In July, we attended this year’s Camp Digital conference, hosted by Nexer Digital, hearing from industry leaders about the latest thinking and approaches in design, data and technology.
We were inspired by the strong themes of social and environmental justice in design and technology throughout the day’s talks and workshops. From People Street founder Shabira Papain’s keynote on inclusive design, to Sensory Design Consultant Alastair Somerville’s workshop on using system design in the climate crisis. Between sessions, we were treated to plenty of good food and the opportunity to network with fellow attendees.
Read on for our personal highlights and how we’re incorporating them into our own practice.
I have a strong sense of connection with Camp Digital. Last year I was a speaker, this year I'm an attendee. I was looking forward to this conference for a few reasons:
To sit back and watch the different storytelling and narrative styles
Shabira Papain was a keynote speaker at SD in Gov in 2022. Watching her speak again was a good opportunity to see how a talk can adapt. Shabira showed me how one talk can be adapted for a similar audience. For me, watching a woman of colour smashing it again on stage is inspiring and motivating. Her talk was as effective as the first time. It's a reminder that everyone we work with has their own story and experience in life. Take time to learn about each other.
To hear from a personal mentor
Audree Fletcher is the reason I wanted to attend this year. Audree has inspired me and had an active part in my journey into leadership. I knew it was the perfect opportunity to catch up - after all, that’s what going to a conference is about. Martin goes into detail on Audree’s talk below, but to give you a taster – Audree spoke about how as designers we can be proactive to encourage good decision making to happen, and I left the talk with some tangible ways to understand stakeholders.
To get hands-on
As designers we’re so busy designing and running workshops, it's lovely to sit in on them and take part. Alastair Somerville ran us through the workshop ‘using Systemic design in the climate crisis’. The structure included some theory, some interactive moments to engage and discuss topics with our table, and some alone time to think about how we create our forest of possibility for a better future. I came away feeling optimistic that 'I am enough'. We all have tools in our hands today to make an impact. We need to use them.
After realising this was my first in person event since COVID, I settled in to watch the keynote speakers – James Plunkett with a diatribe on digital transformation “why is this so f*cking hard!” and Shabiria Papain on digital justice – two talks that left me worried the event had peaked early and wouldn’t be able to maintain the level of quality it had set for itself. Thankfully I was wrong.
My highlight from the day was Audree Fletcher with her talk ‘Designing in the Dark’. Audree walked us through the dark art of stakeholder management, an area of our work that doesn’t get talked about enough – doing the invisible work of influencing decision makers, befriending sponsors and navigating organisational politics to ensure that we get permission to do the work we’re here for. It’s easy to forget, when you’re in meeting after meeting not ‘designing’, that this is the work.
Talks aside, I really enjoyed being back in the room with my peers, chatting to old friends and making some new ones. Knowing there’s a whole community out there who don’t just understand the work, but live it every day, gives me energy to keep going through the harder days.
Two simple emotive statements writ large on presentation slides from the sessions with James Plunkett and Alastair Somerville respectively:
“You are enough” and “Stay human”.
Alastair’s workshop introduced us to the thinking behind the Design Council's updated double diamond, now expanded to centre system thinking approaches for designers working on climate solutions.
Spoiler alert – Alastair's believes we don't need new tools to think creatively about climate crisis solutions. He says that in order to solve the complexity and vastness of climate challenges, we need to start in a place. Within our local communities. Within what is familiar and where we care about. He says: ‘Change starts in ourselves. Value yourself and what you can do and love. Plan for futures through improvement of your own skills or invitation and welcoming of people with those skills or new capacities and experiences’.
James spoke about digital transformation – the focus of much work within government at present – and how lessons from the past can reveal a safe path for us to take forward. Whilst the modernisation of services is vital work, James warned that history has shown us that breakthrough isn’t always shiny technology. Rather, it’s key to identify new ways of organising how technology can work for us – and to resist technology dictating our solutions.
Both of these talks highlighted a theme my ears picked up on throughout the presentations at Camp digital this year, signalling a strong current of thought embracing emotional intelligence and the evolution of our own humanity as central to tackling today's environmental and societal challenges.
I was really inspired by the talks by Shabira Papain on inclusive design, Edafe Onerhime on colonisation and data, and Sarah Knowles and Lynn Laidlaw on data feminism. I’m currently working on a data platform project – which can sometimes feel distant from the citizens we seek to serve through our social impact work.
Listening to Shabira, Edafe, Sarah and Lynn shifted my perspective. They reminded me that data is not neutral, empowered me to think about data beyond the technical, and motivated me to centre those most likely to be excluded by the outcomes of my design work. Back in the world of data platforms, I’ve been researching the groups and communities who are marginalised by the system I’m working within. From here, I've been challenging myself and my colleagues to think about the power and accountability we have within our project to challenge these power structures, and beginning to think about what that looks like in practice.
Camp Digital was a great opportunity to take a step back from our day-to-day work as designers and leaders and reflect on the power and potential of our discipline. Whether learning something brand new or being reminded of what we already know, we came away energised and with a refreshed perspective on our role in the digital world.
Our recent design blog posts
Transformation is for everyone. We love sharing our thoughts, approaches, learning and research all gained from the work we do.
A look at our approach to Design Research at TPXimpact, and some of the projects our team has been working on