UXWeek 2009 Day 1 Recap Part 2: Stamen Design workshop & more

uxweekMarkHi everyone, Nick (@n_kruse) here reporting back from my first day at the UXWeek conference in San Francisco.

After the Google presentation there was a discussion about Design for Social Good: Changemakers.com and Community Driven Design, with Henning Fischer from Adaptive Path and Charlie Brown from Changemakers.

First of all, I think the work Changemakers has accomplished is incredible, and I commend everyone involved. But, to be honest, the UX story was not so interesting. What I gathered from the talk was that Changemakers had a bunch of well-intentioned people from different departments who made a big cluster@#$% out of their website redesign, then Adaptive Path had the patience and balls to help them sort it out. Good job all around. But I’ve already done that, so, if I’m hearing it again, I’d like some other kind of takeaway besides “wow, weren’t we patient and understanding with each other and it worked out well in the end… was it as good for you as it was for me?”

On to the workshop with Stamen Design. These guys do some incredible stuff. I remember the first time I heard their name was when I saw cabspotting.org — I was mesmerized. That was the kind of stuff that got me excited — information visualized in a way that had both semantic and aesthetic value. Since then they’ve gone on to more and more cool stuff, which you can check out at their website.

So, Tom Carden and Mike Migurski ran the afternoon workshop The Iron Triangles of Information Visualization.

They started with the triangle we all know — good, fast, and cheap — and basically said that we shouldn’t always cling to the “you can only have two” mindset (although, as far as I know, they’re always good and sometimes fast but I doubt they’re cheap — but anyway). From there they presented some other triangles which guide their thinking.

1) Qualities of a good project or data set — which is at the core of their InfoVis work:

  • Live (fresh, relevant)
  • Vast
  • Deep

2) The Stamen process — a kind of ongoing cycle which may churn or meander depending on the project:

  • Explore
  • Build
  • Refine

3) The value triangle:
(we use a very similar set of criteria when evaluating potential projects)

  • Fun
  • Fame
  • Fortune

4) The content-form triangle:

  • Screen
  • Web
  • Data

The guys then walked us through some of their projects. I enjoyed it but I would have liked to see more about how they structure their projects, how they interact with each other and their clients, etc. However, talking with Mike afterwards, he suggested that there’s no set process, but rather that each team member tackles the project in his own way, somewhere around the general explore-build-refine process. Actually, ReignDesign doesn’t have a set process either and we tend to let whoever owns the project decide how it will be executed.

There was also some interesting stuff on the tech side about how they wrote some code to visually screenscrape some content from icons which were baked into a map for CrimeSpotting. Pretty hardcore — not many co’s would give that a go.

A couple more good tidbits:

A phrase I liked (in relation to UX/UI): “Continuity Breeds Confidence” — so true!

A whole bunch of interesting resources they highighted:

Anyway, they were very friendly and cool guys, and we had the chance to talk quite a bit more after their ordeal was finished. I’m looking forward seeing what comes next!

After the workshop, there was a reception sponsored by Facebook. Some very nice food and drinks, but I missed out because I was too busy chatting with people. :/ But I did have the chance to talk with:

* Peter Merholz, president and co-founder of Adaptive Path. He shared with me that AP is seeing a lot of interest in Europe and a bit in South Korea, but that Asia hasn’t really shown up on their radar yet. Tell me about it, it’s a hard sell out here.

* Marc Sasinski, senior UX designer for Citrix Online. We shared a good talk about how the UX process can sometimes lead you into the business process and business goal bowels of a company, whether you intended to go there or not.

* Tom and Mike from Stamen, as mentioned above. Nice to chat with them in an informal setting.

* Mike Land from the National Park Service. He’s working on, among other things, using information visualization to guide the Park Service’s efforts on revitalizing the Chesapeake Bay. This is my favorite part of infovis — when it elucidates knowledge from the information, in other words, when you can get solutions and conclusions from it that you couldn’t get anywhere near when it was an ugly spreadsheet. It was very heartening for me to see that people in the US Govt are still right out there on the edges of things like UX — go Mike!

You can follow me on Twitter at @n_kruse and track the conversation at UXWeek via #uxweek. If you’re in San Francisco and want to talk about UX or about how Reigndesign could partner with you, or you know someone there, DM or email me!

Nicholas Kruse

Nicholas Kruse is a founder at ReignDesign.


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