Every now and then, when I’m pondering a particular topic, I’ll find myself with moments of clarity that will result in me spewing forth quite a bit of somewhere.

It wasn’t here, and it should be.

It is important to note that this is not about any situation I’m in, and it’s not about any place I work. It’s about some things I observe or hear / learn about, and hopefully they’re worth sharing. Maybe they’ll help someone else out who is on their path.

Here they are:

  • If you’ve tried, tried again, and tried another time and cannot convince your org the value of design, good news! There are more who get it.
  • Your career is not worth wasting on others who don’t value you, or what you do. It may take sometime, however, opportunities exist.
  • Sometimes, the best way to solve this problem is to be the change agent by leaving the organization. 2-3 people later, they may get it.
  • Designers still have the obligation to have good faith, however, don’t mistake “collaboration” as a veil for “being used.”
  • “Collaborate with me for this image for <a thing>” isn’t collaboration; it’s design as a service.
  • “Collaborate with me on this <business thing>” is what we’re seeking. Show faith, allow true colors to shine & continue on.
  • No one person or organization is going to change the world from an artifact; it’s okay to give those away. It’s how designers solve problems that matter the most. Orgs can “Save As…” on artifacts left and right. They can’t do the same on the way designers work.
    • We see your true colors, shining through. That’s why we’ll love you. Or leave you.
  • Never judge a designer by their tenure at an organization; judge them by their ability to point themselves toward successful scenarios.
  • We’re all replaceable. Period. Employees and employers alike.
  • Loyalty is hard earned & easily lost. Take this from a guy who has decimated a bridge or 2.
  • You can judge organization like you do people: by the company they keep & perhaps not their past that was before you.
  • Everything, everyone has the chance to improve, the opportunity to find their agents of change. Be open to it, even if you’ve been burned.
  • And with that, happy Tuesday. We get to do this.

It was a happy Tuesday. I feel lucky to get to do this design stuff all the darn time.

I shared a few thoughts, and really they’re core to my own beliefs, on leadership on a social network Friday evening and received great, positive feedback. These thoughts have been rattling through my brain as I’m working on new material, refreshing myself on existing material, and continually contemplating what it means to lead.

These are things that I do believe in, and aspire to do them better.

  • Never be afraid to ask what your career path is.
    Always be concerned if you can’t get an answer.
  • If you’re a leader & you don’t consider it your job to help your team find their next job—with you or someone else—I urge you to reconsider.
  • If you’re leading, you should be extremely proud if you can help “graduate” someone to their next level. Their success *is* your success.
  • You can’t choose to lead down a path that you’re least afraid of; if you lead you’ve got an obligation to take the right path.
  • People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.
    They graduate from leaders and take what they’ve learned with them, adding & improving.

I don’t think these require more detailed explanation. The design and development community is over-flowing with opportunities; if you’re not finding the leadership that you need, you have choices. Leadership should know and understand this, as it’s their job to pulse the market and understand where their talent pool might come from and might also head toward.

I encourage you, as a leader or future leader, to consider the bullets above. I believe that others who are being led are thinking about these things, if they’re not actually motivated by them, or the hope / expectation of them.

Be the leader that other people want and deserve.


As a related-aside down a slightly different path, there’s an article on LinkedIn that I keep open in a tab as a reminder of why people leave, “What Your Employees Are Not Telling You As They Walk Out The Door” (ref: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140731223106-6618749-what-your-employees-are-not-telling-you-as-they-walk-out-the-door) and I keep this pretty fresh in my mind. This article is pretty telling, and should be a beacon in the opposite direction of the way you choose to lead.


Although it should go without saying, this is a personal blog, and these are my personal feelings. I’ve presented on the topic of leadership in design (ref: http://www.slideshare.net/runger/ux-lisbon-things-ive-learned-and-am-still-learning-from-leading-ux-designers) and have been working on a book proposal of a similar topic. These thoughts are my own and no conclusions should be drawn beyond that.

I attended An Event Apart Chicago this week, and one of the standout presentations was from Mailchimp’s Kate Kiefer Lee called “Touchy Subjects: Creating Content for Sensitive Situations” where Kate provided a lot of insight on how to approach handling copy and content in a variety of scenarios where “just writing whatever” isn’t good enough. (Not that there is ever really a case for that, however, you know what I mean!)

Here are my notes, in a pretty raw and bulleted format.

