Systems, Being Playful and How To Save Your Brain - Reflections from The Conference 2018

A big chunk of my year is spent helping to create the program at The Conference. Unlike most conferences, it does not zoom in one specific topic, but instead we present around six topics each year in different sessions, where two to three speakers gets to share their knowledge on that particular area.  

It all adds up to a smorgasbord where we dive into the complexity and trends that land somewhere in between technology and society (and that’s where we all live, right?). These are my reflections of this year’s topics and a particular trend I will believe be highly influential, all spiced with links with talks to watch. Ok, here we go:

 Enjoying a good chat and lunch with speakers and visitors at The Conference. Photo www.jesperberg.se

Enjoying a good chat and lunch with speakers and visitors at The Conference. Photo www.jesperberg.se

One fun and thoughtful session this year was Play, where we explored the evolution of play, ethics of digital play design, how grown-ups see (and freak out over) a divide between physical and digital play that kids just don’t notice -  they just play! It made me think differently about how I perceive my kids when they play, and also made me reflect on how to be more playful as a grown-up.

What I love about The Conference that it really gets you an idea of trending ideas and mindsets. When several speakers, independent of each other, bring up the same thoughts you know that something is cooking that will come to influence you and your work in one way or another.

This year, a recurrent word and theme was systems. From Indy Johar talking about how there are no simple silver bullet solutions to complex societal challenges, to Kevin Slavin reflecting on how modern designers need to take the bigger picture into account when designing (and how the ever-popular user perspective really is too narrow), to Dr. Daisy Ginsberg in her work proposing some seriously challenging questions on who gets to decide what is better when it comes to biosynthetics when we are now starting to design life and nature around us.

What it all means? I sense a new form of humbleness, where influential minds are raising a caveat to current designers, researchers and decision-makers: we fucked up a lot in this world because we have been short sighted and didn’t take the complexity of our society into account when designing everything from single products to cities and societal systems.

If we keep doing this we will re-make old mistakes. A systems approach means to take long-term responsibility for so many more aspects of our work and our creations than what we have been used to - how it will affect all aspects such as society, health and sustainability in the long run, and not just solve a simple problem, here and now.

On the other hand, sometimes simple is great, and many enjoyed the playful and geniously simple solution presented by Ståle Grut at NRK Beta on how to get a more healthy comments section.

To dive further into trends, do check out these two talks in the session on The Brain and How to Build our Identities to see how VR and AR technologies affect the way we see ourselves, and ultimately also affect our behaviour. Equally scary and exciting, the future will bring some weird identity issues around for sure.

The Designing Nature session was a mind-blowing intro on how we could use biosynthetics to set up colonies on Mars (and how we on Earth will benefit) but also how new research shows how we can affect our own brain health and avoid disease such as Alzheimers by what we put in our mouths. (Yes, this talk pops up in my head a lot when deciding on dinner.)

Linda Liukas of Hello Ruby ended The Conference on a hopeful note, with her passion to help kids understand the complexities of computer science. Why? Because we need to prepare kids for a world where so many problems are computer problems.

My final reflection is on the team that makes this conference come together. I’ve had the privilege to work with Media Evolution for a few years now, right now with awesome program manager Cecilia Frankel, and it’s fantastic to dive into a team of people where a dedication to make the best possible experience for speakers and visitors alike is paired with a vision to bring the best of Malmö out to the world.

Did you miss it all? All talks from 2018 are here, but really to enjoy the atmosphere I hope to see you there in person next year.

 Linda Liukas getting the traditional goodbye-and-see-you-next-year love boost at the end of The Conference. Photo by www.jesperberg.se

Linda Liukas getting the traditional goodbye-and-see-you-next-year love boost at the end of The Conference. Photo by www.jesperberg.se

2017 in review

I was inspired by friends who made great year-in-review posts to do my own reflection of the year that passed. In particular I hope to inspire other women to dare to do what I did, that is working while having a small baby by my side. As 2017 kicked into action, our son Olle was five weeks old, and it was my wish and determination not to take one year off as is common in Scandinavia, but instead to try to continue to work with my companies while still doing the mum-thing. My expectations for this experiment was that I would be very tired, earn less and get less stuff done, but I'd be ok with that for a year. 

