NEXT Berlin stories in a post-digital world

This year I attended NEXT Berlin for the first time. The conference had an interesting theme with post-digital, spot on as far as I’m concerned, and with that, a bunch of very interesting speakers were programmed. It turns out that the conference had a bit strange mixure of great content and modest vibes. I felt a gap between conference topics and majority of attendants. A fact that is interesting alone of course. But let’s focus on the content, which was very interesting. I also collected my tweets on Storify.

There were different tracks. Thinking of the theme of post-digital the tracks on Internet of Things and experience were the most connected. The conference also had a start-up competition aiming to get the start up feeling across. I did not attend that track and because it was hardly mixed, so I cannot comment on this part.

Looking back, the talk of AKQA at the beginning of day 2 did match the most with the audience I think. Searching for the new advertising in a new context. “The best advertising is not advertising”, they say, but in the end it was all on advertising of course, easy consumable packed in 7 rules. As they repeated more than once, the book Velocity tells it all. I found it good to see however that the execution and make culture was also reckoned as more important than the idea (rule 2). All the other rules focus more or less on the importance to stand out with vision and dare. The talk was a pleasure to watch because of the storytelling was well performed. It did not fit their mantra in that sense “If you’re not shitting youself, you’re not doing something new”.

The complete opposite in different ways was the talk of Alexander Bard; highly amusing and physical (with no slides, just chalk and schoolboard). He analyzed well how the future in the era of Internet is modeled around event experiences connected to subcultures. Kids are no individuals anymore, but dividuals that build together on experiences by default.

Robotics were ubiquitous at the conference. Alexandra Deschamps-Soninomade clear that the robotics will be most be used for replacing intelligence than creating something like self-consiousness or esteem, because that is much harder. Robotics as feedback loop are interesting, like the Mozart app that listens to your music and provides a kind of emotional feedback. Emotions are the core of the talk of Russell Davies. Robots get a character too, showed David Bausola. His Weavrs project is one of the interesting stuff happening where you can make your own bot and experience the digital context through the eyes of these so called digividuals.

Russell Davies did without any doubt one of the best talks of the conference. Both in entertaining value as in content. The emotion of design of connected stuff is highly relevant for everyone that is making stuff nowadays and want to connect with the customers. You have to design character, and that means for instance that annoying your users can be an as effective mean as being smart and slick. Be as annoying as a puppy, as variation.
Designing for connected stuff means a whole different way of looking to functions. See a printer not as a printer, but as a little box where print comes out, and is connected. Than you can think of different stuff that is ‘printed’. Same goes for sound, and all other stuff with output.

Chris Heathcote brought in the angle of trust in design. Go to be real was his renewed title of his talk. To create trust you need to focus on product, provenance and people he made clear. Product as thinking in psychical products, or at least the characters of it. And Provenance as one of the main things in trust; the real story behind it that paves trust. And at last the people. People want people. As silly as it is for small organization try to look big, it is for big organization to depersonalize.

Post-digital is highly connected to psysical stuff of course, we are surrounded with things that will behave like digital services. Different talks were connected to the theme of the Internet of Things. It is clear that IoT needs a people angle, needs the stories to connect to the users. Nate Elliot of Forrester had a rather obsolete talk at the end of day two, but as he emphasizes that our technology is becoming invisible, we see at the same time in the other talks that we need to need tangible interactions to make it work.

The FESTO presentation showing the Bionic ExoHand and Eliphant Trunk was the opposite of invisible technology. On the other hand shows these kind of human or animal like machenery how the worlds are merging. The force of the robots are literally modeled by a human probing. Something that is happening in the People’s Car Project too. A car designed for adjustment to the people they use it. The participation campaign integrates the people in the creation project. It en passant learns a lot on how participation works. By the right mix of push and pull. Easy access, and opinion leaders, and connecting on interest and motivation.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino made clear that the successful concepts in IoT are around the relevance people. Only 9 of the 50 most interesting IoT concepts are people focused. Making IoT stuff is not so easy though. Not only because you have to be good in digital design and product design at the same time, also marketing wise it is not easy to get the message across and creating a new market gap for these products. Maybe the sense for the theme of this conference is a step in defining this space.

Product Relationship Management – PRM – is a principe Andy Hobsbawm of Evrythng used to underline his ideas on a Facebook of Things.
Ucodo showed how 3D printing tooling is becoming as more a editing tool. Hearing this you can conclude we grow into the situation that 3D printing can be used on different levels:
– making of personal products
– make mass customization
– making prototypes to iterate in the process of cocreation
– make forms that are not possible with other production technologies

Strangely the field of gaming and gamified stories is hardly covered in the conference, it would definitely fit the theme. Alper Cugun had the only talk that covered this (as far as I have seen). He showed how we can make love games in stead of war games. With some nice examples how this works out, not only for him, but expecially some of the examples as Pair and Between where social networks are build on two people, and all the tools that help people to gamify their relations is interesting. Mainly used by women, which makes it less effective in a traditional relationship. You can see this gamifying of love as the ultimate merge of games into life. Just like all other forms of ‘serious gamification’ you can wonder if the fact you consider using it, it disconnects you from real life. Just like Alper stated that design is a game too; we are designing is the face of defeat.

Storytelling is a big thing in post-digital, I dare to say that this is something that has traction with a lot of the speakers. But storytelling happens quite different. James Bridle did a very scholar talk on this matter, well though-through as always. A bit less accessible than his LIFT talk, he touched the theme of stories that are highly dependable on the context and flow of the story itself in this all digital world. His work on Shipadrift is of course the lighting example, but he also focuses more on strange subcultures and story mechanisms that work here.

So my conclusions from this two days of NEXT Berlin are colored by the tracks I followed. I think it is promising that the theme of post-digital is reaching to a bigger audience. Making digital and making stuff get more and more connected. That results in new challenges. Post-digital adds experiences and stories to products as main asset. Stories that are fluid on the use. And stories that need the emotional interaction to become a complete product. As George Dyson kicked off the conference in his talk; we are building more and more a digital world that is analog in its behavior.

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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