Webstock 2012: design and craft

My single favourite quote of Webstock 2012 came courtesy of Scott Hanselman:

So many people who had great blogs now have mediocre tweets.

Given the immense volume of tweets and the beauty of shared notetaking, I now try to stay offline as much as possible at Webstock, so I can focus on the speaker and my pencilled notes. But over the last few days I’ve tried to boil down some of the themes I heard emerging to share here, in two posts. Today: design and craft. Tomorrow: find your happy place, strategic creativity, and One Big Idea.

Working with design/ers

One of the greatest revelations to me since coming to work at Boost has been working with designers. As someone who works primarily through words, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of watching designers do their thing.

It’s also been humbling to find out how accidentally moronic I sometimes was as a client. Here’s a reenactment of a series of comments I once gave to a poor designer:

I really like what you’ve done – but could we maybe see it in blue instead of brown?

Oh, okay. Hmmmm. How about green?

Oh. Sure. Right. Look, I’m really sorry to keep doing this – but perhaps we could see it in pink?

It’s still not quite right – could you show me the brown version again?

Hey – the brown version’s great! Let’s go with that.

Yeah. I was that person. Now, of course, I realise that (a) designers will always be better at design than I am and (b) almost every variation of colour, placement and size has already been trialled before the best version is shown to the client – and if it wasn’t trialled, it’s probably because it was a bad idea.

So I was delighted by all the speakers who touched on how we can work better with design and the good folks who craft it.


Adam Lisagor

Adam Lisagor hit so many buttons for me on this topic. Here are some of the things I scribbled down (more here in the shared notes):

  • ‘Thank you for knowing what you wanted’ – the compliment for a dream client.
  • There’s a difference between opinions (just saying stuff because you’ve been invited to a meeting and hey – you get to share your opinion!) and people who are identify problems and want to find answers.
  • If you’re the spokesperson for a committee, speak with one voice: either distill the many voices to one piece of feedback, or at least take the names out.
  • As a designer, you have been chosen for your demonstrated taste. Sometimes, your client is paying you to correct them.
  • The phrase ‘treat me nicely, with trust and respect’ works for both sides.

Michael B Johnson from Pixar also had some doozies. Here he is on Giving Good Note (aka feedback):

  • Point out the problem
  • Offer a solution (to show you’ve thought this problem through) (not because you expect this solution to be used)
  • Give this at the time when it can still be used.

Johnson also invoked the rule of ‘Yes, And’ rather than ‘No, but’, and noted that great teams have great morale, which is needed in the face of constant criticism. I love that at Pixar, criticism takes the form of ‘plussing’ – it’s part of the company’s culture, and it’s essential to the way they create things.


Jared Spool

Finally, Jared Spool made a million interesting points, outlining five different breeds of design (Unintentional design, Self design, Genius design, Activity focused design, Experience focused design). The points that really stood out to me came out towards the end:

  • Every style has a purpose
  • Great designers know which style they’re using
  • Great designers use the same style throughout a project
  • Great teams ensure everyone uses the same style (and everyone understands that they’re doing this)
  • The more advanced the style, the more expensive this will be
  • The more advanced the style, the better the design.

Crafting experiences


Kathy Sierra

Webstock 2012 opened with a clarion call for making experiences from returning speaker Kathy Sierra. She gave the idea of “building engagement with users through social media” a robust bollocking, arguing that no matter how awesome your brand or product is, it’s the awesomeness your users feel about themselves that counts. I was interested in her ideas about aligning business goals with user goals, but found myself wanting more actual examples of where she sees this awesomeness happening.


Erin Kissane

I wasn’t in content strategist Erin Kissane’s presentation, but it sounds like adopting an attitude of craftsmanship (and allowing time for it) were big themes of her presentation. It seems Erin was asking how to bring the values of craft (mastery, human scale, excellence, satisfaction) to large scale system. I’m looking forward to watching her talk when it’s up on the Webstock site.


Ethan Marcotte

One of my favourite ever Webstock talks was Cal Henderson at Webstock 2008. I’ve always enjoyed the presenters who take you on a deep dive into the work they’ve  done, while teaching you more general lessons along the way. This spot for me was filled this year by responsive design guru Ethan Marcotte, talking about the Boston Globe redesign (if you’re too impatient for the video to go up, check out his blog post on this).

