Having already attended web conferences hosted by An Event Apart and Confab, I wanted to branch out a little with this year’s training budget and try something new. After perusing Lanyrd and doing a little googling, I found WebVisions. How are they different from the Other Guys? They define their particular niche of conference as one that “explores the future of design, content creation, user experience and business strategy in a way that inspires learning, collaboration and entrepreneurism.” Their website says that their event is “seen as the creative conference for the Web.” I think that’s pretty accurate. I found their speaker lineup devoted less to tech specifics (as AEA usually is) or content management (as Confab is) and more on firing up attendees’ design spirit and creative juices with a healthy dose of business savvy sprinkled in.
The Digital Executive Officer
Day one’s keynoter was Maria Giudice, Director of product design at Facebook and author of “Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design.” Giudice believes that the Digital Executive Officer is a ”hybrid of strategic business executive and creative problem-solver who looks at ALL problems as design challenges.” Speaking as a web designer and team manager, I find this to be an interesting notion—one that many of us have probably felt but never clearly articulated. Giudice is explaining to the world how the web has fundamentally transformed business such that it’s not a separate place where business happens, it IS business (like the two fish swimming in the ocean discussing what water is; they’ve heard about it, but are unaware of where it is). All going concerns need to have a senior leader on staff who simply ‘gets it.’ What kind of skills bag does the successful DEO need? A lot of the skills that you may already have: creativity, a sense for what makes products pleasurable to use, the ability to see your company’s landscape as an interconnecting system, and the people skills necessary to marshal the talents of a diverse stable of on-staff specialists.
Creating a Culture of Design
A perfect bookend to Giudice’s talk was presented by Chris Avore, product design lead at NASDAQ. Avore talked about the difference between an organization that’s “design averse” and one that actively embraces good design as a core value. That sounds slippery. How do you know which side of the fence your organization falls on? Some companies make a big stink about their creative and innovative spark but it amounts to nothing more than words in an unread mission statement. Here are some examples.
- Design cultures deliver the right product instead of the one that came out of the planning committee. You know the one; it’s that thing that no one wants and will probably never use but that has to be made because it was mandated by someone who’s got horsepower. These people follow a roadmap of pre-defined facts.
- Design cultures aren’t afraid to take a risk now and then, wading out into unfamiliar territory. Design averse cultures are terrified of New Things. They’re scary…”because we’ve never done it before. How do we know it will work?” Design averse cultures like the familiar and their managers are comforted by the ol’ tried-and-true. They live in a universe defined exclusively by features, deadlines and requirements.
- Design cultures share information and ideas. They promote collaboration and take advantage of the resulting synergy. When I win, you win and we share the warm glow of success. Design averse cultures are filled with people who are looking out for Number One. If I win, you lose. If I have information that you don’t, I’m more powerful because you’re at a disadvantage. Crap products result.
- Design cultures engage in team-based, shared creation which results in a sense of shared ownership. Design averse cultures live in an “Us vs. Them” world where envy, suspicion, and cynicism thrive.
- Design cultures get the right people on board for the project. The design-averse culture tolerates the continued inclusion of ill-fitting underperformers because, well, they’re on the org chart and they’re related to someone who we can’t get around.
Who wouldn’t want to work for an organization that embraces a design culture. I’d love to be part of this utopia. I’m sure you would too. After all, who wants to get out of bed in the morning to report back to what Avore calls the “cocoon of mediocrity?”