Friday, April 26, 2019

Experience Digital Disruption at Northumbria University on May 17!

Haiyan Zhang of Microsoft Research
and BBC's Big Life Fix, speaking at the first
Digital Disruption event
On May 17th, Northumbria University will host its second Digital Disruption event in the design school. Themed Human. Digital. Design., the event will explore the importance of putting users at the heart of designing digital products and services. Here, I will talk about why digital disruption remains a key initiative for the university, and what you can expect from the upcoming event. 

Those of you of a certain age will remember a time when you arranged to meet your friends on a weekend, and if you had some trouble on route or had to cancel last minute, you couldn’t let them know and had to leave them looking lost at the planned meeting point. If you had relatives on the other side of the world, keeping in touch had to be part of the monthly budget. And most inconveniently of all, if you wanted a take away, you had to ring up, and go and collect it yourself!

Technology has transformed many of our day to day activities, delivering convenience, time saving, cost efficiencies and, in some cases, enrichment. Of course, it’s no longer just our personal lives that are improved by technology. Digital has hit the workforce in a big way – transforming existing organisations as well as giving rise to new and disruptive businesses like Airbnb, Uber, Deliveroo and many more.

Mobile social networking, anno 1999.
As the Co-Founder and Research Leader of the Mobile Life VINN Excellence Research Centre in Sweden, I was in the exciting position developing the technology at the heart of this revolution. For instance, we invented the world's first mobile social network, The Hummingbird, which was a portable device that would tell you when your friends were nearby (see right). It was designed to solve just the kind of meet-up problems we had before mobile technology became widespread. Of course, now there is an app for that! The Mobile Life centre was designed to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from long term research into the development of mobile technology and its application. I would like to see industry and universities in the North East take the same approach, and invent the future together. After all, just like mobile social networks, many inventions, technology or otherwise, are initially conceived in research labs decades before they actually come to market. 

Demonstrations and research posters
at the first Digital Disruption day
As digital technologies have become increasingly attractive to consumers and businesses alike, there has been a tendency to design the new ‘shiny’ thing. 2017 alone saw the launch of both the smart toaster and vacuum shoes. Good novelty pieces, but not exactly the most useful inventions. It is this precise reason that so many technology inventions fail – they aim to be shiny and sexy, but forget that technology needs to have a real benefit to the user in order to be adopted, and therefore successful. Seeing this, when I worked with industry I developed the approach of Grounded Innovation, which resulted in innovative features that were incorporated into products used by millions of users. I have also seen how user experience and human-computer interaction, which used to be an afterthought, has now become an integral part of successful digital product design.

That said, 84% of companies still fail at digital transformation. With global spend on these initiatives set to hit $2trillion by 2022, a massive amount of investment could be wasted in the process. At this event, we will bring together organisations including Google, Home Group, DWP and Accenture to explore how they design digital products and services with the user in mind – spanning both workforces and consumers. We will also hear from the rapidly growing immersive tech sector in the region, centred around the PROTO Emerging Technologies Centre in Gateshead. They will be joined by academic colleagues at from Northumbria University’s large community of Human Computer Interaction researchers, NORTHLab, to explore collaborative ways of working that see innovative ideas go from the lab, into the real world. 

I am looking forward to meeting you on May 17! The event is free - just sign up here!

Lars Erik Holmquist, Professor of Innovation, Northumbria University School of Design

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