Camp Digital - thank you for your support

Headshot of Hilary Stephenson

Managing Director

5 minute read

I love Camp Digital. It’s the biggest thing we do each year, it’s hard work, the team pulls together, we all get excited by the small things arriving, we have minor squabbles over the daft superficial stuff and it never makes us any money. But I love it and here’s why.

A few people asked how the talk curation happens. Disclaimer: we don’t run a talk submission process, at all. We ask our team what they’d like to see covered and who they'd like to involve. We then approach people we like and explain the ethos of the event, show them what we've covered in previous years and have a good chat about how they might fit. We don’t ask them to mask their political views or opinions and we know that the talks may appear provocative to some. We also have great loyalty in our returning crowd and we offer a lot of free spaces.

This all helps to build a sense of community; a cobbled together, chaotic cohesion where everyone pitches in, which is evidenced by our speakers sharing notes right up to their presentation slots. People want it to be a good event and our speakers do so much more than turn up on the day.

Looking at our archive, I hope you’ll see we try to interpret “digital” in its broadest sense, while giving practical, hands on advice and techniques people can adopt. We can always do more, and better, but we are attendees on the day too. We are there to learn and your feedback (both positive and constructive) really helps us.

We try to be diverse and inclusive in our approach, both in terms of who we invite, the welcome we give on the day, the speakers we choose and the programme we curate. On the subject of inclusive design, there was a comment (I can't remember who from) about us featuring accessibility "too much". I think given the reaction of the crowd to the talks showing what should, can and has been done by great teams under the heading of inclusive design suggests there is still work to do.

People still seem wowed that this kind of work is happening - praise for anyone's accessibility work is excellent but surprise that it's happening seems a little odd. I saw similar at EuroIA last year, where people were blown away by those seemingly doing "tech for good".

As the sticker says though, accessibility isn’t tech for good, it's tech for all. Accessibility should be a standard part of any digital product just as inclusion is fundamental to any service design project.

Universities are teaching it, users are demanding it yet uptake across our industry is still patchy, as brands and organisations view it as an afterthought; a side order for the minority and only if the budget stretches. People really need to start paying for it though and we as a community need to show them why and how. This includes training teams, accessibility audits, usability testing and designing with rather than for people with ranging abilities.

Look at the recent bank scandal, where screen reader users were effectively locked out of their accounts. Sadly, many people commented that this was down to a UAT fail but let's be honest, if they failed to involve the right people at UAT stage, they probably didn’t stand a cat in hell's chance of co-designing with them right at the start. And this extends beyond screens. Only the day after Camp Digital we witnessed the lack of education in customer service delivery when Molly was turned away yet again by people who don't know the rules:

We are regularly asked to speak about the subject (often with Molly and often for free) but talk is only useful if the people in influential roles, in design teams and DevOps functions grasp the nettle and start doing the work. This is on us and everyone working in policy, service design and digital delivery. As Ella said on the day:

"It's not the minority's responsibility to educate the majority"

That's why I love to see a true accessibility collective at Camp Digital sharing their work, throwing out practical examples, sharing posters, tools, methods and advice. Please continue to share it far and wide when the videos and presentations are up (they are being subtitled, for which we make no apology 😉)

So, Camp Digital for me this year was about human stories and looking for them in new places, because digital doesn’t exist separately from those who use or build the tech.

From Vikas sharing the vital voices of the 21st century, to Per calling on us all as designers to think who might be in the room, Joe pointing out our design responsibilities, Katy’s honest lessons learned, to Ella asking us to consider new heroes; our speakers wove together the importance of context, user research, diversity and giving up our power to help others.

What better way to finish than Sue’s humility in relaying her own story. One of resilience against a backdrop of a group of women in tech whose story had been hushed. A story that might just have ended the war.

And that was just the main stage…I never get to see it all but such is the response on the day that we can gauge how it’s going. I apologise to anyone who thought some of the talks were a bit too "full-on" or overly political rather than digital. That said, more than one person told me Gavin Elliott’s talk had moved them to tears, so perhaps that’s actually a bit "sorry, not sorry".

And what a lovely addition the Tech for Good Live team were this year, sharing a genuine fireside chat with some amazing people who are thinking about the value, impact and legacy of what they are doing. Building on Linda and Alistair showing their great work and encouraging us all to work in the open, I think my favourite addition to the programme was from Chris and Anya, both more than a little nervous on the day, who told us how they had taken up the accessibility challenge at Autotrader. Great work.

I hope that overall we chose well and we can agree that there is a need to discuss how politics, ethics and responsibility are inextricably tied to digital products and services and, consequently, our jobs. I firmly believe it’s vital for the rising stars we invite along to think beyond innovation, tech and transformation and consider why they want to do this.

The somewhat accidental theme of human storytelling, of diverse voices and raising people up gives us all a nudge (sorry Per) to be open and transparent in our work, to consider richer life experience and look for atypical heroes. I loved it. Thanks everyone for giving us a great day out.