Putting on my BigD10 Yellow Hat

June 2, 2010 6 comments

My thoughts and takeaways on what was Big Design 2010

Could not think of a better way to start a blog off then by recapping what inspired me to begin one in the first place. Let me give a little background before I begin. I just turned 27 and I’m a corporate software developer by trade but my passion is UI and providing the best User Experience. I don’t really have much of a background in design concepts and process. I usually just design to what I “think” is best, using various approaches and feedback from others. My personal project usability tester is usually my Wife. I ask her to use something I designed and see if she can figure it out. I have always felt usability and design were the most important concepts in all of my applications; I just never had anything to build upon.  Needless to say, I really wanted to expand my horizons and felt this conference was a great way to do so. In the end, I came away with a whole lot more then I expected and I am so grateful I stumbled upon and bought that ticket to BigD10. I cannot thank the people that set this up enough. Anyways, here was my experience:

Day 1

I got their pretty early and wandered around a bit probably looking like a guy that has no idea what he is doing, which I didn’t. Everyone was very nice and cordial. I walked around the various booths for a bit, but I was still just in observe and smile mode. Eventually the first keynote began.

Susan Weinschenk – Keynote: Psychology of Online Behavior

What a great start to the conference. I really did not know what to expect coming in to this whole experience and I ended up coming away from Susan’s presentation with some great concepts to start applying immediately.

– People naturally crave information (there is actually a chemical in the brain that causes this). However, that does not mean you should feed that craving. Too much information actually turns people off. While we want the ability to see everything, we actually are more productive with less.

– People are lazy and will naturally take the path of least resistance. Designing a user interface that is smart and easy to use will lead to a better user experience. From my own experiences, an example would be replacing the word “yes” with a green check icon preventing the user from needing to read. They can scan a list of colored icons quicker then yes or no text.

Chris Koenig – Reinventing Mobility with Window 7 Series

Wondered over to the code development room and felt a little more at ease with Microsoft talk. Not that I am a Microsoft die hard, it is just what I use everyday and it was nice that the conference truly appealed to all backgrounds. It was very cool to see the Windows 7 phone up close and see some of the concepts behind it. Not a big fan on the design of the phone, (should note I use an iPhone) but I think the intentions are good. Microsoft is really trying to think outside the box on the design and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Jared Bienz – Windows Phone 7: A Design and Development Introduction

I headed over to the “more then a blue button” presentation but found out that the presenter was a no-show, so I decided to go hear more about the Windows 7 phone. A lot of the same but I really enjoyed seeing some code and got really excited at how seamless it will be to design Silverlight application for the phone.

Keith Anderson – Who Do You Think You Are?

I decided to leave code development and peek in on one of the social media sessions and came upon Keith’s presentation.

To give a little background, I am really a social media recluse. Everyone I know blogs, and uses twitter; but I have just chosen to not participate. I know it has to do with the fact that it is easier to live life disconnected as I don’t really use my phone much either. However, one part of Keith’s session just truly clicked with me. Why live life disconnected? Somewhere, there are people just like you. We all fit into a specific community, one that is just waiting for you to connect with. I love technology, sports, pets and family. Tapping into a community for each could really help me professionally and personally. Many people probably took different things from Keith’s session, some focusing on the negative view of the marketing of social media and some on the humor of douchbaggery. I, however, came away with a new outlook on social media. I don’t view it as some passing façade or annoying invasion of privacy. Instead, I view it as a way to break down barriers and connect to others, connect to the world. This is part of what inspired me to get on twitter and blog, to share my knowledge with others while connecting at the same time.

Adam Keys – Overcoming Inertia

Adam gave some advice and personal experiences on ways to stop being lazy and finally get things done. I knew and practice a lot of these things but it was still interesting. I enjoyed the overuse of the word “awesome” and the advice to take more naps to refresh your mind. My Wife would probably rather I take out the trash then nap, but now I can just say Adam told me to nap.

Brian Sullivan & Ryan Plesko – Design Studios: Sketching User Experiences

This was my favorite and most enlightening session of Day 1. I took so many dang notes. As a developer by trade, I have never really been taught a design approach. I usually just immediately start prototyping or sketching one design and my company uses that with tweaks here and there. The Design Studio approach really opened my eyes and it made me immediately want to start using it. I have so many notes and good points from this session but I will just list a few.

–         Groupthink is bad and inefficient when generating ideas, it really optimal for refining ideas. Have a team go off and make 5 different sketches on their own and come together as a group to refine and pick the best one.

–         Team should consist of many roles (business, testing, design, development, etc) The sketching should be done by someone from each role. This is so very different to me, but it makes a lot of sense.

–         The design process is made up of different colored hats that everyone wears. (hence the blog name) Here is a brief summary of each.

  • Blue Hat – this is the facilitator and is usually worn by one person. They don’t vote, don’t sketch, just keep everyone on track and make sure everyone is wearing the appropriate hat.
  • White Hat – this is the neutral hat. It is what everyone wears at the beginning of the process as they gather just the facts of what is needed and offer no opinions.
  • Green Hat – this is the creation process. Everyone puts this hat on and individually creates at least 5 sketches to bring back to the group.
  • Yellow Hat – this is the positive feedback. Everyone analyses each sketch and talks about what is good and why it will work.
  • Black Hat – this is the critical feedback. Everyone looks at each sketch and states why it won’t or could not work.
  • Red Hat – this is the decision hat. No feedback, just voting.

