I’m not sure why it’s taken so long, but after 13 years of Webstock existing, this year was the first time that I attended.

While I haven’t attended Webstock until now, I have watched many of the recordings which are usually available a few months after each event was held, and it’s been interesting to see how the event, and the industry in general has changed over the years.

None of this year’s talks were technical, and all were about the human side of the industry - topics such as ethics, personal experiences, psychology, communication, and team health.

One of the original organisers stood up on stage at the end of the event, and said it best:

13 years ago we were rallying against nested HTML tables

These are my notes from the event.

Lara Hogan - Optimising for team health: Tools and techniques of supportive teams who build successful products

  • Surgeons only became better while working at their home hospital - familiarity with team structures, processes, etc, were key in improving as surgeons.
  • Tuckman stages of group development - forming–storming–norming–performing - the cycle repeats whenever there is a change in the team such as the mission, manager, team member leaving
  • Prefrontal cortex for deep thinking, overloaded by amygdala threat/reward mechanism
  • At a high level, humans have six core needs - belonging, improvement / progress, choice, equality / fairness, predictability, significance. BICEPS ancronym
  • Desk moves have been a source of so much friction and tears because they impact our six core needs
  • Humans are really bad at giving and receiving feedback - remember to be specific and actionable. Write out the feedback that you’re planning on giving before giving it, to attempt to minimise the chance that it will trigger negative responses in the recipient’s six core needs
  • A person’s behavior might not be for the reason that it appears to be… an important part of giving feedback is learning more about the recipient, and finding out what they’re optimising for
  • Ask about preferred feedback method before ever needing to give feedback
  • Emphasised the importance of having effective retrospectives, and team charters

Lara’s speaker page on webstock.org.nz

Lara talks about many of these topics in this talk which was given last year at White October Events:

Kim Goodwin - From Design Systems to Decision Systems

  • Design hasn’t necessarily changed that much - we’re using different tools nowadays, but the underlying processes are very similar to what was being done in the 90’s. One major change is that we’ve gotten much better at business value, and focusing conversations on business impact, rather than features
  • Design decisions are in places that you maybe wouldn’t expect - the training data that you use to train a machine learning model, and company revenue model are both design decisions
  • Product decisions create the user human experience
  • People usually build products with good intentions, but end up doing dumb things because of short sightedness
  • Back in the 90’s, data was human entered, and products were about completing tasks. Over time, there has been a shift to building products that are more about influencing human behavior
  • Panasonic Human Blinkers. Yes they’re a real thing
  • Design is not inherently human centered
  • Best investment is to make human centered decisions
  • Decision system used by everybody with human centered values

Aim to move some people closer to self actualisation, without moving anybody away from it.

  • Design sometimes goes wrong such as IoT thermostats, Locks, and Lights being used for domestic abuse: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/technology/smart-home-devices-domestic-abuse.html
  • Consent must be truly voluntary, and it must be possible to withdraw consent at any time
  • Session replay example

  • Data has no moral compass. Rather than be data driven, seek to be data informed

  • Metrics focus on only one thing, whereas decisions are often multidimensional

  • Values put limits on the things that we’d consider

  • Invest at least as much time in a decision system as you do in a design system

  • Consider Nuremberg Code-like questions such as

    • Does it benefit society?
    • Is it the only way?
    • Is the risk proportional to benefit?
    • What harm is possible?
    • Is there a plan to minimize harm?

Kim’s speaker page on webstock.org.nz

Kim talks about many of these topics in this talk which was given earlier this year at inUseExp:

Raffi Krikorian - “What? So what? Now what?”

  • Invest time up front to lay down the infrastructure, so that you have a foundation to start building the product that you need
  • You can’t build great things if you’re always focused on the immediate next deadline
  • Raffi took a lot of heat splintering off a team in order to focus on the following election, rather than the immediate one

Raffi’s speaker page on webstock.org.nz

Cameron Adams - Creating a billion-dollar company with ❤

  • Worked on Google Wave
  • Back in May, 2019 Canva had their database and emails hacked
  • Make sure you verify your backups - Cameron gave an example where early in his career, he’d diligently been following the process of backing up to tape, only to find out that when a disaster happened, and he needed to restore from backup, that the tapes were empty, and the last good backup was six months old
  • Canva values: Empower others, be a force for good, pursue excellence, be a good human, make complex things simple, set crazy big goals
  • Empower others to create
  • The times when things haven’t worked have been times when there was a lack of balance
  • Sharing time together when we’re not working is key to building great company culture
  • Having in-house personal chefs has had a great positive impact on company culture - recently Canva opened a new office, and initially there was no chef. Cameron really noticed the negative effect it had on the company culture, and was glad when the chef came back!
  • Be patient, but be bold - you never know when your moment will be, but it’s important to keep trying things
  • Live your values

