On October 9, 2015, designers, developers, and product managers from around the U.S. came together in Philadelphia, PA to learn the stories behind some of the web’s most loved brands, products, and experiences. We listened to some of the industry’s brightest folks talk about the things they’re most passionate about. Take a look at our photo highlights, then stop back to check out the video coming soon.
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About Cap Watkins
Cap Watkins is a product designer living in Brooklyn, NY. He’s the VP of Design at BuzzFeed, as well as a blogger, conference speaker, podcast guest and lover of startups and technology. Cap believes in thoughtful, holistic design solutions that get out of the way and empower people to accomplish more. His past work includes Etsy, Zoosk, Formspring and hush-hush stuff at Amazon.
We talk a lot about design-driven organizations and user-focused design practices. But how do you get your organization bought into that in the first place? How do you convince people that starting with design is the good and right thing to do? We talked about strategies for winning hearts and minds, building trust and ultimately designing not just the product, but your entire organization.
About King Britt
King Britt’s curiosity has paved the way for the artist he is now. From creating house tunes for the legendary Strictly Rhythm, djing for Sector 6 comrades Digable Planets, starting Ovum Recordings with techno wunderkind, Josh Wink, being tapped to underscore Michael Mann’s Miami Vice and various commercials, to curating a full day at MoMA PS1 in New York, the list goes on and on. Presently, he is exploring many afro sonic possibilities with his Hyperdub released, Fhloston Paradigm project, The Phoenix, and his aural experiments with friends appear on his imprint, The Buddy System Project. King’s creativity is at a point where process meets end result. It’s the journey and not the destination. No limitations. Come join the ride.
Less is More: Social Media and the Artist
We are all vessels of divine magic. Some of us never discover what kind of magic we can make, but those that connect with their magic and make it their mission are artists.
When we are young, we don’t give a fuck about anything but what we are doing in the now. As we get older, filters distort the raw vision and we think of past and future more. We become less fearless, slaves to routine. Record labels, art galleries, museums, thieves, and other constructs seek to control artists – even King Britt – for monetary purposes. But none of these has been worse than social networks and the idea of wizards behind analytics for great control.
In this presentation, King discussed what he has done to “protect his magic” while rediscovering his inner child in the wild west of the music business.
About Dan Tello
Dan is a Sriracha-powered ex-graphic designer turned front-end dev at Viget.com who believes that every successful day starts with a plate of bacon. When not sitting with bad posture at his desk typing code, he enjoys listening to vinyl, smoking pipe tobacco, reading C.S. Lewis, and being alive in Falls Church, VA with his wife, Bekah, and his dog Maeby.
Native or Not? The Untapped Power of Web Apps
There are countless articles touting the superiority of native apps over web. “60fps,” full access to hardware, “jack free,” and so on. While these points are certainly valid, Dan Tello believes the hype has skewed the public perception of the potential power of web-based apps. Sure, we can’t access everything from the browser, but we can access a whole lot. We can design for a touchscreen, a motion sensor, geolocation, audio, audio, and general mobility – instantly accessible across platforms without needing to make room on your phone for yet another app. Through a behind-the-screens look at the Jambells.com experiment and other examples, Dan reminded us of what’s possible in a web app and took a critical look at the pros (and cons) of non-native development.
About Amritha Prasad
Amritha is currently a UX Designer at Uber and is extremely passionate about changing the way people perceive transportation and modern convenience. She’s worked on a wide variety of products at Uber over the past 2 years or so, including the Uber and Spotify integration. In her spare time she enjoys reading modern fiction over brunch, watching Bollywood films, and hanging out with the Uber design team.
Raising the Bar Through Collaborative Design Techniques
There was one a time when people were wowed by the idea of simply being able to hail a driver by tapping a button on their phones. However, as Uber continues to grow and evolve, everything the team designs and builds quickly becomes the norm. Designers at Uber are continually challenged to “raise the bar” and elevate transportation in ways that people never thought was possible. As the design lead of the API and partnerships team, Amritha Prasad sees it as her responsibility to bring the creative spark and take partner product integrations beyond the expected solution set. During her presentation, Amritha talked through different collaborative sketching and brainstorming techniques she has applied on projects at Uber.
