(Alternate title: “2009: A Year in Russview”. And yes, feel free to insert your favorite groaning noise here.)
I don’t have a “Top 10″ list or any sort of “10 Best”-something list.
I didn’t count those things this year, I didn’t put so much focus on the rest of the world in that sort of fashion, and if I’m lucky, I won’t forget the important things that I got to be a part of this year. I could, however, probably sift through a ton of photos and find the Top 10 of my family, if I tried–but even that would be a challenge.
So, instead, and at the risk of coming across egotistical (which is not my intention), I’m going to review all of the stuff that I did this year that had some sort of an impact on my life.
This one’s for me.
- In January, I started work as Director of Experience Planning for Draftfcb in Chicago. I started building a practice around user experience, information architecture, strategic design and planning and frankly, I busted my ass for the better parts of 2009. That’s not a complaint–I knew it going in, and in many ways, the crazy parts were every bit what I expected (and more) and the great parts where just the same–and more. The investment in the relationship has been a lot like that of a marriage; I love the work I get to do, I’m fortunate to be able to spend my time with so many other talented people. When it works, all of that is that much better. When it doesn’t, I look to the lessons, ask for advice and input and hope to not repeat the mistakes. I’ve got one of the best bosses I’ve ever had and he challenges my thinking, makes me want to get better at shifting my view and solving from a different angle. I was lucky to grow my own practice this year; sharing the madness helps bring some clarity, but it also helps me learn a lot more about myself. I’m pretty grateful, again, to get to work with some wickedly talented folks.
- In February, I attended Interaction09 in Vancouver, and kicked-off the inaugural “Bromantic Dinner” with Jared Spool, Todd Zaki Warfel, Will Evans and Mario Bourque. It was legendary and I was appreciative–if not in awe–of the great company and great friends that had been so helpful to me along the way while we were wrapping up the book. I also tried oysters, and really don’t think I need to do that again. I was also lucky enough to sign-up a few speakers for the IDEA Conference later in the year. I’m hopeful that some of the side/back discussions can get resolved in 2010; so many folks with the same interests at heart and on the same page, it seems like things should align…
- Throughout most of January and the first half of February, I was also scrambling to wrap up a little project I like to call “A Project Guide to UX Design” (or A Project Guide to UX Design: For user experience designers in the field or in the making). This probably would never have happened without the help of Steve Baty. Why? Because he’s in Australia and could read chapters while we slept and give us timely feedback when we woke up. Think about Australia when you write your book! Writing a book was… well, it would have been a lot easier without a baby/toddler who ended up having some pretty serious allergies to dairy products–and the doctors didn’t figure it out, we did, after an insane battery of tests that caused me to miss a few events. Beyond that, it was an awesome experience, even after chopping out pages upon pages of copy, because…
- In March, I attended–and spoke at–my very first SXSW with Sir David of Armano in what was called a “Core Conversation” on the topic of “Friendship is Dead”. Look, David was the star of that show; I just started the idea (which was initially slated for myself, David Armano, Bill DeRouchey and Matthew Milan) and his name brought us the room full of people to listen to what we had to say. I don’t have any real misinterpretation about my own draw, but I certainly saw a few familiar faces in the chairs and I’ve spent more than a little bit of time exploring our online relationships. I’d say I held my own, at least until we got to…
- Cogaoke was crazy at SXSW. It was a karaoke contest and with a little (a lot, really) of frantic entering in of CAPTCHA to vote for yours truly, I got to take the very large stage in the very packed venue and sing some Hootie & the Blowfish. Wow, was I ever mediocre, but wow, was it ever fun!
- A Project Guide to UX Design also launched while I was at SXSW. I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about how I feel we were handled as authors, especially as authors of what appears to be a fairly successful book. You might not know this, but authors do the lion’s share of the marketing–at least from my perspective. Publishers have the talent to recognize ideas and/or talent that’ll sell enough books to make a profit and they have the reach through distribution channels to help that along. For the most part, it was a lonely endeavor once we sent off the last pages and after we received our copies. Sure, there was a little hoopla and some marketing push here and there, but when you don’t know what to expect and you’ve been working closely with an editorial team for months and suddenly there’s nothing… Well, it’s a mix of emotions.
