November 7, 2013

Roadmap conference: The rise of design culture

Jack Dorsey, founder of Square, talks user experience at Roadmap (Photo by JD Lasica).

‘Think of technology as a verb, not a noun’ and more wisdom from two days of design geekery

Target audience: User experience designers, entrepreneurs, investors, educators, businesses, marketing professionals, brand managers, Web publishers, journalists.

JD LasicaJust back from my first Roadmap, a two-day conference put on by Gigaom that explored the intersection of technology and design. I came away deeply impressed by the caliber of the conversations on stage and the makeup of the attendees: UX (user experience) specialists, designers, startup founders, venture capitalists, journalists — my kind of crowd!

Here’s a Flickr photo set of the event. And here are a few of the nuggets I scribbled down during the gathering:

Highlights and takeaways from Roadmap’s speakers

• Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, said his new startup Square runs on two principles: show, don’t tell;and “responsible transparency.” One example of the latter: Whenever there’s a meeting, a staffer is responsible for taking notes and sharing them with the entire team on the company intranet (or whatever startups call it these days). That way, people know what they’ve missed and they can get involved with new initiatives that come up.

• Dorsey waxing eloquent about what we want to “paint” in the world: “It’s not about technology disappearing, or how we design or engineer things, this is what we want to use and we hope it resonates with other people. … To me, a lot of what great engineering is is taking something that’s very complex and breaking it into very simple problems that we can solve in sequence. It’s all about patience.”

“You have to forget your vanity. It should be about making the product work.”
— Erik Spiekermann

• LOVE this: “Think of technology as a verb, not a noun.” Great quote from Red Burns, who died in August after serving as chair of the Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

• More Burns: “Creativity is not the preserve of artists but an intrinsic feature of all human activity.” (When a speaker asked how many attendees had heard of Burns, I didn’t see a single hand go up.)

• The Helvetica typeface in Apple’s mobile operating system iOS7 represents “the folly of youth,” says font expert Erik Spiekermann. He called iOS7 “beautiful but not functional. You have to forget your vanity. It should be about making the product work.”

• Spiekermann explained the difference between a font and a typeface: “People design typefaces, and you buy a font. Just as you don’t buy a song, you buy an mp3.”

• The great Jeff Veen, creator of Typekit: “It’s no secret that the second result in a Google search will turn up a BitTorrent result for that font.”

• Spiekermann, waxing philosophically in response: “You write a song, but you can’t prevent people from singing it out of tune in the shower.”

“Build empathy and emotion into your products”

• Another speaker: “Build empathy and emotion into your products.”

• Look for an evolution in Google Maps over the coming years — “emotional maps” that evoke emotion and tell a story, similar to the maps drawn by the cartographers in the 15th century.

• Slide on day one: “Are you relatively sophisticated technologically? Our industry: 98%; most people: 21%.” We forget this far too often.

• The Internet of things? Within limits. “Not everything that can be connected should be connected.”

• Push notifications via SMS are “now an important part of the product design experience,” says Bret Taylor, founder of Quip, a beautiful word processing app you should check out.

• “What is design? Design is logic and thoughtfulness. Design is the things you don’t notice,” says Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, acquired by Adobe.

• Get out of office, go into the world, meet and learn from your customers, advises Joe Gebbia, co-founder and chief product officer of Airbnb.

• “Iterate and build a great team.” – GitHub designer Julie Horvath’s advice to startups.

Lots of great advice for anyone interested in design and innovation. JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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