Well, here’s how the year went:

January With new assignments landed just before Christmas, I started prepping for an educational workshop for a Danish medical company who wished to train their clients in social media marketing. Lucky for me, Olle sleeps twice a day so most of this gets done during nap time. We also kick off the planning for the program for The Conference with the wonderful friends at Media Evolution.

February Had an inspiring chat with “Radicals” author Jamie Bartlett, who later did a talk at The Conference. An upcoming training for Tetra Pak took a lot of time, but still manage to do a fun (and a bit messy) live streaming from House of Ada with social video expert (and veteran) Björn Falkevik. Blogged about it here.

March Celebrated the first anniversary of co-working space House of Ada that I run together with co-founder Tomas Wennström. Wow, that year went fast, and what a boost to see our members making new friends and connections in the house. Do a full-day creative workshop with a real estate company on how to better utilize digital services in their business. Finally decide that a taking a baby to a two-day board meeting is a bit much.

April Do three training workshops in three different cities for veterinarians (that’s a first!) on content and video marketing in social channels. This is such a blast. The trips took a bit of coordination and mostly I just took the entire family along, which actually made the usually a bit lonely business trips much more fun. At home I obsess over the SKAM series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: bringing the family along on a business trip.

May The Conference program is coming along nicely, very happy to get Yousef Tuqan on board and I also start hunting for SKAM speakers (because still obsessed). Start digging into research on online shopping behavior and e-commerce trends for a startup. Fascinated by the speed of changing behaviour in most segments of consumers. Finally able to launch a customized two-day training at Tetra Pak. Inspiring to meet and discuss with participants from all around the globe.

June A lecture on digitalization for NIBE almost didn’t happen due to transportation failures, but manage to get on stage with five minutes to spare. The baby logistics are getting more manageable as Olle start eating solids. Eats absolutely nothing at first, until he tastes Pasta Carbonara, and it’s a smooth ride from there. Have very nice feedback on a trend report for a client which makes my day. Program for the Conference is announced.

July Mostly vacation time. Weather is awful, which is just fine when vacationing with a seven-month-old. Do a short trip to London to explore opportunities for a new business idea.

August Finally manage to book Mari Magnus, the web producer of SKAM for The Conference. This month is a flurry of emailing back and forth with speakers to get all details right for the big event. Kick-ass program manager Cecilia is the best support in this hectic period. On top of it all, the entire family catches pneumonia and me and Tomas take turns staying at home with sick kids for a record of three weeks in total.

September Showtime for the Conference, you can watch all the talks here but to take part of the great atmosphere you need to sign up for 2018. :) Kick off the second round of training at Tetra Pak.

October The family goes on a well-deserved last-minute trip to Greece. Our five-year-old almost learns how to swim. At home I’m approached with a flattering job opportunity, but running my own show is just too fun at the moment.

November I do a complete remake of how I run workshops and creative meetings. Over the years I’ve moved closer and closer to the Google Design Sprint model and with the remake it was like taking the final step in this process. I wrap up November with workshop for a housing company as a first live test, and I loved how all the exercises turned out, plus the level of energy over the day. This is definitely how I’m doing things from now on. Olle turns 1, which feels like a major milestone.

December Wrapping up the year and planning for new adventures. Attended a very positive board meeting at the Faculty of Technology and Society. Malmö Högskola will become Malmö University in 2018, and there’s a lot of excitement around that. Finally check out of 2017 just before Christmas.

