Our Newest Star Map: Smashing Conference

Marie Formica

Category: Strategy


Last month’s Smashing Conference made a lasting impression on myself and my fellow project manager, Ida Rosenthal. We learned many, many, many things. Many different things.

In an attempt to map them out into actionable lessons, we created a star map of sorts. Below are four big, star takeaways that make up the constellation of lessons NJI Media learned at Smashing Conf NYC 2014.

Constellations 1

1 – Clients are People Too

 “Be as curious about your clients as you are about your users.”
–Jesse James Garrett, Adaptive Path

Throughout the conference, we heard it often repeated that we’ll forget that clients are people, too. They have their own lives, thoughts and pressing problems. Clients are not just here to give us directions, they’re living on earth like all of us at NJI. And while that may sound a bit granola-crunching, it’s important to remember that perspective, even while in the midst of the twentieth round of edits.

“Language is fuzzy. Your client will be upset if you made a Nyan Cat when they envisioned Garfield.”
-Eva-Lotta Lamm, UX Designer

At NJI, we use many different methods of communicating how we imagine a project’s direction. We create moodboards, make animations, find examples, and have as many conversations as possible with our clients to make sure we get the essence of their vision while we’re creating our own. But sometimes, we still miss the mark by short distance. This is a good reminder for the beginning of our projects, to be very clear communicators and touch base with the client early & often.

2 – Make Data Your New Team Member

“Embrace negativity. Negative feedback is hard to take, but it is valuable. The worse it is, the more precious it is.”
-Oliver Reichenstein, Information Architects

Sometimes it’s hard to hear negative feedback, especially when we’re proud of how our work came out. But we realize the best feedback can be negative, and it’s completely inevitable in any situation. Constructive negative feedback helps us steer our creative ship clear of obstacles and continue in the right direction.

“Addressing trends going forward is wisdom.”
–Aarron Walter, MailChimp

Gathering data is essential, but it’s not the only step in the process. Once data is gathered, it must be contextualized and turned into knowledge. The most valuable thing data can do is tell a story that will lead to action. Only then will you have wisdom.

3 – The Thingy-ness of the Thing

“Making things is messy. No one wants to see the sausage being made.”
–Mark Boulton, Monotype

As beautifully as our projects look and function, sometimes it takes a bit to get them to that point. We have some of the most talented, creative people I’ve ever met, and it still takes time. Let no one tell you it’s easy to get it just right the first time.

“The ink is always wet” in the digital world.
-Jessica Hische

This succinctly describes one of the main drawbacks of developing digitally: the ink is always wet. There’s no finality or closure to how a website looks and functions, especially as our clients’ needs evolve and change.

“The Fog of Influence:” It’s difficult to make a decision when faced with too much input from Dribble, social media, and other web designers.
–Tim Brown, Adobe Typekit

NJI loves keeping up with the latest trends, but too much time on the internet can lead to information overload. Keep your perspective fresh by looking for off-beat inspiration that’s totally your own, even if it means going down roads less traveled.

4 – Finding Meaning in Your Work

“Every failure carries a message about how to improve your process. The scale of the lesson does not correlate to the scale of the failure.”
–Jesse James Garrett, Adaptive Path

It’s tough to pay attention to small mistakes, but they can hold the biggest lessons. It’s also difficult to avoid panicking at big mistakes, but they may have almost no lesson at all. If you pay attention, you’ll know which one you’re experiencing.

“The river I step in is not the river I stand in.”
–Cassie McDaniel, Mozilla

Things are constantly changing, so don’t be afraid to dive (or step) in, but don’t expect things to stay the same once you’re in. It’s the natural order of things, much like a river running it’s course, so embrace it.

“White space is as important in your life as it is in design. You can’t appreciate what you have until you can take a step back.”
–Megan Fisher, Owltastic

Who doesn’t love a good graphic design metaphor? We love whitespace in our designs, but it’s equally important in our lives. Step back, breathe, recenter, and hop back to it. Your personal life, and you professional outputs, will both become a lot better.


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