To the Future and Back

To the Future and Back

It seems like everyone is always talking about the future, and we recently got a closer look at the conversation. WebVisions is an international event that began in our own backyard (Portland, OR). The conference is all about getting inspired by other disciplines and exposes designers, programmers and strategists to the new ideas and trends that are revolutionizing business. Nearly every session left us inspired and amped with real application for our work with clients.

Great news academic and non-profit clients... you, too, can rock!

In the session "Build Your Brand the Rock Star Way," Creative Director Rafa Soto from Barcelona made us believers in the idea that brands should be more like rock stars. After all, we are creating fans not consumers. We should be thinking about ROI as Return on Involvement, and our Chief Marketing Officers should be Chief Rock&Roll Officers. Did you know you don't need to be cool to make rock & roll? Did you know you can rock without a multi-million dollar budget? Did you know that even when things get serious it's OK to keep rocking?

We also made sure to attend "The Art of Explanation: Because Design and Technology are Not Enough," by Lee LeFever of Common Craft. If you have ever used Dropbox then you can thank Common Craft for the video that helped you understand the concept. His work has inspired many (including us) to have fun with simple motion graphics to explain new products and concepts. The big lesson here is that while production quality and graphics are great, nothing beats an effective explanation.

Noteworthy keynotes:

With "Making Meaningful Design with the Internet of Things," Carla Diana of Smart Interaction Lab showed us what's happening at the edges of product development. My favorite quote: "a light is a light but a series becomes information." We are as excited as anyone about the potential for macroscopic crowd-sourced information, and Carla validated that this will be a huge trend. She likened laptops and desktops to training wheels and shared a compelling vision for how we will all soon be getting out of computer mode and into a cloud-enhanced version of the real world.

"Making Makers: New Tools and Ideas that are Fueling a Movement," by Mark Fraunfelder of BoingBoing, Make magazine, and Maker Faire described the evolution of making through the 19th and 20th centuries. Mark is seeing us moving into phase 2 of the Maker movement where tools are being created for more people to make, essentially making makers. He shared examples of what people are doing with tools like Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and emergence of hacker spaces like Portland's ADX, which I had the opportunity to tour just a couple of days later. When I asked Mark what will define the future of making, he said real time face-to-face interactions, or unmediated experiences. "You have to be present… socializing with real people in person."

Leslie Bradshaw shared a vision for TV in "The Future of the Web is Video."  Like me and Lisa, Leslie identifies herself a child of the Oregon trail, and when asked how she got interested in technology says it is ultimately about pioneering new ideas. Her company Guide is designing a Flipboard-like experience built for television. Imagine multitasking while being read aloud all your self-curated content by an avatar you choose, like a cute puppy or a human face you enjoy. Any doubt that the future of the web is video? The iPhone is not taller but wider, and is the aspect ratio of a widescreen TV. Leslie says high and low production quality will continue to coexist, and we'll all soon be publishing short videos, such as through Vine. We'll see...

this adorable robot welcomed us on our journey into the future
this adorable robot welcomed us on our journey into the future

Other sessions focused on emerging tools and practices, such as for prototyping, UX principles and workflows, game design principles, and approaches to customer experience. Below, a few other sessions we enjoyed (and which of us attended):

  • Modern Style Guides for a Better Tomorrow, Shay Howe (LM)
  • Misconceptions on Perception, Brad Nunnally (SE)
  • Death to Pixel Perfect Design! Prototyping for the Real World, Jason Crandford Teague (CF)
  • Anti-Patterns that Stifle Lean UX Teams, Bill Scott (SE)
  • Designing Life & Brands Through Aspirations, Mel Lim (LM)
  • Doors, Walls and Old Trees: Prioritizing to Get Simple (CF)
  • From User Experience to Customer Experience, Kerry Bodine (LM)
  • The Business of Play, Carolyn Chandler (CF)
  • Creating Animated Music Videos with CSS3 and HTML5, Rachel Nabors (SE, CF)
  • Making 101, Rapid Design with Data, Jewel Minarik, Nick Blanchard-Wright (CF)
  • Walt Disney: The World's First User Experience Designer, Joseph Dickerson (SE)
  • The Content Competitive Advantage, Scott Cowley (LM)
  • Just Make it Fun: What Designing for Kids Can Teach us about UX, Debra Gelman (SE)
  • Connected Thinking: Kill User-Centric Design, Sce Pike (LM, CF, SE)
  • The Axe Cop Story: How Two Brothers Created a Massively Popular Online Comic Series, Ethan and Malachai Nicolle (CF, SE)

Given the comic theme, our own resident comic, Steve, came away with a most valuable insight:


All this talk of the future can leave us waxing nostalgic for the past, and feeling overwhelmed by information and change. If you're feeling the same way and looking to take in yet more information to make sense of it all, I have found solace in Kevin Kelly's TED talk, "What Does Technology Want?" and Brad Frost's talk "Death to Bullshit" from Creative Mornings. The 20 year anniversary edition of Wired had a great article that describes how the tech crowd is suffering from future fatigue but we're entranced by the idea that what we're doing right now is building the most important thing ever.