–         The process is usually repeated after the first vote

Day 2

Chris Bernard – Keynote: John Hughes–Lessons in Big Design

“You forgot the bag!” I really enjoyed this. I found myself getting caught up in the movies but really thought it was a cool way to give some professional and life advice.

There were 7 ideas that could be taken from John Hughes’ life and career.

  1. Vision – everything starts with a vision. It is an idea of where you want to go
  2. Reflection – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller
  3. Sketching – best ideas come from thinking visually.
  4. Planning – miracles happen in that moment between ideation and prototyping.
  5. Authenticity – always be true to who you are.
  6. Curiosity – learn and adapt, take time to think about things.
  7. Mentoring – Passing on knowledge and helping is important to any profession. True satisfaction comes from helping someone besides yourself.

Dr. Paul Sherman – Changing Minds and Removing Barriers: User Experience as Strategist and Change Agent

I’ll admit I could not decide between this or Chris Anderson’s session but ended up with Dr. Sherman. I was happy with my choice as I got a lot of insight into the practice of strategic UX. It really made a lot of sense and I came away understanding that good UX is not merely usability testing, it is an organizational mindset. In corporations, departments are not looking at the entire user experience only the one that affects them. To achieve an optimal UX, you must asses the UX holistically and be open to changing things. Become a “change agent” for your company and remember that if you are doing your job right, you are changing your organization.

Bill Scott – Designing with Lenses: Lessons from Other Design Crafts

This was another great session that gave me some useful practices to use in my everyday job. The premise was taking individual concepts and using them as a lens to look at your design. This will allow you to focus on improving important concepts one issue at a time. The four lenses (out of many possiblities) we went over were:

–         Simplicity – Eliminate un-needed complexity. Something can seem simple but actually adds more complexity. The key is finding that balance between what is simple and complex.

–         Flow – Use Natural transitions, don’t overuse dialogs or animations. Bad transitions can actually cause Change Blindness – missing the change in something because you were distracted by some un-needed transition. (great example with an image refresh flicker distracting from a significant change in the image.)

–         Supporting Actor – use restraint not to upstage the overall design with certain areas. Sometimes animations, while cool, distract from the overall application.

–         Interesting Moments – using illusions can give a better user experience. Example of when dragging an item, adding a miniature hover of the item along with your mouse gives the user the feeling that item is actually being dragged when in reality it is not.

Caleb Jenkins – 10 Things Developers Should Start Doing Right Now

This is where I felt the most at home with what I know. I agree with and practice pretty much every one of the concepts so it was really great and refreshing to hear someone else affirm and discuss the benefits of each. I could probably improve on my unit testing but can’t we all. I was fully engaged the entire team and even found myself giving some one liner answers. (I was the MVVM and Simplicity guy.) I really wish this session had not been cut short, as the last few concepts were skimmed over due to time constraints. I wanted to hear more on Agile. Either way it was a great presentation and a great session. Awesome energy and interaction from Caleb. The guy got me to speak up, trust me, that is hard to do.

Elizabeth Rosenzweig – Spark Your Creative Juices

This session was really all about being creative, innovative and coming up with solutions. I recently used a lot of similar concepts to create a successful “todo” utility application for my company, so Elizabeth’s advice actually inspired me to use that creativity for more inventions and ideas. The exercises were pretty cool, but I unfortunately got stuck as the odd man out on my row with no partner and was stuck bouncing ideas off my pen to my notebook paper. I did not want to look up at Susan for fear that she would force two others to include “that guy”. So I just used the time to think up some more ideas. Not having a partner probably ended up being more nerve racking then it needed to be, but I enjoyed hearing others’ ideas during the presenting time.

Russ Unger – Behind the Kimono: A Peak Behind the Design Process

This session probably made me giggle more then any other. I got a kick out of Russ’ sense of humor and he had me chuckling quite a bit. Russ really challenged the concept of sharing your work. No one really does that today. I had never actually seen anyone sketch or do wireframes so it was really educational to see a professional go through an entire process. Really makes you wish more people did the same thing. The education and feedback of improving your process greatly outweighs the fear of exposing your own.

Jared Spool – Keynote

Perfect ending to a wonderful two days. This whole UX community is very new to me and I will admit I had not really heard of anyone. But after hearing Jared’s keynote, I came away thinking this is probably someone I should start to know.

The man knows A LOT about UI design and gave a perfect summary of finding out which type of design applies to you. (with some hilarious examples of what not to do.). Some great points I took away from it.

–         Designing to how you like it only works if you are like the user. If that is not the case then you must do some field studies and design for the intended user.

–         Design is not all about the activities. The activities could be great but the overall experience could suck. (good example of buying something online efficiently with satisfaction only to go pick it up and find out they are sold out, which sucks)

–         Style guides do not work! Rule bases decisions prevent thinking and growing. Good design requires the ability to think and adapt. Design Patterns is the way to go. (I see this with design and coding, Patterns is actually one of Caleb Jenkins’ concepts for something every developer should be using.)

–         Each design type has its own purpose and everyone should know which they are using or which they are capable of.

–         More advanced the design type, the more expensive.


This was such a wonderful experience and even though I was sort of a wandering mute most of the time, I gained so much knowledge. I came away inspired, motivated, eager, and excited for the conference next year. Kudos, again, to everyone involved putting it together.




June 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Thanks for stopping by, I hope to discuss tips, thoughts, and generate conversation around all things Design and Development.  I am a current enthusiast of Microsoft Expression Blend, WPF, Silverlight, and Photoshop. A developer by trade but designer by heart. I plan on using this blog to post any tips or experiences I learn from along the way of my technical journey.

Categories: Uncategorized