The new news entrepreneurs make real stuff.
What’s a physical hack jam? I’ve no idea really – but the description fits what we’ve been doing at the DCA for a couple of days. There’s been the computer coding usually associated with ‘hackdays’ and ‘geekups’. This time the programmers have been working with product designers using a laser cutter, a 3D printer, copius soldering irons as well as an array of power tools, hacksaws and glueguns. They’ve been moulding plastic, stripping wire, chopping wood and sticking things together to create physical products that connect journalists online and audiences to news and information in interesting new ways. And they’ve done so in little under 36hours taking time to socialise and sleep in between.
The results were encouraging. And the process is exactly what we should’ve been doing during the original Meld workshops. Back then I was lead to believe that making things was too difficult. Talking about making things was fine. Developing concepts was fine. Presenting ideas and refining them was fine too. But not making things. That wasn’t fine. It was hard. Coders (apparently) couldn’t code quickly enough. Building things was complex. We’d need too many specialists and they’d be incapable of understanding each other. So we focussed on thinking about what we’d like to make if building things was easy; if ‘coders’ could code quickly enough, and computer specialists did understand each other. Participants gave presentations. They refined their ideas. And they left.
How I wish I’d met the guys from the Product Design course in Dundee back in 2007. Jon Rogers lives to ‘build stuff’. He’s also inspired the people who work with him to do the same. The ideas are prototypes. Some are described as experience prototypes. Either way, the finish is professional and these demonstrators work.
The speed at which all this happens is nothing short of staggering. And yet the atmosphere is jovial, there’s plenty of interaction – even a bit of ‘geek swapping’ between projects so that skillsets are shared out to make sure work can be completed quickly. And the power of being able to engage someone with a physical working product, rather than just showing a Powerpoint or Prezzie, cannot be overestimated.
OK, so the scale of the ideas is a little limited to what’s achievable in 36hours in a lab. I’ll settle for ‘smaller’ ideas. I don’t mind drawing data from other peoples sources (think gov.co.uk) in order to demonstrate a concept. And I can live with the promise of future refinements.