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October 2010

7 posts from September 2010

Come to the Seattle Make-a-Thon!

Make-a-Thon AIGA Website Header

Last year at the stellar Interaction 10 conference, I was having Scotch (or was it bourbon?) with the local leads of the Pacific Northwest chapters of the IxDA, and wondering how we could bring some of the flavor of some of that conference back to Seattle. 

After 6 months of ongoing dialogue amongst the Seattle and Vancouver IxDA local committees, as well as communicating our vision with AIGA Seattle and Interact, I'm very excited to announce the following one-day mini-conference! It's our hope that this will be a yearly event that serves as a local prelude to the Interaction conferences and provides a place for local designers from various design and development disciplines—not just those who work in UX—to affordably gain hands-on skills in a fun workshop setting.

We've intentionally limited the number of attendees to 100 to ensure an intimate experience for everyone involved. I highly recommend registering now. Details are below.


Seattle Make-a-Thon 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Microsoft Building 43 Meeting Rooms,
Redmond, WA

Exploring how to craft interfaces that utilize gestural and touch interaction

Enrollment was limited to 100 attendees. Sorry, it has sold out. Please go to or for the event map and schedule.

The Make-a-Thon is a one-day event for working and student designers where we’ll explore the tools and methods that interaction designers use to create interfaces utilizing gestural and touch interaction. This event is open to all designers, including those who may not typically design for interaction but wish to broaden their conceptual toolkit.

Make-a-Thon attendees will be able to select and participate in three 2-hour workshops on a range of topics, such as:

• Arduino for Designers: An Introduction
• Gestural Ideation
• Conceptual Models in Interaction Design

• Prototyping Interaction with Video Scenarios
• Really Agile Design
• Understand It, Solve It, Sell It

• Interaction Design for Social/Mobile Innovation

Over the course of the day, participants will be able share what they learned in their workshops with a passionate group of designers and developers looking to push the boundaries of their craft.

Workshops will be led by designers from Cisco Systemsfrog designHornall Anderson (HAX); LiFT Studios, Vancouver; Pulse EnergyTeagueT-Mobile Concept Center; and the University of Washington Division of Design, Interaction Design.

Registration cost: $80 before October 15; $120 until the event. Registration fee does not include hardware for Arduino workshops—see below for more details. Registration WILL include lunch and refreshments.
This event is sponsored by Microsoft Expression, FILTER, Teague, and Hornall Anderson.

Continue reading "Come to the Seattle Make-a-Thon!" »

This Week's Challenge: Opposites Attract

Opposites Attract by Jessica Thrasher

“Am I so ugly that I need to put a paper bag over my face?” Yes, Mona, you are. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—at least, that’s how the old cliché goes.

For designers, the opposite is often true. When you’re solving a design problem, you often need to land on a beautiful idea for the appropriate audience before you start worrying about how good the idea will actually look in the final, designed execution.

So, what happens if you’re asked to come up with a beautiful design idea about what beauty really means? What do you do when the entire foundation of your design is unnervingly objective, something that can be defined differently for each consumer? With this challenge, you’re going to find out.

An editor at a major publishing house has contacted you and asked if you’ll brainstorm cover concepts for an upcoming hardcover book about perceptions of beauty throughout the ages. Ironically, the book is titled Ugly by author Jane Klingslaner. In 60 minutes, come up with a range of cover ideas, then select one of those ideas to draw out in a clean, professional comp that can easily be migrated into a computer execution.

Continue reading "This Week's Challenge: Opposites Attract" »

Barbarians at the Drawing Board: Cultivating Better Critique Habits

My Way, Highway

I just finished reading the "business classic" Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, which is about how firms on Wall Street competed to buy out one of America's largest companies. The book serves as a narrative history of the back-room negotiations, fights, and late-night shenanigans amongst the executive management, corporate board, lawyers, and investment bankers all hoping to gain a slide of cash from what would be (at its time) the largest monetary transaction in Wall Street history, over $20 billion dollars.

As I worked my way through the book, the following paragraph stopped me in my tracks (page 326):

"In the end… perception was the issue. Perception about who was running a set of bond offerings that, to [CEO Ross] Johnson or any other acquirer, was a detail… Through all of the machismo, through all the greed, through all the discussion of shareholder values, it all came down to this: [investment partners] John Gutfreund and Tom Strauss were prepared to scrap the largest takeover of all time because their firm's name would go on the right side, not the left side, of a tombstone advertisement buried among the stock tables at the back of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times."

This moment rang true to me—not only because I have worked with consortiums of clients where logo placement required delicate political negotiations during a product launch, but because I think that we as designers also enter into the same haggling agreements when we enter into critique situations with design teams.

Continue reading "Barbarians at the Drawing Board: Cultivating Better Critique Habits" »

This Week's Challenge: Imaginary Film

Every week, I’ll be sharing with the design community a creative challenge, alongside sample solutions from working designers and students. The challenge below is from my forthcoming book for HOW Design Press, Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills. These weekly challenges will be cross-posted on the Imprint blog from Print Magazine.

