The DLD (Digital-Life-Design) Conference has been around for awhile albeit more well known in Europe than in the states. It makes sense since it started in Munich Germany in 2005 and only expanded in recent years, first in Israel and most recently to the states with their first official U.S. conference in New York City from April 30-May 1, 2014.
Their mission is to act as a global network on innovation, digitization, science and culture which connects business, creative and social leaders, opinion-formers and influencers for crossover conversation and inspiration.
DLD is organized by DLD Media, which is part of Burda Digital and originally founded by Steffi Czerny and Marcel Reichart. DLD has also hosted events in Beijing, San Francisco, London, Moscow, New Delhi, Rio, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv, where there is a growing community because of the efforts of Israeli-based Yossi Vardi who acts as Chairman of the conference together with Hubert Burda.
Who attends? The conference is invite only, but the categories and interests of those who make up the audience are aligned with the content. Think creative communities, international leaders, disruptors and thinkers from digital and consumer markets, as well as media, technologists, scientists, designers, politicians, artists and social scientists from around the globe.
The format is a combination of keynote style talks and panels.
I last attended the original DLD in 2010 and still remember the magic of Munich in January. Snow fell on me as I walked from my hotel to the venue every morning and back every night, the majority of my commute on pedestrian only streets. As cold as it was, I took plenty of shots of remarkable people and activites over the course of a few days.
I lived on salty pretzels, sausage, beer and coffee and recall having a fight with my new Google Nexus phone, brutal enough that I tossed it in a snowbank because it wouldn’t work after umpteen attempts. DLD felt like early days of TED except without the celebrities and Monterey Beach nearby.
One of the things that make DLD so unique is the eclectic and rich curation of tantilizing voices and minds from around the globe by Steffi, Marcel, Hubert and Yossi. Like TED, Davos and Renaissance Weekend, the attendees could equally be speakers because they all have inspiring, compelling content to share.
When the audience is as engaging as the people on stage, but are also compassionate and eager to help make the world a better place, then you have a “creative global community with heart” in a business setting. It’s a bit how I see and would describe DLD!
Imagine hearing and engaging in discussions on the future of investment, net neutrality, youth marketing, the future of art and design, urban planning, violence, social physics, failure and neuro science all within a 48 hour period.
Imagine in that same 48 hour period, having a chat with Deepak Chopra on spirituality in the workplace and then hearing about future plans for the Arctic Passage from Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. I originally met Grimsson at the Startup Iceland Conference in Reykjavik last summer (refer to my write up on the event including his talk). Below is a shot I took of him in the networking area at DLD during a tea break.
By now, you’re pretty energized, which is great preparation for your visit to a nearby German biergarten for massive plates of sausage, pretzels, sauerkraut and pickled vegetables while listening to an authentic Bavarian band.
Imagine that sometime during your day, you discovered an interesting project or two by Victor Chan, the Founding Director of the Dalai Lama Center, who has also co-authored books with the Dali Lama. Below, he reflects in the courtyard while we took a session break after the rain finally cleared.
Then, later, you dive deep into a discussion about where beauty is missing in the world from architecture to schools and churches.This small group of really smart people you met over German beer care enough to think of solutions about where the world can start.
I chatted with right brain and left brain thinkers from Sweden, China, France, England, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Israel, Finland, Austria, India, Iran, Pakistan, Estonia, Russia, Singapore, Ireland, Denmark, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Canada.
This is a sample of some of my warmest memories over the course of two days. Welcome to DLD! Their first New York event did not disappoint and held to the same top notch standards they’re so known for at their main event in Munich every winter.
One of the other fabulous things about a European run event, is that they care about food. And, of course, presentation matters!
While the conversations in the lounge areas and the after parties could keep you engaged for hours, they also have an hourly agenda for conversations happening on the main stage. I’ll start with one of my favorite talks by an Austrian designer I originally met at TED more than a decade ago.
