Degrees ain’t sh*t. And startups have no business hiring freshly minted design students.

These are two of the gems of knowledge I took from Friday’s extra-extra-good conference above all human. Many conferences entice potential attendees with every market buzzword known to Cremorne to justify their often-staggering ticket prices: innovative, disruptive, pivot, startup and the rest. Rarely does one deliver: above all human did. Held at a most excellent venue (that moonlights as evangelist church Planetshakers when not accommodating the business community) in South Melbourne, above all human offered a wide variety of opinion from an array of individuals from many different fields of expertise at many different stages of their business and life. The nosh was top-notch, and there was quality networking to be had.
So here’s what I learned at Above All Human 2016:
We’re in the golden age of design. And we’re fucked. Mike Monteiro of Mule Design shook the mediocrity out of the crowd with his tinder-dry, achingly relevant talk about how designers need to take responsibility for their work. He posited that there’s no better time to be in design, but that designers have cooked their own goose (geese?) – in that clients have a huge demand for design, but we don’t truly have enough quality designers available to build the world we require. And that design students are best placed to join agencies which can mentor them to become more than merely monkeys with Adobe: they need to learn how to negotiate ideas with clients, present an idea convincingly, communicate with clients and to be accountable for the designs they ultimately bring into the world.
Equally, he said that startups had no business hiring newbie designers who need to undertake apprenticeships and true mentoring: rather, they leave them in the corner with other peers at their own experiential level designing buttons and not improving their skills. Mike called bullshit on the perceived diversity in the startup arena, with newbies working to make pairs of white guys richer while everyone else gets poorer, stays at the same level or – worse – is exploited by the catchall of ‘disruption’. I loved how he showed an image of the Uber of Today (a man opening a shiny car while looking towards the camera) and the Uber of Yesterday (a colonial raj being lifted by lackeys on a divan). The truth hurts: startups should be focussed on solving real problems, rather than developing easier ways to exploit individuals. And design students should look towards an apprenticeship to complete their education – as their degree is only the rudimentary passcard of craft competence.
If you’re a design student, visit Mike’s no-kaka advice website Dear Design Student.
You can’t have an A-Team from day dot when you’re a startup.
Rod Drury from Xero proved accounting ain’t boring with his interesting talk on the development of his now-goliath accounting package. He said that when you’re in startup, you can’t have everyone you’d love to have immediately. Rather, look for a good team that’s appropriate for your business stage, made up of talented enthusiasts and promoted by influencers and a couple of clever commercial partnerships. Also, Rod noted that founder-led companies tend to operate at light-speed: they have a sense of humor and urgency in their practice. Potency isn’t high in larger organisations without a benevolent dictator at its apex.
Failure is part of the dance of infinite play.
So says Ali Rayl of productivity game Slack, and she should know. Once a game development company that eventually became a productivity-tool software business, Slack has metamorphosed multiple times – when you’ve gotta call time on an idea, it’s actually the start of the next business concept. Thinking of putting gamification into your offering or website? Hint: gamification is best slipped into dull things that we have to do in order to do what we want to do.
The plight of the defender is harder than the role of the attacker.
Window Snyder (best. name. ever. for a person who works in software security) spoke about the challenges of making precious data safe: you’ll only know you’ve failed when you do fail – successes and failed hacks aren’t as apparent. She also put in a pointed barb or two about the ‘golden key’ device that big government want big businesses to have on hand to offer them access to their files. How do we know who’ll end up having access to those keys? Also, Window proffered some hand hints: reduce risk by reducing the value of the data you collect. i.e. shredding letters before recycling, making data less valuable by making it one-use in nature.