Final thoughts Somewhat surprisingly, 2017 turned out to be a very productive year in spite of only having a couple of days a week to work, sometimes just two hours a day during nap time. Reflecting on this, I think it’s because when your time is limited, you have to plan meticulously to get things done. Also, working with a baby was much less stressful than I Imagined. Clients were always extremely helpful and understanding when I had to bring Olle along occasionally, and in fact, these meetings were more fun and relaxing than my ordinary meetings.

Looking back, I had a great year not in spite of working with a baby, but because of having Olle along. This made me challenge myself to solve things in new ways and prioritize. I hope this can inspire other women who have their own businesses to find a way to make it through that first year, and not to view family and business life as something incompatible.

Three Tips for Live Streaming

I thought I'd kick off my return from parental leave with some thoughts on the evolution of visual communication online, in particular the explosion of live video streaming.

Usually a trend is born in the magic intersection of new technology and emerging user behaviour. Live streaming is the love child of access to high-capacity mobile broadband and the visual communication trend.

I started talking about the upcoming dominance of the visual communication trend around 3-4 years ago when we saw a huge growth of pictures and video shared online. Visual social networks have been thriving ever since with Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube as the most prominent examples.

Shortly after, live video streaming was getting more and more popular with for example apps such as Meerkat (rest in peace) and Periscope (although Swedish Bambuser was way ahead of them). Social network giants YouTube and Facebook followed suit and launched live video features and in particular Facebook are pushing them heavily today.

What excites me about live streaming it that it makes video truly social, as viewers can comment and follow an event in real time, as opposed to traditionally just being able to “share” video content.

However, it's not until now you see brands and organizations use this technology in a compelling way. I want to share two examples that I came across recently that I think are great examples of how live video can help you connect with your audience in new ways.

Live Ice Cream Tasting - What's Not To Like?

First example is popular Swedish ice cream brand Sia Glass. They did a very cute and simple live stream from their office to bring attention to their new ice cream flavors for 2017. The setting is very simple, two armchairs and a local food celebrity trying out the new flavors and chatting with the ice cream brands representative. You may think the setting is almost too simple, but I like the no-fuss approach. It's signals accessibility and likability, more importantly you get a crazy craving for ice cream!

 

Live Q&A With ACLU

On a more serious note, the second example is from American human rights organization ACLU. They used a live broadcast as a Q&A with one of their lawyers, answering questions about immigrants' rights. Viewers can post questions directly in the comments and get a response in real time.

 

Sending live video on Facebook is technically uncomplicated, but I think many organizations and brands are a bit scared about how to use this mode of communication. Being live is very unapologetic. You cannot edit, any mistake is instantly in front of everyone's eyes.

I believe this fear of messing up is very similar to the fear that brands had with the birth of social media. Remember the discussion of the implications of clients being able to post anything about your products or services on your Facebook page? Well, most brands managed to get past that fear, and they need to get over the fear of live broadcast too. It's too compelling to watch and it's simply too useful to be ignored. Here are three tips to get started:

1. Think Reality TV Aesthetics

As demonstrated by the examples above, don't fret about building a high-end TV studio. Make use of the environment that you're in. The sense of authenticity is more important than having a perfect setting.

2. Learn From Live Broadcasting Pros

Remember that streaming live is different from just posting a video. You need to present the subject of your stream continuously, as viewers are joining the show at different locations in time. If you ever did live TV or radio you know what I'm talking about - especially sport reporters excel at this. They elegantly remind the audience what game they just started to watch, what the current score is, what just happened, throughout the broadcast.

3. Give the Audience a While to “Tune In”

Don't get straight to the point! At least in the case of Facebook you can see how viewers often start watching after a while as the first viewers help to gradually spread the content by sharing the live video stream in their feeds. So you need some kind of a warm up as your audience is tuning in. Perhaps chat casually with your guests, and prepare the viewers for what will happen in a few minutes. You don't need to go on forever, but it can prevent that the bulk of viewers do not discover and join the live content when the best part has already passed. (When the live show is over, it's a bit of a different story as the content is then accessible as a regular video.)

