Webstock 2012: design and craft

By Courtney

22 February 2012


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.

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