Webstock 08: Designing for the Future

Webstock logoNat Torkington has chaired the O’Reilly Open Source Convention and other O’Reilly conferences for over a decade. He ran the first web site in New Zealand, co-wrote the best-selling Perl Cookbook and was on of the founding Radar bloggers.

Nat started off by saying he’s not going to predict the future. He’s going to talk about trends. He’s a bad futurologist. Nat said that as web innovators, the challenges we face aren’t new. Nat’s job at O’Reilly is to spot trends, build products around them and help the company embrace the trends. He says we should all become Alpha Geeks. Alpha Geeks have the ability to spot future trends and expand those observations into usage. Florence Nightingale would have been an awesome Alpha Geek.

Moore’s Law is the number of components on an integrated circuit. It means that the power of your computer doubles every 6 months. Nat demonstrated this by comparing a PC from 1981 to one in 2007 both in size and storage. Machine learning is the new trend. Nat made the point that you can buy a 1TB of storage for about USD 400.

Nat recommended thinking big - expand your scope. Do the data tracking, purchase TB, track video not just audio. Gather information about your site - what do visitors click on? How long does it take a page to render? Keep up with User Interface research. Study what is “currently unfeasible” as it may be possible in two years time. Agitate for better broadband!

Newspapers are feeling pressure thanks to the Internet. People are using the web to do journalism. Web journalism is unlike traditional journalism because it creates an interactive web application as well. People are using the web to watch TV. Nat says there is a big gap between blogging and journalism. We don’t write letters, we email. We don’t email, ,we IM. We don’t blog, we Twitter.

If you run a web site, you should display live information because that’s what the expectations are. If you aren’t live, you need to explain why. Fresh is the thing. Mobile is joined at the hip with live connecting. People are portable, live and instantaneous. Your mobile is the computer of the future. Open source phones are here - Google’s Android is a prime example of a free mobile operating system. OpenMoto too. But mobile computing is trapped in walled garden as it is not scalable.

Flickr marked the start of the designer being involved in the site development. Designers are now part of the core team. integrating design and function together. When you create a web application or a site, remember that people who use your software are just people. Appeal to them. Learn how they work, what they want, what they need.

Takeaways from the presentation:

- Invest in UI (User Interface) now. Look at your site interface and make it more usable. Let users do fun new things on your site.

- Don’t have all the fun yourself. Users are curious and want to have fun - let them!

- Remember that users are people too!

- Read the Overcoming Bias blog

- Design software for how people are and not how you think they are

- Change the world by focusing on people

- Everything happens in real time

- Make your applications more usable

- Read the Mind Hacks book by Tom Stafford & Matt Webb. It talks about hacking the brain to come up with great ideas.

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