Stefan Sagmeister kicked off his thoughtful and quietly provactive session on Beauty with stunning images of a medieval castle in Lisbon. He said, “Every aspect of this castle was informed by form.”
He asks, “how did we manage to get from the darkest side of the middle ages into the 20th century and somehow along the way, lost our desire to make things beautiful?”
He points out that the end of the 19th century was obsessed with beauty and weaving in culture and history into architecture, art and design: the Parliament which is Greek, the Opera which is of Renaissance architecture and the Gothic-ness of Vienna’s City Hall.
Yet today, Sagmeister asserts, “theres not a single high end designer who talks about beauty, which IS about being human.”
Below is an image taken from his design website.
I had an interesting chat with Dutch-Brazilian visual artist Rafaël Rozendaal who uses the Internet as his canvas. His artistic practice consists of websites, installations, lenticulars, writings and lectures. Spread out over a vast network of domain names, he attracts a large online audience of over 30 million visits per year.
His work researches the screen as a pictorial space, reverse engineering reality into condensed bits, in a space somewhere between animated cartoons and paintings. Rafaël’s installations involve moving light and reflections, taking online works and transforming them into spatial experiences.
The below digital image is a website called Room Warp. Note that the below screen capture is a still of a moving digital image that will make you a tad dizzy if you stare at it for too long. You need to go to roomwarp.com to see the live image in action.
He creates digital art that all have their own website name. Others fun examples include FutureIsUncertain.com and IfYesNo.com.
While we’re on the topic of art, let’s move to Kollabora founder Nora Abousteit who was on a panel entitled Creative Cities which Peter Hirshberg moderated. Says Nora on art as it relates to cities and technology, “Art helps us reframe things in the technology world.” What’s happening in Las Vegas with the Downtown Project is certainly an example of this.
Also in the discussion was Burning Man’s Jenn Sander, Gidi Schmerling from the Tel Aviv Municipiality and CEA’s Gary Shapiro.
This engaging discussion was about all the elements that make cities thrive. How do you turn a city/metro area into a creative technological hub like Silicon Valley?
If similar factors come together argues Shapiro then a similar ecosystem can evolve. He pointed out that Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley share a culture that allows failure and supports entrepreneurs taking risks which is necessary for a startup culture to succeed.
While I missed the Cracking the Code of the Art Business panel, Arty’s Carter Cleveland, Artnet’s Ben Genocchio, Christopher Vroom from ArtSpace, Aditya Julka from Paddle 8 and Michaela de Pury explored this topic in depth.
Digital Music was also part of the agenda, another game changing industry. Says Shazam‘s CEO Rich Riley, “the way people consume music is changing dramatically and it’s important that the industry responds to how people want to listen to and share music.” In other words, don’t force a square hole into a circle!
Below, Blaise Belville and Torsten Schmidt discuss digital trends in music.
I’m a sucker for meeting a new musician regardless of what instrument they play or style they’re passionate about. As a storyteller, I often find that musicians have the most interesting stories at conferences, particularly technology ones.
Given how many Israeli attendees there are, it was no surprise to see Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari perform on the main stage. She had me at hello; her energy is electric, her style vibrant and her music foot tapping.
I also attended the Wearables Panel because it’s a hot topic right now and one I have a personal interest in because the design is crying for innovation. What was most refreshing is that of the four panelists, three were women.
The problem with wearables today for me as a woman, is that none of them are desirable enough to want to wear. Despite how functional and cool they are, the design behind the wearable is still being made by technologists for technologists.
Intel’s Sandra Lopez, MIT’s Amanda Parkes and Nike’s Stefan Olander discussed the future of wearables and where it’s heading. The session was moderated by the Financial Times’ Vanessa Friedman.
Sandra and Amanda noted that while today, we might think of buying a wearable device or object of clothing on a technology site or online store, in the future, if it is a fashionable item we want to wear because of how it looks and makes us feel, then we’ll expect to buy them at more traditional retail outlets.
