Yesterday lots of people involved in running Open Device Labs around the world gathered in Dusseldorf. I wasn’t one of the guys in the room, but here’s my thoughts on the hour Jon and I spent dialled in via hangout and where we’re all going with this open lab thing.
— Andre Jay Meissner (@klick_ass) May 22, 2014
Creating and running a lab has personally been one of the highlights of what we’ve achieved so far with the agency. It came from a desire to bring people together and build something useful and in under a year, it’s gone much further than we imagined when we made the decision to be involved.
The admin meet up is a great example of people coming together from all over to help evolve a great idea, and most without being paid to do it.
I’m going to write a bit about the WalkingLab in Lille, as they were the other lab on the hangout with us. I think serendipity had a hand in that, as for me it was really interesting to hear that they have been approaching many of the challenges we face in a similar way. Like us they understand the lab isn’t just a place to come and test devices, but is somewhere that has the potential to become the heart of creative technology communities.
Connection issues meant they missed us talking through our experiences of engaging people and promoting the lab, so this is for them too.
Since April we’ve given lectures at both the University and the Arts University here in Bournemouth, taking a slightly different approach to both; ‘Designing for devices’ and the more obvious ‘Building & testing on devices’. In those lectures we launched an ‘ODL Student Ambassador’ scheme, that we hope will give a few enthusiastic students the chance to get experience in a busy studio and most importantly help in the day to day running and promotion of the lab. It’s a volunteer role designed to help support the lab and look great on their CV.
We’ve hosted a launch party, 2 hackdays, a digital meetup, a testing usergroup, a Glass vs Rift event and we’ve deliberately documented as much as possible. We talked about our plans for a video (if you can help with that, please let me know) to help us explain that the lab is free and why. Amazingly, people still ask how much it’ll cost to use. I can’t actually remember if we mentioned re:develop, the conference we’re putting together in August but that’s another example of the engagement. It’s likely we’ll have some kind of mobile lab there too, following Jay’s example last year.
To their credit WalkingLab have spent their own money to build an exciting lab for the benefit of everyone. In Bournemouth we commit a lot of resource to the lab but we are lucky enough to have the support of a bigger company with a great ethos. But this isn’t the norm and most labs can’t afford to buy devices en mass and continue to invest as new devices get released.
It’s one of the biggest problems that all labs face and the thing that makes a lab worthwhile at all; having a good range of devices available. In our experience some device manufacturers are seeing the value of labs, but most for one reason or another, and I think it’s likely to be cost, are unable to give devices away for free. The more labs there are, the more requests they get, the less I think they’re likely to engage with us at all.
The challenge for us as labs managers is to demonstrate a return on these donations and a sustained benefit to the manufacturers who we’re asking to support the initiative. That’s where I think events and community engagement are the key to solving this. The talks we’ve given and the events we’ve put on are the steps we’re taking to prove the theory.
If we can engage the community around the lab and clearly show that labs are being used by developers and designers to make better stuff, then perhaps we can invite manufacturers into those events to engage directly with the people that are building for their devices and their ecosystems. I’m hopeful that there might be enough value in that to encourage manufacturers to support these communities with regular device donations.
I’ve always called our lab an experiment and that’s exactly what it remains. We’re continually testing ideas and assumptions about what it needs and how it benefits both us as a business and the people that come to use it. Building a model that works for all labs is going to be tough but the meetup is the first most important step in facilitating that. Jay, Joschi and everyone involved at odladm are co-ordinating something that has the potential to be hugely positive to the careers of a lot of people. I for one, am really excited to be involved in contributing to that.