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

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

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

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