I'm David Little, a user experience researcher and designer

What do you do?

Posted: January 21, 2012

What was the best thing about this year’s New Adventures in Web Design conference? It’s pretty hard to decide: the speakers entertained and inspired, the organisation was superb and I was reminded just how cool it is to be a designer. But, if I had to pick a highlight? Lack of Wi-fi. Yes, no Wi-fi; unless you really needed it that is. I didn’t take any photos, I didn’t Tweet, I didn’t even turn on my laptop. I concentrated more on the presentations, engaged and learned. Seriously, lack of Wi-fi at conferences should be seen as a feature not a bug.

The lack of network connectivity fitted in quite nicely with themes of two of the presentations. Robbie Manson‘s “The Mindful Designer” encouraged us to step away from our tools, think better and make the most of the teams we work in; think “positive disruptions” rather than the negative ones like the constant interrupting communication flow of Tweets, emails and RSS.

Denise Jacobs delved deeper into this, explaining via a story the different mental states we experience. As someone who’s been interested in the benefits of meditation for the past year or so  it was pretty cool to see them being discussed (or at least alluded to) in a mainstream design conference. The brain’s “alpha” states are associated with increased learning, greater creativity and flow. Simply closing your eyes will start the process of entering this state. Playfulness triggers the right side of the brain; gamma states are associated with insights– these can be triggered by laughter. So, according to Denise: to get your creative groove back, breathe, play, laugh. Sounds alright to me.

The conference kicked off with Dan Mall asking us to explain what we do. This set the tone for the rest of the day, getting us to think about exactly what design is: “adding form to a shapeless idea”, mending what’s broken (Naomi Atkinson), making interesting and exciting stuff–after, ahem, loosening the f up  (Travis Schmeisser), making things better (Trent Walton), eliciting emotion, inducing action and affecting change (Cameron Koczon) or getting from A to B (Frank Chimero).

If any common themes did emerge I think they could basically be summarised as:

  • just make stuff–you don’t need a startup and you don’t need to make anything perfect (and let’s face it there’s nothing like a bout of IE7 CSS fixes to kill the excitement of an idea);
  • give back–as designers we’re in a privileged position to get involved and help out our local communities, education or health service (although they were some murmurings of this veering dangerously towards “Big Society” territory).
  • teams are good–make the most of the people around you, whether this is your co-workers or the design community.
  • Now is a good time for design and design-led startups.

So, turn off the Twitter feed for a moment and think: what do you do?

[Featured image credit: NACONF2012 by Paul Robert Lloyd on Flickr].

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