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Webstock 2014 – Design for Good

And so Webstock passes for another year and as usual I am still whirling from trying to digest two whole days of unconstrained brain food provided by the phenomenal mix of 20+ world-class speakers.

This year we had five Intergenites representing and as usual expectations for Webstock were running high. Mike, Tash and co always have a tough act to follow to recreate this event each year and along with a new venue have yet again raised the bar and exceeded expectations.

Here are some highlights and most key UX take-outs from the team. And a huge thanks to Tash, Mike, Deb and Ben for another totally awesome event.​

Mark Delaney

This designer is grateful that the good people of Webstock releases recordings for people like me as duty called on Thursday morning so I missed out on a few of the initial talks.

The first talk I saw really set the bar, presented by Nelly Ben Hayoun, titled 'Crafting the Impossible'. This was a spectacular start to the conference for me as myself and fellow Webstock-ers were taken on a high-speed octane-fuelled roller coaster journey of some of the (extremely passionate) French scientist’s recent projects including the International Space Orchestra (ISO) - the world’s first orchestra of space scientists from NASA Ames Research Centre. Why not?

A few other brief highlights included:

Anne Helen Petersen: Who would have thought the dissection of celebrity gossip could be so edifying. Anne provided an academic’s, view challenging how we think about "celebrification" of contemporary media and helped make sense of celebrity including the famed 'Brangelina' Hollywood brand.

Charlie Todd: Charlie wrapped up day one and won the entertainment award for me. Charlie is the founder of Improv Everywhere and produces and directs impromptu group “missions” in public spaces. He walked us through a few of the hundreds of missions including the first 'No Pants Subway Ride' which included only six people all the way to the legendary Grand Central Freeze. 

Paula Scher: As a typography nut I was looking forward to hearing Paula's talk which provided a definite highlight on day two. Paula is a graphic designer and at the forefront of the graphic design industry. As soon as I found out that we were getting a speaker from Pentagram my excitement levels immediately went up. She provided some inspiring insights into some of her work and how the design of public spaces, products and other environments affects our daily lives.

Derek Sivers: I was busy tweeting between speakers so I didn't see Derek come on the stage. Imagine my surprise when I took my gaze off my phone to the stage to see Derek dressed up as a clown. Nice first impression! Perhaps I should have read the program to see that Derek was originally a professional musician and circus clown... Anyhow, Derek chose a tricky topic for the finale – 'The Meaning of life'. A lofty goal to get to the bottom of in 22 minutes. This provided a heart-warming end to the two days of inspiration, education, analysis and the meeting of like-minded creative people.

P.S. The meaning of life is___________. (Well, you'll just have to wait for the recordings.)

And lastly, my favourite Webstock quote would have to be, "We're not going offline to make you a sandwich" @jessicahagy

Graham Howe, Interactive Designer

I really enjoy the freedom to create my own experience of things and in 2012 I chose to not to attend the full conference but those workshops I knew would be most beneficial to me. I attended Jennifer Brook's workshop on Iterative Prototyping for the iPhone and iPad where I learned some interesting skills on prototyping with keynote.

This year was my first opportunity to attend the conference proper. Webstock is the place to be if you're one of the veterans of New Zealand's design industry, not simply for the programme of speakers but the catch-up with mates, co-workers, ex colleagues, and the many new faces. This is what makes Webstock special for us all in New Zealand.

Webstock also seems to be the new 'job centre' where designed T-shirts advertise URLs of companies’ websites, intended to entice any designer into the wearers’ ranks. Our little big design community.

The conference began with Josh Clark, Erika Hall, Aarron Walter, and Dan Saffer, each one delivering fascinating ideas on how we must think about making our products more intriguing by bridging the gap between a tablet and phone interaction or to think more about the feel in 'look and feel'. Following these speakers, there seemed to pass an array of personal stories about how to quit or change how you work to be more diverse.  Those Thursday morning speakers certainly stole my gaze from St James theatre’s auditorium interior, which is magnificent. I wondered how many folks wanted the conference to take full advantage of the magical venue by giving us magicians, smoke and drum rolls.

To summarise the rest of the two-day conference, I tweeted: I've learnt I need to take up French, quit whilst I'm ahead, no wait I need to change how I work, then move on to victory by awaking at 4:30am.

Some useful links:

Laura Stephens, Senior Web Strategist

I attended the Everything you need to know about responsive design and less workshop by Brad Frost.  Responsive design is a new way to design websites so that no matter what device you view the content on – Xbox, iPhone 5, Samsung SII… it will still render and shape to the size of your screen, aiming to provide an optimal viewing experience. It therefore minimises the ‘pinch and zoom’ we are so used to on many websites viewed on mobile phones these days.

It was a great opportunity to learn more about the patterns and processes involved in a responsive web design project. It was a high level look into each discipline’s involvement within a responsive project and there were attendees there from project managers, front-end developers (FEDs), UX designers and back-end developers, all keen to get a better handle on this now ever-present responsive design phenomenon. There was so much learnt and  I promise a blog post to follow but some key takeaways were: If your site is not responsive people think it’s broken; and 31% of Americans only use their mobile device to get online. And that number is growing.

The lens through which we view ‘the web’ and the way we design for it has changed since the humble desktop. The emphasis is now back on content – as it rightly should be – removing extraneous ‘noise’ and delivering that content to the user in a way that provides the optimal viewing experience.

Some useful links:

Nicola Valentine, Web Strategist

Webstock 2014 was an excellent experience, from the moment we were greeted when we walked in the door through to the inspiring and enlightening talks.

Josh Clark spoke about The Gap – designing in the spaces between devices. Josh was inspirational in his talk, identifying that we can sync content through multiple devices but that we should be designing for gadgets hoping not only for screens but for sensors, sharing actions and not just content. Designing in the spaces is not a challenge of technology – as it’s already here in our pockets and living rooms – but a challenge for the imagination to craft experiences in an interesting way.

Dan Saffer spoke about Designing Microinteractions, highlighting first a quote from Charles Eames, ‘The details are not the details. They make the design.’ As we know, the difference between a good product and a great one are in the details: the mircointeractions that create the experience and love for a product, that create the lasting moments. Dan outlined the approach he likes to take when crafting these microinteractions and ways you can achieve this by sometimes obvious ways such as bringing the content forward through use of live tiles and not starting at zero by using data you have about the user.

Aarron Walter, Head of Experience at Mailchimp, spoke about Connected UX and the importance of research and customer feedback. He shared his story from Mailchimp on how customer feedback, research and other qualitative and quantitative data are stored in an ‘Evernote’ account where the entire company has access and can search, share and maintain the information. Opening up the information to the entire company strengthens connections between the teams, creates a culture of asking why, and means they have quick access to data for validation of new initiatives.

Posted by: Mark Delaney | 20 February 2014

Tags: Webstock, ONYAs, UX, User Experience, design, web

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