Front Conference origin story—an interview with Front Conference cofounders, Ben Peck and Wade Shearer

Wade Shearer
Front Utah


Front cofounders, Ben Peck and Wade Shearer had the privilige of being interviewed by Chris Holified and Krissie Shelley on the I Am Salt Lake podcast.

On this episode of the podcast we sit down with Ben Peck and Wade Shearer. We find out all about Front Conference and how it started here in Utah. We find out what inspired them to start the conference, we find out obstacles they had to overcome, and we talk about the local UX community as well as the local computer tech community. We also talk about the Product Bootcamp they started as well in Park City and what that is all about. Ben and Wade also share what they love about Salt Lake City as well as favorite local eating places.

Full transcript

Chris Holifield: All right let’s jump into that conversation that we had at our office with Ben and Wade. Two of the organizers of the Front Conference, thank you so much for listening enjoy. You know we always like to go back to even find out for listeners to get a little bit of history of the people we’re chatting with; where they grew up, are you from Utah, did you move to Utah. What’s your story there we can start with you Wade if you want.

Wade Shearer: Sure yeah I’m Utah native I have lived here my entire life. I grew up in Orem I consider that home and I moved to Lehi [14] years ago.

Chris Holifield: You’ve been there ever since.

Wade Shearer: I’ve been there ever since, yeah.

Chris Holifield: You’ve probably seen a lot of change here and growth and …

Krissie H.: Especially in that area.

Wade Shearer: A lot of change and specifically in that area, it’s funny that you ask I was just talking to somebody about that a day or two ago. My dad was one of the original WordPerfect guys so he started there back in 1988.

Krissie H.: Back in the old Orem building.

Wade Shearer: Yeah in the Orem building. Back then we lived in Kaysville and he would drive two hours every day back and forth and finally got sick of it and moved. The thing that I remember about that time is that I-15 was two lanes in both directions back then and there was a rest stop in Pleasant Grove; that’s how rural it was.

Krissie H.: Wow.

Wade Shearer: Basically there was nothing between probably Sandy and Orem.

Chris Holifield: Yeah it used to just be open lane. It was just yeah.

Wade Shearer: I’m exaggerating a little bit, but it was …

Krissie H.: Probably not by much.

Wade Shearer: Yeah it was so open that there was actually a rest stop where you could pull over the side of the freeway and use the toilet and keep going on your way to Orem.

Krissie H.: On your commute to work.

Wade Shearer: Yeah on the way to Orem, so I have seen a lot of change.

Chris Holifield: Yeah now it’s all just like connected one big virtually not a whole lot of dead lane, that space in between.

Krissie H.: There is not much and they are going to be filling it in pretty soon especially with all the new tech coming in.

Wade Shearer: Absolutely and I just read an article yesterday about how they are predicting that the population of Utah County will match Salt Lake County by I think it was 2048.

Chris Holifield: Yeah. I think I saw that article it was in The Tribune right, I might have read it.

Ben Peck: Orem will look a lot more like Salt Lake City.

Wade Shearer: Yeah.

Chris Holifield: You know the thing is I think it already is to a degree, it’s just I don’t know. The traffic is almost getting worse down in Utah County I think than Salt Lake. When I go down there and drive maybe it’s just the areas I go.

Krissie H.: I think more people live in that area and come up to Salt Lake to work it seems like, so the traffic is pretty crazy.

Chris Holifield: What about you Ben you from Utah, Salt Lake area, Utah County area; where did you grow up?

Ben Peck: Yes also born and raised Utah. I grew up in Bountiful to Davis County for the first 16 years of my life and then they moved just barely north to Centerville and then I’ve just been in … I’ve been all over since not all over, all over Utah since I graduated college and that. I lived in Orem for a while, Provo, West Jordan and then I was in Glendale, Salt Lake City for four years and now I’m back up in Davis County.

Krissie H.: You’ve seen every, kind of every area of Salt Lake-Utah County-ish. Do you have a favorite spot that you’ve enjoyed being in?

Ben Peck: I think that’s why I ended up back in Davis County, it was that I just it’s home to me.

Chris Holifield: It’s nice up there. It’s nice.

Ben Peck: It is and I can walk, I’m maybe like five minutes away from a trail head that leads up to a 20 foot waterfall that I can go to whenever I want that kind of goes the whole Wasatch Front.

Chris Holifield: Sure.

Ben Peck: It’s just nice. I live three houses away from my sister, so a lot of it is family they all kind of live up in that area anyway. I liked downtown Salt Lake, the culture was definitely different and unique I think because in Glendale there was a lot of Hispanics, a lot of Polynesians and you got a good mix of the culture here in Utah which I liked.

Chris Holifield: Obviously we’re here to talk about or at least I believe we’re here to talk about the …

Krissie H.: You guys were the founders of the Front Conference.

Chris Holifield: We’re missing one person right?

Wade Shearer: We are unfortunately.

Chris Holifield: Obviously I want to, I mean I’d love to get more into how the tech industry boom here that’s happening and your guys’ input on that. The one person we’re missing so it’s just the three of you?

Wade Shearer: Mm-hmm. (Affirmative)

Chris Holifield: Okay who are we missing just to …

Wade Shearer: Andrew Branch.

Chris Holifield: Andrew Branch.

Krissie H.: How did the three of you guys actually meet?

Wade Shearer: It was Tinder if you, just kidding.

Krissie H.: Hey that’s a great place.

Chris Holifield: I like this guy over here you know I like this guy.

Wade Shearer: No.

Ben Peck: We want to scare you that’s just I don’t want to [inaudible 00:09:43] that. It was …

Wade Shearer: We’ll just leave that one right there, go Ben.

Ben Peck: I think, so Wade and Andy first connected but it was about four years ago that I connected in with them. As a designer I was moving from being a more graphic designer to a web designer to more of a product designer, UX designer. There were groups around that like AIGA, the Ad Federation here locally that had some things going on, but I couldn’t find something that was talking about the type of work that I was doing or had the people that were doing the similar work as me. I found Andy and Wade doing little meet ups just to talk about UX design and where it was going and what not. I kind of just invited myself into their little group.

