For MTP Engage Hamburg 2022 we invited Belgian artist Dries Depoorter to talk about his body of work over the past five years. This spans interactive installations, websites, a best-selling mobile app, and physical products. Putting an artist on stage at a product conference may be a surprising choice but it is part of our curational approach we have been following for MTP Engage Hamburg since the beginning. Here’s a recap of what we learned from his engaging session.

It’s important to look beyond our (lovely) bubble!

We love the global product community in general and the community Mind the Product created in particular. I appreciate that it’s a community that is very open to sharing ideas, best practices and (at least occasionally) failures and vulnerabilities. This is great and it sets the product community apart from many other industries which are less open to learning from each other. Still, our dear product community is not immune to a typical tendency of any social community: It’s the risk of becoming a bubble connected by the same thoughts, frameworks, bon mots, jokes etc. Such shared codes are what glue communities together. But only focussing inwards limits our ability to think “outside the box” and connect to emerging thoughts beyond our bubble.

This is why I recommend occasional visits to certain non-product events such as The Conference in Malmö or House of Beautiful Business in Lisbon to product folks. And this is also why we always aim to include speakers from outside our bubble in our conference program.

In the past, we were glad to feature Marie Louise Gørvild who spoke about The Copenhagen Catalog and our responsibility as creators of technology to shape the world for the better. Or we had Data Visualization geeks Daniel Goddemeyer & Dominikus Bauer share their thoughts on data and transparency by doing an interactive, multidimensional visualization of our audience.

This year it was on Dries Depoorter to provide some fresh perspectives for our audience. Our audience survey tells us that this was greatly appreciated by many MTP Engage attendees.

So what was Dries’ keynote about?

My clear recommendation is that you watch the video to see for yourself because the beauty of Dries’ work is in the playful details and the nice anecdotes around the creation and reception of his work.

In most cases, Dries’ work is based on commonly known digital artifacts which he blends with technologies and new interaction possibilities to add new perspectives and challenge our morals and common behaviours.
Some examples included:

  • Non Views is a Browser extension to shift the focus from those who viewed a particular YouTube video to those who didn’t.
  • Jaywalking uses surveillance camera footage of street crossings. It detects if people cross at a red traffic light and allows exhibition attendees to report them to the local police.
  • With a similar approach, The Flemish Scrollers uses live streams from the Flemish parliament and detects how much time politicians are distracted by using their smartphones. You are invited to call them out via Twitter.
  • Die with Me is a best-selling app that allows users with less than 5% remaining battery to chat with other users with low battery. Dries go to market approach included some nice tongue-in-cheek takes on our app industry such as doubled prices for Black Friday (which still resulted in record sales).
  • Another interactive piece, QuickFix, allows users to purchase thousands of likes, knowingly from fake accounts for relatively cheap. At MTP Engage Dries demoed this piece by boosting a recent Instagram post by a “volunteered” special attendee in the audience, Christina Wodtke’s dog Nina.

Check out our recap on Christina’s talk at MTP Engage Hamburg here! 

Dries presented these and other examples from his collection – including the context of how they were made, what challenges they faced and how they were received.

Personal takeaways

Besides being an entertaining presentation which provided for plenty of conversation starters during the following coffee break the takeaways from Dries’ presentation can only be subjective because there was no explicit “message” from him.

For me, his works show that with creative thinking and creative application of technologies even very established or seemingly boring artifacts can be turned into new things that provide pleasure or can excite people. As such, you can also see it as an example of why close collaboration between product managers, creatives, and developers is so important.

Dries work once more reminds us that there are always fresh ways to utilize even some of the most commercialized and standardized platforms of the tech industry such as the app stores.

Lastly, his works based on openly available surveillance media put a spotlight on the resulting moral tensions and the question if (and based on which tech-aided triggers) you turn from an observer to somebody who takes action.

Would you like to share anything from outside our lovely bubble?

If you have recently read or seen any content from outside our bubble that you would like to share with our community please let us know in the comments.

There’s more where that came from! Access more insights from our past events


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