Pascal Raabe – Multidisciplinary Design

Multi​disciplinary Design

Bridges, Beer and Geeks

I’ve just come back from an amazing few days in Newcastle where I attended DIBI the two track “design it/build it” conference. It was a very inspiring event with many great speakers and a good crowd of geeks.

The talks that resonated with me the most were by Brian Suda, who spoke about some techniques useful to have in your data visualisation toolkit and urged us to use them wisely. His advise was also to choose one story and execute it well rather than trying to visualise everything you can squeeze out of a data set. The mantra “just enough is more” rings true once again.

Jeremy Keith used his slot for a good old rant about responsible responsive design, working with known unknowns, why ‘context first’ is not an excuse for pissing all over your website or serving a dumbed down mobile site, and why ‘mobile first’ really means thinking about content before thinking about media queries. There is no mobile web, there’s only one web.

Usability legend Jared Spool delivered a very engaging and entertaining presentation that had everyone laughing about his examples of some very obscure albeit not all too uncommon usability fails. He talked about intuitive design and why it is so difficult to achieve. Intuitive design is invisible, technically a great designer has nothing to put in his portfolio (except perhaps the things he would’ve done if he was a not so great designer). He demonstrated how every innovation follows the same pattern from the focus on technology, to features, to experience. Intuitive design happens at the experience stage. When it comes to adding features and keeping the product updated, we need to design for embraceable change or otherwise we risk losing our users along the way. This means favouring small, incremental changes over disruptive major updates. We need to manage the knowledge gap on the “knowledge escalator”, by moving current knowledge (bottom of the escalator) and target knowledge (top of the escalator) closer together.

Jeffrey Zeldman, dubbed the godfather of the Internet, delivered his keynote speech about What Every Web Designer Should Know. He seemed to go off on tangents quite a bit, which was mostly funny (just like we know and love him from the Big Web Show), and skipped a large chunk of his presentation in order to allow some time for questions. I thought the Q&A was where the real Zeldman came through, entertaining, knowledgable and genuine. The bottom line was: we all have so much to learn, it’s a good thing when you feel like the dumbest guy in the room. Our industry is moving fast and we have to constantly learn from each other. It’s why most people in this industry are very humble and always happy to help and why this design community is so great.

I thoroughly enjoyed those few days in the beautiful city with the weird architectural landmarks (the event was held in a building that looks like a giant slug near a bridge that looks like a giant egg slicer). I was also very lucky to meet and socialise with some extremely smart, talented, inspiring and amazing people. Shout-out to Harry (CSS Wizardry), Jeremy (@adactio), Owain (@owzzz), Freddy, Sam (Nocturnal Monkey), Ashley (@dragongraphics), Darren (@madeinthenorth), Gavin (@gavinelliott) and everyone else I bumped into, shook hands with, chatted to or had a beer with but forgot to mention here – I really enjoyed your company.

The Future of Web Design

I’m buzzing with ideas and inspiration from the Future of Web Design conference in London. Although it did eat into the time I have available to finish my work and London isn’t exactly around the corner from Falmouth, I’m really glad that I attended. It was great to put a few faces to some twitter handles, meet other likeminded people, make new friends and discuss everything web and design. I learnt a lot from the inspiring and thought-provoking presentations. The talks that resonated with me the most were by Josh Clark, who talked about designing for touch interfaces, Paul Boag who gave very practical advice on how to be a designer without losing your sanity, Aral Balkan reminded us about our power to decide whether people will have a good day or a bad day, Aaron Walter who urged us to give ourselves permission to do awesome stuff and Sarah B. Nelson who shared some practical tips and communication techniques to help designing with users, not just for them. I’m now really motivated to push through the final two weeks of my degree and beyond, implementing what I’ve learnt and testing new ideas.


Last month I attended the Intersections 2011 conference at the beautiful Eden Project here in Cornwall. Intersections 2011 was a creative business summit, featuring 45 experts and thinkers speaking about innovation and creative opportunities to drive change in society and business. It was a very inspirational two days, incredibly thought provoking and came just at the right time to gather some thoughts around projects I’m involved with at the moment and also motivation for my major project about the future of design education. Particularly interesting for me was Tom Hulme’s presentation of Open IDEO and the challenges of designing for openness; and Nick Jankel’s talk about the power of improvisation and collaboration for innovation.

