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Category Archives: Conferences


The Wild Hunt

January 16th, 2013  |   Conferences, inspiration

toolbox

Nearly 20 years ago in Monterey, I met David Carson at a HOW design conference. At conferences that followed, I found that he was always up for a conversation over a beer, providing that I picked up the tab. While that seems like a very elitist behavior to leave a young designer with the burden of paying for his beverages, I didn’t mind. I was impressionable, and enjoyed the fact that I could have a yearly chat with someone I considered a design hero.

Now, one of the things I learned from Carson was a list of the two items that every designer should carry at all times. I have eagerly shared this advice with designers whom I’ve had the honor of speaking with over the past 10 or so years as a lecturer at conferences and events. These items are: a camera and a sketchbook. You can add your own elements (a pencil, marker, pen or brush is obviously important and food helps) to the “toolbox”, but the importance of what I learned from that simple and now obvious and likely unintentional “advice” was that as a designer, part of our job is to DOCUMENT. Whether by collecting printed doodads and trinkets from our travels or simply to photograph or sketch the things that we haven’t seen before, we are squirrels collecting nuts of creative nutrition to bury in our books and save them for later, when we’re hungry for inspiration.

…we are squirrels collecting nuts of creative nutrition to bury in our books and save them for later, when we’re hungry for inspiration

Fast forward to 2013. In thinking about those years past, I realized this morning that my recollection of conversations with Carson may be foggy. Sometimes we only remember what we want to remember – the good stuff, the takeaways of past experiences. Regardless, we now live in a world where digital devices allow us to capture – in increasing quality and seemingly unlimited quantity – our surroundings. Maybe it’s easier to only have to carry around one device to photograph, write and capture life’s experiences – or maybe the omnipresence of these devices, lessens the actual experience itself. Rather than simply experiencing life as it happens, perhaps we are now constantly on the wild hunt for stuff. We miss details while searching for things to happen.

Possibly the best experiences happen when we’re not looking for them. In 1996, David Carson was sitting at the bar in Monterey, California, at a design conference holding court with some young impressionables like me. I joined the conversation and stayed until everyone else was too tired or drunk to continue. I never took a picture, sketched a sketch or saved an item to boost my memory of that evening. Maybe he told me to carry a camera and a sketchbook with me, or maybe I made that connection from something else he said. The point is that it doesn’t matter. The tool in the designer’s pack that David didn’t mention was the brain — to contain, process and recall what is important of our precious memories at a later date.

The tool in the designer’s pack that David didn’t mention was the brain — to contain, process and recall what is important of our precious memories at a later date

And if I ever see David at another conference, I’ll once again listen more than speak, casually mention my point about the brain, and in the end, maybe let him buy me a beer.

The Thinking Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Fridays, covering the ideas The Mechanism is thinking and talking about with our peers and clients.

• Hashtags: worth a thousand pictures, good for branding and ready for the mainstream?

• What happens when a geeky comic meets a funny geek? They upstage all the suited, corporate talk at NExTWORK and in 45 minutes provide an irreverent and insightful view of technology today. Watch and you’ll see Jimmy Fallon in conversation with Sean Preston. You know it is going to be a good conversation when Fallon, having just met Preston, opens with “how did you write Sexyback?”

• And speaking of NExTWORK, two new words heard during the conference: #intercloud and #intracloud.

Everything is a remix.

• Do you remember these 12 designs that changed the web?

• We want one of the world’s first QR coins.

• JK Rowling announces Pottermore.com and possibly changes book publishing and reading (again.)

Dutch lawmakers adopt Net Neutrality law: “The Netherlands on Wednesday became the first country in Europe, and only the second in the world, to enshrine the concept of network neutrality into national law by banning its mobile telephone operators from blocking or charging consumers extra for using Internet-based communications services.”

• And lastly, developing your creative practice with some tips from Brian Eno.

So, I recently returned from what could best be described as descent into confusion, madness and finally, utter euphoria. You see, I’ve just completed what some PR folk might call a “media tour” and others would refer to as a Mr. Magoo-like dodder-fest through the dark world of socialized media into the enlightening universe of pure communal interaction with some very intelligent and creative folks at the PRSA International Conference in Washington D.C.. Not only did I speak at the PRSA International Conference and do a video interview right after I finished, but I also did an interview with the brilliant Eric Schwartzman, host of “On the Record…Online,” penned a blog post at PRSA.org and led a webinar about social media – all within a 6 week timeline.