  • Sensitive topics and industries
  • health and medicine
  • money and banking
  • private information
  • fundraising
  • religion
  • politics
  • Urgent messages
  • error messages
  • downtime notifications
  • warnings and compliance alerts
  • rejection notices
  • apologies
  • Less urgent messages
  • help documents
  • customer service emails
  • contact pages
  • forms
  • unsubscribe pages
  • legal policies
  • Map Your Touchy Subjects
  • Plutchick’s wheel of emotions (?)
  • Articulating feelings
  • Needs are being met vs. Nees are not being met – Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • Map these things:
  • Content Type / Reader’s Feelings / Tone
  • William Bernbach
  • It is insight into human nature that is key to the communicator’s skill. For whereas the writer is concerned with what he puts into his writings, the…
  • Principles:
  • Be clear
  • Get to the point
  • Stay calm
  • Be serious
  • Accept responsibility
  • Be nice
  • Read Your Work Out Loud
  • Peter Elbow – Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing
  • Keeps you from sounding like a robot
  • Helps you catch typos
  • Makes you more empathetic because it puts you into a conversational mindset
  • Russ: I have Apple’s dictation tool read things out loud
  • Reader’s feelings: frustration, stress, annoyance
  • Tone: gentle, calm, serious
  • Meh: “We regret to informal you that we are unable to process this request, as the credit card you provided has expired.”
  • Meh, 2: “Oops… looks like your credit card is expired!”
  • Better: “Your credit card has expired. Please try another credit card.”
  • Reader’s feelings: frustration, stress, confusion
  • Tone: helpful, friendly, straightforward
  • Canned messages need to sound human.
  • Reader’s feelings:
  • Tone:
  • Harvest as good example
  • They bold any actions
  • CONTACT PAGES AND FORMS – You’re probably on thin ice with people if they’re reaching out to you
  • Reader’s feelings: confusion, curiosity, anticipation
  • Tone: friendly, direct, informative
  • Chick-fil-A as an example (bad)
  • Apple as an example (bad)
  • NYC website as an example (good)
  • Woot as an example (good – product page) (bad – contact page)
  • Reader’s feelings: annoyance, frustration, distraction
  • Tone: warm, understanding, honest
  • Obama campaign as an example. Allows for change of frequency, great tone, etc.
  • Romney campaign as an example. Impersonal, … pretty obvious.
  • Photojojo as an example. Very simple, provides alternatives, etc.
  • Reader’s feelings: distraction, interest, curiosity
  • Tone: direct, friendly, unobtrusive
  • Mailchimp tweet as example. Not great; they failed.
  • Charmin tweet – doesn’t see this as good example by the way the used the #Aurora hashtag, and the impersonal tone.
  • Better to just be silent than to make this about themselves
  • Reader’s feelings: apprehension, confusion, vigilance
  • Tone: serious, calm, thorough
  • Editorially as a good example – they break down content in a way that allows it to be easy to read. Available under a creative commons license.
  • Automatic and WordPress do similar with CC and terms
  • Tumblr does a nice indented summary
  • Reader’s feelings: anger, disappointment, anticipation
  • Tone: honest, warm, direct
  • NON APOLOGY: Our apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.
  • This is awful. Very passive and week. Insincere.
  • The Atlantic – Scientology advertisement apology
  • Prepare for the Worst – TEMPLATES
  • Possible content types – email, tweet, boo post, etc.
  • Apologize up front if necessary
  • Say what happens next
  • Who the message will be from
  • Who needs to sign off
  • Emergency Contact List
  • Managers and subject matter experts
  • phone and email info
  • approvals
  • legal counsel
  • Create a voice and tone guide
  • Content type / Reader’s feelings / Tone
  • Shows Mailchimp’s guide
  • Show hypothetical scenarios and examples
  • Be.Macmillan as an example – cancer support is very sensitive
  • Gov.UK as another great example with a great style guide
  • Closing Quote from Clarence Thomas
  • http://youtu.be/heQjKdHu1P4

Howdy, friends!

I’m long-winded, so I’ve got a TL;DR version for you:

  • Shay, Brad and I run Chicago Camps, which are $50 single-day events
  • This year, we’re doing Mobile Camp (April), Speaker Camp (June), Prototype Camp (August), and Sketch Camp (November)
  • We don’t want people to feel like they’re not included or considered in our events; the reality is that we have a very limited budget that we mostly exhaust on trying to add as much value as possible.
  • We haven’t frequently reached out to many people outside of Chicago because we have a tight budget, and it’s tough to ask someone to show up and foot their own bill. (it’s been offered and we’ve taken those folks up on it because it’d be silly not to!).
  • Now that you know our budget concerns, we hope you know you’re welcome to reach out to us and let us know about your ideas, or if you’ll be in town, and we’ll do our best to try to make something work out! We’d love to host all of you at a Chicago Camps event, and hope you won’t be shy about reaching out to us using the contact form at the various websites.
  • If someone else foots the bill for your expenses to get you to a Chicago Camps event and you’re a speaker, let us know–we’d be happy to talk to them about how our sponsorships work and include them in the event in some way, as well!
The Backstory

Last year, Shay Howe and I pulled together a little event called Prototype Camp on a bit of a whim/crazy idea-and-email-exchange, and we had a lot of fun doing it. We learned a lot from each other, and recognized that we wanted to do more, but needed some help, and we could probably do even more with the right mix of people, so we added Brad Simpson to the mix and became Chicago Camps, LLC, an actual formed business and everything. And we do these nifty, focused $50 events throughout the year because the topics are timely and important, and hopefully, a rising tide will help to lift all ships.

And well, here we are.

We’ve got Mobile Camp under the belt and Speaker Camp is just around the corner. Prototype Camp is already catching up to us, thanks to ticket sales that are comforting and a bit frightening all at the same time. Okay, I think I covered all the URLs.

The Dilemma

Recently, a friend reached out to me and asked me a question that I sincerely had not been prepared to answer, and has had me doing a bit of reflection on how to communicate what’s been rattling around in my brain about that brief conversation.

The question was, essentially, why are we not more inclusive of some of the talented folks in the community who likely are quite perfect for our topics?

To me, this was such an easy question to answer–I know exactly why it could appear this way. But, oh, crap, I didn’t really ever think that anyone would see a reason to call this into question. That’s what has really had this going through my brain-I know the back story, but not everyone else does–attention is at a premium and our little side project isn’t likely hitting someone’s radar until some spoke of the wheel makes a ping. Rough analogy, I know, and I’m sorry.

The Reality

The events that we put on cost $50 and we end up with a cap of 100 people. We learned this the hard way when we oversold and not everyone could watch Jared Spool give a keynote, and I felt like crap for an entire day because I had let people down, and I don’t want to see that happen again. We do our best to find sponsors for things like breakfast, lunch, and snacks so that people get a little more value for hard earned money, and their precious Saturday that they’re giving up to spend with us. This is important; we focus on trying to give back every penny spent in one way or another–food, books, software licenses, and other stuff from our sponsors. We want to be the best Event Groupon we can be (and if you’re watching, Groupon, we believe you’d make for an excellent sponsor!) in terms of providing value for your money.

Our sponsorships are pretty lean, I guess, if you went to get all popular with descriptors. We don’t try to make a lot of money off of events–in fact, if we break even on Speaker Camp, it’ll probably be a miracle; we believe in the event and supporting the community that wants to be your next round of speakers so much that we believe it’s worth it to take it on the chin a bit, and we hope that someday employers will see the value in having folks who present at events on their roster and they’ll pick up the tab for lunch. Until then, well, we’re forging on.

Back on track, Russ. Our budget is tight for our events. I do a lot of reaching out to people and asking for just about anything. Sometimes it involves cash, and a lot of times it involves those books, software licenses, webinars, event passes, t-shirts, and so on and so forth. Value!

We go after the things that make sense, and we’re getting better at the sponsorship focus. We’re continually evaluating and identifying areas that we can improve and do more for everyone. It’ll be great when we get to a point where we feel that we’ve got it nailed–but I don’t really see that point actually arriving, so we’re going to keep on trying to just get a little better each time.