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start to experiment with how you can connect with your audience you using live video streaming.

 

How Virtual Assistants Will Shape Your Brand Experience

As I’m currently researching a lot of virtual assistant/AI trends right now for The Conference, I’m intrigued what this field will look like in the near future and how humans will respond to having a “little helper” around who can assist you with everything, from ordering pizza to rescheduling a doctor’s appointment. 

Sounds futuristic? It’s more or less here already. Facebooks “M”, Microsoft’s Cortana and x.ai are just some examples of virtual assistants on the market (or in beta) that is aiming to be your future butler, secretary or general problem solver.

These are, mostly, services that are based on some kind of AI, that will learn your preferences, based on a flow of data that you generate in your daily life. Your VA will learn, if you ask it to order a pizza, that you prefer the pizza place who’s number you have listed in your phone, searched for on Google Maps, or where your friends have checked in on Foursquare.

But what has struck me during my research is that we, the humans, will have higher expectations when interacting with an AI, apart from getting the right service. We will not only expect the pizza to arrive to the right address, we will expect that the process of ordering the pizza to be smooth, fun and interesting.

In other words, we will have expectations of the experience of interacting with our virtual assistant, not just the result it will deliver.

Why do I say this? Because of the efforts that many tech companies already put in designing the personalities of their AIs. Yes, you read correctly, designing a personality for an artificial intelligence is now a job. Where do you find this design competence? Well, from drama, movies and fiction. There are several teams of writers, producers and even comedians who are now employed by tech companies to carefully design what your experience when chatting with your virtual assistant will be like. Will it be funny, smart, polite?  

(If you’re curious to hear more, Deborah Harrison, one of the architects of the personality for Microsoft's digital assistant, Cortana, will be speaking at The Conference about why it’s important to give an AI a likeable personality.)

So, why should you care about this? Because I believe this interaction between humans and machines will be a big part of a company’s brand. When your customer service will be an AI, you will want that AI to reflect your brand values. When it comes to building your brand image, your AI’s personality will be right up there along with brand logo and tone-of-voice.

As a customer, I will expect the virtual IKEA assistant to be friendly, smart and down-to-earth when helping me with my order, in line with my general perception of the IKEA brand.

Perhaps it’s also possible that future customers will choose brands based on what the AI interaction is like. I might personally prefer an AI that’s more witty, while others prefer more serious conversations.

I don’t think this thought is too far fetched, as we have many examples today where consumers choose one brand over another, based on their personal experiences of interacting with that company. Think about travel companies, where all of them will deliver you from A to B, but the overall travel experience is what makes you prefer one company over another.

This will also pose interesting challenges to the future personality designers out there. As shy Swedes sometimes shun what we perceive as “overly friendly” service when visiting the US, will we feel uncomfortable interacting with chirpy AI:s designed in sunny California? Will we be able to toggle to a “nordic noir” mode for a less cheerful personality, to fit our cultural style of communication? :)

What is for certain is that in just a few years, human-machine interaction will be a part of your brand experience. And you might want to start thinking about how to design that experience already today.

 

Why It Matters to Build Great Digital Services for Citizens

Last week I spoke at Lift Conference in Geneva about how Swedish citizens use digital services to interact with government agencies and public institutions.

Along with the Nordics we’ve come a long way. It’s part of millions of Swedes daily lives to use apps to file tax income papers (72% are filed digitally) or apply for parental leave benefits.

Apart from showing different examples, I stressed the importance of public institutions going digital when it comes to serving their citizens, or rather letting citizens serve themselves through easy-to-use online services.

The obvious reason is resources. From a public perspective digital services are an investment, but pretty quickly it has shown to save time and money. For example, the building of the gov.uk site is estimated to have saved UK government departments over £61m in 2014/15.

But there’s also something to be said about how this matters for the brand of government agencies, how they are perceived by their citizens.