Krissie H.: Hey it worked out for the rest of us, so thank you for doing that.

Ben Peck: Yeah.

Krissie H.: Then how did you and Andrew meet?

Wade Shearer: I have been very active with running and starting user groups ever since college. Back in when I was going to Brigham Young University I helped run the Mac Users Group, then I started the Utah PHP Users Group and then I started the Utah Graphic Designers Guild. Just I’m the kind of guy where …

Krissie H.: You’re very community based with …

Wade Shearer: I’m very community based and I like to give, I like to teach but I also want to learn. If there is something that I need I’m just going to go find it and if I can’t find it I’ll just create it.

Chris Holifield: What is it about these groups that you like them? I mean that’s a lot of effort and energy and all of that to keep these kind of groups going.

Wade Shearer: It’s a great way to learn though and you also get the support from the community. You know I’ll just give you an example, so the thing that motivated me to start the Utah PHP Users Group was that I was trying to learn how to program and I was just teaching myself. I found the Utah Linux Users Group and the Provo Linux User’s Group I mean and I was going to their meet ups but nobody would talk to me about PHP. They were interested in other languages.

Krissie H.: They wanted to talk about Linux.

Wade Shearer: They would kind of shun me and stuff and I said, “Fine forget you I’ll go start my own group.” I started my own group and all of a sudden I had a hundred people coming to it, there was …

Krissie H.: Dang.

Wade Shearer: Because there was all this interest and it just kept building and growing and it was a huge active group for a decade. Technology has since moved on and PHP is the read headed step child of the internet now right?

Krissie H.: Yeah.

Wade Shearer: It doesn’t get the credit that it deserves that even today a third of the internet runs on PHP. Just with Word Press alone it’s, I would not build a product using that language today but it definitely has its place in the history of the internet. It’s still …

Chris Holifield: How …

Wade Shearer: … really not answering your question but how …

Krissie H.: We’re getting there.

Wade Shearer: … did Andrew and I meet. Similar to Ben my career started out in graphic design and then it pivoted and turned over into user experience and interaction design. Again I wanted a community, I wanted people that I could talk to about this and learn.

I found what was the local chapter of the Interaction Design Association which is a worldwide association and Andrew was running that with another fellow; John Juvenile. John had just stepped away and was leaving Andy on his own and I showed up as eager to participate so I joined Andy. We did that the two of us for it seems like it was a year, a year and a half or something before Ben jumped on and then Ben volunteered as well.

Ben Peck: Yeah so I was up in Salt Lake City downtown and they were down or in Lehi, I can’t remember where you were. I think you were at Vivint at the time and I just couldn’t make it down to the events that you guys were doing and you were doing a lot of lunch events that were just kind of discussing groups. I mean the group was fairly small at the time and it was 20 people, 30 people at the time and I wanted to do some events up north and I was just like, “Hey can I just do a couple up here are you okay I’ll approve like what I’m going to do up here in Salt Lake,” and we just started, I just started doing ones up closer to me. Then as the group grew we started getting a little bit more organized with how we did it.

Krissie H.: Yeah which is great because everyone lives in different parts and you do a lot of meet ups at lunch time through the UX meet up group.

Wade Shearer: It’s changed a little bit over the years. Earlier on we’d have some events during lunch but they were more in the evening, but we have transitioned to doing more nowadays during lunch. We seem to get a better turn out at lunch.

Krissie H.: Which is great because as lot of people from one company can get together and say, “Hey I want to go do this, we’re going to go learn this one thing for lunch and then come back and talk about it.” From there you guys somehow came up with an idea to create a UX/UI conference, a product conference in Utah, based in Utah. How did that happen?

Wade Shearer: Yeah. It’s something that we talked about for a while actually before we even pulled the trigger on it. We part of the reason that we kept investing into the group and as it kept growing is because of the hunger that was there. We just felt this deep hunger and desire for training, people just wanted more and more and there really wasn’t anything bigger.

If you rewind four, five years ago there were a couple of design conferences around but there were no product conferences except just one. Just a year before that Mind the Product had started and that was started over in London and that’s far away to just run to a conference. Then two years later they started, they brought it to San Francisco and right about that exact same time we’re looking around and thinking, “Hey we need to do more.”

We partnered up, Ben had mentioned up just briefly we had partnered up with the AIGA and we had joined them in Salt Lake Design Week. Salk Lake Design Week had done one year and that was the second year they were going to do it. Salt Lake Design Week is a conference for everything design; everything from sculpture to photography …

Krissie H.: Which is such a broad spectrum.

Wade Shearer: … interior design and everything and we said, “Hey we’d love to join you and promote what we’re passionate about. We want to do something, a UX track as part of your event.” We did two days, two full days from 8 to 6 of just talks back to back to back to back. It was probably 16 different talks and we …

Krissie H.: Just the three of you?

Wade Shearer: The space … No we brought in, no.

Krissie H.: Okay.

Wade Shearer: We just arranged it …

Krissie H.: Wow.

Wade Shearer: … but we had speakers talking back to back for two days and the space held about a hundred people and we had standing room only full house packed the entire time. The thing that I love to tell about this story is that we had more events within our two days and within our track than all of the rest of the Salt Lake Design Week combined.

Krissie H.: Wow, well and there is a huge hunger for it. We have probably most of our listeners are unfamiliar with what UX is or really product how would you explain what we do, like what this conference is about to them?

Chris Holifield: Yeah Krissie what do you do?

Krissie H.: I like to tell people …

Chris Holifield: I don’t even know right I’m just …

Krissie H.: I had to you know what I broke down to a point where I would just tell people I make the buttons. Like, “Have you ever looked at an app or a website I make the buttons.” It’s a difficult thing to explain …

Chris Holifield: It is.

Krissie H.: … to someone who is not interested or used to it.

Ben Peck: Yeah we struggle with that all the time. That’s the core of what …

Krissie H.: It’s a new; it’s a very new thing too.

