Conference Recap: Web Afternoon

web afternoonLast Friday, Zach Pousman and I had the good fortune to attend and speak at Web Afternoon. It was a fantastic, well-attended event with many wonderful speakers. A few stood out for us, however:

Will Sansbury, Product Design Manager at Daxko, talked about “Changing the World Without Losing Your Sh*t”. It was a short, but meaningful talk about finding perspective and balance in life and with work. As Sansbury put it, he’s learned a lot from being the wrong kind of change agent in the past and from letting work get in the way of life. His presentation covered strategies for staying focused on progress over perfection in order to stay sane while working to transform your world into what you know it can be.

His key points were as follows:

  • “It doesn’t matter how awesome you are in your professional life if you suck at being at being a human.” Always find time for the people in your life who matter. The work will be there.
  • “Pixels change quickly. People do not.”
  • “Everyone sees the world differently. In fact, everyone sees a different world.” Embrace this reality and the diversity it brings.
  • “How is not as important as what.”
  • “Start over each day.”
  • “Be valuable so that you will be tolerated – particularly if you are pushing for change within your organization.”
  • “It will get better, but it will never be perfect.”
  • “DNA doesn’t change.” This was a comment about the core DNA of your company rather than your internal makeup. Sansbury’s point was that many things about a company are changeable, but some are not. Assess and decide if you can make the changes you seek. If not, move on.

Photo courtesy of Sean Gerety

Linh Pham, Product Designer at delivered a beautiful presentation on big data and using visualizations to amplify cognition. Pham invoked examples and ideas from Edward Tufte and Benjamin Fry to provide context for her key points:

  • “Data is emotional.” It tells powerful stories – often about people and their lives.
  • As designers, it’s our job to know our data and to consume the problem depicted by the data.
  • “It’s better to be perceptually efficient than to deliver eye candy.”
  • “Remove to improve.” (The data to ink ratio . . .)
  • “Less is more . . . Efficient!”
  • Finally, she challenged the audience by reminding us that “Data is powerful. Do good things with it.”

Erik Vorhes delivered an interesting presentation on website accessibility with particular regard to fonts and font selection. The comment that stood out most clearly for me from his presentation, however was this: “Everything you do [to a website] adds cost. Cost in terms of time, money, pixels, kilobytes, accessibility, etc. Consider your decisions carefully.”

Photo courtesy of Sean Gerety

Photo courtesy of Sean Gerety

Jared Spool closed out the day with a presentation called “What’s Your Style for Design Decisions?” He presented a very similar (but expanded) talk earlier this year at Esri International Developer Summit. Full video is available here. It’s well worth your time – especially to hear his rants about the design of a gas pump near his house and buying wi-fi online in a hotel (12:35 into the video). For a full review of the five design decision styles presented in Spool’s talk, you can read his blog post on the subject here. Spool’s best line of the day, however, was “Design is a team sport.” Regardless of your style for design decisions, it’s always important to remember that you’re part of a larger team and your decisions impact the outcomes for your team and for your users.