Video recordings of the talks are now available on DOTT Cornwall’s Vimeo channel. Check them out, they’re really inspiring.

The future is now or what?

Last weekend I had the great opportunity and pleasure of going to the tweakfest conference and exhibition at the Technopark in Zurich. The Tweakfest Digital Culture & Lifestyle Festival presented for the third time the best of the digital avant garde. The conference had many interesting speakers from all over the world. The motto “InterFaces” encouraged the participants to discuss interfaces between humans and machines, between humans and humans or between real and virtual worlds.

The keynote was held by the British futurologist Dr. Ian Pearson, who outlined a very futuristic view of the next 50 years in technological advance which reminded me a lot of the Discovery Channel documentary ‘2057’. Like the documentary his lecture left a sci-fi taste which made me chuckle at some points and nod at others. I think his main point was that we need more advanced technology, not go backwards as some ‘green’ folks suggest. We won’t save the world by getting rid of cars. This, according to Dr. Pearson, is the wrong way. We need to innovate in order to solve problems such as pollution and climate change for example. Nature is stupid, it needs technological help. The faster you change your mobile phone, the faster you move to a smaller, better and more efficient version. Obsolecense is a good thing, it leads to faster innovation and advance. Dr. Pearson predicts that by 2020 we won’t have mobile phones or laptops anymore. They will be replaced by ‘digital jewelry’ e.g. active contact lenses, an idea conceived by Pearson in 1991. Of course his presentation left a rather humourous and science-fiction like impression but I think there´s a grain of truth in it. When at some point your CEO will be a super intelligent hamster, where does that leave human intelligence? Emotional intelligence becomes more important and interpersonal skills are crucial to keep employable. On a different note, when I look at Dr. Pearson´s website I wonder what role design will play in the future.


I was very impressed by the presentation of Nam Do, CEO at Emotiv Systems. He presented the EPOC neuro headset, a bluetooth device that allows users to control a computer with their mind. It´s certainly not a new idea (and one that was featured in said documentary ‘2057’ as well) but I was very surprised how far it has been developed already. Nam Do announced that the headset will be released this year. This means we could probably see a new generation of games. The Nintendo Wii and the iPhone/iPod touch with accelerometer technology already revolutionised the market, now we could see games where it´s not only possible to control an avatar with your mind but also to adjust the level of difficulty automatically according to the user´s level of engagement or excitement. So far the system needs tedious calibrating and training but give it a few years and we can type by using our mind. Not too far from visualising thoughts. Exciting stuff.

Moshe Rappaport gave an insight into the IBM global technology outlook. Interesting was his explanation of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’, users that grow up with technology or adapt to it later in life. The aim of technology should be to bridge the gap of these two groups. Engineers always think in terms of how to make things faster or better, how to put more pixels on a screen or improve processor speeds, etc. According to Rappaport this isn’t enough anymore. The social component is most important today. If your focus is on technology, you’re going to build interfaces for technologists. User centred design is key today. Despite him being an IBM person and therefor disliking Apple, he praised the iPhone for it´s ability to bridge the gap between digital natives and digital immigrants. Other applications should follow this example.


The Exhibition at the ‘Alte Börse’, the old stock market in Zurich had some very interesting artifacts of digital culture and lifestyle. My guest uni, the Zurich University of the Arts, presented some ´serious games’, applications that help with the rehabilitation of children through computer games that involve movement. They also had some of their multi-touch tables to try out and applications from the area of information design, one that informs about their projects and another one designed to help banks to communicate with customers and help them to choose the right financial package based on different decision factors.


The well known experimental musical instrument reacTable, developed by the university of Barcelona, became famous through Björk´s Volta tour. Here I had the chance to play with this ‘musical instrument of the 21st century’. Another interesting interactive game is levelhead by Julian Oliver. It´s a little cube that you move in front of a camera and different rooms are revealed on the screen. You move your avatar through these rooms by moving and shifting the cube. Really good fun.


All in all I can say that I really enjoyed the festival. Beside all the invaluable stuff that I learnt, I surfed on a Wii surfboard over the alps in GoogleEarth and got accidently captured as a spectator in a digital graffiti session. But most of all it inspired me and got me interested in the future—which, apparently, is now.