The Invitation

To try and wrap up this long story, what I’m trying to get at is hopefully simple: It was pretty heartbreaking for me to think that anyone could ever feel “not invited” or “not included” and frankly, that’s the farthest from the truth.

If you’ve read this far, you know we’re a small event run by passionate people for passionate people. And along the way, we try to have some fun in the mix, too.

What we don’t have is a big conference budget. If you have some budget, or you’re going to be in Chicago and we’re having one of our events–please let us know! If you’ve got topical content, new content you want to give a try, or you’re just looking for an excuse to get our great city, we’d love to have you. We’ll do our best to at least try to get some sponsorship or budget or, hell, our own money to share a meal and drinks with you!

You’re invited! We’d love to talk to you, hear what you’re thinking, and how we can try to help. If your company is willing to offset the costs of you coming and sharing your brilliant content, we’re willing to make them a sponsor and make sure that our attendees know!

We are a Chicago-based event, but we are open to everyone, everywhere. We wish we could fly you all in to hang out with us! Maybe someday we will be able to do that, but for now, please don’t be shy! Our attendees are some of the most thoughtful, attentive, and appreciative folks you’ll ever meet–they’re hungry to learn from you, hang out with you, and drink a beer with you (did we forget to mention that we try to have a custom brew at every camp? It’s a new highlight that has gone over well!).

Thanks for letting me ramble, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to see you at a Chicago Camp!

What is Lean Startup?

  • Comes from the Lean Startup movement; it’s about build, measure, learn
  • GOOB – Get out of the Building
  • Invalidate Your Risky Assumptions
  • Go for the Minimal Viable Product (MVP)
  • Fail fast, learn fast
  • Get to the pivot

What is Lean UX?

  • Designing products for build, measure, learn (lean startup)
  • Requires 3 rules to be followed at all times
  • Get to and maintain a Shared Understanding
  • The more understanding, the less documentation
  • Deep Collaboration
  • Strong belief that ideas come from many different voices
  • Trust is essential
  • All efforts never stray far from collaborative efforts
  • Continuous Customer Feedback
  • This is the lifeblood of the team
  • Gets rid of politics
  • Turns a team outside-in

Good Patterns

  • Continuous Customer Feedback – Get out of the Building (GOOB)
  • Customer metrics drive everything
  • Think it. Build it. Ship it. Tweak it.
  • Fail Fast. Learn Fast
  • Lots of experimentation…
  • Build, Measure, Learn
  • Launching PS3 for Netflix
  • 16 different test cells
  • 2 different tech blogs were simultaneously reviewing different experiences
  • Focus was on build, measure, learn
  • HTML5 drive them to learn fast with their customers–they used HTML5 to make that possible.
  • The one that they thought would win ended up not being the one that was chosen by users

And now, Bill goes to PayPal…

  • Paypal had a roll your own culture
  • Disconnected delivery–deliver but get no data/feedback
  • Long Shelf life–takes for ever to get things out the door
  • Product managers rush to cram their features out the door because of the release cycles
  • Lots of cramming, lots of featuritis
  • Culture of a long shelf life and inward focusing; very risk averse
  • New DNA at PayPal

January 2012

  • Fleshed out UI layer that could support rapid experimentation

March 2012

  • David Marcus becomes president of PayPal
  • Hermes Project
  • Used a variant of Lean UX; doesn’t have to be religious
  • Agile running at the same time

Before Lean UX/After Lean UX

  • Bill shows screen shots that show some pretty significant differences. Things got simpler

The Anti-Patterns

  • “Some feelings got hurt by designers who create things that look like Picasso and then they sort of get dumped on my developers”

Genius Designer

  • All design emanates from an Huber Designer. Team doesn’t collaboratively participate in design/ideation
  • Solution: Keep the inspiration of genius designer but bring in others to brainstorm. Focus on MVP to test with customers immediately; critical to build team success early.
  • Everyone is a genius designer; without customer feedback you’re just getting a lot of arguing–get to the customers and get stuff resolved.

Tribal Groups

  • When a team is very small, members are forced to work across disciplines. As soon as team gets bigger, tribes reform around skills. Collaboration stops.
  • Solution: keep team reasonably small. leaders in each discipline must form a tribe that works across disciplines; keep collaboration high.


  • Lean teams will form shared understanding, however when a new “stranger” joins, we assume this hard earned understanding will just happen.
  • Solution: The team must immediately stop and initiate the newcomer. Be patient, answer questions, reset vocabulary and enjoy the new voice in the team. Get back to regular cadence.

Bad Habits

  • Teams will often make a good start by trying out new behaviors and seemingly leave old behaviors behind. Beware! Old habits will creep back in.
  • Solution: You must do it long enough and be successful long enough to ensure team members internalize the new habits. Build in checks and balances that enforce new habits.


  • With collaboration so important, it is key to believe in the process to create great products. A single naysayer can bring the team down in an instant.
  • Solution:  The naysayer must either learn new techniques or leave the team. Often they have valid concerns; channel that energy convergence time not divergent thinking.
  • Can’t be tolerated; get rid of the negative energy asap.


  • Input from outside the team is essential, however, watch out. People cycling in and out of the team can cause the same disruption that the stranger anti-pattern causes. Also know as Seagull: swoop and poop, HIPPO, etc.
  • Solution: customer trumps visitor. Take input, test early and often with customers. That is the only “visitor” that ultimately matters.

Magic Tool

  • Design and prototyping tools can accelerate ideation and design, however, be careful. Tools that empower prototyping can enable designers to work in isolation
  • Solution: Use tools as means to collaborate. Never revert to “deliver” model of design. Sketching is a real key to encouraging collaboration. Also “design in the wild” approach.
  • Might be better to encourage sketching, learning HTML5 for prototyping, and even using storyboarding to walk people through the story of what’s happening.

Going Dark

  • When a developer, product manager, or designer goes dark for more than a day (or two) the team is losing valuable collaboration.
  • Solution: Working in isolation is necessary from time to time. However, limit to short periods of time. Make work continuously visible, balance individual productivity with group creativity.

Change of Cadence

  • Change of cadence is actually a good and normal happening, however, whenever the rhythm changes, it can bring productivity down.
  • Solution: prepare the team for the change and quickly get focus and re-establish with new cadence.