Ben Peck: Exactly and I think that that’s what the core reason why we created the conference, we felt like it needed to fill a need. There were design conferences and then there were business conferences, but there was no like UX design conference or even product management conference. We realized quickly that through these free meet ups that we could gather these people together and that’s where it came from. To answer your question that’s like, no one understands what UX design means and even our own industry argues over what it means.

To give an avenue for us to talk about it collectively even for our own industry, it helps us quite a bit. I mean it’s really easy to just try to imagine we’re trying to make the experience of someone using an application easier. I mean that’s the simplest way of describing what a UX designer does. Then going into like the minutiae of; well how do you know, what’s the research that goes behind it, what is the design that you actually do, how do you determine whether it was successful or not. That all plays into what a UX designer does.

Krissie H.: It’s very multifaceted it’s not just like making something pretty it’s making something work. Which so I’m a UX designer and I’m super grateful that you guys put this on, because you’ve created a support system here in the Utah area and it’s expanding. There are so many people moving here to do this kind of work because Adobe came in, I think they are building a second building now too.

Wade Shearer: They did.

Krissie H.: Then.

Wade Shearer: I mean they are they just announced it.

Krissie H.: The Silicon Slopes area is just booming and none of us have had really a support area to go or to talk things out, so you’ve created a new community here for all of us. I think a lot of new people are going to need that when they come here especially.

Ben Peck: I think that one of the things that has been most successful about just the group is that we made it free and we made it as easily accessible for anyone to share. One of the things that within the process of growing the community is we quickly understood that people just wanted to see what other people were doing within organizations. Like, “How do you do things at Adobe or how does the team work or how is it structured come to a community event and just show us how to do it,” and people would flock like crazy to, I mean people love food so they’ll come out for food any day.

Chris Holifield: Of course.

Krissie H.: Right food is great.

Chris Holifield: Absolutely yeah.

Ben Peck: They really just wanted to hear how they were doing it and what worked, what didn’t work so that they could do it better. That’s how I got drawn into it.

Wade Shearer: We could have started the conference anywhere.

Krissie H.: Yeah exactly.

Wade Shearer: We could have gone to San Francisco and it would have been even bigger. I mean we like to brag about the sellout crowds that we’ve had; 350 the first year, 600 the second year, 650 the third year. We could have had multiple thousands of attendees if we’d gone to New York or if we’d gone to San Francisco but we chose to do it here for a specific reason, and that’s because we are all really passionate about Utah. We think that there is unique set of talent here and a culture here that we love and we wanted the world to come to this and to experience this.

Utah is on fire right now actually just like you were talking about with Silicon Slopes, that I mean it’s almost to the point where we’re growing too fast right now. The infrastructure is no there to support the growth that’s happening down there in Lehi and it’s really exciting but it’s also going to be a mess for the next two years while they are redoing the freeway. That’s how we just kept going into this as we are saying, “Okay we see all these people that are coming out to this event. We see all of these people that are coming out to Design Week,” even to the point where the design week people came to us and they said, “Hey can you back off. Can you do …”

Krissie H.: Really? You guys were getting all the attention.

Wade Shearer: I know and I love it. They were like, “Can you back off,” and we were like, “We’re not going to back off dude this snowball is going downhill and nobody is stopping it.”

Krissie H.: Why would you pull out the rug from people who clearly need this?

Wade Shearer: Yeah.

Chris Holifield: How many years of Front; three years is that what I calculated based off of what you, the numbers you were saying.

Wade Shearer: Yeah we started in 2015 and …

Krissie H.: I’ve been to all three years.

Wade Shearer: Have you really?

Krissie H.: Yeah.

Wade Shearer: Thank you for coming.

Ben Peck: That’s comforting.

Krissie H.: Hey thanks for letting me.

Chris Holifield: It just barely it happened May is that what I read online?

Wade Shearer: It is.

Chris Holifield: The conference happens in May, see I did a little homework this time Krissie.

Krissie H.: Yeah, good job. No and it’s increasingly just gotten …

Ben Peck: You get an A plus.

Krissie H.: … grander and grander obviously and it sells out pretty quickly too.

Ben Peck: Well you just wait we’ve got our big announcement coming for next year.

Krissie H.: Then how did you come up with the name Front.

Wade Shearer: That was actually me I’ll take credit for that one. We …

Ben Peck: That one was Wade. I will not credit for that.

Wade Shearer: We were stewing on it and stewing on it and trying to come up with a good name and of course there is always the challenge of finding a domain name and social media handles and all of that. All of a sudden the idea just popped into my head, I can’t tell you what the catalyst was specifically for it but it just popped into my head that we wanted to specifically focus on something that had to do with being thought leaders. That had to do with cutting edge technology, something had to do with our [inaudible 00:23:19]. We talked about things like that are unique to Utah The Beehive State and all of these things.

Ben Peck: Wasatch Front.

Wade Shearer: Wasatch Front we were trying all of these things and all of a sudden I thought, “Holy cow front, we have the Wasatch Front and we have the front end of software.” It’s the …

Krissie H.: Front end user interface.

Wade Shearer: Yeah the user interface, it’s the experience. I like to call it the experience layer a lot more than just the interface, because nowadays being a product designer is evolved much more than just software and it’s going to become more and more so in the years to come; whether you are interacting with a robot or through a voice controlled application or through virtual reality or whatever it may be.

It’s this experience layer tactile or audible or whatever it maybe. It’s the front opposed to the back end, because our conference wasn’t specifically about the business, it’s not specifically about deep programming it’s about; designing the product, finding the solution to the problem and delivering an amazing outcome and an amazing experience to the users. All of a sudden this light bulb went on that front, Wasatch Front, the front end and the forefront of technology so just all three of those things just came together and I thought, “Bingo that’s it.” I’ll tell you quick little story about how we got the Twitter handle if I may.

Chris Holifield: Please do.

Krissie H.: Oh yeah hey.

Wade Shearer: I just think it’s funny that … We registered we went and we registered Front Utah as the Twitter handle. We started going, we put up a website we started advertising it and all of a sudden somebody reached out to me and said, “Hey do you want the Twitter handle front,” which is …

Krissie H.: Impossible.

