I had the good fortune to be allowed to attend Webstock 2017 this year, held in Wellington New Zealand from 13-17 February.
This quirky event is growing in popularity and attendance, and this year featured a whole host of presenters covering many topics, from the origin of Emoji’s to empathetic design for the elderly. Nearly all the presenters were from the US, and there were two overwhelming themes that kept repeating and being referenced throughout the event:
1. “We are sorry about what is happening is US Politics. This isn’t who we are”
2. “We need to think of everyone – old, young, able bodied, disabled, sight and mobility impaired, rich and poor – when creating for people
Resonating in the back of my mind was the phrase ‘He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata’. It is the people, It is the people, It is the people. I may not be using the phrase in it’s correct setting, but it speaks to what I heard repeatedly throughout the days – by the people, about the people, and for the people.
I observed an audience of old and young, multiple races and all genders, and was enthused by the sheer size and participation. This thing is big. REALLY BIG. And it continues to get bigger, which is great for Wellington and great for the design sector in New Zealand.
So what were my takeaways from the time?
Knowing your audience and being present to what they want to here is crucially important. I heard a few jokes fall flat, and some that were absolutely wrong to be used – a quick websearch if you are interested will reveal my abstract reference. A highlight was Marcin Wichary, a polish chap from Google, who covered topics from charles babbage to the work he did creating the Google Doodle that was Pacman in 2010, and the journey of discovery he went on to recreate this classic game. Warm, enthusiastic about his topic and a genuinely engaging fellow, he touched on a couple of rueful points about never assuming and not bothering to question ‘why’ – as well as not being satisfied until he was, and not giving up until the task was done.
It’s a small item, but seeing through any commitment to completion in the modern world takes focus, and I often see failure because people just gave up or lost interest… because they just did.
Significant reference was made to Apple’s design aesthetics and their efforts in designing for humans, by many of the presenters. Love or loathe that company, they have made their mark on the western world and continue to set a tone for modern digital experiences that we all live with and don’t appreciate we are.
I met with Janine Gianfredi on Thursday night after the show, and caught her presentation on the Friday, about designing US Government services from a startup with the Executive (The White House under President Obama), and taking things to market. Born out of the chaos that was the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), Janine referred to the ‘mission’ of getting healthcare for people who historically could’nt. The Federal government set up the national exchange, but required insurance companies in every state to cooperate in creating products and offering to customers – not trivial, and a service that was born from a big government project (many contractors, little focus on end to end experience, and a desire to just ship software even if it sucked) had to be refactored by a smaller team who thought about the users, what they had to do, and how they could improve services.
Again. It is the people. The presentation resonated with me, and in a separate session run earlier in the week, was well attended by representatives from our government agencies like Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and other folks looking to transform how things work today. Looking for ideas on how to be more effective in their roles, to make things ‘easier’ for people that need to be using them.
So far, so very boring right? nobody wakes up in the morning and decides ‘today I’m going to build a diabolical service and really piss people off!’, although I’m sure anyone who uses some government services must think that is what happens.
Just today, a colleague outlined a problem he just had with Inland Revenue. This month IRD made a lot of noise about their updated ‘MyGST’ capability, designed to make GST payments easier for those that self manage. My colleague had the money ready to go, he emailed ird – Via the MyIRD secure messaging service – and was told he would receive a message explaining more. Nothing. Eventually he got a note saying he had been fined for not paying his GST… and after much work, he discovered that the MyGST secure messaging service is in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM linked to the MyIRD secure messaging service… which has been in wide use for a while.
Guess where the emails had been going?
So someone sat down and created this sequence, and didn’t think of the users or the learned behaviour of people. Or they did, and the above setup was deployed for time money and convenience, no doubt meeting a project milestone. Hurrah! who cares about the user?
So, Webstock has become a tech industry ‘thing’. It is up there with the air of ‘gotta be there’ like Microsoft’s tech-ed shows used to be, before they became not so interesting anymore. I don’t get the feel Webstock is there yet, and that says something given it’s current long run. The organisers Mike and Natasha did an awesome job with running the show, the venue, the food, facilities and overall execution. There were some parts that need and are getting attention, but this is a good show. Consider it for next year if you haven’t gone. Conversations are had that get people to think. It’s an event where people are open to meeting, greeting, freeforming and just being, and that is so important in a world that is currently being turned upside down by the return of fear, hate and despicable attitudes.
- AK, 2017
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There is an end to everything, to good things as well