Too Many Cooks

  • The work needs to be divided up among different types of cooks (Chef de cuisine, Sous-chef, Chef de partie, etc.)
  • Solution: Have clear decision makers in each discipline and have specific roles (you can also rotate these functions).

Not Enough Pizza

  • When a team suddenly scales up in size, the team is in danger of losing cadence
  • Solution:

Tower of Babel

  • Shared understand is key to lean UX. However, it is easy to assume too quickly that team members are speaking the same language.
  • Solution: Always ask “what do you mean by X?” Always ensure other disciplines understand your jargon. Spend time with customers together. Get a shared language.

You’ve Got Mail

  • Teams can revert to email over collaboration. Also geographically distributed teams can fall into delivery by email vs. Collaboration.
  • Solution: Utilize high bandwidth communication (face to face, hangouts, telepresence, magic whiteboards, etc.)

Inmates Running the Asylum

  • This is from Alan Coopers book of the same name. When engineers drive design the inmates are running the asylum
  • Solution: Front end engineers must partner with product/design


  • Not embracing the challenge of the unknown, the perfectionist will not share their work tip it is perfect. Easy for designers to fall into this trap.
  • Solution:  Share early, often, and incomplete. Feedback and appropriate critique is key.

The Wall

  • Walls between teams can happen when we allow tribes to form, we see other teams as delivery factories, etc.

Tangled Up Technology

  • Unless the technology stack is built to have a clear separation from experience and services, the lean team cannot make rapid progress. Watch out when dev teams care too much about the specific version of the UI
  • Solution:  key patterns include building services and CLIs, etc.


On April 20th at the Harrington College of Design in Chicago, we held our first Mobile Camp. We learned a lot, and had a lot of fun–and we’re pretty grateful that we get to do this type of event with and for people in Chicago, which is a great city with a pretty incredible tech scene that we love. We asked for some feedback, and we’ve heard some really great things.

I’m going to go through some of the feedback and hopefully provide some insight and/or some ideas about what we think we may do differently in the future!

The things that people loved, they really loved.

This seems a bit obvious, but it was good to hear that people enjoyed the keynotes and that a few speakers really did draw some high praise. We’re sharing this feedback with them and encouraging them to continue to speak–both at Chicago Camps and other events. This is part of why we do the events and it really is awesome to be able to see these things happen!

People really enjoyed the give-aways that we were able to provide through our excellent sponsors. We have shared that with them, as well. I don’t generally think that I’ve done the best job in the world at post-conference communication, so I’ve really tried to focus on that this time. Brad pulled together a really nice infographic-esque PDF that we sent to all of the sponsors to break down what the day was like, and it was great to hear from them that this was appreciated–and in some cases, pretty rare. We’re going to keep doing that, and keep trying to get better at it. We’re really grateful that we’re able to structure sponsorships in such a way that we can bring great things–video seminars, software licenses, books, books, and more books, breakfast, and even some water and snacks. We really try hard to make sure that we can provide your money’s worth for your ticket price, and we want to keep making that happen. If you know someone who is interested in sponsoring one of our upcoming camps, we’d love to hear from them! :-)

We also put one of these infographics together for everyone else, too. Brad did a great job pulling this stuff together and it’s on the Mobile Camp website to check out. And I’m putting it here, too:

Mobile Camp Chicago 2013 By The Numbers

The venue, well, some folks wish it was bigger.

I’m being very sincere when I say that we–and Harrington College of Design–wish the space was a little bit bigger, too! That said, Harrington is an amazing sponsor, and their sponsorship allows us to keep the ticket price at $50 without incurring a lot of risk on our part. They’re generous with us, and they’re great partners for experimenting–without them, there’s no way we would have been able to experiment (on a whim, and on the fly) with the Remote Track we had at Mobile Camp. They happily jumped right in and worked with us to allow us to line up top-notch talent in Christian Crumlish, Greg Nudelman, and Jason Cranford Teague, who were able to present from the comfort of their own location. The feedback that we hears is that this was pretty great, and people really enjoyed those talks.

We learned a lot from this, too, and there are more ideas we’re tinkering with because of it. We know there were some mistakes and challenges, so we’re going to see about doing even more cool things with that option.

We also learned from Prototype Camp 2012 that if we have anything more than 100 people, it gets pretty tight in our space, so we knowingly restrict ourselves to 100 people. At Prototype Camp, a lot of people couldn’t get into the room to see Jared Spool’s keynote and that was a miserable start to the day for me. I felt horrible, and I’d rather endure some of the upset emails about the lack of tickets than have someone miss out on part of the content. This time around, Harrington turned on a couple of projectors in their social space, and pushed the audio out there as well–you didn’t have to sit in the “main” room to enjoy the talks. It was just them tinkering around to help us out, and it was pretty cool.

Some people pointed out that we didn’t always have enough chairs in the classrooms–and we absolutely agree! We’re working with Harrington on that, too. This is also one of the reasons why we used some different rooms this time around compared to Prototype Camp, and this is part of the reason that we offer 3 rooms of talks. We want to try and prevent people from getting too crowded, and we’ll have to see how we can be a little better at trying to figure out which topics may be stronger than some of the others and try to place them in rooms accordingly. Sometimes, that feels like throwing darts, but I suspect we’ll get better at that over time.

5 minutes between sessions wasn’t enough.

No doubt. We learned that one the hard way, especially in the Remote track. We’re going to work through some of the scheduling to try and be more accommodating for future camps.

Better definition of the tracks would be useful.

This was a tough one, for me. There are a lot of things to balance when planning a schedule–from the topic balance (too much Responsive Design was a BIG concern), to topic level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), to finding the right people who are in Chicago and who have content to share, well, it gets challenging. And that is a pretty lousy excuse–we, and by we, I mean me, really need to step that up in the future, and we’re going to focus on making sure we can be more clear either in the way the tracks shape up, or how we define them. The feedback was a great reminder to renew that focus.

Some thought that a sponsored lunch would have been better than a sponsored breakfast.

We’re grateful for all of our sponsors, and this time around we simply were not able to identify a lunch sponsor to help us with that. SapientNitro not only graciously provided a generous spread, but they also gave away an iPad Mini, and we think that is a pretty fantastic sponsorship! We do realize that the Loop in Chicago gets a little empty on the weekends, and we’re fortunate enough to already have a lunch sponsor for Prototype Camp in August.