Just as digital services are a way to increase customer satisfaction and brand loyalty for private companies, I believe that great government services do the same for citizen satisfaction.

In so many countries, we interact with public institutions at some of the most important moments of our lives. When we’re born. When we are married. When we have kids. When we’re sick or need help.

What these interactions look like, both physically and digitally, matter.

When I file my taxes via text message, like we can do in Sweden since 2002, I feel like superwoman. When I can focus on taking care of my sick daughter and use an app to file my benefit claims instead of filling out long forms, I feel in control of my time, and I actually like the Swedish Insurance Agency better than before.

When public institutions provide great digital services that make you more informed, allow you to spend your time better and solve your own problems, it’s not only a sense of satisfaction, it’s a sense of dignity.

Ultimately, I believe that the reward that comes out of well-functioning government services, is a higher level of mutual trust. 

And these feelings - satisfaction, dignity and trust - are feelings that any government would like to build between themselves and their citizens.

Watch the full talk here.

A Conversation on the Digital Strategist in Sweden

I had a great time joining Nasser Sahlool’s podcast where he interviews digital strategists from all over the world. All in all I think it’s a great concept for a podcast. Although we think of the web as global, in most digital strategic work we still have to cater to different audiences and consider cultural aspects and technical usage of the people we want to reach or building services for. (A previous interview tells us that in Italy for example, 33% of companies don’t want to use social and digital media (!).)

I described the Swedes as technically savvy and Sweden as a country where even government agencies strive to provide smooth digital services. This might sound a bit exaggerated from a Swedish point of view. Yes, the design and UX experience is often terrible when it comes to Swedish government websites. But the sheer possibility of submitting your tax return papers every year by simply sending a text message, is mindbogglingly easy compared to the process in many other nations.

Still, with some afterthought, I would have liked to add that we are far from pioneers in some aspects. From a European perspective Swedes are very connected and tech friendly, but mobile usage in Japan or South Korea were way ahead of us, and all over the world the gap is closing fast. Also, in many African countries, different mobile payment systems such as M-Pesa have been in place for years, while it’s still early days in Europe.


I myself like to look at Asia and Africa for inspiration, and it’s a good reality check when we tend to be a little self-obsessed in the West. You can listen to the interview with me here.

 

Responsive content strategy

I recently did a training for a government organisation who is turning its massive website responsive. This is a short summary on what I believe is most important to plan for when you go responsive when it comes to handling your content, and some common misunderstandings I’ve seen around.

 

Making content accessible across all platforms is a democratic issue

First, I sometimes hear the opinion that going responsive is something of a “luxury upgrade” to meet the demand of mobile addicted youths. Nothing could be more wrong. Among poor countries or even poor minorities in rich countries, using the internet via smartphones is often the only way for them to access information. Why? They don’t have a computer, cannot afford internet access in the home, or simply don’t have a home. That’s why making all content accessible across all platforms is a democratic act, especially important for government agencies to consider.

 

Forget mobile first - think user first

Don’t fall into the trap of planning the content based on the different devices your content will be on. Think about what the user actually needs, what he/she wants to do with the content, and work from there. Here you can find great input from how your current site is used. Look at what pages and services are accessed the most, what keywords are most used in search and use this data when revising and updating your content.

 

Short, snappy, content is better content - for all platforms

If you have hundreds of pages of outdated, long, texts, these will be a painful experience to read on a mobile platform. And, sorry to break this to you, they are equally boring to read on desktop. That’s why you need to do a proper content spring cleaning before launching your new site.

Start with a content inventory, revise what needs to be updated and get to work. The poster child for public responsive websites, gov.uk, have some great advice on how better writing makes a better UX experience. Revising all content on a site is hard and tedious work, but incredibly important. Going responsive will not magically solve a content problem. The reward will come - you will think that you’ve made your content more palatable on mobile platforms, but the truth is that short, snappy content makes for a better experience on all platforms and cater better to more types of users.