Are you a learner or a knower?

"At times of change, the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists."
Alistair Smith


Opening the design process

How did designers ever learn anything before the web? Each day I feel grateful that the web encourages designers all round the world to share the path they've taken through a particular project.

I've always been a big fan of opening up the design process. Demystifying it if you will. In my opinion the design profession has been guilty of creating an ivory tower for itself. Relying on the notion that our expertise and skill is beyond the understanding of mere mortal clients. I'm not saying we should dumb it down and allow any old punter to make key design decisions. By opening it up I'm not refering to handing over responsibility. As I see it designers are problem solvers and therefore employed to make decisions on the best solution to a problem (brief). I'm just saying that it's possible to show the inner workings of a design project as a means to getting greater support from stakeholders. To my previous point it also helps this wonderful, messy, expansive design community we inhabit to learn and get better.

So to that end, in the spirit of sharing, here are my favourite (recent) examples of designers sharing their work and processes.

The Windows mobile design team creating "Metro"

Marco Arment on Designing Instapaper 4.0

Berg on designing the Michel Thomas iPhone app

Martin Belam on designing The Guardian's iPad app

The BBC's Global Visual Language


Build Conference, Belfast 2011 #buildconf

Last week I flew to Belfast for Build Conference. It was my first time in Belfast and despite the lovely people I met I can't see myself going back, unless Build creates another stellar speaker line up. It was also my first Build conference. The venue and general scale of event was much smaller than I had anticipated, but the thought and care that had gone in to it was no let down. I haven't been able to get to many design conferences this year, but this was certainly the most memorable event in a very long time. Each of the speakers delivered something quite different from the next.

The Standardistas
First speakers of the morning The Standardistas gave a messy presentation on "The Journey" of designers and how the ancient ritual of apprentice > journeyman > master can be of value. Sharing the stage (and slides) can be a tricky way to deliver one coherent message and I'm not sure these guys got it right. Often tripping over one anothers thoughts, offering different attempts at humour and engagement. Although they did make a very good point about the value of Virtual masters (those designers whose work and methods we admire from a far) and Real masters (whom we work with and learn from on a daily, collaborative basis).

Josh Brewer
Seeing Josh Brewer present was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Build this year and he did not disappoint at all. Josh talked about relationships in design (the connection between one element and another), but more importantly he talked about making sure the 'human' element in Human Computer Interaction design is not lost. He used a range of practical and abstract examples of human relationships and the emotive connections that can be made through UX design. As well as recommending some interesting books (which are on my wishlist thanks) he also left me with a notebook of quotes, which may very well become my design manifesto. If you get a chance to see Josh present I recommend you take it.

Craig Mod
Much like his recent presentation at dConstruct Craig Mod talked about the future of books and publishing. Brilliantly delivered, but not a subject that captivated me. Full marks for the suit though.

Wilson Miner
Get ready for the fanboy. Wilson Miner started his presentation by noting that he doesn't usually give presentation like this. He had decided to take a different approach to this talk. I don't think anyone in that room was expecting the sheer scale of what Wilson delivered. His talk titled When We Should Build, covered an epic landscape of 20th century social change to personal childhood memories. From intuitive interfaces to the predictions of Marshall McLuhan. Ultimately Wilson made the point that the work we do may seem insignificant at times, but is in fact incredibly important and will ultimately be what shapes our society. His was the most moving, brave, sincere and inspirational talk on design I've ever seen. Wilson's careful delivery was pitched perfectly along with homemade clips. It's the only talk on design or creativity that I've ever seen get a standing ovation. I'm already itching for the video of his speech to appear online, so I can see it again. His talk was worth the ticket price alone.

Lunch was a hateful brown paper bag full of petrol station snacks.

Jason Santa Maria
Jason's talk on web typography was both funny and informative. Brilliantly delivered and perfectly poised. However it was word for word the exact same speech I saw him deliver at Ampersand Conference.

Jeremy Keith
Brighton's own Jeremey Keith gave a good (if not somewhat abstract) meditation on the importance of saving the work we produce and the media we create. Jeremy did a sterling job of standing in for Ethan Marcotte who sadly withdrew from the conference.

Simon Collison
To my mind Simon Collison was not the obvious choice of speaker to round up this range of speakers. He gave a good, understated talk which covered heritage, building, learning, exploring and simply letting things go. Whilst humorous and warm, for a final talk it sometimes lacked vibrancy. His decision to reduce all slides and images to black and white with a dark, muddy filter did not help.

After party was great. Getting to travel and talk with MORE TH>N team members, as well as the distinguished fellows of Clearleft was a real treat. I can honestly say I got more out of Build than any event in a long time.

Some nice conference shots on Flickr from Kitty Crawford