High Five from the Tech Open Air Berlin 2017

2017 marked the sixth ever Tech Open Air – TOA for short. With over 200 speakers at the two-day conference, and another 200 satellite events throughout Berlin, TOA really got people fired up this year. The festival takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining topics from sectors like technology, music, art and science. So it’s no surprise that the talks, workshops and satellite events covered a range of themes. I treated myself to day two at the conference, held at the Funkhaus Berlin, including a mini trade fair and an enthralling evening workshop. A top five list? Not possible. I walked away with far too many lasting impressions. Instead, I am sharing my five highlights.

1. House of Tech Mini Trade Fair

For the first time ever, the shed on the premises served a purpose at the conference. And for the first time ever, companies had the chance not only to speak about the products but also let visitors experience them. Among those out on show was the smart fridge from T-Systems. Big pink (what else?) letters on a glass door revealed the interior temperature and humidity, and gave a peek at its contents. An integrated camera tracked what users took out of the fridge.

How teams can collaborate remotely on a whiteboard was seen in the Nexboard from Nexenio. Filling out a form can be pleasant, even human. Really! At least according to Typeform and its downright attractive booth. Hey dude, where’s your car? Maybe Auto1 bought it? A new online dealer that, by hanging up a huge DeLorean poster, showed it knew how to catch my eye. Of course, there were so many more. But let’s move on …

2. Talk: „How we rethink work“

Arrive at work at 9 am, head home at 6 pm – and that five days a week? Up-and-coming generations imagine work a little differently. In his talk, Julian Riedelsheimer of 99chairs presented work concepts that work well in his company. Today, many think freedom and autonomy are essential, and that time is valuable. People are less interested in just doing something so they can buy something, and more driven by finding a sense of purpose and doing something fulfilling. Takeaways: Hand over responsibility to employees, switch up their roles and tasks. That makes people content. And content employees help make a successful company.

3. Nothing’s possible without Google…

… not even at the TOA. Hector Ouilhet, Head of Design for Google Search, was the last and longest talk of the conference. A nice one about the history of communication, rapidly advancing technology, how to deal with the mass amount of information today and how to interact with interfaces. So how do we get technology to act as per our expectations? Clear answer: Artificial intelligence and deep learning will help shape the future, especially because the underlying medium of language is both the most natural and the oldest.

4. Workshop Time „Design Sprint“

Many of us know the conundrum of traditional yet tedious design processes. You are excited and motivated when the project kicks off, but your energy subsides as time passes. In-depth background research, complex documentation and communication challenges with clients that turn into a game of ping pong can make you fatigued before the project is over. In contrast, a design spring promises to find a solution to a problem, including a testable prototype, in just a few days. Sounds promising – and it works. In a lightening decision jam, we suggested and evaluated solutions to a problem before selecting one path (the cost-effort estimation played a role) and elaborating on it. In a workshop setting, all this happened in reduced form, but it was just as productive.  All the approach required: a team, one moderator, a flipchart, tons of post-its, voting dots and Sharpies. Fun fact: Design sprints are also used at Google.

5. „The Cucumber wants to be part of you“

At the back of the House of Tech, the booth of Hendrick’s Gin created a parallel universe of AI, VR, data, tech, marketing, mobility and more. After two Irish participants recommended the booth, and convinced me with a voucher for a free gin & tonic, I found myself in the middle of a mini obstacle course designed in turn-of-the-century style. There was a ton to see here: countless knickknacks piled on old wooden shelves by a small bar. An old grandfather clock with cucumbers for hands stood opposite, on guard. In the middle was a bottle – illuminated – a kind of cart with a quite imposing cucumber plant on top. It was the cucumber communicator, in steam punk style. Perhaps, one could have thought it’s just decoration, but not so when interaction has arrived in the land of spirits. By putting on the cucumber-shaped helmet, I could actually communicate with the mighty plant. Even per video. Much fun was had.