About Michael Lebowitz
Michael is Founder and CEO of Big Spaceship, a globally-recognized digital creative agency. Since launching the agency in 2000, he has defined the strategy and vision for their growth and culture, and worked closely with their clients. Michael has led Big Spaceship to attain countless awards of high distinction and established himself as an industry thought leader. Speaking on creativity, innovation and the evolution of business, Michael leads seminars across the globe and has engaged audiences at AIGA, Cannes, SXSW and ad:tech, to name a few. Michael is a member of P&G’s Design Advisory Board, the Chairman of the IAB Agency Advisory Board and is one of the founders of SoDA.
The Age of How
Tech is accelerating us and our culture forward at an exponential pace, but many creative companies are still focusing on the same questions and solutions of decades past. In this session, Big Spaceship CEO Michael Lebowitz talked about an evolved approach to creativity centered on “how.” From the “Philosophical How” that addressed how to exist in today’s culture created by tech. To the “Organizational How” that dove into organizational models and how to construct a framework that is build for now, sans creative silos. And lastly, the “Practical How,” which covered how to move nimbly and learn as you go in an effort to identify and harness the right, creative inputs and outputs.
About Zander Brimijoin
Zander Brimijoin is Creative Director and Co Founder of Red Paper Heart, an interactive art studio in Brooklyn. After over 10 years as an Art Director, and an MFA to boot, Zander left his career to combine art, technology... and bears. The result was Red Paper Heart, a studio that has created large scale installations for likes of Sonos, Red Bull Studios, BMWi, MOMI, and Google. Zander makes people run, jump, and maybe even find unexpected joy in life.
The Art of Messing with People
Why can’t a sword be used to create an art piece? What if spirit animals followed you on a bike ride? Shouldn’t a pool light up with animations when you jump in? At the Red Paper Heart studio, these are the odd questions the team asks each other – and they are about playing with users’ expectations of physical objects. At Forge Conference, we entered the transformative world of interactive installations. Responsive technology can redefine the rules for even the simplest of objects by changing their function. Deftly alternating between gratifying and confounding deep-seated expectations can create surprising moments of delight. In this session, Zander talked about swords, music boxes and how they created surprisingly immersive art installations with them. And why cats can’t hold swords.
Leveraging Community to Build Great Products
Nickey Skarstad is a Group Product Manager on Etsy's Shop Management team. She’s worked with Etsy sellers for over five years helping to build the tools that power their creative businesses. On the weekends, you can usually find her biking around Brooklyn or flying home to Minnesota to sharpen her waning midwestern accent.
About Nickey Skarstad
Etsy’s heart and soul is its community. It is the people who power the marketplace. So how do we make sure that when we build products for our customers, it’s to their advantage? As the Group Product Manager of Shop Management, Nickey Skarstad shared Etsy’s people-powered development process. She talked about Etsy’s unique prototyping process, discussed the ways in which they collect and apply customer feedback, and shared different strategies to help your users accept and even embrace change. In her talk, Nickey backed up her learnings with a range of real Etsy examples, shared how they have leveraged community through the product development process, and set us packing feeling empowered to work with our own communities to create new products.
About Renda Morton
My name is Renda Morton and I write my bios in the first person. I’m a Product Design Director at The New York Times, where I’ve been working on a redesign of NYTimes.com. Previously, I founded and ran a small, multi-disciplinary design studio called Rumors. Before moving to New York ten years ago, I worked on physical interactive media at a design studio called Lust in The Hauge, Netherlands. I have BFA in Interactive Media from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Please Check Back as This Story Develops
The digital design team at The New York Times is re-thinking what news is and how it works. In this talk, Renda took us behind-the-scenes of the design and product development process behind The New York Times. She also talked about what it means to find what’s new, important, or interesting to you, dear reader, and how that’s transforming a 164-year-old institution.