But let’s start from my arrival in the former District of Columbia…

…I exited my Amtrak Iron Horse after she galloped safely into Washington’s Union Station, thinking I would be a clever chappy by using the mighty D.C. mass transit system to reach my final destination – the Washington Hilton, home of the 2010 PRSA International Conference as well as the place where then-President Ronnie Reagan was shot at by a slithering toad (and Jodie Foster aficionado), named John Warnock Hinkley, Jr. back in 81′.

I must confess to being a bit of a tech junkie, as I was aptly armed on my journey to Washington with my Android phone, an iPad, an iPod and a computer loaded to the silicon gills with what I hoped would be a delightful tiptoe through the social media glory of a Website that The Mechanism had built for Flight of the Conchords. The comedy pop duo and former HBO stars are now likely the bona-fide and rightful owners of the country of New Zealand after a successful tour of Europe and the United States during the summer of 2010.

In addition to my shoulder pack containing every electronic device known to human, I was slugging my suitcase, a freshly-pressed suit, and finally, a three-foot-by-two-foot flat slice of unassuming cardboard, which contained some very nicely designed and rare Flight of the Conchords posters (graciously donated by the band’s management), which I was truly excited to give away to some lucky attendees of my chat at the PRSA Conference. I figured if I really bombed as a speaker, my saving grace would be at the end. After the boos had ended and the cat calls of “Well, look at Mr. Social Media Tough Guy!” had subsided, I could whip out a couple of fancy posters – and much like Houdini shackled in a chest in the ocean – escape as the awesomely heroic “Pied Piper of Social Media”, dancing my way into everyone’s hearts and minds.

So…I’m inside the cavernous Union Station in D.C., seeking advice from my Android for the best mass transit route to my destination. After several moments attempting to locate the subway station on the Google map and giving up, I walked out into the afternoon air. I strolled like a knucklehead toward the first person who looked like a native of the city and pulled some real “old-fashioned” social media mojo on them by personally asking how I could get to the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Ave.

“Well, that depends which side of Connecticut you want to go to,” she politely said, indicating to me that not only were there at least two Hilton hotels in Washington, but there were two Hilton hotels in Washington in opposite directions of the same street. It was at that precise moment that I realized that the cardboard poster container that I had held so dear to my survival at the PRSA Conference had been left back inside Union Station against the wall.

I politely, yet discretely excused myself from my conversation and high-tailed it back into Union Station. Surprisingly, and mercifully, the Social Media Gods were shining down on me, and the posters were safely leaning against the wall, exactly where I left them. I grabbed them, kissed them and returned to my journey.

I should have realized the trouble I was about to be in and taken a taxi immediately…

The underground mass transit snake that I boarded took me swiftly to Dupont Circle, which a kindly fella in the Metro Station had told me was in the vicinity of the hotel. In my opinion, this particular destination is possibly a portal of hell, resembling – from a birds eye – an unholy nucleus of evil incarnate, with none other than 12 streets slithering from it’s demon heart in every direction. Of these 12 foul streets, four of them bear the name Connecticut, and both directions from Dupont Circle are suspiciously named “Connecticut NW”.

For the next hour and a half, I wandered aimlessly in every direction but the correct one, carrying a computer bag, my suitcase, a freshly-pressed suit and finally, that 3-foot-by-2-foot flat slice of cardboard which contained some very nicely designed, and as I’ve mentioned, rare Flight of the Conchords posters. After leaving a trail through the Dupont area that could only be compared to the flight of a brain-damaged hornet, my destination was in sight. Halfway up the hill, I squinted my tired eyes to gaze upon the Hilton sign and the place where I would be speaking about Social Media, the Flight of the Conchords Website and be giving away some very nicely designed – and as I’ve mentioned extremely rare – Flight of the Conchords posters.

But I didn’t have the cardboard container.