Action-packed typography. A bold ingénue enhanced by dramatic shadows conjured up by Photoshop. An atmosphere conveyed through color that hits you square in the gut. Since you’re in the trade of making pictures, you’ll definitely enjoy this challenge.

Brainstorm a name and plot for a made-up film, including its genre and the decade in which it was produced. Using that description, create a DVD cover for the imaginary film that aesthetically conveys all of those details. You have only 60 minutes to brainstorm ideas and create a sketch of your cover.

Will you be in the business of marketing a film noir pic made in 1980? A lost Woody Allen film from the ’70s? Or the fourteenth sequel in a long-running line of horror classics? Seal in an envelope a one-sentence plot for your film. Then, show your DVD cover to some friends, ask them what they think it’s about, and open the envelope—just like the Oscars—to reveal if they’re correct.

Shown above is a solution by designer David Christopher Everly. He says that his imaginary film Lily, Under the Sea is “an off-beat comedy about Lily, a young twenty-three-year-old New York hair-stylist struggling to make it on her own in the big city.”

If you decide to tackle this challenge, post links to your solution—whether a rough sketch or a final execution—in the comments.

Convince Me Otherwise


Reading through recent dialogues about the value that a UX professional brings to design and development work, and whether all the other web designers and developers out there should deepen their UX skill sets to complement their current skills—rather than hiring a "UX expert" on projects—has made me realize that many designers don't understand the secret weapon that UX designers wield as part of their toolbox.

It isn't the ability to conduct generative research, or create mental models, or bang out wireframes. Neither is it the ability to facilitate usability studies, write functional specifications, or prove out user flows.

I'd argue that you can't be an effective UX designer without the ability to specifically describe to a client why something should not be created.

Say what? Most frequently come to designers and developers when they want a site, application, or other tangible product to be realized. At the beginning of any project, everyone's excited that in knowing that it's your role is to facilitate the creation of those things. UX designer, make it real! Plan our future!

But as you move through the discovery process, it's often clear that what the client wants at the end of the project may not be appropriate for the users, feasible via the delivery technologies you've chosen, or contribute to your fiscal success. And you're the first person in line to explain why. A UX designer, as an informed facilitator across a large-scale project, is often the only person with the data to support killing a feature, or carving a section out of a website, or questioning the creation of yet another mobile application.

This means that beyond your opinion, or your making skills, that you're able to support the decisions that you make about removing or reducing complexity with the right kinds of data. Sometimes, the data is part of an empirical argument. If data doesn't exist, however, I may be working with other designers or developers or UX professionals to frame up a counter-argument, which may consists of anything from user flows to working prototypes of solutions that may run orthogonal to a client's stated ask, but fulfill the strategy we've agreed to in a manner that's more powerful than anyone had realized.

Some designers and developers are very good at doing this kind of thing. Some, not so much. Besides, an idea provided from (or killed by) a "UX professional" isn't an expert opinion, created in isolation. It's the point of view of all parties on the project: designer, developer, strategist, architect, all rolled into one. Each person creates a facet of the diamond—not just the UX designer.

Having come from a craft- and a (limited) code-based design background, I feel like I can understand and better communicate why things are wrong. I can be the glue between disciplines and try to be the point person to facilitate the most productive exchange. In a small design firm dealing with small projects, this was possible based on experience. If necessary, I could prove things out from wireframe to high-fidelity comp to full HTML.

But when creating large-scale products, expert systems, or transcending the browser as a delivery vehicle, the cognitive scale of kind of work is far beyond one, two, or sometimes even a few dozen people's full-time focus, especially if pursuing something that hasn't been seen in market before. Understanding that making these crucial, often transformative decisions can transcend your ability—or even a large-scale team's ability as a design professional—takes maturity and humility. You just can't do it all yourself.

On Letting Go


A thousand books scattered about the apartment, stacked in knee-high piles. All of the bookshelves bare. This housecleaning project was unplanned, but had been on our mind for months—reviewing every single book we'd accumulated over the past 10 years, and deciding which ones we could live without. Deadline: we had to wrap it up before the end of the long weekend. Otherwise, my wife and I couldn't make it out the front door.

Books have always been my worst vice. A lifelong addiction, scented with ink and glue. Being inside a bookstore requires great restraint, as I'd like nothing more than to run off with an endcap of science books, and perhaps swipe a popular novel or two on the way out the door while laughing maniacally.

It wasn't always this way. Through most of high school and college, I was able to get by just with the library. When I was in graduate school, however, I would acquire and read 3 to 4 books a week—for work, for pleasure, for class, for my full-time job as an editor. In the mail, I would receive dozens of review copies a month. The bookshelves grew fuller and fuller, and since many books were referred to in class, I had no excuse to get rid of them. It wasn't until a hurricane blew through town and flooded our townhouse's basement—destroying about a hundred of my books—that I felt heartbroken at having to recycle all those books. Giving away or selling books, even since then, has always been a struggle.

Continue reading "On Letting Go" »