Cameron’s speaker page on webstock.org.nz

The return of the Zombie Apocalypse: adaptive content in the multi-device onslaught - Karen McGrane

  • People want to browse the web from a gaming system
  • People want audio interfaces a lot
  • For supporting smart speakers - semantic HTML means that there is a much higher likelihood of a decent answer to a question
  • Google glass flopped as a product for the general public, but there is a huge market for certain industries such as Google Glass safety frames on the factory floor
  • Screens are becoming cheaper and cheaper, and there is a likelihood that we’ll see them in more and more places in the future
  • Nobody thought that Toaster Printers would be a thing, but they are
  • How do you ensure that you have a fighting chance that your content will be consumable on new platforms?
    • Separate content from presentation - avoid WYSIWYG when practical
    • Prefer chunks of content over blobs
    • Invest in semantic metadata, and ways to structure your content more effectively

Kim’s speaker page on webstock.org.nz

Engaging in disability as a creative practice - Liz Jackson

  • The entire wordpress accessibility team quit during the Gutenberg rollout
  • Recommended a book by Karen McGrane called Content Strategy for Mobile
  • Lego released Braille Bricks, but their advertising was not accessible to people that are blind
  • Tack-Tiles have been around since the 80’s, but Lego made it seem like their product was a new invention
  • Hates empathy - people fight for change, then the change that happens is spun empathetically done for the people who have been fighting so long for the change
  • The marketing story behind a product isn’t necessarily the reality of what actually happened. An example of this is Good Grips “The idea behind OXO Good Grips kitchen tools came to Sam Farber while on vacation. He observed his wife Betsy, who suffered from arthritis, struggling with metal handled kitchen tools.” … Liz actually called Betsy, and found that, in reality, Betsy was the designer, and it was actually her idea
  • Some of the problems with empty are that empathy gets to create the narrative, silences the recipient, and prescribes emotions
  • Are “design thinkers” really doing the thinking, or just taking the credit? .. is “design thinking” actually more like “design questioning”?
  • Liz told a great story about a cherry blossom tree, dumped in a trash can, which she saw on her way to work one morning. I’m not sure that I can do the story justice. I’ll update this blog post with the video as soon as it’s available

Liz’s speaker page on webstock.org.nz

Some interesting content related to this talk:

Liz Jackson: Designing for Inclusivity (99U, 2018)

Seeing through the net - Wilson Miner

  • Wilson worked at Facebook in 2010
  • We give value to things when we’re giving them our attention
  • One of Facebook’s core metrics is attention
  • Humans specialise in paying close attention to one thing at a time
  • A common misconception that we experience reality, when really, what we experience is a simulation of reality based on the inputs we receive, and relating those inputs to past experiences
  • Everything that we absorb through screens is pre-packaged abstractions, where everything is noteworthy, and the effect is like a denial of service attack on our minds
  • Recommended Jenny O’Dell’s book - How to do Nothing
  • Consider the values of maintenance, presence, and life experience as it’s own highest good

Wilson’s speaker page on webstock.org.nz

Wilson Miner - When We Build - Build 2019
Jenny Odell – How to do nothing - The Conference 2017

Courtney Johnston - The joy and weight of responsibility in our working lives

Cortney is the Director of Audience and Insight at Te Papa, and spoke about some particularly challenging and nuanced topics which are facing museums and society today. This is a talk that is well worth watching, and I’m not sure that my notes would do it justice.

Fortunately, Webstock has traditionally posted videos of the talks online a few months after the event.

If you’d like me to let you know when the video of Courtney’s talk is available, please sign up to my newsletter below.

Courtney’s speaker page on webstock.org.nz

Full text and source material for Courtney’s presentation

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These are my notes from the event, from my perspective, and although I’ve tried my best to be accurate, these notes are not necessarily a complete representation of the speaker’s content.

Any questions, feedback, corrections, or anything that you’d like me to remove? Please get in touch with me directly