From left to right: Allan Chochinov (moderator), Margaret Gould Stewart, Kayne Burk, Aaron Zinman and Grant McCracken
This year's IDSA International conference, hosted in New Orleans, represents an incredible time for the design profession—a moment of true collaboration enabled by technology, new modes of media and communication, and a blurring of traditional lines between designer/user.
Chaired by Teague Creative Director and Core77 columnist Tad Toulis, the focus of this year's event is community and what better city to host these conversations than New Orleans. Residents who call this beautiful city home showed the world the power of creative collaboration to rebuild, rethink and reshape their shared history. This year's IDSA conference attempted to tap into that innovation with a series of offsite events, fieldtrips and a keynote on New Orleans' new generation of social entrepreneurs.
On Wednesday night Clay Shirky, writer and educator, set the tone for the conference with an insightful opening keynote on the current networked landscape—for the first time in history we work in a large connective network of people sharing information almost instantaneously and at a very low cost. What results from this connected network and an increase of free time is what Shirky identifies as a cognitive surplus. And what results from this new economy of cognitive surplus is something for designers to get excited about. Consumers are actively reshaping the landscape of design—surfacing once "invisible" demands through networks, co-creating objects for purchase (think about customization trend—sneakers, mobile device cases, apparel) and participating in feedback loops. Another big idea is the expanding universe around a designed object is the invention of services. Now, successful design solutions create platforms that separate a recipe for creation. Great examples of this new trend include makerbot's Thingaverse site, Local Motors' user-generated car platform, and Lego's recognition of a successful business opportunity in selling individual parts. Cognitive surplus means that customers have become co-creators and users.
The following day, Margaret Gould Stewart, Director of User Experience at YouTube, continued this exploration with a focus on designers as facilitators. Stewart asks: How do designers tap into the larger creativity of the masses? Using a series of delightful examples and, of course, YouTube clips, she argues that designers should think of consumers as active participants by giving them the tools to create. A small sampling of the joy of open-ended creation found on YouTube includes:
By thinking about YouTube as a container, the site is, "co-creating the future of media with the whole world."
MIT Media Lab graduate and Co-Founder of Empirical LLC, Aaron Zinman, took another perspective on the idea of creating beautiful products in collaboration with the "masses." By mapping "digital traces," researchers are now able to move from a flat snapshot of users to what Zinman calls digital portraiture, creating a linked data landscape to surface what might be meaningful to a whole community of people. He gave examples in his own work: Defuse builds a portrait of commentors on The New York Times website, Personas aggregates someones online identity to create a data portrait (through a fascinating and transparent process) and Landscape of Words is a dynamic word cloud that culls information through Twitter. An interesting point from Zinman is despite the prevalence of social media, there are not tools that give us a top down view or lens onto ourselves. Perhaps the future of design is creating the tools for community reflection?
The attitudes and behaviors of the current crop of consumers can be crystallized into a demand to be heard. But are designers listening...and more importantly, talking back?