19 July 2019
Nico ten Hoor
Nico ten Hoor

Dutch Digital Day 2019 (Amsterdam)

A trip report

On June 21th, I visited the fifth edition of Dutch Digital Day held at Undercurrent, Amsterdam. Undercurrent is a slightly rough location on the North bank overlooking the IJ.

The event is organized by the industry foundation Dutch Digital Agencies and evolved in this year’s edition around inclusive design and ethics. There is little doubt that these themes have gained momentum in the design discourse of late and so they would seem a sound choice for the conference.

The talks were not all centered on digital design but would vary from ethical developments in technology to adjacent disciplines, like fashion design and music. Moderator Jim Stolze would string the talks together, engaging with the audience and holding quick Q&A’s or interviews with the speakers.

Some highlights…

Mieko Kusano (Design Director of Sonos)

Mieko Kusano talked about the challenges of creating a cohesive platform. Sonos sprung to life at the time where experiencing music crossed from analog to digital. The service grew from one device to a system of modular pieces of hardware and software. It doesn’t require much convincing that cohesion of the experience is of main importance for the actual product as well as a means to evolve in the future.

Mieko – herself of Japanse origin with roots in the Netherlands – made a cogent plea for diversity inclusion coupled with collaboration, focus and craft to achieve said design cohesion. For when designing for humans it is paramount to see the problem from every perspective.

Tom London (Tech magician)

Tom London started out as a magician and illustrated how easily today’s systems can be misled. Some card tricks involved peer-to-peer messaging over Bluetooth, RFID chips and NFC wizardy whereby the chosen card would be identified and printed instantly via a small hidden printer. However, probably his most deadpan action was how he became the Google number one ranking magician in London. Easy: name yourself London.

Watch the video of Tom’s talk.

Sietske Klooster (Systemic change designer and initiator The Milksalon)

Of all the offerings in the supermarket, is there a product more akin being considered a commodity than our simple package of milk? Sietske Klooster – who calls herself a systemic designer and milkmaid – begs to differ. Riding the waves of sustainability, farm to table and the general revaluation of craft, Sietske wants to disrupt the milk market.

Whilst enjoying the great outdoors she noticed the vast difference between fresh milk bought directly at the farm and the processed units at your trusty neighbourhood store. Supermarket milk lacks flavor and character. It is the sad and twisted compromised result of blandness wherein the craft and knowledge of farmers is discarded. Enter Melksalon. What does this startup bring to the table (no pun intended)? Diversity. Yes, here we go again. This time diversity means celebrating the vast range of breeds there is in cows, the effects of the change in the seasons, the habitat‚ -or maybe better- terroir, heck even the bovine traits per individual. Working directly with farmers and integrating milking techniques with production technology our milk sommelier seeks to reinvent the whole chain.

On stage with Sietske Klooster

How often don’t we hear of the need or possibilities of customization to individuals. You didn’t think of milk, now did you?

Mike Monteiro (co-founder and design director Mule Design)

Notorious for his bad moods inviting Mike Monteiro to your party is like inviting the joker to your palace; be prepared to be mocked.

Ever since the dark ages of Mac vs Windows agitations – where the Mac aficionados would see in Microsoft the evil empire – there is a tendency to spot the malign in our contemporary behemoths. Indeed, Mr. Monteiro proved critical of companies like Uber, Facebook and Twitter, but beating on anonymous enemies was not his spiel. Without the slightest of a smile, our grumpy old man advocated for agency instead. Impossible to lean back or doze off; we the audience (designers and developers) were the target.

Let’s hear it:

  • They can’t do this shit without you.
  • Two words every designer needs to know: Why and No.
  • How has always been more important than Why.
  • The world isn’t broken. It’s working exactly as we designed it to work.
  • If it exists, a designer worked on it.
  • The worst of what we create will outlive us. And carry our name.
  • You can go to jail for your design.
  • Slow the F down.
  • If your product can’t make profit without making poor people poorer, then F your product.
  • This isn’t about making sure Nike sells shoes. It’s about making sure everyone has shoes.
  • Now is not the time for designers to get political. That was yesterday.
  • We failed because our definition of we wasn’t big enough.
  • We’re here because we forgot how much power we have.
Mike Monteiro rocking the boat

If you’re thinking: all good and well, but how is this going to work? Or in case you’re questioning the power Mr. Monteiro is attributing to us, some examples of successful revolting were given. One of them leading back to Microsoft. When employees learned that the US Immigration and Enforcement agency (ICE) was using software by Microsoft to separate families they stood up to management. Weeks of persistent protesting eventually led to the cancelation by Microsoft of the contact with ICE.

Watch the video of Mike’s talk.

Chris Downer (Design director Sketch)

Next up was a Q&A with Chris Downer. With hardly a sign of modesty, the announcement was made Sketch now counts over a million customers. In spite of there being no real news about the development, I can’t help but think they must be feeling the pressure of Figma somehow. Indeed Sketch Cloud was mentioned but not a word on support for multiple users. So what did we learn then?

  • Sketch is designed in Sketch.
  • A lot of features were born that way; the designer needed the feature in order to design the next version of Sketch.
  • It is way easier to add a feature than to take something away. The team at Bohemian learned this when they deprecated some features in the assumption they would not be missed. Turns out some customers are particular about their workflow.
  • Hence: value a new feature.
  • The progress of Sketch is a collaborative effort. By definition not everyone can get his way. How to avoid endless arguing? Ask yourself: How much do I care about this? Less than 90%? Let it go. Carefully choose your battles.

Jamie Bartlett (Tech writer)

Jamie Bartlett specialises in online social movements and the impact of technology on society. His talk was about how the medium influences the message. This was already the case in the famous Kennedy vs Nixon debate where radio listeners trended towards Nixon, but the TV audience deemed Kennedy the clear winner. Bartlett speaks of an incompatibility problem, especially with digital. Politics are a reflection of the platforms that we use. However, the social outlets are far from optimized for complex ideas.

Viktoria Modesta (Bionic pop artist)

Viktoria Modesta was a strange breed. A childhood plagued with continued illnesses eventually resulted in her having to part with a lower limb. Not the kind for self lamentation she seeked to have it replaced by a prosthetic in order to finally take control over her body. Proclaiming herself bionic, she felt empowered by this artificial extension of her identity. With a knack for disobedience she set out to innovate Human Experience. Seeing unique possibilities instead of limitations mixing fashion, sensuality and physical augmentation in a progressive way. With the merging of humanity, creativity and science the theme that submerged was that of inclusivity.

Viktoria Modesta making a splash

LJ Rich (Tech evangelist)

LJ Rich complemented the day with a full on aural experience. A lot has been said about the profound role music can play in human life. To LJ Rich music is data and songs are like humans.

Concluding remarks

Interestingly, overall the act of design was hardly the subject. Instead how to work with people, and the world at large – inclusive design and ethics. Most rememberable to me was Mr. Monteiro reminding us that are actions matter and we have decisions to make. At the close of the event, an array of food trucks had driven up to the terrain making sure our metabolic system was catered to as well as our minds.

Post-conference food and drinks in the sun

Watch the Dutch Digital Day 2019 Aftermovie.

About the author

Nico ten Hoor (/nico-m-ten-hoor) is a visual designer with over twenty years of experience in digital design. He is attracted to the analytical side of visual design such as design language and design systems. He also takes a great interest in indie magazines and graphic novels.

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