Now that the mashed potatoes have been eaten, the red-eyes flown, and Giant’s Causeway thoroughly ogled, it is time to discuss Build conference 2012. We were psyched to lead the design of this year’s conference identity, including banners, coasters, t-shirts, beer labels, a tap handle, some swanky letter-pressed lanyards, and umbrellas. It was an honor to be in the company of Andy McMillan’s talented team of designers and developers. Build conference spans a week of various opportunities for debauchery, community-building, and inspiration, but I’ll always have a soft spot for speaker presentations. Following are notes and thoughts from the talks that particularly resonated with me, chosen for thought-provoking material, novelty, presentation style, and cuteness of haircut.
Kirby Ferguson’s presentation was a companion to his “Everything is a Remix” video series, which refutes the myth that creativity is an innate gift; instead, creativity is the act of parsing together that which has come before. Kirby gave some chilling examples of remixing in popular culture, such as the same beat used in decades of pop songs.
His examples raise some interesting questions about morality—just how much copying and combining is ethical? Does it matter who is doing the remixing, how they share their products, or whether they make money off the near-facsimile? For example, what are the implications for the Dribbble community? As of late the design community has relished in finger-pointing, racing to be the first to point out similarities between designs. This is great for freelance designers whose work is stolen by giant corporations, but is this witch-hunt now impeding creative growth? Would we make better work if everyone accepted the phenomenon of multiple discovery (Ferguson pointed out that people in different corners of the world have “invented” technologies at the same time), and the fact that none of us is working in a vacuum? Is it better for young designers to abstain from sharing early work, in order to dodge accusations of copying? Or would it do them a disservice to withhold feedback until they have found their own “voice?”
Mandy Brown’s musings on editing as a creative endeavor as well as a benevolent act taught me a bit about self-kindness. As I roll back into work (remember, Thanksgiving), I’ll be fighting the perfectionist tendency with key points from Mandy’s talk:
- Sometimes we need to cut out good ideas, simply because they just don’t fit. Revisions do not equal failure.
- “Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.” — Anne Lamott. Brown paired this lovely quote with the Okinawan principle “hara hachi bu” meaning “eat until you are 80% full.” Edit until you are 80% perfect. Beautiful.
- Fighting to make something the perfect manifestation of your vision is futile. Focus on making your project the best version of what it is.
Rarely have I seen the internal team’s interests explored as well as in Jeff Veen’s talk on how to design for disaster. Jeff gave techniques for equanimity, or emotional stability in the face of difficulty. These techniques included:
- A set protocol for emergencies (such as clear definitions of roles, accessible information on the problem, and the ability to withdraw from business decisions and other daily concerns)
- Asking “Why isn’t this working?” five times in order to get to the root of a problem (a is the problem because b, b because c, c because d, d because e, e because f, the root of the problem)
- Critiques that meet needs and garner trust. Participants would ask questions, rather than drop opinions. Teams would be able to discern whether a divergent or convergent discussion was needed in order to help the presented work.
- Moral support (beer!)
While I so appreciated the clear techniques outlined in Jeff’s talk, just as valuable is one single piece of advice: use your purpose as motivation when working through snags. We all have Sisyphean days, but it’s much easier push a boulder up a hill when purpose propels you.
Tiffani Brown charmingly demonstrated that story-telling is a method of organizing and understanding truth, and that all attempts at honesty and accuracy are necessarily incomplete. The human brain perceives the world with narrative coherence, or the ability to create a story with even fragmentary data. This, Tiffany asserts, is why we must carefully consider what we choose to include in our “stories” (design, copy, user interactions). Tiffani’s talk struck a chord with me, as my chief goal is to create a stronger, honest brand from existing values and quirks. Aesthetic preferences and inappropriate (however well-meaning) aspirations can often make it difficult to represent a brand accurately, but two thoughts bolster my confidence: 1) all we can do is our best and 2) our efforts will never be perfect, we just need to see something through.
Many thanks to Andy McMillan for organizing a lovely and inspiring conference. Lastly, hello to all Fuzzco’s new friends! We hope you are as pumped as we are to be back at work, armed with new ideas.