About Judd Antin
Judd Antin is a social psychologist and Head of Insights at Airbnb. Prior to joining Airbnb in May 2015, Judd was Research Manager at Facebook, where he led research teams working on products such as News Feed, Groups, Feed Ads, and Photos. Also the co-founder of a relatively short-lived crowdsourcing start-up and a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, Judd’s diverse experiences have helped him appreciate the value of multiple perspectives when building great products. Judd completed his Ph.D. in Information Management & Systems at the School of Information at UC Berkeley in 2010. In 2011 Judd was named one of MIT Technology Review’s top 35 innovators under 35 (TR35).
Your Data Are Wrong: The Hype and Reality of Big Data
Big data is powerful, but it can also lead us astray. The big data hype of recent years hasn’t allowed for its weaknesses, to our peril as researchers and designers seeking to build great experiences. In practice all data are limited. Every method is weak and strong. Judd Antin drew from his experiences at Yahoo!, Facebook, and now at Airbnb as Head of Experience Research to present a practical view on small data, big data, and all the data in between. He shared examples and a playbook that centers on questions like: How does our data represent? Where is it blind? Where is it deep, where is it wide? Judd aimed to leave us with an appreciation for holistic thinking about research and design, and a deep-seated fear of myopia, over-generalization, confirmation bias, and unexplained statistical models. And he did.
About Natalie Be’er
Natalie Be’er is a Senior Interaction Designer at Huge, where she is responsible for producing work that is usable, intuitive, and intelligent. Her passion for cross-discipline collaborations has led her to focus on technology, interaction design, and user experience. Prior to Huge, Natalie was an Interaction Designer at Noise, translating business problems into best possible user experiences. Natalie received a BA in Sociology and Studio Art from the University of Mary Washington, and an MPS from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.
The Homepage is Dead: Designing for Content and Functionality
When browsing the web, users are directly linked to content through various channels, such as social media sites, search results, and email newsletters. With traffic driving straight to the content, website homepages are usually bypassed altogether. So why do designers still focus on the homepage experience first? In this presentation, Natalie Be’er, Senior Interaction Designer at Huge, discussed the steps UX designers need to take to get to the post-homepage era design. Be’er briefly examined the history of the homepage and illustrated how she works with clients to produce the best content experiences for users.
About Lis Pardi
Lis is an information architect, usability researcher, and interaction designer at Digitas Health. She has an MS in Library and Information Science from Simmons College and has worked on interfaces for health care, games, retailers, and research databases. She lives in Philadelphia, where she is chair of PhillyCHI, the city’s UX community.
In Defense of the Floppy Disk: The Vocabulary of the Interface
At least once a week we see someone say we should retire the save icon. They don’t base this on fact, just on their opinion that the icon’s time has passed. But aren’t you curious if that’s true? Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask high school and college students if they understand its meaning?
Lis did. She surveyed nearly 700 people under 25 about common icons – many of which reference technology that was obsolete before they were born. And beyond figuring out the save icon’s fate, Lis learned a lot of other interesting things from this exercise.
We know words have meaning, but sometimes we forget that our visual vocabulary carries weight, too. We also think of icons as the designers’ domain, but when they are accompanied by words or replacing words, they become ours.
2015 Conference Recap
Home to America’s original makers, Philadelphia has tons of great people, meetups, and groups, but Forge Conference is the flagship event for those making an impact in the digital space. In 2015, the conference brought together extraordinary speakers and practitioners in user experience, design, and digital product management from around the country. There was an intimacy to the event and to the talks, which were focused on sharing stories and lessons learned from some of the most talented and passionate people in the industry.
Attendees brought their curiosity, along with their appetites for good food and a good time, because Forge Conference was much more than just a conference.