Top 15 Lessons Learned from PPPConf

This past weekend I went to Prototype, Process & Play conference a two day conference focusing on leadership, experimentation, collaboration and creativity. The conference was ostensibly a design-centered conference but it was so much more than that.

Often when people hear the term ‘design’ or ‘UX’ in the more tech-heavy atmosphere they tend to write it off but I’m here to tell you, design is in everything we do. Design is a way of thinking. User experience should be the center of development and testing. Whether you’re a developer or a journalist, you should take time to consider how you approach problems, interact with others and your personal development.

Design isn’t just making things look pretty, it’s how to think and how to plan.

Although I’m not as talented as the live transcriber, Brook, who took notes at the conference, below are a few things I took away from my experience.

Codify your methods

Find ways that helps you develop your skills and encourages you to learn new things and document them! If you’re ever feeling burned out or uninspired this can help revitalize you. One of many great pieces of advice from Hannah Donovan, others sprinkled throughout.

Don’t wait for perfection

It’s easy to find flaws or inefficiencies in your work but learn when to stop. You are your biggest critic, so learn when you are at a good place where your work is functioning.

Start with shit

Sometimes your project may seem daunting and you may not know where to start so start with shit and you can only go up from there.

Create boundaries

You know the deal, everything is urgent all stories must make it out this sprint. You have double the tickets you started with with half the time. It’s important that you create boundaries and say ‘no’. It may not always be possible but definitely let your concerns and voice be heard, speak to your immediate superior and ask what is truly high priority. Find out what the company would benefit from the most if one thing were to be completed this week. In scenarios where you may be spread to thin, it’s better to create realistic expectations and reliably deliver on time than be too optimistic and cause distrust in future estimates re-planning when commitments aren’t completed.

Do something different

There’s an old saying: ‘monotony breeds contempt,’ or in most cases over-complacency and/or burnout. To curb this try doing different things. Whether it’s a side project, working in a new medium or technology, going to meetups, etc. Try doing different things to broaden your perspectives and skills. Always be ready and willing to learn and teach others.

Set deadlines for learning

When starting a project that requires discovery, it can be easy to go down a rabbit hole and before you know it 3 hours has passed and you’re no closer to starting. Deadlines help put constraints on these tasks and help scope your work.

Redirect your energy

You are bounded to not agree with everyone on your team. Some stakeholders in a project may have a very particular way they would like a feature or story or design implemented that could go against everything you know about your users or how you think it should work and they might not care or fully consider your insight but you just have to move on. Put that energy into something else and make that product as good as you can. (Pro-tip: always leave a paper trail so you can point to an email or some other form of communication that states your reservations, that will become invaluable should this become an issue you knew it would be in the future.)

Let action create motivation

Following the laws of inertia, objects in motion stay in motion. It’s always inspiring and energizing to look at Pinterest and listen to speakers at a conference or a meetup but the only way to really get the ball rolling is by doing. Action is your best motivator.

Forge new paths

Take advantages of new opportunities. The future is a journey not a destination, so even if you don’t feel super qualified or like the cards are stacked in your favor, if an opportunity is offered to you grab it and figure out how to do it later. Like the presenter, Jen Myers, I’m in a position I didn’t see myself being merely five years ago but I’m excited to see future prospects.

Quality should be everyone’s job

Pretty self-explanatory but everyone should focus on putting out good quality products and services. From the barista making your coffee to the doctor getting ready for a surgery. It’s not up to a separate team, PM or end user to ensure that undesirable behavior is surfaced. Quality should be apart of the process from ideation to implementation. Excellent excellent excellent thought from Braden Kowitz.

Surround yourself with talent

Being around others who thrive on being better and helping those around you definitely has an impact. It’s a humbling experience but it also makes you become more active as well. I’ve been to a lot of talks where people say you need to find a mentor, someone who can help you and inspire you. Try as I might, until recently, I couldn’t find that one person to be my ‘mentor’ but honestly, you don’t need one person to be that beacon of light and inspiration. Go to meetups, hackathons, school/work acquaintances, conferences, blogs, etc and find those people who are really talented and passionate about what they do and get to know them. It doesn’t need to be someone you can meet up with every week, it just has to be someone who inspires you to be better and do more.

Brew what isn’t on the web

This piece of advice comes from the most unlikely speaker, the head of the Monobrewery, JawHole. It comes from the experience he had from home brewing but this is applicable with most things. You’ll see all types of great ideas and companies — and in this case, recipes — online but you need to learn to do things that you haven’t seen (or tasted) before. They might not always be homeruns but you learn something from each try and you may end up with a huge success. Like the s’mores prototype beer!

Go further than you think you should

Don’t pre-edit yourself, you need to be able to live in uncertainty. Bring up new ideas and follow through with them. Do things that seem scary, you’ll grow from these experiences. Wise words from a fellow UF alum, Jesse James Garrett, who coined the term AJAX.

‘Yes and’ instead of ‘Yes but’

This can really make a world of difference. Interacting with others in the workplace can be a challenge. It’s a context shift between interacting with the more soft-spoken and quite folks and your typical asshole. Either way you want to be diplomatic and not tear down what others say. Everyone is at a different stage in their growth some might be struggling to voice their opinion and when they do someone can very easily shut it down with ‘yea but…’ that can invalidate their thoughts. A better approach is to build up with ‘yes and…’ it’s such a small change but that shift in language can help team members and even outsiders feel included. Really great piece of advice from Denise Jacobs

Stay curious

Try not to instantly write off the seemingly boring aspects of your day to day work. Not every task you take on is going to be glamorous and super interesting but you can come up with really interesting and creative solutions or byproducts from your more banal tasks.

This is only a small cusp of the awesome talks that went on at PPPConf. Chicago Camps did a really great job organizing this event and all the speakers did a fantastic job. I’m really glad that I got the opportunity to go and I hope you can take a moment to apply one of these lessons in your day to day.

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