Wade Shearer: … a handle like that is …

Chris Holifield: It’s hard.

Wade Shearer: … pretty awesome right; a five letter name of a Twitter handle. I started talking to this guy and I found out that there is this whole underground, this black market of social media handles that are sold.

Krissie H.: I believe it.

Wade Shearer: It’s all against the terms and conditions for all the …

Chris Holifield: Did you end up getting front then.

Wade Shearer: We did.

Chris Holifield: Did it cost a pretty penny?

Wade Shearer: It did cost we had to pay for it and this is the part you probably shouldn’t be recording because it’s, we did have to pay for it. I found that I helped a kid in the UK pay for his tuition for college with buying this Twitter handle I thought it was pretty awesome.

Krissie H.: That’s cool.

Wade Shearer: I was so scared that it was a scam that we had arranged this deal where we would wire him the money to his bank in the UK and I’d only send him half the money and he would send me the password.

Krissie H.: Wow.

Wade Shearer: The moment I got the password then I’d give him the other half the money and then we’d be good. I still can’t believe that we didn’t use a SQL service. Seriously can’t believe we did it.

Ben Peck: We’re crazy like that.

Chris Holifield: Yeah that’s crazy.

Wade Shearer: We’re crazy like that.

Krissie H.: You guys just jump off a cliff man.

Wade Shearer: What’s funny is he didn’t wipe the account when he gave it to me either. You know how in Twitter you can have direct message conversations with people?

Chris Holifield: Sure.

Wade Shearer: I went in to the Twitter account the moment I got it went in and changed the password, I was afraid he was going to take my money and run with it right and will sell it to somebody else. I went in there and I was looking through and there were all these conversations where he had been hitting people up and trying to negotiate sales.

Krissie H.: He had been working that one for a while.

Wade Shearer: He’d been working it for a while and I was thinking so I went in and I was deleting all the threads and stuff.

Chris Holifield: That’s great though.

Wade Shearer: Anyway it was …

Krissie H.: They have a resale list I mean.

Wade Shearer: It was my first time wiring money internationally.

Krissie H.: Yeah.

Ben Peck: We’ve even had other people …

Chris Holifield: Then after that a prince in Nigeria.

Wade Shearer: Yeah.

Krissie H.: I know. You’ve had good experiences so far roll the dice again.

Ben Peck: That’s actually where it came from it was an email like that we were just like, “Oh let’s try to find,” no.

Wade Shearer: It was, I just I think it’s a funny story because it was a fun experience and it’s pretty cool that we have the Twitter handle.

Krissie H.: Yeah that’s amazing. I don’t know because that is impressive it’s really hard to come by an easy social media handle these days.

Chris Holifield: We actually need to take a quick break really fast play a message from our sponsor, so if we can pause the conversation and we’ll be right back so hang tight.

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Wade Shearer: It was in the Infinity Event Center which is …

Chris Holifield: Right on 600 there.

Wade Shearer: Just south of the Grand.

Krissie H.: Which I thought was really fun. It was hot.

Wade Shearer: It was.

Krissie H.: It was really hot.

Chris Holifield: That’s a small place though.

Wade Shearer: Memorable because not just hot …

Krissie H.: It was super memorable.

Wade Shearer: … the swamp coolers were dripping water on the audience. It was great.

Ben Peck: It was a great experience for an experience conference. No, yeah that specific venue was really interesting because okay so up until that point we’d done like the Salt Lake Design Week and we got maybe 70 to 100 people out to each one of those events for a full couple of days. We said, “Okay we’re going to do this conference,” and we said, “How can we get the least expensive venue we possibly can, put the least risk on it and see how many actually come out.” It was that we debated over multiple venues about what we could do, we wanted it downtown but we wanted this grungy-ish, not grungy-ish but very artistic.

Krissie H.: Like underground.

Ben Peck: Yeah, underground type venue and we found that and it could scale up to people. Maybe I think we could, we tried to fit like 400, 500 we tried to …

Wade Shearer: I think they had claimed the capacity was five something.

Ben Peck: We got 350 and it was a good amount of people. It was a good starting point for us for sure.

Wade Shearer: Something I love that you just said Ben was that we wanted to mitigate the risk because we felt the momentum, we had proved it out at different levels of scale but we had never opened something up to a more national audience. We had never charged more than $5.

Ben Peck: We had no money really.

Wade Shearer: Yeah we had no funds to start it so the thing that I think so exciting about all of this all the way through to today and we’ve even gone beyond the three years we’ve started a side car event called Front Park City.

Krissie H.: Yeah it’s …

Wade Shearer: Which is this bootcamp of …

Krissie H.: You call it Back right?

Wade Shearer: Yeah that’s the nickname for it.

Krissie H.: That’s the nickname.

Wade Shearer: I mean just I mean you look at how successful it is now and all of the momentum behind it but we didn’t just go ho-ha again, we didn’t go and mortgage our houses or I didn’t go and liquidate my 401(k) and go and just pay for all this at once. That’s what I think so exciting because we call this the case study conference and it’s not just the case study conference because we bring people in to share case studies, it’s because the conference itself is a case study.

Krissie H.: Is a case study. Which is cool and I think all of us have seen that because the first year I remember everyone giving their input on it, on the … We had a Slack channel and people would say, “These chairs are uncomfortable it’s too hot in here,” and you guys took notes and you responded. Then the next year you improved the things that people complained about and then the next year you improved.

Wade Shearer: We have.

Krissie H.: I can’t believe you kept going because we complained a lot. Like a lot of people complained the first year.

Wade Shearer: Well, and we have tried really hard to take the feedback and to iterate on it and refine it. There is things that we’re passionate about that we want to do but we are also listening to our customers and going through the same methodology utilizing the same principles that we’re teaching from the stage of how to develop a business and how to develop a product. I just think it’s so exciting. It’s a dream. It’s so much fun.

Chris Holifield: Where were people coming from like all over …

Wade Shearer: You want to take that?

Chris Holifield: … even outside the US?

Ben Peck: Yes, so outside the US. We actually had people from Australia come this year.