- Also in February–and I can talk about this finally–Todd Zaki Warfel and I put together a book proposal and submitted it to a couple of publishers. One publisher was very excited and spent a fair amount of time at SXSW talking to me about it, sent along a few emails about their excitement since they hadn’t published the previous book (they were interested, but the timing came in as the deal was being finalized with Peachpit) and then disappeared in a cloud of “other stuff happening”. That’s okay; it’s how it works, and I’m not bitter about it–it is what it is. Mostly, however, this proposal didn’t get any real traction until much later in the year. After SXSW was (hung)over, next up was…
- The IA Summit in beautiful Memphis, Tennessee. I was nearly a zombie after the run at SXSW the previous week, and I recall spending the afternoon in my room at The Peabody on a client call, but feeling elated that I was in one of my favorite cities in the country. The next day, my wife arrived and she got to meet everyone, hang out away from the kids and I got to be on the “Evolve or Die” panel with Gene Smith, Josh Porter & Christina Wodtke as well as give a solo presentation called “Heuristic Evaluation for the Pitch Process”. March was a blurrrrrrrr of epic proportions thanks to all of the traveling back and forth and presentationing.
- Right after the IA Summit, I got together with Todd Zaki Warfel, Fred Beecher and Will Evans to hash-out an idea that we’re going to be discussing in 2010 titled, “The Right Way to Wireframe”. I think it’s important that we put our money where our mouths are and decided to ask these fellas to step up and show our process and samples of our work and share it with the world. Fortunately, they bought off on the idea and we had a pretty nice proposal put together for a couple of conferences that has been very well received–far better than our expectations (except for CHI, which, well, whatever).
- April found Carolyn and I presenting at the Voices That Matter Conference in San Francisco. It was great to share the same space with so many other bright minds and great speakers–and frankly, intimidating to some degree, but getting to spend time hanging out with Steve Portigal, Christina Wodtke, Robert Hoekman, Jr. and a lot of the really great people at Peachpit / New Riders. Gotta be honest here: we didn’t do so hot. I like to blame it on presenting on the last day AND after Jared Spool and a flat room, but I don’t think we–or at least I–projected the energy we needed in the room. The reviews were far from great, and I took a few things away from the experience. But it was also odd, because just a few days later…
- Carolyn and I presented at the Chicago Interactive Meetup on the exact same topic and we really held the room and got really high overall remarks. Each audience is different, the energy of the speakers is different, home turf advantage, etc. Who knows? But we did a lot better and restored a bit of confidence that I was needing at this point in time.
- May came along and I had to miss the Web Strategy Summit put on by the brilliant minds at nForm. Everyone at nForm is top-notch and world-class (if not thought leaders, right? No, really…) and they completely understood when I had to back-out so we could get Avery in for some more tests to try and figure out why she wasn’t sleeping right, was fussy, stuffy, and an all around mess. I hated missing this conference and it was one of the biggest letdowns of 2009 for me. I’m hopeful that now that Miss Avery seems to be sleeping and on the right track, I’ll have another opportunity this year.
- Chicago’s UX Book Club also happened in May, featuring “A Project Guide to UX Design”. It was nice to meet somewhere that I could walk to from work, and also informally interview Abby Covert, who would be an addition to my “team” at Draftfcb. The whole event was great, and Chicago’s lucky to have Gabby Hon putting things together for us! My pal Steve Baty had started this UX Book Club thing at the tail end of 2008, and it’s done wonders for authors–I’ve attended a variety of meetings from Toronto to Minneapolis to Edmonton via Skype, and it was pretty great to be a part of. 2009 is starting off with more of these events, and it’s always a blast to get to engage with people who have an interest in the book!
- Somewhere along the way, Carolyn and I did a podcast interview with Peachpit which was a lot of fun for us, and helped get us some exposure for the book. The book also started getting positive reviews on Amazon and started making its way on a bunch of lists of books UX / IA / Designer-y types should own. It was fairly euphoric, when I wasn’t busy waiting for a horrible review to arrive and crush my already-fragile insecurities.
- June and July were just busy. Busy beyond belief. At work and on the planning front for the IDEA Conference. The IDEA team was busy wrapping up logistics, lining up speakers, planning a program, launching a website, getting registrations, making mistakes, recovering and generally propping each other up and making me realize what a great team I’d put together.
