Makers, Potato Chips, and a Badass Beard:

Chalk + Chisel Recaps Philadelphia’s Forge Conference

Forge Conference focuses on intersecting topics of user experience, design, development and product management presented by leading interactive agencies and product companies. Two of our team members came back from the conference’s inaugural year in Philly really excited about the experience they had at the event. They reported back meeting a group of people who “really got it [product]” in the same way we do.

As a result of our rebrand, the founders of Chalk + Chisel made a commitment to further invest in the professional development of each employee. Forge Conference felt like a unique opportunity to send our entire team* of makers to a conference together. With the promise of cheesesteaks in our future, we were all on board for the road trip.

We want to extend a huge thank you to the Forge Conference team for organizing such an awesome event, and giving our team a few shout outs. It was a successful first company-wide outing outside of Baltimore. We listened intently, we tweeted, had intense cross-department discussions, discovered that we are all obsessed with Terra chips (now officially added to the office grocery list) and maybe even created a Twitter account for Buzzfeed’s Cap Watkins’s beard. We love you, Cap!

To continue the good time, we decided to write a collective blog post. Each of our departments spent the weekly Monday Morning Huddle pulling together their top takeaways over incredible French pastries. Check out what each group took away:

Insights from the Account Strategists (read: “Product Managers”)

  1. Impactful products require your whole team. A cross-disciplinary team should tackle a project together from the start. Designers, strategists and developers all need to be a part of each important conversation. Being thoughtful requires a team that is always thinking about the What, How and the Why.
  2. Think outside of the screen. That is why interactive products and installations win. Focus on behavior, culture, and your surroundings. In the words of Zander Brimijoin, “User experience design is like creating a game, that’s at a party, that’s at an art gallery, in a building you architected”.
  3. Research should inspire and inform, not validate. User personas should guide strategy, not design decisions. If you’re using research to design decisions you already made — you’re failing to include research in the right part of your process.
  4. Habituation is the greatest KPI. Product research is great, if you’re paying attention to the right data. If you make a design that involves change, it’s pretty difficult not to negatively impact existing metrics — and that’s okay!
  5. Prototype, prototype, prototype. “A prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” — Mike Davidson, VP of Design at Twitter. Enough said.

Inspiring Highlights from the Creative Team

  1. Strive for surprise and delight. Zander Brimijoin shared a few impressive interactive installations from Red Paper Heart. It left us ready to challenge ourselves to apply their principles to our two-dimensional work.
  2. Treat every page as an entry point. Natalie Be’er from Huge spoke about the importance or lack of the homepage: “A good exercise for any project: Make the entire homepage your navigation.”
  3. Web app > native app. Dan Tello, a front-end designer at Viget, touted the interactivity and simplicity of choosing a web app over a native app: “Users are one click away from engaging in your content with a web app.”
  4. “Anyone can be a part of the creative process”. King Britt inspired with the story of his life as a creative artist and taught that it’s the journey and not the destination that leads to creative fulfillment.
  5. Sometimes, you’ve got to break the rules. Across the board, many of the speakers shared the message of not getting bogged down in process.

Developer Takeaways from a Mostly Design-Related Conference

  1. Always collaborate with your dev team. Involve developers with strategy and design early in your process. Keep them aware, and welcome contributions.
  2. “Don’t Be Precious”. Always work to come up with the correct solution, don’t get hung up on small things you’re attached to. Sometimes thinking in terms of a “0–10 fucks given” scale is the right approach.
  3. Don’t provide instructions. We learned from Red Paper Heart that you should let UX guide people naturally. Use technology to let people live out a fantasy.
  4. Be conscious of human biases. Where possible always incorporate real user research into the process.
  5. Accept the things you cannot change, actually change the things you can, and be aware of the difference.

Convinced to buy a ticket for next year yet?

We can’t wait. If you missed Forge Conference this year, check out Ashly’s #ForgeConf 2015 Twitter list to see who was there, what they had to say and what they are up to now.

We’ll see you next year, #ForgeConf. Until then, keep making.

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*We were missing one of our favorite interactive team members, Bart, who is currently living in Italy. He was with us in spirit, and probably enjoying a delicious pasta dish while we were sitting in rainy traffic on the way home.

This post is also published on the Chalk + Chisel blog.

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