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Direction ‘16: key takeaways and interviews

Key takeaways from Web Directions Sydney 2016, plus interviews with Cards Against Humanity, Fairfax Media and Optus

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If you saw us tweeting #Direction16 last week and wondered if we’d turned into boyband fanatics, then let me put your mind at ease! We had the pleasure of attending and sponsoring Web Directions Sydney 2016. Now in its 10th year, the conference is well-known for bringing together the brightest digital minds for two days of inspiration, learning and connections.

Web Directions is the type of conference that stretches your mind, leaving it forever expanded.

To fully absorb this knowledge and share it with the wider SilverStripe community, we’ve summed up the key learnings we left with, and a couple of our favourite live-streamed interviews with the speakers.

Virtual reality is not the future, it’s the now

Virtual reality (VR) was a hot topic, but refreshingly it was not in the context of future-gazing. Instead, speakers shared concrete use cases and tools to start creating VR.

If you can write Javascript, you can write WebVR

Mark Pesce, futurist and VR innovator, spoke of his early dabbling with virtual reality in 1994 when he created a virtual banana. For decades, VR has lain dormant, waiting for technology and hardware to catch up with our imaginations.  Mark described the tipping point in 2015 with Google Cardboard when there were suddenly millions of VR devices in existence. Since then we’ve seen the launch of Samsung GearVR, Microsoft Hololens, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and most recently Playstation and Google’s Daydream continue to flood onto the market.

But VR headsets are only as good as the content that is available. To show the Web Directions audience that they can be part of this revolution, Mark took us on a 3 slide crash course (check out his full slides). The key lesson: If you can write javascript, you can already write webVR code.

FOSS creates a platform for creativity, allowing more developers and designers to start producing webVR content. Check out Mozilla’s project if you’re interested in coding webVR.  

WebVR1WebVR2WebVR3A WebVR coding demo from Mark Pesce - full slides here.

Interview with Mark Pesce


LIVE on #Periscope: Hearing from @mpesce on #VR at #Direction16

VR is an empathy engine

One of my favourite quotes from Web Directions came from Aaron Spence of Panedia when he shared how they are using live action VR to create immersive worlds that act as “empathy engines”. Live-action VR involved shooting 360 degree camera footage, it’s less flexible than computer-generated 3d (you can’t walk into the scene or interact with object in the same way), but it’s currently far more realistic and cost-effective.

VR is an empathy engine

~ Aaron Spence, founder Panedia

The human brain has has to work hard to decipher data when it’s presented 2-dimensionally, Mark Pesce shared in his talk that our decision-making ability is increased up to 5,000 times when we are presented information using all our senses, not just our eyes. When we encounter information in a VR world, we are able to additional senses like touch and sound. This allows us to understand more, and share experiences.

The web is for information sharing. VR is for experience sharing.

~ Mark Pesce  

Aaron shared several examples of how Panedia is using VR to effectively, including:

  • Training: helping Qantas safety staff to identify hazards, having to look around them like they would in a normal work environment without needing to actually train in hazardous conditions
  • Selling: using VR to show potential clients the inside of cruise ships so that they can book with confidence even if they can’t visit ships first
  • Fundraising: helping Compassion, a multi-national not-for-profit organisation, show donors what life in Thailand is really like.

In each example, VR demonstrated an advantage over 2d information sharing by allowing an immersive experience, which, at least for now, is also distraction-free.

There’s an exciting opportunity for VR to bridge the empathy gap between groups of people that previously had nothing in common. I gave Panedia’s VR a go on the break and the Compassion project, in particular, showed the power of VR for sharing experiences, not just information.

Trying out Panedia’s VR

Trying out Panedia’s VR with founder Aaron Spence

Interview with Aaron Spence


What we measure reflects what we think is important

Lucinda Burtt, Head of Product Design, Fairfax Media also reinforced that we need to pay close attention to the metrics we use. Her talk explained how Fairfax Media chooses what to test, and how they are data-informed not data-driven. She warned against focusing on “micro-conversions” such as increasing button clicks without balancing with longer term metrics like customer satisfaction.

Lucinda encouraged designers to be involved with conversations that help them understand the strategy and context behind the things they build so that they understand how to test for success.

Be data-informed, not data-driven. Use data to support and test intuition

~ Lucinda Burtt, Head of Product Design, Fairfax Media

Lucinda also shared the PIE matrix they use at Fairfax to prioritise which ideas to test:

  • Potential (how much can you improve something)
  • Importance (is it valuable to work on this)
  • Ease (how hard to test)

They mark each aspect out of 10 for a PIE score, which helps guide their backlog.

The greatest skill we can have is empathy

With the political climate in the USA top of mind, many of the speakers spoke openly about the need for greater empathy. It was a thread that linked every talk for both practical and emotional reasons.

One great example of the need for empathy was Ben Hawkins, Director of Retail Design at Optus. He was charged with redesigning Optus’s stores to be more welcoming to children so that parents could shop there without pressure. Ben realised early on that even if he could remember what being an eight year-old was like, it would be irrelevant as children today grow up in a completely different world. In Australia, 80% of children have smartphones, rather than guess what they’d want in a store, they asked them.

Applying an Agile mindset to retail design is difficult. Stores are expensive to fit out, which makes testing and iterating less feasible. At Optus, they’re also starting to use VR to solve this problem. Modelling and testing VR stores before committing to a new spatial design.

As part of this project Optus moved away from measuring “revenue per square metre” to “experience per square metre”. A harder metric to track but one that reflects a longer term strategy to retain and delight customers, not simply convert them to dollars.  I asked Ben to delve a bit deeper on this metric in our live-streamed interview:

Interview with Ben Hawkins


LIVE on #Periscope: We're chatting with Ben Hawkins, Director Retail Design at Optus #Direction16

We also chatted to Jenn Bane, Community Manager of Cards Against Humanity about her advice for developing our own empathy for both our colleagues and users.

With empathy, massive impacts are possible

Lastly, we sat down with Jennifer Wilson, Director of The Project Room after her talk on “Gamifying Health” and their successful quit smoking app Quit Buddy which used by 15% of Australians. The app has shown an outstanding 37% reported quit rate, over 800% that of traditional smoking cessation tools.

Jennifer shared how The Project Room develops empathy with their users and insights for compelling behavioural changes. She explains how they build humanity into their health products, taking on a supportive tone without being judgemental of those looking to quit smoking, gambling or drug addictions.

Interview with Jennifer Wilson


Spoilt for choice

We couldn’t agree more with Simon! Web Directions was a fantastic conference and picking a favourite talk is near impossible. We left, feeling challenged to think more deeply about empathy and excited by the future of VR. Thanks to John, Rosemary, Shane and the team at Web Directions who brought the conference to life!

Header photo by Jean-Jacques Halans

About the author
Nicole Williams

Nicole has over 10 years experience in marketing and communications. As Head of Product, she is responsible for overseeing product management, product delivery, and marketing at SilverStripe. Nicole is responsible for engaging with public sector agencies to drive forward the vision and roadmap for the Common Web Platform, harnessing the potential of open source to share government innovation

Nicole is an advocate for knowledge sharing, believing it’s key to keeping up with the pace of tech. Her writing has been featured on Hubspot, and Huffington Post.


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