8th September, 2010

dConstruct workshop

Last week I ran a workshop for twenty-seven people at dConstruct, entitled Defining A Flexible Process. It was a real honour to be invited to put this together by my friends at Clearleft, and to once again visit that odd place they call Brighton.

I only ever get slightly nervous before standard presentations—just the right level of butterflies in the stomach. However, ahead of this 7-hour workshop, I was bricking it. I put this down to the tricky subject matter (process) and that everybody has their own way of approaching it. I decided to tell a personal story, using a narrative familiar to me, and admittedly somewhat design-biased.

I also expected there to be attendees with perhaps more experience, or greater knowledge of the design process than myself. And there were. Thankfully, it was a (mostly) friendly and engaged audience, and I made sure there was plenty of room for discussion throughout, and opportunities for anyone to share their experiences or knowledge. In turn, I learned loads myself.


Now, apparently scientists say that group brainstorming is unproductive. They say it’s better to brainstorm on your own. Frankly, I don’t care. I’ve always found group brainstorming to be incredibly productive, and I had no concerns about asking the attendees to split into groups and get their brains warmed up. I think the results speak for themselves.


Figure 1: My wonderful workshoppers.

I opted to focus the brainstorm session around an artwork, exploring methods for bringing it to the web in any form. From three possibles up my sleeve, Field For The British Isles by Anthony Gormley was the artwork chosen at random. Since first experiencing this mesmerising installation at a tramshed near the Tyne Bridge 15 years ago, I’ve adored it. On reflection, it’s probably the perfect example for something like this, seeing as the figures are so bloody easy to draw.

For two of the sessions, I tasked the workshoppers with exploring ideas to “sell” this exciting touring event to provincial audiences who might not be familiar with such amazing pieces of art. They could think from any perspective, and it was entirely open, but the brainstorming was structured around the Four Rs method. At one point, they had five minutes to find inspiration from a pineapple. That’s how it goes sometimes.

Twenty minutes later, they had a table full of post-it notes. I then asked them to select their top three, write these down, and one person was asked to explain the ideas. Many of the ideas considered geolocation, personalising the Gormley figures, engaging young children, various “Where’s Wally” ideas, recording audience responses, and so much more. I was inspired!

Paper prototyping and sketching

I then asked each workshopper to respond to one of the best ideas from their team brainstorm, using any of the various materials I provided to create paper prototypes and wireframes. When they’d finished, we attached all sketches to the walls anonymously, and I thought it was wonderful to see such a brilliantly diverse set of approaches and styles.

Take a look!

I’ve pulled together a Flickr set of attendee prototypes and sketches for you to peruse, and for me to keep as a record of a great exercise.

Attendee sketches on Flickr
Figure 2: A few thumbs from the Flickr set.

Apologies for the creases and torn corners of many sketches. Unfortunately many were damaged due to a ridiculously hectic room changeover and angry looks from the incoming opera singers or whatever the hell they were. This also meant I was unable to photograph some of the other material I’d littered the walls with throughout the day. It’s now all in a recycling bin somewhere.

dConstructing dConstruct

dConstruct itself was superb. Now in its sixth year, this was (shamefully) my first visit. Many others have written more eloquent and thorough reviews than I can be bothered to do right now. Let me simply say that the Clearleft team really know how to put on a show. The sessions were engaging, and at times really challenging—something I enjoy. Seems to me that a dConstruct audience is wholly rewarded if it concentrates, draws parallels with personal experiences and ambitions, and goes with the flow of the often analogy-based delivery. I for one learned a hell of a lot, much of which I am not yet aware of. I’m still sieving the information down in my noggin.

Finally, as with every conference I attend, the social side of things was tremendous. I’m proud to have managed to stay out almost constantly despite a lingering illness. A ridiculous number of Irishmen kept me drinking until stupid o’clock, and I proved my mettle by being the very last to leave the private party at 3am or something on the Friday night. Let’s not talk about the size of my hangover the next day though. I’ll never learn.

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