WebVisions 2009 Rundown

May 28th, 2009 by Gage Pacifera

WebVisions Event (disccho)I spent Thursday and Friday of last week attending sessions at the WebVisions conference over at the Oregon Convention Center. Here are some notes on what I saw and learned:

Cooking Up Gourmet User Experiences on a Fast Food Budget with Jared Spool

Jared Spool outlined three qualities a group should have to build great user experiences on the web:

  • Vision: Like a flag on the horizon, the vision is far away but gives a team common direction. Everybody should be able to describe the user experience five years from today, at least in loose terms.
  • Feedback: Watch your users use your site. Every six weeks team members should spend at least two hours watching someone use either their design or a competitors’ design.
  • Culture: Encourage risk-taking and embrace mistakes as valuable learning experiences. In the past 6 weeks, have you rewarded somebody for a major design failure? (It’s a good thing because you learned something.)

Jared also had a neat method for determining if a web page is conveying what it should convey: the five second test. He showed a page to the audience for five seconds and we were instructed to write down what we remember about the page and rank how well it did in serving its purpose on a scale of one to five. On a well designed page, five seconds is enough time to catch the important stuff on the page and would earn ratings of fours and fives.

Jared was also a big fan of paper prototyping as a quick and easy way to get the design process going. For the past few years I’ve been using paper prototyping as a starting point for my designs on web projects, so it was cool to hear him advocating something I’ve been doing.

Universal Design is Sexy with Molly Holzschlag

Creating web sites that are accessible to everyone is important but I was not convinced that it is particularly sexy.

My favorite part of the talk was an audience member’s anecdote about the usability of a new rooftop bar in downtown Portland: the patron emerges outside and is greeted with a magnificent view of the city. As she walks with her eyes on the view she ends up totally not seeing a step down to a slightly lower level of the bar.. and bad things ensue. This audience member saw several people take nasty spills. Usability is not just for the web.

Graphic Storytelling in New Media with Tyler Sticka

Tyler has a contagious passion for comics: I left the session wanting to go read some of the series that he mentioned.

My favorite part was about the “infinite canvas,” which refers to the possibilities of manipulating the environment of a comic on the web. He showed some examples of non-standard layouts: the user clicks on a small panel within a panel that expands to continue the story, the user scrolls way down a panel to get a sense of a character falling, a panel grows and grows to get a sense of expanding surroundings. There are a lot possibilities for enhancing online comics through these creative user interactions.

He also makes a convincing argument that the speech bubble has become overused as a logo element.. but he didn’t let that stop him from using it in his own design (I would agree that in Tyler’s case it’s entirely appropriate.)

The Rise of Modern Making with Mark Frauenfelder

Mark’s talk was awesome. He is a total genius and he has a crazy frenetic energy that made his talk very entertaining. He showed us a bunch of crazy DIY projects detailed in his Make Magazine: air-powered rockets, potato guns, coffee bean roaster, chicken coop door opener, light-tracking computer mouse car, etc. He also showed a clip of him on the Colbert Report and shared some of his experience with Martha Stewart. I am looking forward to seeing (or participating in!) the Maker’s Faire in San Francisco.

The Whuffie Factor with Tara Hunt

“Whuffie” refers to your social sway on the web that is built through social networks, branding, having people rave about your stuff, etc. She emphasized the importance of making connections and establishing credibility online. She also stressed that reciprosity, giving something of value back to your users, is key. Five ways to build whuffie:

  • Turn the bullhorn around: Collect feedback. Also give credit to contributors (blog, tweets, newspapers, etc.)
  • Become part of the community you serve
  • Create amazing customer experiences: Make things work “automagically,” give users fun things they can do and talk about
  • Embrace the chaos: Don’t expect to control what is going on, but promote positive responses and interactions
  • Find your higher purpose: People can connect with a inclusive higher vision for your company

Makin’ Bac’n: From Idea to Web Startup in 21 Days with Scott Kveton and Jason Glaspey

These guys shared their experiences in making their online bacon retail business happen. Some highlights:

  • Set deadlines. Even if they are ambitious, it gives you a goal for completing your project.
  • Google cart worked smootly as a free solution for online purchasing, but much of their non-computer saavy customer base preferred to stay on-site for purchasing. They ended up using Magento Cart.
  • They send a bunch of promotional materials and product to a Bacon Camp to help promote the business
  • They encouraged looking at Google Web Trends before starting an online business. This can help you determine if keyword searches for your product are rising or falling.

Web Development for a Mobile World with Kevin Hoyt

In his session Kevin created, in front of our very eyes, an android app, an iphone app and a flash-based mobile app. He also explored the Phone Gap framework, to boot. It was pretty awesome to see how each of those worked and the similarities and differences in the coding environments.

He gave some statistics about mobile phone usage that caused a bit of a stir. One of his slides showed that Nokia phones had a gargantuan share of the market and iPhones and others each had a smaller piece than I would have expected. An audience member noted that his stats referred to the world market rather than the US market. Apparently Asia really really loves Nokia phones, while in the US the market share for iPhone and others is much higher than his slide indicated.

iPhone Intelligence with Raven Zachary

The big take-home here: iPhones are awesome. I am so very excited for the new model to come out.. I decided I’m going to get an iPhone if/when version 3.0 comes this summer.

I learned some useful things about iPhone apps. The great majority of apps sold fall into the categories of entertainment and games. I also learned about adhoc app distribution: you can release an app (I believe through the iPhone store) for free for an audience of less than 150 people. Also learned that JSON data, being fairly lightweight, is a preferred way to transmit information between mobile devices and the web.

Carpe Futurum: Building Communities Without the Blueprints with Brad Smith and Ryan Sims

These guys talked at length about the “futurum,” the space between now and the future (basically the near future.) They talked about the taste versus talent dilemma: people can quickly develop great taste (as far as the media they injest), but generally have a dearth of talent to actually create products that reflect their excellent taste. They encouraged developers to bridge that gap with a few techniques:

  • Inspiration spree: Spend some time finding role models and examples of things you like and think about how you can apply some of their methods to your projects.
  • Study tools: Find ways to better use your software. Example: learn photoshop shortcuts.
  • Side projects: Often these side projects build skills than can be used in your primary projects later on
  • Fringe masters: Expand your horizonts by getting outside your normal sphere of influence

Pimp My Web Page with Gage Choat

Oh, and I also presented a session where I talked about adding cool free technologies to your home page using relatively easy JavaScript and HTML. The talk went pretty well.. I was able to pimp out my sample page with Twitter tweets, Flickr photos, YouTube videos and Yahoo! media player in real time in front of an audience of seventy or so.

The only snag I hit was with Google’s insidious iframes not playing well together.. the Google Map took over my Google Calendar in both Firefox and Safari. Will you please stop using iframes, Google? I would love to be able to style your widgets properly and not run into W3C validation errors (iframes are invalid in XHTML 1.0 Strict.)

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