Wade Shearer: We’ve had somebody from Tokyo, we’ve had somebody from Canada and from …

Ben Peck: The UK.

Wade Shearer: … Peru …

Ben Peck: Peru.

Wade Shearer: … and Australia. We’ve had people from five different countries …

Krissie H.: That’s so cool.

Wade Shearer: … and this year it was 29 different states.

Ben Peck: Yeah. The majority of the audience is Utah people; we built the community around Utah. I think like I don’t know the exact number, I think it was 25, 28% were from out of Utah.

Krissie H.: It’s been exciting to watch especially I noticed when people were coming in for the bootcamp conference that you guys do at Park City. A lot of people would chime in and say, “What can we do like tell us where to go, tell us what to do over there.” It felt like you were almost attracting tourism to the area and helping people find their way around.

Chris Holifield: Well it’s great for the tourist industry.

Krissie H.: It is yeah, it’s really great.

Wade Shearer: We had several people tell us that where they said, “Hey I was shopping around I was looking at different conferences trying to decide where I wanted to go for training and I found Front just searching Google and I thought, “Hey skiing, Park City, UX conference done.”

Krissie H.: Win-win and you guys even didn’t you have a ski day for people who came out or you just helped them figure out how to like …

Wade Shearer: We didn’t do a ski day last year but we did have a discount on tickets. This year we actually are going to make it a lot more convenient, we’re selling a specific package where you do get a two day lift ticket as part of your ticket. That’s all just baked right into the ticket with the conference.

Chris Holifield: The next conference you’ll do.

Krissie H.: Yeah this one is coming up in January. It’s the 4th and 5th of January 2018.

Chris Holifield: Okay let’s so okay the 4th and the 5th I mean.

Krissie H.: We’ll put links to that.

Chris Holifield: Yeah I was going to say we’ll put links up at with this …

Wade Shearer: Please do.

Chris Holifield: … episode so people listening can come out to it. I mean check it out if it’s up their ally.

Wade Shearer: The web address is

Chris Holifield: Where is it going to be at?

Wade Shearer: We have a really exciting venue as well, so almost … It’s a similar story just like we did with Front we also started small with Back to prove out the concept and make sure that it would work. Last year we just held it at the Doubletree Hilton and it’s called the Yarrow up there in Park City and it was pretty good but it wasn’t a very exciting venue. This year we’re holding at the Utah Olympic Park which is the site of the 2002 winter Olympic games.

Krissie H.: That will be fun.

Wade Shearer: It’s a really neat venue I’m excited about that.

Krissie H.: What kind of things do you guys actually, like what kind of things do you do there? I haven’t been to one yet, so what experiences are you providing?

Wade Shearer: Our bootcamp is different from the case study conference where it’s all hands on, whereas the case study conference is a keynote style single track conference where you are just listening to speakers. The bootcamp is small groups working together of hands on intimate training. The idea is and this is why we have the nickname Back, not only is it on the other side of the mountain which is the Wasatch Back but the idea is that you come to Front and you become, to be inspired and you hear all these people talking about how they are working and the great work that they are doing and inspiring you to do that. Then you come back to the bootcamp to actually practice and experience doing those things.

We found that a lot of people were coming to the conference and they were just on a high. They were just inspired and they’d go back to their teams and they’d unload all of this into their teams, but it’s hard to be a catalyst of change if you are at a very large organization. It’s hard to move that. Even if you get the support of your company a lot of people if they haven’t actually done it before, they are now book smart but how do you actually put that into practice. The idea is well let’s put a sharpie in your hand and put some post-it-notes in your hand and let’s do it. We brought in some amazing thought leaders and practitioners and local experts from around Utah.

Krissie H.: You guys bring experts; you brought one up from Google this last conference.

Wade Shearer: We did Slack.

Krissie H.: Yeah Slack, FunnelSite.

Wade Shearer: Facebook.

Krissie H.: Facebook so a lot of these people who are designing these products that we all use everyday are coming to Utah to teach the rest of us how to or help us continue to grow and learn how to keep making cool stuff.

Ben Peck: From my perceptive it’s a very selfish thing. I had a hard time before we started Front like convincing my boss to spend $3,000 to send me out to a conference somewhere else. I said, “Well let’s just bring them to us,” and that was what we wanted to do. Was it was our avenue to, we’d proven out the concept of let’s share just people here locally in Utah but then now we wanted to bring out, bring talent from places that people want to hear from but don’t always get the opportunity to hear from.

Krissie H.: Yeah there has been nothing for us here which is amazing.

Ben Peck: I like to believe that our conference really kind of opened the gates or opened people’s eyes to what we have going here as far as a tech. The VCs here in Utah really like to push how we’re stacked compared to Silicon Valley or to New York or to some of the bigger areas, but I feel like we’ve opened the gates. Utah mostly had been seen as a sales run organizations or tech companies and I think we’ve opened up to say, “Hey we do have a lot of tech companies here that are very product focused and we’re doing some amazing things.”

Chris Holifield: You mentioned Facebook and Google and people from that. Would somebody like myself benefit from a conference like this or really only if you are like a UX designer type?

Krissie H.: Can I answer that as like a …

Ben Peck: Yeah sure yeah.

Krissie H.: … person who has been there?

Ben Peck: Yeah.

Krissie H.: I think that anybody who is interested in creating, being a creator of anything in general would benefit from this conference. I mean they did a case study of an experience of a robot delivering things this last time in a hotel.

Wade Shearer: Yeah that was Daniel Burka from Google Ventures.

Krissie H.: Okay so I thought that was Google Ventures. He went through the whole process of how they figured out how to make the robot sound if they should give it a face, how people react to differ things, how it should get in the elevator and get off the elevator. It makes you think through a whole experience of pretty much anything. Anything people do they are experiencing life like a door, how do you make a door it’s confusing do you push or pull there is experience in that. Then if you are, for us if we’re creating a podcast we have to think about the user and how they are going to experience that end of it.

It’s more of a broad just how are random people going to experience the thing that you are interested in and that you want to explain to them. Does that make sense?

