Our Designer Chris Bailey gives his take on this year's DiBi - from energising stupid side-projects, to practical 'start-today' tips on making sure your design and builds are totally user-centric.
DiBi (Design it, Build it) is a one day conference in London for designers and developers. I’d booked up early and was thoroughly looking forward to the day. At JH we’re encouraged to get out of the office, to go to conferences, to keep in touch with what’s innovative, new, and up-and-coming in the industry – never to get all-consumed by the day-to-day – and honestly, I relish this mindset. There’re stacks of ways to search for events, most often I use this site.
So, off me and my colleague and fellow-designer Oli went, London-bound, to hear from – probably the biggest pull for many – Tobias van Schneider, the Former Lead Product Designer & Art Director at Spotify. He’s pretty much considered a maverick to many in the design world – not just for his work during Spotify’s high-growth period (we’re talking 15 – 70+ million users during his time there), but also for his views on side projects – hence his talk title Side Projects are Stupid.
Much as I love living in Nottingham, there’s something about going down to London that always appeals. DiBi was held at The Royal Institution of Great Britain, it’s a great location, beautiful – and so fitting for a conference centred around design. The historic Faraday Theatre was a particularly cool place to sit in and chill with a coffee once we’d registered.
Host Chris Murphy welcomed everyone to the day, and straight-away showed himself to be the perfect choice – not only because of his experience and knowledge – but he was able to seamlessly hold the day together – engaging the audience via Twitter questions and live Q and As.
Tobias van Schneider lived up to his reputation as an inspiring speaker and I was glad the focus was on his stance on side projects – something I’d read about beforehand here. They need to be stupid he explained, outlandish, creative – never safe and comfortable – because this is how we grow and learn the most. He explained how you must trust your gut when it comes to ideas – ignoring everyone when you truly believe in it.
In fact, he cheekily pointed out, that if there’s a massively strong reaction against your idea, that’s probably where your best concept is! He experienced this with his app Authentic Weather, that had been largely frowned-upon in the early days of development. Other side projects include Flat Surface Shaper, and Semplice – a portfolio site for creatives, that he originally designed for himself, but is now a fully working product for others to use.
Tobias got everyone thinking. His versatility and willingness to take risk is admirable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s exceptionally well-read – and his own rundown of favourite books on his site is a good read in itself. Tobias came across as passionate, creative and humble – I’d recommend seeing him to anyone who gets the chance. To round-up, his take-aways were:
- Let yourself be stupid
- Ignore everybody
- Trust your gut
- A jack of all trades isn’t always such a bad thing
- Stay busy
And after all of that…
Tobias left everyone feeling energised by his left-field approach to his work. The speakers that followed though, were equally inspiring but more focussed on the implementation and operational strategies to make great practice work in the every day.
So, next up was Josh Payton from HUGE Inc and his talk Missed Connections. He opened with a story of an airport bar he’d been to – instead of asking for drinks, customers were expected to use iPads with poor wifi to order from. This frustrating reinvention of a should-be simple interaction, was the perfect introduction to his standpoint on always thinking of the project goal. Getting the right focus is key, and looking at the system as a whole throughout from the customer’s perspective is imperative. He says to always ask, who are you designing for? Think, in this order – people, problem, product, profit.
His point was encapsulated nicely with this quote from Michael Eisner, CEO at Disney: ‘A brand is a living entity and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures’.
Bringing common-sense to design
Frances Berriman is definitely one who got us thinking. She spoke of her time at the BBC and then, more recently, her experiences working on the gov.uk site. She focussed on process – using her example of some beautiful illustrations her and her team were proud to have designed – but following user testing, they’d found they weren’t working. Her point was that if you’re testing, you’re committing to a decision to ‘cut the kruft’ once results are in. She referenced an often-mentioned book, one that I read some time ago, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, which is in-line with this, “is this really adding anything?” approach.
Jane Austin’s talk, Designing the Design Team was incredibly helpful if you’re running a team, or at the point in your career when you’re starting to think about it. She’d worked with Frances before, so to hear some of the same themes and methodologies running though her thinking as well – it all made a lot of sense. She talked about the early days of Twitter, when the aim wasn’t to develop a platform focussed on users writing with 140 characters – but to change the way news is read across the globe.
She too had a few quotes that got us thinking, one that stuck with me was, “If you wish to build a ship do not divide the men into teams and send them to the forest to cut wood, rather teach them to long for the vast and endless sea” said by Cennydd Bowles – who coincidently is at DXN next week.
We’re often so busy at JH that it’s easy to get in the habit of just wanting to ‘crack on’ and not allowing ourselves time away from our specific roles. But I’m always taken aback when I do, about how important it is to do just that. I’d definitely recommend DiBi next year to anyone in the industry wanting to hear from world-renowned speakers who challenge current-thinking and serve to inspire great work.
If you’re new to conference-going in your role, I’d advise:
- Do your research beforehand – this will mean getting the most from the day, and you’ll be confident enough to talk to the speakers personally if you get the chance
- Write some questions you want to ask beforehand, more will definitly come to you whilst you’re there
- Take notes on books, and order them that day. Screenshot some quotes that are shown, keep that inspiration going. My choice right now are these field notes
- Book early – most conferences do an early-bird ticket price
- Discuss with colleagues, both before and after, make sure your positive experience can be shared
You can keep up with where we’re off to next via twitter @wearejh