Designers & Builders in Newcastle

Last week I attended DIBI, a two-track web conference held in Newcastle, UK. DIBI is short for “Design It, Build It”, which automatically explains the two-track part of the conference. The cool thing about DIBI was the presentation format. Shorter presentations, with more room for Q&A.

Apart from the magnificent line-up, a lot of very cool people attended. And quite honestly, the talks are only half the reason I attend. Whilst it was allowed to switch tracks throughout the day, I stayed loyal to the design-track. In short, it was absolutely great. In the design-track, the talks were all very interesting and very diverse. (which is a good thing, although at moments the day lacked some cohesion)

Adii: Design-focused Entrepreneurship

Adriaan Pienaar – most well-known as Adii – started out winging it with a very open talk on design-focused entrepreneurship. The importance of design in the entrepreneurial process is still gravely underestimated.

There are so many people we can interact with, but there are a million others that interact with those people too. A good UI and great interaction design will lead to an addictive user experience.

He broke it down towards four points:

  1. Have a design-focused approach when strategizing
  2. Make every decision a question of design
  3. Value design as a competitive answer
  4. Invest time, money and effort into the best designed solution

Sarah: Jumping into the iPhone UI

Sarah Parmenter took us on a ride through the principles of iPhone UI design, telling us what we need to know when designing for the iPhone. And although I have designed a couple of iPhone Apps, I really liked the pragmatic approach of this talk. Especially because it centered around using the UI conventions available, without telling us what we can read in Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines.

A couple of interesting tidbits from Sarah’s talk:

  • Put wireframes in Keynote, two slides per wireframe; one ‘clean’ slide and a slide with comments on interaction
  • Contrary to the Human Interface Guidelines, you can use the loading screen for basic app instructions

Tim: Sleeping Monkeys

Yes, a talk about monkeys. Tim van Damme showed us that good things indeed come in small packages. (although I would now expect a witty retort on his ‘package-size’). The essence of the talk was focusing on growth.

You need your monolith.

We should learn more. We should keep things fresh, even if it doesn’t always make sense. […] We need people and companies that push the boundaries. […] It’s only going to happen if you go out and take a risk.

Tim’s talk especially resonated with me, because some of his thoughts have been spinning around in my head for a while. In the short time I have been wandering around this web business I have seen great work being done by people that love what they do, but at a certain point they just stop winging for the fences.

I have seen mediocre work being done by people who just wanted a job, and they will eventually end up with some kind of crisis (be it quarter-, be it pre-midlife). This is especially apparent in the city I live, where people focus on ‘enjoying life’, but most of them stopped enjoying half of their awake hours during the day.

The talk ended a bit early, when Gavin Elliott showed off his amazing skills of moderation and interviewing, when a would-be lengthy Q&A became a most-entertaining candid conversation between Tim, Gavin and the audience.

Simon: Back to Basic

First of all, Simon Collison has to have the most relaxed stage presence I have ever seen, anywhere.

Simon very humbly dug into the basic principles of design. (as seen in this photo by Cole Henley) He implored us to think about design instead of just designing;

What makes a period a period? If you blow it up it’s an abstract shape. […] Shapes create visual shapes in their context. […] Lines are not found in nature.

One of the most interesting things he said was that we rarely design webpages, we design systems. We design for a user that sees controls and should get what he expects when he uses the controls.

Dan: High-fidelity prototyping on the web

Dan Rubin gave us a run-through of a project he had done a while back, and how he applied high-fidelity prototyping during the usability tests.

The most important part of the test was the Inherent Value Test, which finds out what’s right and discovers what users love, so you can protect it. Another key point Dan talked about was making the employees and managers of the company sit in on the usability tests. This made it infinitely easier to make certain points to clients. It’s the proverbial picture that says more than a thousand words, but live.

This high-fidelity prototyping is so simple, I had almost smacked myself in the face not having thought of it before. The essence is having a single large image stuck to the body selector in your CSS and having absolutely positioned elements on top if it. The beauty is that you don’t have to implement much and you can easily improve the design during tests or in-between tests.

The four step approach is:

  1. Find the problem
  2. Change the design (in this case a PSD)
  3. Change the CSS
  4. Move the files to the prototype server

Andy: Hardboiled malarkey

Work outside the laws of convention that tell us what we can’t do.

Andy Clarke‘s Hardboiled approach, implores us to bend, break and make our own rules instead of following the convention. To think about what it is that we are designing for. It’s not going to be a browser anymore, it’s going to be a device.

It is important to think about what we are designing for and then designing the best experience for that.

Have a look at that experience and design lesser experiences from there. We are going to have to design appropriate to the context of use and the capabilities of the devices.

Rounding up …

DIBI was a magnificent start of the conference year. Gavin, Herb and the team at Codeworks did an amazing job and The Sage Gateshead is a great venue.

I loved meeting up with known faces like Nicklas, Sam, Paddy, Sarah, David Parsons & Hughes, Yaili, Drew, Eamonn, Elliott and Cole.

and had a great time meeting and talking to Adii, Ashley, Amy, Andrzej, Dan, Emma, Jack, Jamie, Paul, Robbie, Ryan, John (who apparently used to live in Den Haag!) and a bunch of others!

Now, let the post-DIBI blues commence.