We’re all ears if there are ideas about other companies who are interested in sponsoring our meals or other aspects of the events–we’ll be revisiting our sponsorship options moving forward. Please share some additional ideas for sponsorships with us!

There were a lot of really great speakers. Some really shined brightly.

We worked with some speakers to be a sounding board for their abstracts and ideas, and we offered ourselves up for reviewing content prior to Mobile Camp. Timing didn’t always play to our favor, and some speakers have their own approach. We’re going to be a bit more proactive in the future about checking in with speakers and seeing if there is more we can do to be available to them. We’ve all got full time jobs, so this doesn’t always pan out, but there is likely more that we can do to be better stewards to our speakers and the attendees.

And! We’d also love to have more of you submit your ideas to us. We’re always going to seek out first-time presenters and help them get on stage. This type of venue is perfect for that, and our attendees are pretty over-the-top great when it comes to being supportive. If you’ve got an idea, please send it along to us so we can help you get up on stage!

Some thought it was well worth the value–and more! Others thought maybe we could have done better.

We agree! We really are proud of the value we provide, and it’s great to be able to supplement the content with nice things like complimentary water, snacks, breakfast, the give-aways, and the delicious beer, but none of those things are a replacement for quality content.

We’re going to focus on the value that we get through sponsors, but also focus on making sure we’re keeping our eyes on how the talks and the schedule balance out. We know it’s tricky, but hey, we signed up to do this thing, and we can always improve. And we want to always improve.

It was suggested that we could take and post notes, including many of the different tools, tips, etc. that were shared.

This is probably more than we can handle given our small size (3 people, not including a small band of volunteers). We can, however, do a better job of asking our speakers to post their slides to SlideShare or some other slide-sharing website so that attendees can find them. We know it would be nice if we could post notes, but we also know a lot of people attend so that they can do things like sketchnote and blog about the events later. We also would hate to miss out on notes that attendees might think are important but we overlooked–and outsourcing your own note taking seems slightly akin to outsourcing your vacation, minus all the vacation-y stuff.


That’s a lot to contend with–and we know we’ve got our work cut out for us. We hope you’ll continue to come hang out with us at our camps, and we hope to see you at Speaker Camp on June 22nd!

A Little Background:

Mobile Camp Chicago 2013On April 20th at the Harrington College of Design in Chicago, we held our first Mobile Camp. Overall, I’m thinking it was pretty successful and I’m sure that having a couple of custom beers from Jawhole/Stephen Strong didn’t really hurt the situation at all, followed by an incredible closing keynote from Samantha Starmer. Samantha showed the attendees what an excellent storyteller looks like, only better!

One of the nice things about Harrington and these inexpensive “camps” (we know “camps” is a white lie; they’re single day conferences but we keep them intentionally budget-conscious so people don’t have to sweat paying for it themselves) is that we have agreed that we’re going to experiment and stretch every time that we do them. This time, we tried pushing the audio and video of the “main” room into the social space of our floor and it was pretty cool–it has us thinking about how to improve this experience overall, and maybe do more with it so that we can lift our 100-person cap on the event, so long as it doesn’t compromise the experience for people spending their hard-earned money on us.

We also really try to promote new and new-ish presenters and help them get on stage in a pretty safe environment for a first (or new) presentation. For $50, we kind of think people will be forgiving of any gaffes on either our part or the part of presenters, and so far that’s panning out nicely.

And to the point of this post, we get to try something new, like having remote presentations. I belong to the Rosenfeld Media Consulting & Training Troupe (that “troupe” bit is a joke; but what an amazing group of super-talented professionals that I get to hang out with–if you have an opportunity to work with Rosenfeld Media, you should!) and there are a lot of smart folks there with a lot of really honed presentation skills. I threw out a nibble suggesting that we had the capability to try a few new things, including remote presenters, and it turns out that a few people thought they’d like to try and to this. We all agreed that this could suck, and that there was a risk it just wouldn’t work, and the great thing about admitting that up front is that people are willing to give it a whirl and see what they can give and get from the situation.

Christian Crumlish, Greg Nudelman, and Jason Cranford Teague all willingly threw themselves under this bus to give it a shot. Here’s what we learned:

  • Each session had some slight technical glitches–all very minor, but each session probably started 3-5 minutes behind as we either were troubleshooting or working through alternative solutions. (Part of this is that we had a dated version of Adobe Connect, frankly)
  • Despite the glitches, each presentation was very solid, and these presenters are true professionals–they were aces, so any criticism you see here has nothing to do with their performances whatsoever. If anything, seeing them remotely taught me that what they do is great regardless of the medium.
  • After the first session, with Christian, we learned that back lighting prevented us from seeing his face, so I was asking for less backlight from there. (In hindsight, I should have asked Christian to play some music on his ukelele while we were warming up and even closing out.)
  • Bandwidth was sometimes an issue–Greg had to kill his video during his session, but it helped tremendously when it came to the audio hiccups we were experience; we need to make sure both sides of the line have as fast of a connection as possible, and we need to be aware that sometimes video won’t be our best option, which is okay as long as the slides and the audio come through.
  • We learned in Jason’s session that our Adobe Connect software was dated since he couldn’t do HTML slides in the system. We resolved by quickly using a free join.me session and it worked really well. And I was able to stop sweating and let a very experienced presenter do his thing, very well.
  • The audience also wanted the presenter to know that they were there, so we switched to my Macbook Pro instead of the PC machine in the room.
  • After each session, I asked the room if they thought these talks were valuable. It was met with a resounding and very vocal “YES!” which was a great proof of concept.
  • We handled Q&A via my cell phone and muted our computer’s mic. It was okay, but we need to be better at that and we’ll figure something out for the next time.
  • I think we could probably have a better display setting for the dashboard so that we can see more of the presenter and their slides without taking away from the content. Presenters were in a small video space in the corner, and being able to see them a bit better may have helped, but I also see how that could be a bit distracting to the presenter.

Overall: This went really well. As good as I expected, if not better! And I expected some setup glitches–the hardest part for me, as host of this particular track/room, was the stress of feeling that I needed to be in that specific room the entire time in case anything went down. That was pretty tense for me, but it wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things.

