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Nuggets of wisdom from Future Insights Live

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Daniel and I flew out to Las Vegas last week to attend Future Insights Live, and proceeded to violate the city motto by bringing back some knowledge, just for you. Here we go:

It's about the client, not the user.

Paul Boag went straight for the reactionary bullet-point in his talk, but Daniel and I couldn't agree more. We trust our clients to know their business domain; while we can tell them what might or might not make sense for a user to do on a website, we're not experts on their business model and target market.

So it's a collaborative experience, of course. But it's crucial to remember that when you're working with a client, it shouldn't be a battle – you're providing a service, and you're both on the same side.

Always approach interaction challenges from the viewpoint of a persona.

Don't use the words "I", "you", or "we" when you're talking about an interaction ("I'm searching for a widget on your site") – instead, create a persona ("Bob is searching for a widget on Sharon's site") and talk through your scenario from their point of view. That way, the conversation can be about a hypothetical third party, so you and your client can be looking at the problem from the same side of the table, so to speak.

This tip came from Tyler Crowley's talk about how to pitch your startup to investors, but it applies to what we do as well, because when we talk with clients about their project, we're essentially pitching our idea to them.

You shouldn't be writing plain CSS/HTML anymore.

Seriously! When I joined Hashrocket a little over two years ago, I was given a crash course in HAML and SASS and have never looked back. Preprocessors were a recurring theme throughout the conference, from Chris Coyier's day 1 presentation to [Dan Cederholm's] day 2 walkthrough of the Dribbble design process.

So, even if you have to resort to LESS, download a preprocessor and wrap your mind around it, because it's no longer bleeding-edge – it's the standard for a strictly better markup-writing experience. (Also, I heartily recommend disregarding SCSS and moving straight to the bracket-and-semicolon-free world of pure SASS.)

Good UX balances challenge, anxiety and boredom.

I'm almost doing Leonard Souza and Sean Coulter's idea-packed talk ("Physical Architecture meets Interaction Design") an injustice here, but I'm going to specifically call out this one graphic: the flow channel. I love this thing.. It encapsulates the challenge of every interaction, from simple apps to complex video games. (Here's a related article about it if you're intrigued.)

Django is friendly.

We're obviously a Rails shop, but Jacob Kaplan-Moss gave a very personable and informative high-level overview of Django, and it definitely seems to have its own strengths. I came away with a pretty positive impression of the tech and the community as a whole.

Reviews are eliminating mediocre products more quickly than ever.

Jason Calacanis' keynote was a whirlwind of success stories, horror stories, doomsaying, and general intensity. He predicted that the feedback loop of good (or bad) reviews will continue to get more accurate and faster, knocking out mediocre products (and workers) more quickly than ever, and this will result in nationwide unemployment levels of 25% in just a few years, as middling businesses struggle to survive. It's hard to argue with him.


Especially in contrast to the madness that was SXSWi 2011, Future Insights Live was a solid experience. If I could make one wish, I'd love to see the FILive team take some cues from RailsConf and provide more in the way of tangential community events such as lightning talks & organized meetups. But hey, we came away energized, enjoyed visiting Las Vegas, and got to visit the KISS Museum / Glow-in-the-dark Minigolf Course / Wedding Chapel, so obviously I consider the trip a grand success.

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