Wade Shearer: Well said.

Chris Holifield: No, makes sense. I mean I was just curious even for our listeners …

Krissie H.: If someone is interested.

Chris Holifield: … I was like, “Well that sounds like it’s sort of up my alley.”

Krissie H.: If you want to start a business I would say just any regular entrepreneur would gain a lot of insight on how to pay attention to your customers and think for them.

Ben Peck: We had a man named Bob Baxley who came last year and he explained to the audience the need that we have just nationally of what we need as for designers. We don’t have enough designers to actually keep up with the amount of work that these tech companies need. I think he threw out the number I may be quoting him wrong like 159,000 designers in the next 10 years. If you imagine that how many designers in the US do you feel like we have.

We’re having, a lot of these companies are having to … Take Airbnb, Airbnb came last year as well Keenan Cummings and he explained how they work and the different varying talents that each one of their designers come from. Some of them come from architectural backgrounds, some of them come from … It’s really interesting I guess that’s the joy of the UX design discipline is that you can come from a different perspective but no I’m building something to improve someone’s life.

Krissie H.: It’s very based in psychology. I mean it’s really it’s such a weird place that almost anyone can get involved in just on their level.

Wade Shearer: It is. It’s a discipline that has people coming at it from I’d say more different roads about any other occupation, it really does. People come at it from tech, people come at it from business people, get their MBA, people come at it from a psychology background. It’s really exciting and I actually think it makes it a really fun space to be in because there is such diverse backgrounds. Whereas like if you are an engineering major or something I feel like it’s a much less diverse group.

Ben Peck: The very prescriptive way to become an engineer.

Wade Shearer: It is.

Krissie H.: An engineer. Designers kind of almost even the wrong word at this point I would say problem solver, but you can’t tell people that you are a professional problem solver.

Wade Shearer: Maybe it would make more sense. I’ll tell you what every time I tell somebody that I’m a designer they never understand what I do and the thing that drives me speaking of engineers that’s what, that drives me nuts the most. Is any time you tell somebody, “Hey I design software,” like, “Oh you code.” Like “I didn’t say that I said I design software.”

Krissie H.: You can’t win and it’s like, “I don’t have the time to explain this to you.”

Chris Holifield: It sounds like it’s a good field to get into.

Wade Shearer: Absolutely. I would hardly recommend it to anyone.

Krissie H.: I think almost everyone I know is hiring and like you said we can’t find people to fill the spots.

Wade Shearer: It’s an exciting space, there is a major void of talent. Companies are, cannot find the people that they need to hire and it pays well. It’s a great occupation.

Ben Peck: I mean from your perspective not being in the industry and wondering if, if listeners are wondering if it would be beneficial for them. I’ve heard countless stories of people going to the conference and getting a job out of it. A lot of what we’re encouraging right now is better ways to help those people who don’t, who may not have that much experience. You are seeing companies start to create apprentice programs within their company because the schools can’t pump out students fast enough. There is bootcamps that’ll get popped out like DevMountain or DevPoint Labs to try to booster them into getting into the field.

Just to give you a pure example having spoken with people from Facebook they are hiring 300 new designers just this year. Just to give you an example of scale of what …

Chris Holifield: Wait Facebook is?

Ben Peck: Facebook just designers that’s not the company. Facebook is …

Chris Holifield: Wow yeah.

Ben Peck: They already have 400 designers, so just to give that imagination run there. IBM you wouldn’t actually think this, but IBM has over a thousand designers.

Krissie H.: They are not one of the …

Wade Shearer: They actually hit the ratio harder than anyone that I have heard, most companies will have a ratio of one to six and this is designer to engineer. One to six maybe getting it down to one to four, but if I heard right they got theirs down or they are pushing to get theirs down to one to two.

Krissie H.: That’s great.

Ben Peck: Which is amazing for the industry specifically. Just to there are people are investing in design so like just I work, I just started at and they didn’t have a product department and we’ve scaled in the last three months from zero to seven, eight people and the plan is to get to 16 as quickly as possible. That’s just how fast they see the need, the value and the … I guess we kind of are fueling that and helping them learn. I think that that is the thing that we do really well with the community group of Product Hive and Front. Both those groups are really feeling just learning as fast as we possibly can collectively and sharing as much as much as possible.

Krissie H.: Yeah. It seems to me with you guys having these great things put in place and we already know the Silicon Slopes area is growing. A lot of companies are coming up here because it’s better for their taxes or whatever their excuse is, but there is so much talent up here. Now we have, you guys have created on site training for that area to grow a ton more especially for the design field because you can’t build a product without the designers at this day and age at all. Like kudos to you; you were going to say something and I cut you off.

Wade Shearer: I was going to say that’s what makes it all worth it to me. You had said, “Man this is a lot of work, the time investment how do you guys or why are you doing this?” For me it’s after these events have happened when people come up to you and share their personal stories. When I go to a meet up a couple of months after the conference and I’m sitting down and eating with somebody and they are telling me about how their career was changed, how they pivoted into a different …

Krissie H.: Like your whole mindset changes.

Wade Shearer: … role. Where I talk to our sponsors and they talk about how they hired somebody, they found an amazing designer at our conference it makes it all worth it. All of the work that we put into it, invest into it makes it worth it. To hear people where they got out of a career that they were unhappy and now they are just they are blossoming and they are on fire and they are loving it and you know what I mean. I’m so grateful for all of the sponsors that have believed in us and supported us and the community.

I mean the people that even came out I mean it still blows my mind today that we had Marty Cagan standing on the stage …

Ben Peck: Who is kind of the godfather of product basically.

Wade Shearer: He is the godfather of product management. He rode his motorcycle here from Colorado.

Krissie H.: Nice.

Wade Shearer: That’s another funny story too. It’s I was on the phone with him asking him where he was because he was supposed to be on stage in 45 minutes.

Krissie H.: Wow.

