Written by:sherlockiscool

Published: September 9, 2019

Fireside Summit 2019:

A tech conference where you leave with a squash, not a tote bag.

Freshly cooked bacon sarnie on arrival – Check.

Sunshine on your face, taking in the fresh air – Check.

Birds chirping in the trees – Check.

Another boring conference – Absolutely not!

The Fireside Summit is promoted as the UK’s first off-grid start-up technology festival. With a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), data, and tech talent, it immediately established itself as something that might be a little different compared to your usual tech conference.

Located in the beautiful rural countryside just south of Bath, the two-day event attracted a diverse mix of individuals curious to find out more. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, and even representatives from big global corporations all gathered in beautiful surroundings to discuss how companies and individuals can collaborate to help shape future technology in a responsible way, and in the work that we do.

Why would a product design agency attend an off-grid tech event?

Like many businesses, our office is always busy. We have multiple projects running and an endless to-do list. Our customers certainly keep us on our toes and they bring us plenty of exciting challenges (and difficult problems) which we love to solve. This should be enough entertainment for any team but as a social group of people who enjoy what we do, we make the time to talk about current matters in the product design industry, and beyond.

Most specifically, we often find ourselves talking about what makes a good design in the physical products that we create with our clients; be it the materials a product might be made of, the system it integrates into, or the impact on the users – and of course, all in alignment with the needs of our customers. We also talk a lot about our impact on the environment and the natural world, as well as current news stories reporting on these issues.

In the week running up to the Fireside Summit, over an 80% increase of forest fires in the Amazon rainforest had been reported. This is based on the same time period reported last year and has caused an enormous spike in carbon emissions which is a big concern around the world.

As product designers, we have a responsibility to mindfully choose the materials and the manufacturing techniques used to make the final output of any physical product. We may not be directly responsible for burning down the rainforests, but with our customers, we can try our best to help them select materials and processes that have a better and less devastating impact on the environment. In order to do this, we need to be constantly learning about new tech out there, but also engaging with others in the business community so we can work together collaboratively to accelerate how we deliver innovation.

Recently, many questions have been circulating our office on how AI and big data are going to impact product designers and the design development process. How can we utilise it in house? What does it mean for us as a small business? Who else is doing great things with it?

The Fireside Summit was the perfect place to explore this!

Let’s talk data, money and legacies!

Event founder Richard Potts opened the summit with a call to action.

Richard’s plea for a significant right angle change of direction was aimed at encouraging start-ups and current businesses to work together to effectively develop the big data technologies of the future and address current problems such as sustainability to change the course of our future, for the better.

Time is money and we’re spending ours in big data

Helen Tanner, founder and CEO of Data Cubed (based in Bristol and opposite Realise HQ) delivered a great workshop. Using some clever coloured boxes, it was simply highlighted that in many cases businesses do not know what to do with their data.

“Most businesses spend more money on data storage than using it” – Helen Tanner, Founder and CEO of Data Cubed

Furthermore, according to Helen, using available data wisely is a common problem and all too often, there are many beneficial learnings that are being lost.

How do you use data effectively? What are the opportunities with big data?

Drones are very on-trend right now. They are everywhere, and not necessarily in a positive way. Just ask Gatwick Airport!

Kirill Shilov, founder and CEO of Sky Drones discussed many of the hardware problems with current systems from communications, payloads and flight endurance… many technical problems that a Realise team loves to solve!

Yet, what stood out the most were the insights around data mapping to prevent air collisions – it won’t be long before drones dominate air space within cities and towns, for example, to deliver parcels.

With air space becoming busy, buildings getting in the way and unpredictable weather conditions, Sky Drones is building intelligence into its systems to prevent air collisions. These systems can then be applied for security, in disaster zones, and also for use in agriculture.

It greatly demonstrates how a positive use of technology can have a far-reaching impact on multiple industries.

Out with the old and in with the new… if only it were that easy!

As much as we look forward, we also need to look back and address the foundations some of our industries are built on.

A fascinating real-world talk by Tim Whitcher of WSP highlighted the many issues that will affect the future of the rail industry and the legacy systems they have been built on. With most of their computer systems based on code written in the 70s, careful consideration and proactive de-risking needs to happen first.

Seemingly, we can’t just turn off the blinking box in the corner and plug something else in – it might just knock everything else out. Throwing in clever data and AI on top of an existing system isn’t going to be a quick fix to resolving today’s problems of late trains.

Top 3 tips for using big data and AI in product design


  • Plan your data use wisely – product designers can be more proactive with planning how data might be used as part of the design process.
  • Legacy systems and existing infrastructure need to be assessed carefully when designing new products that will function alongside existing solutions. It is foolish to assume that you can quick-fix how data is used across systems once they are designed.
  • Building in future resilience into products is critical – a new technology down the line might reduce your current design to a shorter life span, and be sooner sent to landfill.



Let’s get started

+44 (0)117 325 9100 | info@realisedesign.co.uk


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