. (Dan Donald)

Future Insights and Carsonified host a whole series of events. The next one is already scheduled for late November in Prague: “Future of Web Design“.

Report by Philipp Saile, information architect, day 3:

The user is the beginning and the end

On the last day of the three-day conference, the agenda featured the workshop with Erik Loehfelm (@eloehfelm). Erik is Executive Vice President at Universal Mind and teaches interaction design at the College of Art and Design in Grand Rapide, Michigan/US.

His workshop looked at “Designing an elegant Mobile User Experience across multiple devices and platforms”. – if you think it could be hard work sitting for seven hours in the window-less basement of the time-honoured “The Brewery” in London discussing the extensive principle of user-centred product development, then you’re wrong.

First of all, there was an in-depth discussion on various analysis methods, such as qualitative user surveys or strategic positioning models. According to Erik, the most important thing is always to understand the user’s needs. In his opinion, there are, for example, various diving apps that allow users to store detailed data on their dives. But none of them allow users to record the emotions after the dive. If I come across a riff shark for the very first time, I want to document my experience in an App. Detailed data like the oxygen level used, he adds, then fade into insignificance.

The workshop then looked at the ideal elaboration of personas and user scenarios. However, before the position of the “buy button”, which is much loved by customers, can be defined, it is important to answer the following questions: how, where and when is the product used and in which context? Erik emphasised that the product use context has to be clear before starting to develop the idea in the form of scribbles and wireframes. We then worked together to develop an app idea and visualise it within a few minutes using live sketching on an iPad with Paper.

The last part of the workshop was dedicated to the topic of “Agile development and rapid prototyping”. Erik showed attendees how easy it is to implement a prototype using FluidUI.

At the end of a long day filled with information on methods, guidelines, tools and experience, the overall conclusion is: ultimately, it is always the users who decide whether the product does what they want it to and whether they plan to use the service again – not the position and size of the “buy button”.

We left the bustling metropolis of London full of inspiration and – thanks to the air conditioning – with ever so slightly sore throats.

Further links:
Digitale Produktentwicklung – Der denkwerk Prozess mit Methodenkompendium
iPad Sketching App
Mobile UI Patterns
Mobile Prototyping

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