I also learned not to do remote sessions back-to-back in the future; a little break helps a lot when technology is stuck in the middle. Five minutes between the sessions definitely wasn’t enough with the remote sessions. We’ll get better at this, and smarter in the future, for certain.

And finally, I learned that maybe we shouldn’t call it “Remote Track” but instead just make sure we really inform people that the presentations will be presented by brilliant people in remote locations (No one thought my “we should call it ‘Pants-less Track'” was as amusing as I did, and wisely so, I think). No one complained about this, but onsite we were a lot more aware that it maybe did not represent the room all that well as we also had some in-person presenters, too.

In summary: We’ll do it again, I’m pretty sure. It was a great experiment and we know we’ll get better at it–it also allows us to bring in great talent without forcing them to be in Chicago, and they can still share their smarts with people. It’s something that makes sense to do, especially for a smaller conference like this where we have a cap at 100 people. For larger events, I’m not sure how I’d scope that out. Moving forward, we’ll likely check how we can make these presentations more accessible to the outside world, or how we can record them for later use.

Huge thanks to Christian, Greg, Jason, and Harrington College (Andy Hullinger & Gabe Caskey) for really hanging in there with us and giving this a shot.

We had a lot of fun–and we’re looking forward to Speaker Camp–hope to see you there!

I was very fortunate to end up in the mix for SXSW Interactive this year, and very excited to get to share a presentation that I’m very passionate about. I always appreciate the opportunities to get to present things that I am passionate about to a group of people, and I am fully aware of how fortunate that I am to get to do this. This presentation means the world to me, and it’s one of those that I really hope I get to share again. At SXSW Interactive this year, I think it was a great fit and I’m still riding the high from it a week later!


I took my oldest daughter to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry over a holiday break, and the Smithsonian’s exhibit of Henson and the Muppets was one of the attractions. I bought us tickets and through our normal “getting lost in the museum” thing that we do (it is filled with SCIENCE, after all!) we stumbled into the exhibit. And that’s where it happened: my daughter did her thing–she found the activities and played, found ways to express herself in drawing, and I, well, I got lost–completely–in this wonderful set of worlds that this incredible man had created.

It was great–a lot of fun–to experience so many of the Henson creations. I was mixed with joy and sadness; I was clearly late to the game. I’ve always known about the Muppets, I watched the movies, and I was nerdy and geeky so I saw Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and, well, I knew my way around the topic, but I clearly hadn’t been paying near enough attention while Henson had been alive. The more I walked the exhibit, the more I got caught taking pictures of things that reminded me of how a lot of us in the UX community work–lots of sketching, storyboards, patterns, iterations… I was drawn in, sucked in, as entirely as a person can be. I found myself scouring Amazon for everything I could learn about Henson, searching through old book stores, Goodwill stores, old libraries–you name it–to find as much as I could to learn more about this amazing man.

Somewhere along the way, I ended up with a couple of Muppets of my own (Slide 39–and if you’re ever at FAO Schwarz in NYC near that one Apple store, well, go to the Whatnot Workshop and build one of your own, too!) and found myself drawing from the similarities of Henson’s world to my own, and hopefully to the broader world of UX. I took something that was a brief 13 minute topic at WebVisions to a full session last year at Big Design (where I was *very* lucky to have received a lot of critical feedback from Jared Spool that convinced me to not sunset the talk, but to instead revise and improve it–thanks Jared!) to a very fun presentation at this year’s SXSW.

If you happened to have been one of the people who stopped by the talk instead of hanging out with Al Gore or the “Future of Porn” presentation–thank you! I hope you had as much fun as I had giving the talk–and I really did have a lot of fun; the material is so fun to share, so fun to talk about!

If you didn’t, you can check out the slides and the audio above! I hope you enjoy this as much as I do, and I am hopeful to get to present this again!


I mentioned that I started doing this talk awhile ago, and that it has been in a rather constant state of evolution. If it hadn’t been for Jared Spool providing me with some extremely valuable critique, I would have likely sent this talk into the sunset. That all happened at a time when everything was spinning into a pretty big toilet bowl (and a bigger toilet bowl than I could have imagined at that point), and some guidance and input was sorely needed, just in general. I received critique on my talk, but a lot of it worked into other areas of my world then.

On top of that, I wisely attended the “Tweak Your Talk” workshop at SXSW; not only do I help out with those things, but I also throw myself under the bus and look for assistance with my own material, as well. I received incredibly valuable feedback from Dan Willis, Adam Polansky, Laura Creekmore, David Panarelli, and the entirety of the attendees in that session. My introduction was weak, and a comparison of the Fraggles to project teams wasn’t as well-connected as it needed to be. This group kicked me squarely in the ribs–which I asked them to do–and that got me steered in the right direction.

And it would be foolish of me to not mention Brad Nunnally. He not only served as roommate who had to listen to me talking about this talk non-stop, but he also guarded a muppet with his life, retrieved books that I had to give away and forgot about, and was a pretty superior friend throughout it all. He’s seen this talk go through its evolution more than anyone, and he still managed to show up for the session when he had every right to bow out and check out Al Gore, who likely had some fresh content.

I look forward to seeing how this continues to evolve.

The tl;dr version:

  • Don’t sign up for an account with Identity.com; they will not let you ever fully delete your information.
  • You can unlink services, and that access to information is gone to them.
  • Not letting people delete account information is a lousy practice. Avoid Identity.com.

The full version:

I signed-up for Identity.com without doing the normal read & regret of their terms and conditions and privacy policy. This, of course, is my fault, and I’ll admit to falling into the trap due to the recommendation of a friend, but that’s hardly an excuse.

I signed up. I linked a couple of services (LinkedIn, Facebook) and took a look at the interface. Neat enough, I suppose, but it didn’t really show me much that I didn’t already know about myself, so the site sat in the ether with my information.

I decided to delete my account. I visited the site, but could not find a way to accomplish this.

I contacted their Customer Support asking to delete my account, and this is the response I received:

Thank you for contacting Identity.com!

Your identity.com account is yours to keep and cannot be totally deactivated, but you can control whether other people can see your public profile. Please note that once you remove a service from your account, identity.com will no longer have access to your data from that service.

To change how others view your public profile, go to Account Settings

When you select “Only me”, only you will be able to view your public profile and all the information it contains. Your name will not appear in search results.

