The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Digital Futures

– March 18th, 2005 –

{title}Yesterday I attended a BBC run design event called Digital Futures, for internal designers and invited guests, on the future of design in a digital society. There was a eclectic mix of speakers planned for a packed day.

So, quite a distinquished list and it promised to be a interesting mix of presentations.

The event began with me nursing a hangover outside in the fresh air (you know the feeling, dizzy, too hot, too cold), thankfully after a good cup of tea and a few deep breaths I seemed to knock it into touch. Although I was pretty tired from putting up with a hotel room which was as hot as the sun.

After the usual pre-conference milling around, meeting new people and catching up with collegues from around the country, we all filed into the National Film Theatre on London’s South Bank. What a fantastic theatre and quite possibly the most comfortable seats in the world, and it was dark, I was at the back, and tired. Could be dangerous. These speakers had better be good.

First up… Brian Collin

First up was Brian Collin from Ogilvy and Mather in New York. I really didn’t know what to expect but it turned into perhaps one of the most memorable presentations I’ve attended. I can’t go into too many details because of copyright, but what he had to say was pretty inspiring. There was chocolate, soap and pirates along with every presenation technique in the book, all delivered like a seasoned stand up comedian.

He challenged my expectations of not brand and advertising but of process and handling clients. The overall idea was to challenge, not only your own expectations, but the publics and the clients. Break everything down to the most basic elements, then build it back up and see what you get.

Next… Neville Brody

I was really looking forward to this one. I’d written essays about this bloke in college, I know his work very well but had never met him or heard him speak.

He started off by going through some client work and took about twenty minutes to get warmed up to a very rushed, but incredibly interesting, final ten minutes.

Mr. Brody seems concerned. Not only with the direction of design but by the way it’s led by technology. As designers we seem to have lost our way, unaware of our roots and as a result produce meaningless work. Is this ok? yeah, probably (I think that was the general feeling).

It wasn’t until the panels that Neville said some truly profound things, at least for me, which really struck a cord. He told a story of a friend of his in New York, a designer in his 50’s, who’s lived by the mantra - “Form follows Function”. We’ve all heard it right? Some of us, me included, are beginning to understand it. At least that’s what I thought before he started talking about it. He said that his friend began to feel guilty because he liked certain things - designs, products, whatever - that were beautiful, but also quite rubbish, but he still liked them. Neville went on to say that beauty, entertainment, aesthetic appeal is all part of the function of a design and it’s ok to like things where funtion follows form, because form maybe part of the function anyway.

Inspiring.

Lisa Strausfeld

Lisa is an Information Architect working for Pentagram mostly on exterior information spaces. She gave an interesting presentation on the use of information in a virtual, and real, 3d environments.

I’m quite into information design and specifically the process of breaking down complex, rich, multi-layered information into an easy to understand, navigable space.

She began by showing examples from her work at MIT and then on to some commisioned work for railway stations in New York. Most of this work comprised of information environments to real space and comprised of Media Walls and Signage. Some really great work was on show and i’m sure you can look at some of it on the Pentagram web site.

Paul Mijksenaar

Most people, designers included, don’t notice signage. Or at least don’t notice good signage, when it’s doing it’s job well.

In the UK, we have great road signage, we have a world famous, wonderful Tube Map in London. It’s such a shame our airport signage is generally rubbish. This is where Paul Mijksenaar comes in.

Paul began a hurried presentation by going through his theories on wayfinding and the process of people getting from point A to point B and most of the cognitive patterns in that process. Really interesting stuff. He talked about colour coding and maximising colour combinations for legibility and highest contrast. All of this stuff about signage, as i’ve said before, is incredibly relevant for designing web sites. We need to be looking at traditional wayfinding and signage and moving the model into designing for the web.

Interestingly Paul talked about the death of pictograms in a future where wayfinding will be done on a mobile device. I’d never really thought about it before but it makes sense. Pictograms exist so manufacturers don;t have to create signs in many different languages. Once a user can choose their language, pictograms become useless, or rather they become secondary to the words. Or is it that pictograms are more rapidly understood than words? Certainly made me think.

Marco Susani

Marcos presentation was all about convergence of broadcasting onto several platforms, predominantly mobile, and how those devices integrate with other devices in your life - TV’s, phones, computers, video recorders etc.

An interesting presentation which was very focussed on technology but to be honest i’m getting a little tired of technology presented in this manner. there’s simply too much of it going on. Call me a little jaded, but I know there are going to be devices which integrate with telly, I know you’ll be able to watch movies on your devices on the train. I know all this stuff, but still question the motives to promoting the technology. Yes, companies want to sell products and yes they need to educate the public to do it. But it’s all too much. Too much technology, too many gadgets and too many companies telling us we need to keep up. By this point I was getting tired.

Bill Drummond

Bills presentation was a breath of fresh air. I won’t go into the details of the content as I got the sense that he didn’t want exposure for what he was doing but what I will say is it involved making soup and God. Let’s just say it made me re-evaluate my motivations for not only design, but for life in general. Deep eh?

Thank you Bill, you certainly woke me up.

Time for a pint

After the event we all walked over the bridge to get on a boat on the Thames and enjoy a drink or two before rushing to catch the train back to to Cardiff. Sometimes it’s great to listen to people who not only understand you, but inspire you also. Top notch, looking forward to June now for @media 2005.

Disclaimer: This article represents my views of the days proceedings and does not represent the views of the BBC or the attending speakers.

Filed in: bbc, design.

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