With sore feet, a sour disposition, an aching back from carrying a now sloppily packed and disheveled suit, a computer bag and a suitcase on wheels worn to a bloody axle, I realized that at yet another point on my now Oddyssec journey from Union Station to the Washington Hilton, I had inexplicably put the posters down again and left them behind. Rather than go absolutely ape-shit (like anyone else could have rightfully done in my opinion), I decided to slug back down the hill, with all of my crap dangling from me and try to find the posters…

After another half hour attempt to recapture the true magic of my mindless path (exemplified by the blue line on the map below), I realized that it wasn’t to be. I scaled the hill to the Washington Hilton and checked in – truly defeated and anticipating a hissing horde of social media gurus to torch me at the end of my presentation like Frankenstein’s Monster or the Hunchback of Notre Dame, without the necessary lifeline of my fancy posters to save me from certain doom.

The grim details of our hero’s journey through the wilds of Dupont Circle

Needless to say, this story ends quite happily. After dropping everything off in my lovely hotel room, I gallantly retraced my steps and located the three-foot-by-two-foot flat slice of cardboard (containing some very nicely designed, rare and likely expensive Flight of the Conchords posters) – laying casually in the street, exactly where I had left it. My talk went well, as evidenced by the well wishers, tweeters and generally friendly folk at the PRSA Conference. Some of the attendees gleefully walked out with some fancy Flight of the Conchords posters devoid of any desire to boo, beat or burn me like a social media Quasimodo, lost in the unholy maze of Dupont Circle.

Dave Fletcher is the Founder & Executive Creative Director at The Mechanism, a multi-disciplinary design agency with offices in New York, London and Durban, South Africa. He is also an avid Social Media junkie as evidenced by the number of confused Gowalla and Foursquare check-ins that occurred on his hellish trip through the wilds of Dupont Circle. He also wants to thank Albert Chau, the photographer who sent over the photographs from the 2010 PRSA Conference and the fine staff of PRSA for a grand old time in Washington D.C..

Scott Jehl – @scottjehl – Rich UI Design: An Access-Oriented Approach

Download the Presentation from the Filament Group website

  • Should test pages on screen readers
    • Jaws is most popular, 40 min trial available
    • NVDA is open-source
  • All or nothing is a bad approach to accessibility
  • Consider Universal Access in all stage of development
  • Instead of asking for browser, run tests to determine browser’s capabilities. Available at filimentgroup
  • If browser fails tests, serve “basic” version with “Safe CSS”
    • No floats
    • No dark text on light backgrounds
    • No background images
    • No positioning
  • If browser passes test:
    • Add class “enhanced” to html element
    • Dynamically load CSS and JavaScript
    • Cookie the results
    • Provide link to low-bandwidth version (which will change cookie and remove enhanced class)
  • If building widgets not included in jqueryui themeroller:
    • Replicate behavior before you extend
    • Proxy back to native control
    • Follow conventions and user expectations
    • Consider the mouse optional
    • Use WAI-ARIA

Whew! It’s been quite a time at South By Southwest Interactive–lots of panels, parties, and good eating! Since there are a multitude of people who have taken amazing notes during the panels and core conversations, I’ll spare you those details, but just as important as what’s said during the panels is what you can take away from it! Here is a list of the “take-aways:” the twitter usernames, the Web sites and the books. Here are some ideas and resources you can use right away!

Overarching Themes:

  • Collaboration within companies, collaboration between client & web team, collaboration between web teams
  • Openness with coworkers and with clients
  • Don’t do work for the sake of doing work; create deliverables that have applicable value
  • Some clients (and even workers) respond better to many lo-fidelity steps (sketching, collage, mood boards) to buy into the design process before seeing a polished design
  • Agile development! Working in quick phases to roll out a product. Everyone’s talking about it, but it may not be good for every team or every client

Web Typography: Quit Bitchin’ and Get Your Glyph On

See the slides at SXSW Typography

Links:


Being a UX Team of One

  • Leah Buley – Adaptive Path – @ugleah

Highlights:

  • Ditch the concept of the “singular genius designer.” The designer is the person who takes everyone’s ideas and creates a cohesive solution to the problem
  • Always sketch out at least six layout ideas!
  • Get as many people (developers, clients, shareholders) involved as early as possible

Links:

Books:


How to Create a Great Company Culture

Highlights:

  • A good fit is achieved by every team member having the same core values
  • Always remain passionate about what you’re doing. Even if you find yourself in a situation you don’t like, find a small thing to focus on and remain passionate