You will still be able to sign in to your identity.com account and view your own profile, and you can change your settings at any time.

Please let me know if I can help you further.

Mxxxxxx S
Identity Support Team Member

The bolding is mine. I’m sure the wording is carefully chosen, but if I cannot totally deactivate an account, I’m not happy.

They will also no longer have access to my data from a service that I remove–but what about all the accessed data before that? Did they store it? They don’t really say, and if I can’t totally remove an account, I don’t totally trust a company to do what’s right in this situation.

This is a poor experience for me. It’s a risk that I took, and this is, again, my fault. It’s entirely too easy to have your digital data exist everywhere, and in the hands of entities that may not have your best interests in mind, and I’m generally pretty cautious about this. My hope is that a service like Identity.com will fizzle and die before they get an opportunity to do anything malicious, but there’s no real way for me to actually know.

Buyer <ahem> beware.

Until Identity.com can update their policy in regards to accounts, I’d avoid them.

I made (was granted) the time to go to the “Keys to the Magic Kingdom Tour” so I could learn a bit more about Disney World, one of my favorite places, and Disney, the company who makes the magic. It was a really nice tour, with Sean, a fantastic tour guide who had more information tucked away inside of him than you would have thought possible. Without further delay, here are my raw, feverishly typed-out-on-my-iPhone-til-the-battery-died-iPhone notes. There are a bunch of fat-finger typos that I keep finding and correcting, and I apologize in advance if I’ve mis-typed (or mis-heard) anything that is here, and welcome corrections and additions!

