Listen, Empathise, Have fun – Thinking Digital

Yesterday I attended the Thinking Digital conference in Manchester. The conference theme is around technology, ideas and our future. On the way back (3 hours on the train – LOTS of thinking time!) as I was going through the notes from the sessions I noticed 3 main messages from the conference for me – to listen to users and communities, empathise and have fun!

At work I try to bring people together by setting up and facilitating events where colleagues can share ideas and get a sense of belonging to a community. So I was very interested to hear  Sarah Drinkwater talk about  Campus London which is a space for entrepreneurs set up by Google. It made me think about how open plan offices sometimes do not encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas – you need the right culture to enable that. I liked the idea of regular themes to help share passion and enthusiasm. Sarah’s message to “always listen, be ready to flex and be humble” and to put “community first” really resonated with me.

Amber Case gave a great talk on calm technology. You can read more on calm technology via calmtech.com or in Amber’s new book. And I think again the most important message here was to focus on task not the tool and “If technology works well, we can ignore it most of the time”. For me, the key here is to listen to what people want and empathise with the context in which the technology will be used.

Clara Gaggero Westway’s talk was full of beautiful examples of where design and technology come together. I really loved the mobile phone user manual in the form of a book (it even appeared in the Museum of Modern Art!). This product was designed to help more mature mobile phone users get started with their new mobile phones (after Clara’s research team found that what the users wanted was not the dumbed down version of mobile phones but phones with lots of interesting features that would come with simple instructions on how to set them up and operate). And for me again there was a really strong message around real users and their real (not perceived) requirements. More empathy with users can bring much better products!

The whole day was full of amazing presentations but I think Sam Aaron‘s live code rave was the most fun! I also loved Sam’s talk about making coding fun and how Sonic Pi can be a great medium to introduce kids to coding. I think I will give it a go myself!

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