Books:


How MacGyver Would Do Design Research

  • M Jackson Wilkinson – Viget Labs – @whafro

Highlights:

  • Do as much dual-work as possible (creating wireframes in CSS/HTML, reusing documentation, etc)
  • Know what not to research; pay attention to what’s already been done
  • Do user testing with fewer people, have them each do more tasks

Links:


Wireframes for the Wicked

  • Nick Finck – Blue Flavor – @nickf
  • Donna Spencer – Maadmob – @maadonna
  • Michael Angeles – Traction Software – @jibbajabba

Highlights:

  • Choose your wireframe type based on the audience; you may do different wireframes for the client vs the developer
  • Feel free to mix hi- and lo-fidelity methods to achieve the appropriate type of wireframe
  • Sketching-style wireframes may make clients feel more comfortable with sharing ideas and adding input
  • Michael Angeles has the coolest notebooks! Sketching the User Experience

Links:


Designers and Developers: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

  • Chris Lea – Media Temple/Virb – @chrislea
  • Liz Danzico – The School of Visual Arts – @bobulate
  • Ryan Sims – Virb – @simmy
  • Joe Stump – Digg – @joestump
  • Daniel Burka – Digg/Pownce – @dburka
  • Andy Beaumont – Flutter + Wow – @drcongo
  • Rob Corradi – NeonState – @ribrob

Highlights:

  • Speak in terms of problem/solution instead of specific features–the developer may have a better way to solve the problem
  • Include a developer in early meetings to avoid promises of unrealistic features and to help brainstorming
  • Designers should make the effort to learn as much as they can

Links:


Collaboration or Collision: Achieving Design Studio Bliss

Highlights:

  • Bring your clients into the brainstorming session
  • Show your clients a variety of mood board concepts; This is the stage for back-and-forth conversations and for feedback. Take this knowledge and deliver one cohesive design mock-up. Delivering several designs diminishes your expertise in finding the right solution.
  • Educate your clients on the value of your product; don’t work to meet unreasonable deadlines
  • Don’t let a single designer get too involved in the “ownership” of his/her design. Take it away and let someone else work on it.
  • Don’t design behind closed doors, open up the conversation!

Books:

Global poptart, Bono according to msnbc.com, “said Wednesday that next week’s presidential election provides a great opportunity to “relaunch Brand USA” amid worldwide scrutiny”. One could question if Bono is now an official “design critic” or has simply come up with a clever messaging point to persuade the caffeinated throngs to saddle up to the polls on November 4th.

theMechanism worked closely with the Ansari X PRIZE Foundation right up until Burt Rutan won back in October of 2004. We continue to support X PRIZE Founder, Dr. Peter Diamandis’ recent efforts, including the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE and the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, which will help the world to both live and travel more efficiently in the near future. The reason I mention this is because I accidentally stumbled on Peter featured in an excellent (and Freely downloadable) series at iTunes called TED Talks.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from those three worlds, and is an “invite only” event.

Dr. Peter Diamandis speaks about Stephen Hawking experiencing Zero Gravity. To hear him speak so vividly and excitedly about this unusual event is inspiring and encouraging.

As designers and thinkers, it’s our duty to try to learn how to apply ourselves to helping the planet. Taking some time to watch and be inspired by Peter, Philippe Stark and John Maeda (to name only a few) at the TED Conference, is a great start.

Dave Fletcher is a Founder and Creative Director at theMechanism, a multi-disciplinary design agency with offices in New York, London and Durban, South Africa. Dave’s still trying to figure out how to get an invite to TED, but he’s getting closer…

Google I/O 2008 Sorry, would love to write more, but completely beat after four hours of sleep and an intense day learning about the latest Google projects. Until I'm able to write a wrap up, check out my photos and audio from the keynote and some of the sessions. (Note—the audio quality might be poor. These are unedited recordings made from the audience using an .mp3 recorder)

Can We Get There From Here? by Alex Russell

Part 1:

Part 2:


Secure Collaboration—How Web Applications can Share and Still Be Paranoid by Mike Samuel


Improving Browsers in New Ways: Gears++ by Chris Prince

Part 1:

Part 2:

Jeffrey Barke is senior developer and information architect at theMechanism, a multimedia firm with offices in New York, London and Durban, South Africa.