Wade Shearer: Sorry Marty I probably shouldn’t tell this story if you hear this podcast because I love you man. I was stressed he is like, because he didn’t he kind of pulled up the last minute and I [inaudible 00:47:23] him and I was like, “Where are you,” and he is like, “I’m coming down the canyon I’ll be there in a few minutes.” He’s riding his motorcycle here to the conference and to talk but just …

Ben Peck: We joked about how we would just open the doors to the Infinity Center and he just you know.

Wade Shearer: Let him come riding in.

Ben Peck: Ride his motor cycle right in.

Wade Shearer: It’s just amazing that we had Marty Cagan on our stage in the Infinity Center of all places right? It looks like a cattle auction in there and he was standing on our stage and it’s just it’s so awesome the people that have supported us from people like him. The local people who have given so much of their time to prepare these case studies it takes work to put these talks together.

Krissie H.: They are impressive they do a lot.

Wade Shearer: The sponsors that have believed in us I mean all of the major tech companies have been involved, I was about just hesitating because I didn’t want to try to start listing some of them off because I’d be so afraid that I would miss some of them. Huge companies like Domo and Instructure and Ancestry. I mean the first year Ancestry was our premier sponsor and just that they came and supported this thing because they believe in it.

You’ll notice that a lot of our sponsors aren’t ones that have products that our audience uses. It’s not necessarily that they are sponsoring it to try to increase their revenue; it’s from a talent perspective. Most of these companies are sponsoring this because they want to invest in the community and they are trying to hire these people and it’s just an awesome relationship that we have with them so much of this that we are doing we couldn’t do without them and it’s awesome.

Krissie H.: How do you guys even find time to do all this? I mean you have families, you have full time jobs and you are doing this in your ‘spare time’ how?

Ben Peck: It’s a fascinating dynamic. We’ve made, a lot of people talk about remote working in our industry just because of the sheer need of a lot of hiring, but it is literally a full time remote job.

Wade Shearer: Second job.

Ben Peck: Yeah it’s a second job.

Krissie H.: You are on call.

Ben Peck: Andy, Wade and I are talking on Slack we shut down for work and we focus on work for our full time jobs and then right after work we’re just constantly talking to each other. That’s the one nice thing, I feel like us three together have figured out how to plan, how to find good talent. We have a weekly call for an hour it doesn’t always work out I mean we all have kids and it’s like, “Oh we’re meeting at 9,” “Oh shoot I got to put my kids to bed.” It’s like those are the conversations that we have over Slack.

Wade Shearer: Not just one or two either I have four, Andrew has six and you have four.

Ben Peck: I have four as well.

Krissie H.: There is hope is what you are saying?

Wade Shearer: We have a lot of kids.

Krissie H.: If we have kids we can still do stuff.

Ben Peck: Exactly yeah.

Chris Holifield: You give me hope.

Krissie H.: He’s about to have one.

Chris Holifield: Yeah I’m about to have a little baby. Just to kind of shift gears a little bit here I always like to ask people that come on the show if they have any favorite local eating spots. I know it’s just a random question, but you get some of the coolest recommendations I didn’t know if there is any places I know you are further up north you are kind of down south. Eating places you enjoy?

Ben Peck: I worked downtown for Experticity for five years and I just loved the food options that they have downtown. One of my favorite spots is Robin’s Nest. I feel like Robin’s Nest is like a little …

Chris Holifield: Yes I’ve seen that I’ve never been there.

Ben Peck: It’s just a little sandwich shop and it closes at 4 and it opens at like 10, 9, 10 or whatever it doesn’t do breakfast it’s just …

Krissie H.: You have a very small window to get some food there, wow.

Ben Peck: Yeah like if you really wanted, it’s probably the best little sandwich that I have had at least in Utah or downtown. I love that, every time I come downtown I want to visit there or …

Chris Holifield: We should try that out.

Ben Peck: … Rich’s. Rich’s is really …

Chris Holifield: I’ve heard they have a really good burger, another place I haven’t tried but see recommendation.

Ben Peck: Yeah.

Krissie H.: Put it on the list.

Ben Peck: You are welcome Rich I just shout out to you man.

Chris Holifield: What about you?

Wade Shearer: I like Pizzeria Limone a lot the salsiccia pizza there with the olives on it that is a favorite of mine. Let’s see there is Sean’s Barbecue out in Saratoga Springs that’s good.

Chris Holifield: I’m a fan of barbecue so you poked my ears up.

Wade Shearer: I like the butternut squash ravioli at Bona Vita at the Traverse Mountain outlet that’s a good place.

Krissie H.: Wow, I haven’t been out there.

Chris Holifield: Have you been down to the Moochies down your way?

Wade Shearer: I have not.

Chris Holifield: You are familiar with it.

Wade Shearer: It’s actually very close to my house but I haven’t been there.

Chris Holifield: I was going to say I was wondering have you been to Moochies at all?

Wade Shearer: No, I have never been to Moochies.

Chris Holifield: It’s a great, they have the most authentic Philly cheese steak and I lived right outside of Philadelphia for about five years and I know we have Philadelphia listeners that actually listen to this show. They are going to, they might want to box me for saying this, but they are about as close to a Philly cheese steak as I have ever had and I was just wondering if the one down your way was just as good as downtown.

Wade Shearer: I wish I could answer that for you. I did just think of another one Cubby’s.

Chris Holifield: Cubby’s yes.

Krissie H.: Yeah, Cubby’s is great.

Chris Holifield: They are very top notch.

Wade Shearer: Cubby’s is good.

Ben Peck: I mean J Dawgs is like a locally well known little, that story is really interesting I don’t know if you‘ve had him on.

Chris Holifield: No, we should though.

Ben Peck: Yeah. He I don’t know if you know his story very well but when I was in, at BYU he started J Dawgs out of a little shack just right on campus.

Krissie H.: Wow.

Ben Peck: It was like one, two guys just feeding polish and beef hotdogs. He just now he has a franchise, basically a local franchise so slowly he created a new, another store. Now they have one downtown on Main Street and they have one in Lehi, they have one in I don’t know how many they have but I’m a big fan of J Dawgs. It’s very Utah …

Krissie H.: Wow, I didn’t even realize they started that small.