I certainly don’t need another technology infused bulky plastic black watch or geeky looking Fitbit-like arm band to clash with my outfits.
Another fabulous panel of all women was the Freedom of the Internet in the U.S. and Europe. Bloomberg’s Diane Brady moderated a discussion between Miriam Meckel from the University of St. Gallen (solo shot below) and the European Commission’s Viviane Reding.
As if suggesting that it rarely happens, Viviane says “a government should have power to do precisely what they want and need to do to make Internet safe and open.” She was fabulous btw.
The “Building a Vertical Business for the Consumer Internet” Panel
Adding some humor and controversy to the DLD stage was Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock. “A photo with $4.6 billion dollars printed under Evan William’s face in the Wall Street Journal is NOT disruption,” he asserts as he talks about humanism and how current economic and investment models are not necessarily supporting the best entrepreneurs and ideas.
If there’s not a significant return on investment, then the idea and entrepreneur doesn’t get funded, when in fact, it could return a small return on investment and perhaps offer something of great value to the world. The money guys around me seemed to have smoke coming out of their ears while he was talking. It would have been fun (and spicy) to have a debate after his talk!
On a media panel moderated by Jessica Lessin, John Markoff and Steven Levy discussed the state of technology journalism and how it has evolved over the past twenty years.
“The art of real investigative reporting has been lost to fast twitch journalism,” says Levy who went on to share his opinion on the pitfalls of curation. He suggests that after content gets recycled umpteen times, no one knows who the original author is anymore since the primary source gets lost when it is replicated so frequently.
Below, the 20 Years of Funding panel included Landmark Ventures’ Zeev Klein, Acton Capital Partners Christoph Braun, Time Warner Investments Scott Levine, Israel Growth Partners Moshe Lichtman and Greycroft’s Alan Patricof.
The closing interview was originally slated to be a fireside chat between Richard Saul Wurman and Iceland’s president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson but there was a change of plans. The final act was instead, a touching interview between Yossi Vardi and his former “boss” Steve Case.
Steve talked about his old days at AOL where he said he was less of a CEO and more of a mayor. In those days, he said the focus was on the 3 C’s: context, content and community.
Other pressing issues he raised was the fact that we’ll fall far behind the innovation ladder if we don’t make it a priority. “Immigration reform necessary to make sure we attract the best people to Startup America,” he said. Vardi agreed which led to the role of startups today and how people will succeed. “People are not interested in facts, they’re interested in good stories,” says Yossi.
Now, please join me on a visual journey to DLD NYC, starting with the DLD NYC Band Michael Aranella and his Dreamland Orchestra.
Ryan Rzepecki of Social Bicycles, David Rose with his new book Angel Investing, Brad Templeton and Dr. Amol Sarva.
Steve Case watching one of the presentations from the front row.
I went back in time when I ran into this trio — a former dynamic team together so many years later minus Jerry Michalski of course. Below, Daphne Kis, Kevin Werbach and Esther Dyson.
Gino Yu, Renee Blodgett
Yossi on stage
Lakshmi Pratury, Steve Case, Renee Blodgett
Sunny Bates and Nate Mook
Dan Dubno and Gary Bolles
Don Dodge, Petra Vorsteher, Renee Blodgett, Shara Nechmad
Lakshmi Pratury, Asha and crew
Lara Stein and Yossi Vardi
Renee Blodgett, Burda’s Olga Kammerer, ELLE Magazine U.S. Correspondent Nadine Sieger
The sax player gave me a closer look at his marvelous instrument.
Holly Harper Dodge and Don Dodge
Did I mention that they had live entertainment at the closing night after party?
Kudos and hats off to Steffi, Yossi and team for pulling off yet another perfectly crafted and curated event!
All photo credits: Renee Blodgett, except for the group shot of Creative Cities which was pulled from the DLD blog.