- At the end of July, I was able to bring my first employee on board. Just in time to take a much-needed vacation. Whew.
- At the end of July, I also flew out to Philadelphia during my vacation and went to the Philadelphia UX Book Club put on by Roz Duffy (@stellargirl) and hosted at the awesome offices of Happy Cog. Afterward, we had some local drinks with a bunch of folks (and I got to meet the Cavaluccis!) and then had dinner at El Vez with Kevin Hoffman, Angela Coulter, Mick & Jen Carvin, Roz…and maybe another person snuck in there that I forget? (sorry) If you’re ever in Philly, go there, and get the surf & turf tacos! Then, my pal Livia Labate picked me up and I stayed at her place and finally got to me the awesome Amelia Pousson. I got to visit the really cool Comcast Center the next day when I trailed Livia to work – that place is awesome. Finally, on the way out of town, Liv and I got to eat some true Philly Cheese Steaks (and I bagged a handful to bring home with me).
- August brought us the Agile Conference in Chicago, where Todd Zaki Warfel, Joe Sokohl, Jonathan “Yoni” Knoll and I did some pretty fun and well-received workshops on User Experience. In 3 days, we delivered our asses off. It was unreal what we pulled-off and that we were able to raise so much money for a non-profit in such a short period of time (basically, just during the closing keynote dinner). To summarize: We Ship.
- August also brought ad:tech to Chicago. It was interesting to see where ad agencies sit from the UX perspective, but also from Social Media and Mobile. Personally, I submitted 5 proposals to ad:tech in Chicago and I think a couple/few to New York, but I never heard back–not so much as a “sorry, but you were not selected” email. Instead, I emailed them and received a “we’re too busy to email everyone, but if you don’t hear from us in X days, you weren’t selected” email. Hey, it is what it is, and these are my thoughts and I’m not disparaging them nor the event, but now I have expectations moving forward, at least.
- And then something crazy happened. I went to Zappos to talk to their UX team. Brian Kalma invited me out and I got to spend about 90 minutes talking and listening to them and then I got a tour of the facilities. Visit the place yourself and take the tour and I promise you that you’ll be sold. It’s a pretty awesome place and it’s nearly impossible to NOT think about what it would be like to work with/for them, no matter how happy you are.
- Mid-September brought about the IDEA Conference. From everything I can tell, the numbers hovered around 250 attendees, the same as in 2008, but we added significantly more sponsors and managed to keep our registration the same while cutting out a few expenses. I’m a harsh critic of myself and I was fairly depressed after the event, even in light of the mostly positive feedback that we received. The conference, however, was pretty good. I think most people enjoyed it, enjoyed Toronto and left feeling pretty inspired. Matthew Milan saved my ass and stepped in as a last-minute speaker replacement and then rocked the damn house with his “Innovation Parkour” talk. Guys like Matthew make you realize how lucky you are to have great friends. But, the event wasn’t perfect, and the mistakes that were made were mine to own. There was stress and strain (and a pinched nerve to combat with that kept making my arm go numb throughout most of the summer and fall–thanks, body, for getting old on me) and I didn’t perform as well as I should have to a few folks, in particular Jeff Parks, and I’m sorry that happened and I own the mistake. At the same time, people like Yoni, Abby Covert, Brad Simpson, Mario Bourque, Denise Phillipsen, Andrew Hinton, Will Evans, Melissa Weaver and a host of others really stepped-up and helped prop me up to keep things moving along with only a few hitches. Overall, IDEA09 was a pretty big success and appears to have been the best by the numbers.
- Right after IDEA, Yoni and I worked up a few samples for how to tackle the Repeat Email Address issue. It was wild to work on something like this together–sketching ideas in IM and code and throwing them live for people from mailing lists, twitter, etc. to comment on and give us inspiration to do more. It’s great to now be able to implement some of these myself and to see them from others starting to filter out in the world. We’d love to tackle more issues like this–if you’ve got one, bring it! It’s much better than pontificating about it message after message on a mailing list, after all!
