You could say this was the best conference I’ve ever been to and that still wouldn’t have been enough. I flew in from a cold country whose people only care about politics or themselves, and where news are only ever bad. And from there, I got to a place that’s literally on the other side of the planet, where everyone’s friendly and know you had a good reason for coming there. No matter how long your stay — you’re welcome there. You fall in love with the beautiful landscape, but you also want the people around you to feel as happy as you are.
And now to the point. It’s not just the beautiful setting that sold me on this conference. Webstock is an amazingly well-prepared event. It takes place in a theater, which is a perfect place to observe the stage. The breaks, with excellent coffee and snacks, are a good excuse to change seats. This lets you see the presentations from different points of view. My favorite part of the conference, though, were the people. They care about your wellbeing and don’t waste their time being negative, when you can do the opposite.
I’m not going to lie — I’ve become quite discriminating over the years. I don’t want to spend my time at events that don’t inspire me or don’t serve as a creative shock to the system. When I saw names such as Spool, Gothelf, Welchman, or Goodwin, my expectations went up. And so I found myself at a conference which seemed to be tailor-made for my needs. I wanted to be inspired and that’s precisely what I got.
Jared Spool (“Beyond The UX Tipping Point”) talked about Disney’s impressive transition. Twenty years ago, they had a terrible website with multiple issues. Today, they’re investing huge sums into a project that creates remarkable user experiences (Magic Band). He also spoke about how it’s possible that a company that made great thermostats in the sixties couldn’t come up with Nest. These were obviously just stories that led us to something more important — UX maturity, which, according to Jared, is a combination of the maturity of whole teams and their individual members. All of these people (including designers) can be placed in different places along the axis which illustrates the maturity and awareness of what UX is and how to do it well. Within this process in their companies, designers should see themselves as influencers. This means that it’s their job to educate teams on what constitutes good design. Teams like that are then empowered to consciously and skillfully choose between solutions that are good, useful, and attractive, and between those that aren’t. Jared said that if you want to lead people in the right direction, it’s enough to introduce the following three elements into their routine:
- understanding the problems that our customers are facing (through usability testing or regular research into their context — ideally at least two hours every six weeks);
- having a shared vision of user experience, which serves as the starting point in difficult project decisions (for example through a Customer Journey Map);
- fostering a culture of continuous learning (a deeper understanding of the users’ needs — no one wants to answer the question, “why did we fail?”, we prefer to answer, “what did we learn?”);
The second talk among those with the biggest impact on my job was about processes inside companies. I’m sure many of you were in a situation where you saw processes in large companies weighed down by a multitude of dependencies. This makes even straightforward projects require a lot of time to be completed (and some don’t even get to that stage). Jeff pointed out that product people tend to choose Lean, technology people — Agile, and designers go with Design Thinking. And even though these approaches are similar, they work next to each other instead of together. All this can be solved by changing your approach. Instead of scaling processes, let’s scale rules and values. This is where Jeff comes in with four principles:
- making business requirements equivalent to users’ expectations;
- putting learning ahead of delivery, also through creative experimentation;
- radical transparency, based on trust and access to information;
- remembering that everything can be improved.
The talk ended with on an unexpected and terrific note: we received copies of Jeff’s book with a personal message from him. This worked great to strengthen the relationship between him and the audience.
I can’t not mention Stefan Sagmeister’s controversial talk during which he argued that beauty doesn’t have to oppose functionality. It’s something we all have and something that influences us to a significant extent. We’ve heard interesting examples of mapping the tone of tweets posted at a specific place, or of people with Alzheimer’s disease whose perception of beauty is unaffected by their memory. He accused the modernist and Bauhaus movements of reducing architecture to a box, which is the reason looking at an airport can’t tell us which country it’s in. Sagmeister’s talk was controversial, but it was also one of the best presentations about beauty and architecture that I’ve seen. This reminded me of the broken windows theory, which is definitely worth researching.
At Webstock, it was impossible to find a talk you wouldn’t be interested in. Even if the topic was designing spacesuits, startups inside the White House, or the digital literacy potential of One Direction fans.
I’m back in Poland feeling inspired and ready to implement what Jeff and Jared talked about. I’ll also cherish the memory of Webstock’s wonderful mood and great people, and the spectacular bike trips I took. The cherry on top was meeting fellow Poles: Marcin Wichary (Design lead / Medium) and Aleksandra Brewer (Senior Agile Project Manager / SilverStripe).
And that was Webstock, folks. Put it on your list. Calling it a must is an understatement.