Ethan ran us through the opportunities and challenges of reshaping the bulging content of a newspaper into the slim lines of various desktop and mobile devices, and the ways that designers and developers might be able to change their usual working patterns to meet these (it sounded a lot like what I see in our teams that are using Scrum).


Jennifer Brook

Craft took centre stage in Jennifer Brook’s presentation about publishing and the iPad, where I was more captivated of her stories of teaching herself to bind her own books than I was by her story of working on the New York Times iPad app. I’ve squirreled away her recommendation of Designing Calm Technology for later reading.


Those were my first two themes. Tomorrow I’ll cover off finding your happy place, strategic creativity and One Big Idea.

Data data everywhere: Pew Internet on social networking sites and A List Apart on the web design industry

If you like tables and percentages, you’re in luck: two chewy releases in the past couple of weeks are going to give you hours of happy data crunching.

Social networking and our lives

Pew Internet have recently released their report ‘Social networking sites and our lives’, which updates the findings of their 2009 report ‘Social Isolation and New Technologies‘. In their introduction, the writers note:

Questions have been raised about the social impact of widespread use of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Twitter. Do these technologies isolate people and truncate their relationships? Or are there benefits associated with being connected to others in this way? The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project decided to examine SNS in a survey that explored people’s overall social networks and how use of these technologies is related to trust, tolerance, social support, and community and political engagement.

2,255 American adults were surveyed between October 20-November 28 2010 for the report, including 1,787 internet users. Of these, there were 975 users of social networking sites. One of the great things about the Pew research is how carefully they control their findings to account for different factors:

The findings presented here paint a rich and complex picture of the role that digital technology plays in people’s social worlds. Wherever possible, we seek to disentangle whether people’s varying social behaviors and attitudes are related to the different ways they use social networking sites, or to other relevant demographic characteristics, such as age, gender and social class.

What’s in the report?

The report is full of fascinating information about who is using social networking sites, what they’re doing on them (especially Facebook), the size of their social networks and strength of their social ties. There’s a special focus in this report on whether use of social networking sites contributes to the ‘echo chamber’ effect (reducing people’s engagement with a diversity of opinions and experiences), affects the level of trust social networking site users feel towards other people, and political and civic engagement. These findings have been really well summarised on the Nieman Journalism Lab site.

Who are these people?

Amongst the people sampled for this report:

  • 79% of American adults said they used the internet
  • 47% of adults (59% of internet users) say they use at least one of social networking site

This is nearly twice the number found in the 2009 report, which found that 26% of adults (34% of internet users) used a social networking site in 2008. Internet users of all ages are more likely to be using a social networking site now than they were in 2008, with the most pronounced increase being in people over the age of 35.

As is common in use of social media, more women (56%) than men are users of social networking sites, and more women than men use Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. However, nearly twice as many men as women use LinkedIn.

And age-wise:

  • 32 – the age of the average adult MySpace user
  • 33 – the age of the average adult Twitter user
  • 38 – the age of the average adult Facebook user
  • 40 – the age of the average adult LinkedIn user

And what are they doing?

The report looks closely at Facebook activity amongst the people surveyed.

Status updates are an infrequent activity for most users; 56% of Facebook users update their status less than once a week. Only 15% of Facebook users are updating their status daily or more frequently. 16% have never updated their status.

Commenting on other people’s status updates is a more common activity: 53% of Facebook users comment on other users’ status once or twice a week, and 22% are commenting at least daily. Commenting on photos is also popular: 20% of Facebook users comment on someone else’s photos at least once a day. But overall, the most popular activity, according to the the Pew Internet report, is Liking.

A List Apart web survey 2010 results

A List Apart have released the findings of their 2010 survey of people working in the web design industry (and their graphs are super pretty).

I’ve been completing the survey for at least three years now, and I’m always so glad I do – because either women are very underrepresented in the industry, or they don’t get round to filling out this survey. Of the 16,593 respondents to the survey, less than 20% were women:


A List Apart survey results: Gender

Women make up a very large proportion of respondents working with content and in usability roles, according to their job titles: 46.3% of content strategists, 45.7% of writers/editors, and 32.5% of usability experts/leads/consultants.


A List Apart survey results: Job distribution by gender

Sadly, for the past three years, writer/editors have expressed under 90% confidence in the security of their roles.


A List Apart Survey results: Confidence by job title

Every year I find the satisfaction findings particularly fascinating. But the whole report makes interesting reading – make yourself a cup of tea and settle in.