Wade Shearer: I did just think of another one. There is a place in PG called Cravings and they do gourmet grilled cheese and the probably the top item on the menu is the monte cristo but then you can take the monte cristo and deep fry it and …

Krissie H.: Have a heart attack.

Wade Shearer: … it is amazing. Then I looked at the calories, after I ate the thing I looked at what was in it and I’ll never come back.

Krissie H.: It’s worth a try one time right?

Chris Holifield: It’s one of those one in a lifetime things.

Ben Peck: It was like heart attack café [crosstalk 00:53:54].

Wade Shearer: It was good.

Chris Holifield: Should we run down contact, did you have any more questions? I know we’re getting close on time here so I didn’t know if there was any more questions or if you want to run down the list of contact or?

Krissie H.: Quick before contact as user interface designers and product designers what app do you use most on your phone? It’s very telling and I’m judging you.

Wade Shearer: Probably Reeder R-E-E-D-E-R it’s an RSS reader. I’m admitted news addict I read …

Ben Peck: Like all sorts of kind of news where …

Krissie H.: [inaudible 00:54:32] thing.

Wade Shearer: I subscribe to probably 100 to 200 feeds and I’ll, I have to pace myself and set limits that I only check it, I try to check it like about four times a day because I’m addicted to it but I love t read the news. It’s everything from just local news, national news to industry news, tech news even gardening, cycling you know things I’m interested in. its most tech and things, but I’m a hardcore news guy.

Krissie H.: Nice.

Wade Shearer: That’s probably the one I use the news.

Ben Peck: It’s very fascinating because I’m complete opposite and I get all of mine is hands down Twitter and I just curate that list of people I follow and all my news comes through just people.

Krissie H.: I love it.

Ben Peck: Which is fascinating.

Chris Holifield: Do you use the native Twitter app is that …

Ben Peck: I do yeah.

Chris Holifield: Okay I was just curious.

Ben Peck: Well I use multiple so; I use the native Twitter app, I use the desktop app, I use the website all for different reasons but I’m going to have a conversation with Twitter about that eventually.

Krissie H.: They’ve different functionalities on different platforms?

Ben Peck: Well, yeah like slowly they’ll release something on the web and there is certain things within the Mac app that are super nice to have as far as notifications go. Then when I’m on the go I’m on my phone and things like that, so I do a lot of …

Chris Holifield: Very cool.

Krissie H.: It’s hard to just use something as a product designer because you are like making a list of all the ways to make it better every time you open it.

Wade Shearer: That’s actually one thing I really like about Reeder is that it’s designed very well, because a lot of RSS readers are not. They are …

Krissie H.: Clunky.

Wade Shearer: … very, very clunky and this is just a smooth app. Has really nice just subtle animations and transitions. The typography is really nice; the color pallet is nice it’s a great app.

Krissie H.: I’m sold I’m totally going to download that after this. Let’s find about how people can contact you guys and learn more about you.

Wade Shearer: That’s easy Ben is in social media I’m not.

Krissie H.: Cool you are on Medium though people can find your articles.

Chris Holifield: Do you not even have a Facebook?

Wade Shearer: I do not have a Facebook account.

Chris Holifield: That is, every time I meet somebody who doesn’t have a Facebook I’m very impressed.

Wade Shearer: It’s like I don’t exist.

Chris Holifield: Yeah.

Krissie H.: It kind of is actually.

Wade Shearer: I like that.

Chris Holifield: I respect you for that because you have no footprint out there, nothing …

Wade Shearer: I actually I do have a footprint I am on Medium and I’m very active on LinkedIn. The reason that works for me is I’m okay being in the public eye as part of my professional life, but I don’t have any interest for my personal life to be out there.

Chris Holifield: I can respect that.

Wade Shearer: I’m not on Twitter and I’m not on Facebook and you’ll find me on LinkedIn.

Krissie H.: That’s why he has free time to make stuff , that’s what all the rest of us do.

Wade Shearer: I’m on Pinterest, I’m not on Instagram, I’m not on a what we chat.

Ben Peck: I mean you have

Wade Shearer: WhatsApp all those.

Ben Peck: Then Tinder.

Wade Shearer: Tinder, I’m not on Tinder.

Ben Peck: That’s it we’re not getting any more people speaking from any of those things you never use.

Chris Holifield: What’s your Twitter handle Ben if you want to give that out?

Ben Peck: Ben Peck.

Chris Holifield: Ben Peck simple enough.

Ben Peck: I’m Ben Peck everywhere.

Wade Shearer: You can find me at

Chris Holifield: Then Front there is …

Krissie H.:

Chris Holifield: … and then Front on Twitter right?

Wade Shearer: That’s right @front.

Chris Holifield: To follow that because obviously I mean that’s …

Wade Shearer: Even though I don’t use Twitter I hardly recommend you following us and would encourage you the conference is very active on Twitter.

Krissie H.: Yes the users are very active everywhere so just connect with those guys.

Chris Holifield: Is there a Facebook page for Front?

Wade Shearer: There is not.

Ben Peck: We don’t have a Facebook page for Front, just the website and I mean there is Product Hive which is the community so it’s a completely different name but, and then me personally just Ben Peck on Twitter. Ben Peck everywhere Medium, I’m on Medium a lot.

Krissie H.: Yeah you are Medium too. Go read their stuff I like your guys’ articles obviously.

Wade Shearer: Thank you.

Chris Holifield: All right many thanks again to Ben Peck and Wade Shearer for coming on this episode and sharing their story and sharing the story of Front Conference. I don’t know I kind of what to go next year.

Krissie H.: I think you should go because I’m going to go …

Chris Holifield: Well of course.

Krissie H.: … and it would be fun to bring you, because I actually take tons of notes and I always try, I want to share them with you afterwards because I get so excited.

Chris Holifield: I don’t know there is just so many conferences that I see going on and it’s like I want to go to this one, I want to go to this one, I want to go to this one and then here we are going to have a baby.

Krissie H.: They take babies in conferences right?



Wade Shearer
Front Utah

Vice President of User Experience at Workfront, Cofounder of Front