- Somewhere along the way, October snuck up on us and I became president of the Information Architecture Institute. I also started speaking to many of the founders and previous board members and I’ve learned more than I could have ever hoped about our history. The board has a great set of directors, but always a shortage of time and bandwidth. It’s interesting to me that a lot of people don’t realize that the board of directors is entirely volunteer–anything we’re able to do for the IA Institute is on our own time, after our work and personal time (or in some cases, in place of). I used to think that the board was rather cliquey when I wasn’t on it, and now I realize that we, as board members, are so infrequently able to be together in-person, that we do our best to capitalize it and catch-up talk to and see as many people as possible. What I can assure you is that we’re all approachable and we all look forward to hearing from you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of the board members, and please don’t hesitate to volunteer. Please.
- I was also fortunate enough to get to work with Leah Buley and Todd Zaki Warfel to curate the Research track of content for the 2010 IA Summit. I can safely say that we’ve got some great speakers lined up and what looks to be a great program overall.
- Out of the blue, I got a note from SXSW asking me to curate a workshop for them on Information Architecture. Yoni, of course, tells me that since I’m president of the IAI and have written a book, I could pretty much be a monkey and they’d choose me for such a task. Monkey or not, it was still pretty damn flattering. I chose 3 1-hour sessions that will be on taking place on Saturday, March 13th, 2009, and I’m pretty excited about that, too!
- November and December brought about the announcements of a few conferences for 2010, so I’ll be happily speaking at some of the primary User Experience conferences in the first quarter of next year. More on that later (different blog post).
- Unfortunately, I had to decline speaking at UPA (Usability Professionals Association) in Munich in May of 2010. It really stung to turn down the opportunity, but it’s difficult to, as a speaker / presenter, also pay for the conference on top of the airfare and hotel, which is all on top of the time that is invested for preparation. Side bar: I think that a lot of folks think that presenters (or at least, me, in this selfish case) have an easy task. For me, I generally put in around 1 hour per slide and I try to do about 1 slide per minute, depending upon the talk, etc. This is generally my time, above and beyond the day job and above and beyond the family / personal / volunteer time. Woe is me, right? That’s not what I’m trying to say–I bring this upon myself and I really, really enjoy how lucky and fortunate I am to be able to put ideas out there into the community. And it’s work–hard work. But it’s good work, if you can get it, and you can, if you put your mind to it, start to change the world through design.
- December winds down 2009, but winds up starting the big giant ball rolling that is the IDEA Conference for next year. Getting together a pretty kick-ass team, if I do say so myself.
- Throughout the entire year, I struggled to maintain a balance of work and personal time. It was challenging, but I do my best to sacrifice sleep over family time; there’s an abundance of caffeine at my disposal, but face to face time with my kids is something I’d never be able to get back, so it wasn’t an infrequent case that my office light burned late into the night and my eyes had bags under them, but it was worth it, and it is worth it every night at dinner time when we talk about the day, what we learned at school and explore the learnings of an almost-two-year-old. I’m hopeful to continue the trend for 2010 and to even amp it up a bit. I mean, by now, I should be used to this stuff, right?
- Also throughout September, October, November and December, Todd and I continued to work through our book proposal. We’ve been through multiple reviews by other professionals and have revised our proposal to the point where it actually kind of has a gleam to it. Now, we’re negotiating the contracts, but I dare say we’re so close to wrapping it up that we’ll be officially Writing A Book(tm) for Morgan Kaufmann in 2010. It’s going to be 4 glorious colors and on the topic of Research Methods. I think you’re going to like it, lots, and I say that knowing that Todd’s book, “Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide” is nothing short of amazing. I also say this because over the past year of working together from–from proposals to workshops to insane meals with top notch wines (trust me: trust Todd with your wine selections!) to contract negotiations, we find ourselves on the same page, easy to negotiate/argue with and still maintain civility and friendship. It should make for some solid book writing and new workshops and I’d say we’re pretty excited for 2010.
That took a long time to write and is officially longer than at least a couple of chapters in “A Project Guide to UX Design”. And I’m sure I left things off and forgot to mention some people (and I’m sorry if you feel missed here!). It’s been a whirlwind and I think I’m sufficiently steeled and ready for 2010. I’m nervous and excited and it’s a big year all around.
Let’s do this.