Conf Recap: GigaOm Roadmap 2013

Thanks to a friend, I snagged a free pass to attend this very cool 2-day conference in downtown SF called Roadmap 2013 run by GigaOm (Om Malik’s eponymous blogging and research outfit) focused on intersections of UX & technology, with a veritable rockstar lineup from the current tech scene. One track, with lots of presentations, on-stage interviews, and even some fun robots! Below are my main takeaways and notes. Enjoy…


Gigaom collage flat mini




The event kicked off with a bang in terms of a one-by-one series of major headliner speakers!

* Robert Brunner: Head of Ammunition design and co-maestro of Beats brand/products, he itemized what he’d like to see in coming years– Smart tools (like Adobe Mighty & Napoleon concepts), Self-charging devices (ReGen concepts), Smart appliances (iPhone wake-up alarm triggers coffee maker in kitchen), Smart watch (like Pebble, and beyond with fitness operations), and Wearables that “get” fashion. 

* John Maeda: Head of RISD, great talk on art + technology = design. “Design is how we balance less and more, it’s maddening but a worthwhile pursuit.” 

* Jack Dorsey: In on-stage interview, Jack described the founding of Square in terms of philosophy and principles behind the product experience and team dynamics. Some key points: “Show, don’t tell” is main operating principle at meetings. Always show prototypes. He wanted to create a product that you’d want to use everywhere, all the time. Square isn’t just about payments, it’s the total CX journey. You have to build the entire cohesive stack without seams, to enable discovery, decisions, exchanges. “Meet our customers where they are” became the tagline. Observed Sightglass (coffee house in SF) and used that to initially drive the CX journey, designing magical moments for the merchant too. (“offline merchant” analytics, like inventory). At the office, advocates “responsible transparency”, where everyone in the co has access to all team meeting notes, no secrets. 

Couple great quotes from Jack Dorsey:

— “A company that regenerates is not dependent on one person.” (hence the all-share of notes, wide open spaces, allowing serendipitous moments, hearing stuff that changes minds, etc.)

— “Great design and engineering is breaking a complex problem into smaller simpler, sequential bits.” Takes execution and patience to deliver. 

 * Erik Spiekerman: This legendary (and hilariously curmudgeonly) type designer spoke about type design for screen, and his experiments with open source fonts via Fira for Mozilla. Said typography is not an economic engine, but for cultural and superfluous reasons. Criticized iOS 7 typography as “folly of youth”. Compared Helvetica to table salt, so ubiquitous and used to flavor something bland. About design at-large, he said: “Designing takes a degree of modest I’m not known for” ;-)  BTW, the difference between typeface and font: “You design a typeface, and you buy a font.”–the analogy is like writing a song but buying a track on iTunes. Hmm! Designers are needed to make this a nicer, easier place…and “we’re paid to make things look good”, meaning it’s a wonderful job!

* Tony Fadell (Nest CEO): I can totally see this guy arguing with Steve and Scott and Jony back at Apple! Very ebullient effusive speaker, full of energy and optimism. Just like Brunner and Dorsey he emphasized designing the “full stack”, from top to bottom. Can’t ship a product without all the pieces in full play; design is just one part. But having a great UX is the starting point, period. Raised a couple interesting points:

— “Just because things can be connected doesn’t mean they should be. You gotta reinvent devices with connection built-in.” citing his own Nest thermostat and iPhone pairing as naturally tied together for a truly connected lifestyle. 

— Described “data-driven magical moments”: Magical moments for Fadell involve finding the right balance of rational and emotional thinking, and critical moments based upon data to tell you where to add delight. For Nest, they analyzed thermostat data from customers (time of day, temps, adjustments, frequency of change, levels of change, contextual incidents like weather change, leave/enter house). See how thermostat changes shaped behaviors of users, energy consumption rates, etc. Mined the data, identified patterns. But still gotta consider the “whole lifetime of the product”, how lives in person’s life. Contextual info over time, adds to value and delight. 

 * XBOX One Creative Director: Described design process, emphasizing the “architectural” approach of building something of value. “A minimal simple statement”. The controller had to fit a wide range of hands, did over 200 models. Analyzed “grip architectures” for various thumb and hand positions for different game genres (racing, shooter, RPG, collab, etc.) Said the One is “hi-def branded hardware” with a more cohesive branding scheme that fits the simplified Metro style too. 

* Reinventing Maps for Data-rich Web: This on-stage interview featured two of Google Maps head designers/engineers. Reflected upon how in 2004 Google Maps was novel for being able to drag/pan the map directly. Now, it’s all about personalized data based upon your Google account, recommendations, friends activity. Very data-intensive approach enabling “proximity semantics”, giving you a map that ‘s just for you, and feels “alive”, adaptive to real-time data. Becomes a “canvas you care about” for your needs, not just finding a place, but living and discovering the context over time and place. According to them: “Our biggest competitor is the real world.” Big ambitions! 

* Panel: Telemtrists vs Experientialists– This was a fun panel pitting data scientists against user experience leaders. Of course it all intersects, there’s a dance of data and intuition. But one key point: “Big Data is like Big Oil–it’s raw and unrefined.” Need methods, lenses, interpretations to transform the raw data into meaningful value for decisions and experiences. Must answer the question: What are you working towards first. Then see how “big data” can help you.

* Crowdfunding panel: Fairly mundane. Few key points:

— Know the investors objectives (VC’s as well as crowd funders)
— Build a story and relationships over time
— Always remember the 4 P’s of crowd funding: passion, people, participation, perks 



Unfortunately I had to miss the morning sessions due to work commitments. However I did catch a few of the late afternoon sessions.

* Rise of the Designer Founder: Loved this very fascinating on-stage interview with Joe Gebbia of Airbnb. Very authentic and heartfelt, you can tell Joe is quite the humble/modest designer (RISD grad) with aims of reinventing the online rental experience, while making it friendly and useful around the world. Advocated the total “end-to-end” customer experience. Transformed an initial 8-step purchase process to just 3 clicks (search > listings > book it). Realized building trust with a talented team is hard work. Joe definitely gets design: he took his team to the Eames house in L.A. for inspiration. The startup process was difficult yet upbeat–He said “every rejection by an investor was an invitation to keep going” (very positive attitude, also naively curious what’s next). He saw “rejection in its purest form” when harshly told Airbnb was a “crazy idea”. Lived through it, now a hero of sorts for designer-founders.

* Emotional Design for E-commerce: Finally an all-women panel at a tech conference! #progress The conversation was around the evolution of emotional UX for “e-commerce” (wow, I haven’t heard that word used in a decade ;-) The idea isn’t enough, you gotta nail the digital experience in terms of craft and also answering customer desires/needs of fulfilling their purchase goals…while still delivering a community gateway to peers, recommendations, delightful surprises. 

* Is Software the New Black: This seems oddly titled, but basically a conversation with Samsung’s SVP of Media Solutions. Some light jabs about “copying UX” that fell flat (hinting the Apple lawsuits). Best line: “Software is the magic holding together a cross-device ecosystem. You gotta nail it.”  Hmm, sounds like something Steve Jobs would say ;-)

* Favorite UX in Tech: This fun panel capping the 2-day event surveyed various designers’ and engineers’ favorite UX examples: Square card reader, Makerbot, Uber, Amazon Prime, Automatic (a device for reading your car’s diagnostics on iPhone), Fitbit devices, Chromecast, Netflix, Rdio, Letterpress, Google Maps. 

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