Short (or not?) write-up on FOWD 2008 in NYC

Ryan Singer, 37 signals
The future of web app interface design.

Ryan only talked about 2 problems:

1) disconnect between designers and developers

The usual process that 90% of the companies are using is separating designer from front end developers from developers.

(there supposed to be a diagram here, i might add later)

But the way it should be:

(another diagram)

Instead of having 3 separate groups of people working behind the walls, Ryan suggesting having designers be reponsible for the front layer – the “view” in the MVC system. Give the designers access to the SVN repository and let them make the changes. That takes the load off the developers and also improves the process, saves tons of time.

2) designers don’t explain their decisions.

Another example Ryan showed is the link list for one of the basecamp screens. (add a person, add a project, import contacts, export contacts) He showed how he isolated the most popular action (“add a person”) and made a prominent button for it. He explained that 70% of time people only use this action. Then under this button he added “Add a project” because it’s similar, but he make it a simple link, so it doesn’t stand out that much but still can be easily found.

The other two links he placed a bit lower on the page and made them just links, not buttons. He showed us exactly how to justify our design choices.

Great post on Ryan’s presentation from SwissMiss

Hellman Curtis showed us a great video of a poster designer, and the main line was “” to not be afraid, use everything you have in your design and let it speak, tell the truth

Dan Mall
The Experience layer

Dan gave a great talk about We have to think not only about functional and pretty sites but also about what and how users feel with they visit the websites.

Example: google maps for users with no javascript still works.

Dan was suggesting giving the users the experience based on their browsers ability to handle it. For example, use sIFR for those with flash installed.

Example URLs: – interactive widget at the bottom of the page, for people with Flash the widget is slightly tilted, as designer intended it to be (they built it similar to sIFR) but for those without it, it would just be horizontal and it doesn’t take away any of the functionality, only experience. – it’s snowing on the page, that that enhances the user experience for those with JS enabled.

Dan recommended books by Donald Norman “Design of everyday things”

Paul Boag
Educating clients to say Yes

This presentation hit it home for everyone in the audience. First of all, Paul is an excellent public speaker, he combines humor, examples, great speech organization and slides and plus his british accent just makes people listen to him, it seems! The most popular slide of the presentation was a photo of Obama smiling with the words “Yes we can” above him. There was a round of applause from the audience and Paul goes “If i knew people would like this picture so much i would just stick this guy in different settings into the whole presentation and call it a day”. And next slide he shows is Bob the builder next to Obama!

Anyways, why do we all have this difficult clients we hate and can’t seem to come to terms with them?

Because we have a wrong client relationship with them.

what we need to do:

– be the expert
– have a methodology that worked in the past / for other clients and show it
– reassure the client
– information gathering – get all the possible info from the client
– justify your decisions – based on the info that client provided or refer other third party experts

– be positive, to any client idea, even if it sucks, instead of saying “i hate this” say “Yes, but if we do it this way, alternatively we can get X, Y and Z working better”

– get clients involved in the process, show them the progress little by little, this way they will feel the ownership and that they were the one making decisions. Do this instead of surprising them with an end result.

Do kickoff meetings.

1) Focus on problems, understand why clients want to do it this way, for example if they want to place a huge button at the top of the page ask why, and see if that really solves their problem

2) Focus on business, not details

3) Focus on users: it moves the client away from personal opinion (instead of “I don’t like” it should be “Our users don’t like”). in the emails, don’t ask “Let me know what you think about this”, ask “How do you think your users will react to this”

Manage clients’ feedback. To minimize politics, instead of meetings with a “board” try to do one-on-one meetings, especially with people with “alpha-male” attitude, because they will be the one swaying the popular vote (“sheep mentality”). Meet with those people face to face and again try to understand their problems.

How to fix problems.

1) existing clients – be positive and proactive

2) no clue clients – reassure them, be the expert

3) micromanagers – refocus them on their role, focus on problems, not solutions, refer back to previous agreements

4) marketeers – explain differences between print design and web, talk their language “call to action”, ” selling point”

Also from SwissMiss, a better summary of Paul’s speech

Karl Swedberg, Javascript libraries

Ok, all of the people i chatted with agreed that this was sort of a boring presentation. The presenter, Karl Swedberg, is super smart, but he went into much technical detail and his presentation seemed dry and long. He showed different JS libraries and some examples, but I’d rather have him explain why he likes this one over this one, what it takes to learn them and some demos of the best use of Ajax on the web.

Update: I did a blog search on FOWD and found that Karl wrote up his own post about the speech he gave at FOWD and how he’d do it differently. You just have to admire his honesty – I do, since I know how hard it can be to give a speech in front of people (thousands of people in this case) from my Toastmasters experience. Great post!

Mike Kus – Whatever happened to the art in design.

Mike’s presentation was excellent. He’s a new member of Carsonified team and worked in both print and web. At the end of the presentation he gave everyone a small “cheat sheet’ with his ideas and hand-drawings!

So the summary goes:

1) the 50% thing – remember that the pixels are only 50% of your design – weave the story into your websites, that will make users think

2) preparation

3) get inspired – listen to some music, get totally consumed by the ideas for your project, remove all distractions

4) idea -> concept -> story

5) Ditch your mac – Mike said that you should forget about the computer and just use paper as your canvas at the very beginning

6) execution – has to be done perfectly, then the design becomes the work of art

Nicholas Felton – the OCD guy :)
this guy is an information genius, he compiled so much data into his yearly reports and presentation is just stunning. check out

Derek Powazek

Derek talked about “Crowdsourcing” – the community web and what makes it successful

He highly recommended the “Wisdom of the crowd” book by James Surowecki

I was really busy listening to Derek (or just got lazy after lunch for taking any notes) so nothing on my notebook. But here’s the link to the PDF of Derek’s presentation (sprinkled with wonderful dog photos).

Nick La

Finding the inspiration

Ok, this guy just left everyone in the audience in awe. All of us there watched his presentation with our mouths open, this guys creativity and attention to details are just unbelievable.

He showed 2 of his work samples and explained little by little, where he got the inspiration from, and how he made those drawings.

The second part of the presentation was just finding the inspiration. What Nick does, he works out of coffee shops, where he can watch life. Everywhere he goes, he carries a camera with him and just observes the patterns. Great places for inspiration are japanese paper / card stores, shopping malls, art galleries and museums, and of course mother nature. He said everyone should 1) look into the detail 2) mix and match, don’t just copy

Last thing for the day was the Designers Vs Developers panel, moderated by Liz Danzico. On the designers side were Daniel Burka from Digg and Ryan Sims from Virb, and on the developers side were Joe Stump from Digg and Chris Lea from MediaTemple.

First part of the panel was Liz asking guys questions and second part – questions form the audience.

some good bits of advice:

– at digg they use something called “MRD”s – which is basically a doc where they put together a research on a feature, how many users would want it, what it takes to add it to the app, etc.

– front-end designers should get a bit curious and talk to developers, to see what it takes to implement their design


One of the many people I met at FOWD and afterparty was a great guy Chris, a developer. And I just found some photos of the FOWD on his Flickr page. I hope Chris you don’t mind me linking to them!

3 thoughts on “Short (or not?) write-up on FOWD 2008 in NYC

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  2. Pingback: Five Lessons From FOWD ‘08 | Castup

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