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Agile Design & UX at the Web 2.0 Expo

Last week, I had the great privilege of talking to a bunch of smart folks in NYC about some of the process stuff we’ve been thinking about at Viget, namely how design and UX fit into the agile process developers seem to dig so much.

Even though the talk was in the penultimate block of the conference, on a lazy Friday afternoon after lunch, the audience seemed to stay with it, and had some great questions and discussion afterward. Feedback has been pretty positive for the most part, so I’m hoping people took something valuable away from it.

Lots of folks have emailed, twittered, and posted elsewhere asking for the slides. While I don’t design slides for the purpose of having a take-away afterward, it’s probably useful to post them for people who did attend to help jog the memory.

More thoughts on the conference after the slides:

My slides from Design and UX in an Agile Process at the 2008 Web 2.0 Expo in New York City. These aren’t intended to make any sense whatsoever as a stand-alone, so your mileage may vary. See these on Slideshare

Of course, if you get through those and still have some questions, definitely feel free to ask. I can always be reached via email (my first name at either or, though forgive me in advance, because I might not get back to you immediately.

The Good and the Bad

I did get to see a few great talks while I was at the conference. I probably got the most out of the talks by Gentry Underwood from IDEO and Paul Hammond. The former talked about how IDEO worked through product design challenges when crafting their internal knowledge-sharing platform, and Paul talked about working through scaling and product crossroads in developing Flickr stats. It’s always great to see how smart and creative guys think, even (especially) if it’s not strictly a UX talk.

On the other hand, there were a few sessions that were disappointing. I don’t want to name any specifically, but it seems that people still fail to realize that panels are not easier to do than solo presentations. The moderator needs to be far more skillful and insightful to be able to draw from the panelists the most salient insights in the most fluid possible manner. Even panels chock-full of people who would have given great solo talks fell flat in the panel format. This is why SXSW is full of panels where each panelist gives a 10-minute presentation in lieu of an effective conversation. I think of panels like I think of framesets — usually (thought not always) the wrong tool for the job.

The Paradox of Choice

Large conferences like SXSW or the Web 2.0 Expo are strange beasts. There are loads of people, and therefore loads of sessions happening throughout the week, which usually yields a wide variety of each. I met a few really smart folks doing great work, a few somewhat un-clued folks who were talking about what they considered great work, and a lot of people falling somewhere in-between.

This presents the paradox of choice to attendees — it’s great to feel like you have options, but you’re always afraid you’ve made the wrong decision. This caused me to do a fair amount of talk-surfing, jumping from one to another, getting parts of many talks, but the full experience of relatively few.

On the flip side, such a large crowd makes people feel the need to get some attention. Everyone in that vast ocean of 5,000 people, it seemed, was pimping something that ended in “2.0,” and I almost threw up a little in my mouth a few times. People were putting eighty-three pieces of flair on their badges to let everyone know that they thought they were multi-dimensionally badass, in some kind of strange peacock mating ritual. The need for attention by attendees seemed to dilute the signal-to-noise ratio. Fortunately, I still had some great conversations with really smart folks doing great work, so the signal came through one way or another.

Thematic Tracks

On the flip-side, since the conference was tracked thematically, most people were probably in a position where they could feasibly sit in the same room the entire conference and be perfectly happy. Marketers seemed to spend most of their time in the Marketing track, developers in the Development track, and designers on the Design & UX track. I’d personally prefer a single-track with a variety of topics, to get some exposure to knowledge I might not have been thinking much about, but if you’re going to track things, a clear division like these seem to do well enough.


Rather than big long keynotes, typical of these types of events, the Web 2.0 Expo went with a format that featured a larger number of short (5-30 minute) “keynotes.” While I semantically object to the notion that you can even have multiple “keynotes” on the same day of the same conference, these short doses seemed to bring out the best in the speakers. Energy stayed high, variety was nice, and I think it worked quite well.

Next Time

I’d certainly do it again as a speaker, but I’m a bit borderline on whether or not it’d be worth going solely as an attendee. For the money, if I could find two or three different single-day events that were themselves a bit more advanced, for about the same price, that’d be best. Then again, NYC is easy to get to, and I do think I came back with at least a couple grand worth of inspiration and ideas, so maybe that’s all that matters.

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Avatar of M. Jackson Wilkinson

I'm M. Jackson Wilkinson, a technologist, designer, speaker, educator, and writer in San Francisco. I'm the Founder of Kinsights. I'm from Philadelphia, went to Bowdoin College in Maine, root for the Phillies, and love to sing.

Entry posted from Pearson Square Apartment

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