Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Notes by Southwest: Notes from 3/8/08

I've been meaning to get my notes up from South by Southwest, but wanted to do it all at once and it has taken me a while to get them out of my notebook and into a better form! So, here’s the first set, also had several sessions on 3/7, but I’ve only posted the most interesting sessions.

“Design Is In The Details”

Just the Gist

  • Little things add up to make a big difference - sum is greater than the parts
  • The little details are important
  • Take the time necessary to do something good, obsession is good
  • Be proud of your own work, you care more than anyone else will

Naz Hamid,
Art Director, Weightshift

Lives in Chicago, works with designers around the country.

View Notes

  • Little things add up to make a big difference [in a project] - or, whole is greater than sum of the parts
  • Within context of the design, does it make sense?
  • We care, listen, solve problems, and take pride in our work

Finding inspiration in design objects and destinations:

  • Hotel View NotesMax - Seattle
  • Rapha Software
  • Triax Vator 300 (Nike Design)


  1. Choices
  2. Choose simple, elegant
  3. Consistent
  4. Stay consistent, build up design on parts
  5. Completeness
    • Don’t want them to get hampered down on details [that just look wrong]
    • Get it done, done (show what you want them to see, avoid making excuses or explaining missing parts)
    • “Kellog view”/”Kellog insight”
    • All details are important
  6. Step in, step out, step back - balance
    • sometimes take a two or three day break from a design
    • What are your initial reactions when returning to a design?
  7. Be your own critic
    • Yale law school library
    • Simplify it if it’s not working
  8. Complexity in simplicity, less is more
    • Humanized site
  9. Obsession is healthy
    • Thoughts, revelations, breakthroughs
    • Waiting on a decision, let yourself think for the right answer
    • Also, don’t be afraid to act on something

Opening Remarks

Just the Gist

This was more of a conversation, so difficult to notate, but it will make a great podcast when it comes out.

  • College of knowledge vs. encyclopedic
  • More brainpower w/ collegiate vs. singular
  • Lost vs. the Wire - Media differences
  • Values applied in convergence out of work
  • “We” vs. “I” - Language of social networking - Outside in
  • Hillary vs. Obama

Henry Jenkins,
Co-Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT

Stephen Berlin Johnson,
Author, Founder of

“Blood, Sweat and Fear: Great Design Hurts”

Just the Gist

  • Design can be a present, “design for Christmas”
  • There is no barrier to entry on criticism of color or design
  • Pixel-perfect mockups, for each conversation
  • “10 to 3 to 1” - Start with ten, go to 3, then get down to 1
  • Brainstorming and “Pairing down” meetings every two weeks
  • The notion that the better a design is, the less resistance it receives is simply not true
  • Ideas matter more than talent

John Gruber,
Raconteur, Daring Fireball

Michael Lopp,
Senior Engineering Manager,
Apple, Inc.

View Notes

  • Mentos box - the little tab makes it more than just a box, helps make it more useful
  • “Design is a present”
  • Apple + present - good at giving people presents to people who live to open presents on christmas
  • “Packaging porn” - when was the last time you saw an unboxing of a Dell product posted online?
  • “Designing for christmas”

Feedback @ Apple

  • “Fear of the color blue”
    • Color is tough, it has such a low point of entry for feedback - everyone has an opinion
  • “Fear of critics”
    • No barrier to entry on feedback of art
  • “Fear of ponies”
    • Q: “What is wrong with this icon? A: Steve Jobs as approved it, so nothing is wrong with it.”
    • “I want a pony” - if people that feel like they should be hard are not heard, they will blindside you
  • “References the spirit of the company”
  • Imagination is more important than creativity

Where to Start

  • Pixel-perfect mockups, every time a conversation happens. Makes a huge difference to put all the content in, then you can talk about something real.
  • Don’t believe in lorem ipsum, better to remove ambiguity, that does take a lot of work
  • Complete feeling for entire mockup
  • 10 to 3 to 1
    • Choose 10 good versions, bring down to 3, iterate down to 1
    • A lot of room to design in
    • Ex: Cultured Code - “Things”
  • Paired design meetings
  • Brainstorm (relax, no worries)
  • Pair down > Production meeting (how it will work, insanity to reality)
  • Brainstorm/pairing down meetings every two weeks
  • The Pony Meeting
    • “The meeting for the ponies”
    • Once every two weeks, roughly, fitting with brainstorm and production meetings
    • This is where the best ideas from the other two meetings (brainstorm and production) are presented
    • They have a place to say what they want to, and just want their opinion heard
  • Unexpected discovery - design as a present

John Gruber - “The Blood”

  • Everyone involved in design can operate under the notion that the better the design, the less resistance there is - not true
  • Ex: Beatles White Album cover - it was compared to “Meet the Beatles” at the time, and less preferred, but history regards it as a great, even classic design
  • A lot of people don’t want great design, it’s uncomfortable
  • Comfort vs. quality
  • “Better” necessarily implies “different”
  • Different = scary
  • “Exactly the same, but better” = “Exactly the same, but different”, does not work

The Plea Bargain

  • Want to go with great design
  • It always means taking a chance
  • Design that's “Pretty Good” can be guaranteed
  • “Don’t try to be original, just try to be good” - Paul Rand
    • Don’t create something good by trying to be original
    • Try to be good, will be original
  • LOGO - instantly digestible, perfectly balanced
  • Example: IBM logo
  • “A logo derives it’s meaning from the quality of the thing that is symbolizes, not the other way around.”
  • Example: ABC logo
  • “I could do that” syndrome - there’s a big difference between pushing keys and writing
  • What people think of as a great design
  • Idea matters more than talent
  • Apple logo - impossibly perfect bite - “original sin” - temptation
  • Designers are expected to be clever
  • Expect something more
  • “The wig problem” - If I’m going to pay all that money, I want a lot of hair (even if it doesn’t look real)
  • Design problem - “more design”
  • UPS logo - package tied with string (also, present)
  • 2003, new logo
  • Design to stand the test of time
  • “Design is making decisions, and packaging them for the test of time” -John Gruber
  • Saying “Wrong blue” is not designing, it's giving opinion
  • Not delivering a set of decisions, it’s the design
  • Alfred Hitchcock - didn’t shoot “footage for editing” - got final cut
    • Meticulously planned out (storyboarded) his movies beforehand, the footage only fit together one way
  • Henry Ford - asked people what they want - faster horse
  • You and your design are not the same thing, be able to talk about it objectively
  • Are you willing to be called an asshole? (in order to create good work)
  • Small logo vs. big logo - correct answer: no
  • Conflict is inherent in great design
  • All great designers have reps of being assholes (another ex: Stanley Kubrick)
  • More dedicated to integrity of your work, or what people think of you?
  • No. (is the most important tool)
  • It’s the only way to achieve great design


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