“Diverse groups make better products” – code, cake and gadgets at Geek Girl Meetup Berlin

Nina Fowler 2012-09-17 1

Geek Girl Meetup Berlin – all rights reserved by Carla DragoHertje Brodersen (AKQA) talks social media – courtesy of Carla Drago (all rights reserved)

Rarely does a tech conference combine free tickets, a programme where any attendee can put her or his name down to be a speaker, a charity bake sale,  gadgets and tiramisu – and the first Geek Girl Meetup Berlin at Betahaus on Satuday pulled it off well.

Etsy Germany country manager Caroline Drucker kicked off the event, attended by about 60 women and a few men, with a few thoughts on asking stupid questions (“I got to where I am now by asking lots of stupid questions and doing what I didn’t think I could do”) and diversity in the tech industry.

“Look at Silicon Valley”, she pointed out. It’s all about money, dreams of billion-dollar exits and it’s dominated by men – a tech scene made up of different genders, ages, social backgrounds and problems to solve will lead to better thinking and better products.

Elin Aram, currently working for photography startup EyeEm in Berlin, shared insights from Seoul in South Korea. Innovation depends on collaboration rather than the actual level of technology available, she suggested. For example, three mobile operators and nine credit card companies worked together to create a pilot “NFC Zone” for smartphone payments in the busy Myeong-dong shopping district.

Better than smartphones – designing tech for shopping

Researcher and entrepreneur Vaiva Kalnikaitė, visiting from Cambridge in the UK, demo-ed the lambent shopping handle she designed and put together (with help from a 3D printer) to see if shoppers could be “nudged” to make different supermarket purchases.

Shoppers can clip the device to regular supermarket trolley handles and use it to scan barcodes as they shop. The handle’s LEDs light up depending on the product’s food miles, while another light changes to show how the trolley’s contents compare to the average shopper in that store.

Geek Girl Meetup Berlin – all rights reserved by Carla DragoThe “lambent shopping handle” – image courtesy of Carla Drago (all rights reserved)

Kalnikaitė and her partners’ field tests (including an arrest when a security guard became worried by the flashing lights) found 72 per cent of shoppers made different choices when using the lambent handle for basic items such as sugar.

“Simple lambent graphics are very powerful,” Kalnikaitė concluded – less in a design can be more. It’s also a strong reminder that smartphone apps are not always the best solution – if she’d built a similar app for smartphones, which need to be held in the hand, users would have found it more annoying than helpful when trying to pick up and carry items.

Other speakers at the meetup included SoundCloud developer and “music hacker” Amélie Anglade, who ran through how Google’s PageRank works and compared it to SoundCloud’s DiscoRank, and user research expert Kyra Edeker, who suggested an efficient initial product for user testing can be as simple as a sticky note sketch on an iPhone screen.

Emily Green, Alesha Summers, Angela Naegele and Duana Stanley organised Geek Girl Meetup Berlin with help from Emma Koszinowski and Heidi Harman (Geek Girl Sweden) and sponsorship from SoundCloud, Betahaus, co.up, Madvertise and Nokia.

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