  • 62k cast members. Largest on-site employer.
  • Main Street train station acts as a curtain
  • Posters are on the walls on the outside are like previews
  • Lots from movie industry; designed like shots
  • They award building windows to long term employees
  • Roy O. Disney is Walt’s brother and provided financial wizardry to get this built
  • Downtown resembles Marcelene, MO, his home town. His memory of it; not reality :-)
  • Mortimer was Mickey’s first name. Walt’s wife said no. Mickey it was.
  • Snow White cost 1.5 million to make. Made 8 million. Lots of dimes and nickels. Do some math here Russ.
  • Initially theme parks were thought of as disgusting, dirty places. Walt made fun of them in Pinocchio where the kids all turned into donkeys.
  • Walt didn’t like being able to see all the hotels etc from Disneyland. Decided if he did this again he’d make the fantasy better.
  • This is where the Epcot community/city notion came from–city of tomorrow. Infrastructure etc. cars only drive underground.
  • Add “magic” to something at Disney and you’ve got a parade; being in marketing is easy.
  • If you lived in Epcot and GE created a prototype product you could get it for free. (Example; paraphrased)
    42 square miles of land. 1/3 never to be touched as a reserve, 1/3 not yet used. Has landfills, tree farms, etc. twice the size of Manhattan.
  • Called the Grand Floridian add-on the DVC & said he’s not supposed to say
  • Walt died at 65; Roy came out of retirement to finish. Walt never saw more than swampland. Bummer.
  • No Disney family members have any influence in the company. Walls nephew, Roy’s son, had a fight with Eisner to save Disney, but that was it.
  • At the end of Walt’s life he was focused in Epcot and CalArts; trusted the Imagineers to finish it.
  • Disney was built by a man, Magic Kingdom, etc. by committee.
  • Steve Jobs was the largest shareholder for a long time
  • First day staffers spend time at Disney University and learning traditions in the park. Used to be a 2-hour session, now full day.
  • General attitude is that Disney is less strict. Growth means they need to hire more applicants.
  • In 71 had around 5500 employees. They’re always hiring. Majority of hires are college and international.
  • Growth and culture shifts have loosened the strictness.
  • Example was if they had no uniforms to fit you, you just couldn’t work that thing.
  • Until 1982 men couldn’t be your guides or in guest relations.
  • Tattoos have to covered. Rule.
  • Most internships are paid with some room and board. Some of the more advanced internships such as Imagineers are unpaid.
  • All the parks will be getting Starbucks soon
  • Disney has undercover security in the park and on the outside. If you’re anywhere in Disney in a public area you are probably on camera.
  • Obama was here this year. They had to wall off Main Street. The top of the contemporary was closed off, etc.
  • They had 36 hours to prep for Obama; an operational nightmare and lots of cancellations, etc.
    use forced-perspective to make things look and feel bigger-buildings on Main Street and the castle appear bigger than they are and farther away.
  • We have no TinkerBills (someone asked if Tinkerbell was male or female)
  • Top of castle is 189 feet
  • People get to stay in the suite–celebrities and VIPs and make a wish. Involves generous donations to charities etc.
  • They are a business first; in the 80s there were threats/fears of hostile take over and shift in how it works.
  • 2 types of cast members. Walt-people and progressive types. Some in between. Interesting discussion about how audience has changed and can’t treat us in a fake way.
  • Rides are inspected every night very thoroughly.
  • They do sensory tickles. First palm tree after the Main Street and at crystal palace. Leads you to Adventureland area.
  • Tour guide has a masters from Taiwan and can speak mandarin. Don’t judge the book by the cover.
    all volcanic rock around Swiss family Robinson tree.
  • Ground color changes as a sensory tickle for the next area while in Adventureland.
  • Theme park connection is a website to learn from
  • Enchanted tiki room is first animatronic experience. Roof is faux thatch made of aluminum
  • More sensory tickle of ground and fences as we move to the plaza
  • Pirates of Caribbean was a Walt thought of a pirate museum. Sad trombone; didn’t happen but the better experience did. Under the waterfall is actually going under the railroad tracks. Before the waterfall everyone is dead/skeletons and after its like time travel because they’re all alive.
  • More sensory tickles. Ground, lamp posts, horticultural shifts to preview next area.
  • Back stage. No photos or video here. Nothing. This is a fire-able offense for staff.
  • Warning to keep quiet so we don’t ruin it for the “little ears”
  • Talking of getting rid of the tour because of Dark Side of Disney (book) and they would sneak through and get photos, etc. fan club D23 is after these people, etc. basically, they’re jerks trying to ruin the experience/magic (my opinion)
  • Yellow sight line so characters know when they need to be performing or not.
  • Most parade rehearsals are done back stage. Real dress rehearsals are done late at night or early mornings to preserve experience.
  • Boom. We’re backstage. “Smells like six flags” says one guy. He’s right.
  • Pirates building is painted “go away green” so it blends in with local foliage.
  • Produces about 40-45% of their own energy. Methane gas from water hyacinths on a lake.
  • Splash mountain reservoir is 20 feet deep. Have 2 spare pumps in case some go out. They capture any waste etc here. Don’t use chlorine; bromine. Won’t stain clothes and has the smell. Turn off pumps and all water empties in about 45 minutes from gravity for splash mountain.
  • They don’t paint nor build what an eye can’t see.
  • Paw prints on ground in case of evacuation so kids can easily find their way out.
  • Production center holds Ll the parade floats. Inside is for night time floats. They operate on the equivalent of golf cart batteries. They all have drivers in them.
  • Sometimes the driver isn’t hidden but instead disguised or in costume.
  • Told the story of a float has a joystick. One has 2 levers for 360 control like a lawn mower.
  • Mushroom buttons allow cast members to hit them and force a stop to prevent accidents with people or debris.
  • Night time lights are basically Christmas tree lights. Every other light is a different strand to prevent full blackout.
  • Most floats built on location, but based upon cost it may be outsourced.
  • All the costumes–fur characters, etc. are done here. Security and some others may be outsourced.
  • Talking about shifts for characters to keep them cool.
  • Talking about pantomime for auditions of characters. Characters are based upon person height; “mouse group” – Mickey usually played by a woman because of height.
  • Showed a float that is 30 years old. Was a Snow White float, now a Xmas float.
  • Some floats have scents-ors that will push out smells.
  • Floats get general maintenance everyday so they don’t die on stage. Casts may spend time doing cleaning and light maintenance daily, too.
  • Face characters do their own make-up. They get trained by cosmetology team. They do half themselves as they go, they graduate by doing it themselves.
  • They’ll drain water in the canal when they know a hurricane, etc. so they can prepare.
  • Back to the park.
  • And off to lunch!
  • They have a creek they call the Little Mississippi because it divides the east and west sides.
  • Lunch at the Columbia Harbor House on the 2nd floor.
  • Chimed in about some Henson facts and have spent a lot of time talking about Jim at lunch.
  • People reveling And chuckling at how many notes I’ve taken and my battery is at 15%
  • You can request VIP tours by your guide for upto around $175 (?) hour.
  • Haunted mansion based upon the Henry Packer museum in Jim Thorpe, Virginia
  • This is the only place with blood red roses
  • Horticulture chosen to look more forlorn
  • Lawn is handcut to make it purposefully uneven
  • Tombstones are names of Imagineers who created the haunted mansion
  • Tour guide has been here 7 years
  • In California the stretch room is an elevator. Here the walls get higher.
  • They use a lot of really old parlor tricks as effects
  • Steam boat goes by and razzed the guide–loud long horn blows, mocking. Nice touch.
  • Ghosts in the ballroom – has a bunch of reflections in glass based on light flickers.
  • There is a hidden Mickey in the dining room plates. Official now; used to be just from the maids and cleaning staff.
  • Albert Hague did deep voice in the Haunted Mansion; also did Mean One Mr. Grinch, Tony the Tiger, bears, etc.
  • Graveyard has a hidden Mickey. In the crypt is a keeper, the left hand has a silhouette. When the buggy turns to the left, lean out and look to the right to see it on the crypt keeper.
  • Tour guide says tour guides are bottom of the barrel and don’t have a lot of sway/social currency.
  • New projects appear to be more skewed toward enhancing/re-vitalizing the park. Instead of adding a 5th gate; labor supply/shortage is a factor.
  • Disney Springs will be the new name for Downtown Disney.
  • First mention of Star Wars at 1p. Tour started at 9:30a.
  • Rumors are that Disneyland Paris would be the best prepared to get a Star Wars themed area.
  • Next stop: utilidors.
  • Liberty bell is cast from same mold as original but the crack they did on their own.
  • Christmas lasts about 3 months here. On November 2 all the Halloween decorations go down and 36 hours later all the Xmas decorations are up. Xmas music loop in Main Street is 30m long.
    2nd floors are used for office buildings.
  • Parking lot for parade staging.
  • In the utilidors. Mash location signs. No smoking here. Cement corridors. Incredibly underwhelming and amazing at the same time. Break rooms, offices, etc. everything is accessible down here so no one has to make holes in the park.
  • Facades on buildings are about 6 feet to allow for lighting effects, etc.
  • Roy Disney did the dedication but only after Mickey showed up; Roy felt it was a personification of Walt and made him comfortable.
  • 2 months later in December, Roy passed away. Many think he stayed alive long enough to see his brother’s dream come true.
  • When he passed away, they named a train after Roy.
  • Buggy in front of haunted mansion is a real old child’s hearse.
  • Until the late 80s all the skeletons on properties were real.
  • Showed an out-of-use Scents-or; they used to pump a “cookie dough” smell in/near a bakery to get people in and wanting fresh cookies. Andy Budd does a talk about Persuasion and how McDonald’s has done something similar.
  • Wigs – Real people get fake hair, fake people get real hair. Some of the “It’s a Small World” dolls have “yarn” hair and it grows in in the summers so they have to sometimes trim it. In the winter it may contract so it may need to be replanted. Fake hair is relatively inexpensive so they can customize wigs easily for staff. Real hair is expensive, but it goes on fake people that they know will never leave. The leg hair on some of the Pirates of the Caribbean pirates is real hair!
  • Tinkerbell – They have 5 people playing the role; 3 full time, 2 part time. Women, weighing between 95 – 105lbs. Weight and the “kick” they receive from the castle (can’t be pushed or the pusher might and up going for the ride) determine how far Tinkerbell flies. If she stops short, she’ll turn off her lights and hand-pull herself to the end of the line. 1 of the people who plays Tinkerbell is on maternity leave after having her second child.
  • Pin replacement – they have a station where staff members can replenish their pins; staff can trade / give away pins to people who collect them.
  • Executive parking – the executive parking is closest to the Magic Kingdom; right behind Main Street. Not a lot of high-end vehicles; more sensible–but nice cars (just my observation)
  • Water at Epcot – the water/pond at Epcot is filled with water from all over the world; kids were asked to bring water to pour into it