SXSWi Panel: Ordering Disorder with Grids

It’s been more than a week since South By Southwest Interactive ended, and now that I’m finally back into a routine, I wanted to share some of the amazing stuff I learned through the conference.  I’ll be posting a new one each day this week.

Today’s topic: Ordering Disorder: Grid Design for the New World, presented by Khoi Vinh, Design Director for The New York Times.

I didn’t take notes during this presentation because I walked in late and it was crazy crowded — plus, I had trouble mentally focusing on the topic until it was halfway through, but I wanted to make mention of this presentation because I have been using grids in my designs since first learning about them several years ago.

Vihn, who wrote a book titled “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design”, really interested me when he began showing examples of how he used a grid to solve problems with a design.

I had read numerous sources about grid principles, but actually seeing someone walk through the steps kind of made it click for me.  It’s not about trying to make things adhere to the grid.  It’s about playing with columns and units to create a cohesive unit that works.

But using grids takes practice.  It doesn’t come overnight (unless you’re a web design genius, I suppose).  And we’re all working to improve our skills.  I think I’ll invest in Vihn’s book since I really enjoyed his presentation, but there is information about grid-based design all over the web from sources I trust:

I highly recommend checking out the possibilities of grids when designing.  They can really help you create some beautiful and elegant designs.  Good luck!

SXSWi Panel: Steve Krug Explains It All For You

It’s been more than a week since South By Southwest Interactive ended, and now that I’m finally back into a routine, I wanted to share some of the amazing stuff I learned through the conference.  I’ll be posting a new one each day this week.

Today’s topic: Steve Krug Explains It All For You, presented by Steve Krug.  The audio of the presentation is available at the above link, and I highly recommend listening, because Krug is another really funny presenter.  I mean, he managed to keep me there all the way to the end of the last panel of the last day.  That’s sayin’ something!

Krug wrote a book that I found incredibly useful: “Don’t Make Me Think” which is all about usability.  He also wrote “Rocket Surgery Made Useful.”

The crux of Krug’s talk was that all sites have serious usability problems, and that, while they are easy to find, you don’t have the resources to fix them.  But thanks to do-it-yourself usability testing done throughout the development process, you can save money, time and identify major problems early.

Krug went through the steps of how to do an effective usability test — ideally performed monthly — by testing the SXSW site (hilarious).

A demo of such a test can be found on his website at

Take aways:

  • Keep yourself out of the test
  • Identify the top 3 usability problems and work on those
  • Perform small sample testing routinely (and don’t get stuck trying to find people that are part of your target market)


  • Test competitors
  • Focus routinely on a small number of the most important problems and when fixing, always do the least you can do.


SXSWi Panel: Designing Ideas, Not Objects

It’s been more than a week since South By Southwest Interactive ended, and now that I’m finally back into a routine, I wanted to share some of the amazing stuff I learned through the conference.  I’ll be posting a new one each day this week.

Today’s topic: Designing Ideas, Not Objects, presented by Robert Brunner, Industrial Designer for Ammunition.  Audio from the talk is available through the link above.  He had some awesome visuals to go along with the presentation, and hopefully the video will be available in the coming months.

I didn’t take as many notes through this talk, because it was all about the visuals and the examples Brunner (love his name) gave.

Basically, all that matters is your passion — that you care.

What matters:

  • Think ideas, not objects
  • No one believes your stories anymore (i.e., it doesn’t work to wrap a story around a bad idea)
  • Branding is dead
    It’s not a log or ads or the product.  It’s a gut feeling about a product or company.  And you can’t control it.

Brunner also talked about the path of taking a product from usable to useful to desirable, and why innovation stems directly from risk.

Brunner wrote a book called “Do You Matter?  How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Your Company” which goes into more detail about the theories in this talk, but again, the visuals and examples were key to this talk, so check back on SXSWi’s site for those.

SXSWi Panel: Sustaining Passionate Users

It’s been a week since South By Southwest Interactive ended, and now that I’m finally back into a routine, I wanted to share some of the amazing stuff I learned through the conference.  I’ll be posting a new one each day this week.

Today’s topic: Sustaining Passionate Users, presented by Stephen P. Anderson.

There was a lot of talk this year about gameification.  There are a number of people who believe that turning applications into games will motivate users to buy products or make lifestyle choices.  In this talk, Anderson posed the question — how do we get people to stay in love with our products/services?

Basically, the answer is by sustaining users through delightful challenges that foster intrinsic motivation before extrinsic.  That means — games are fine, but they end.  There has to be something else inside.

Anderson explained that play and challenges have to be at the core of whatever you develop, because learning challenges lead to mastery.  He used teacher attitudes as an example — that if a teacher presents material with the belief that it’s interesting (rather than sugar-coating it), students are more likely to want to learn it.  (This is the kind of stuff that’s innate at my son’s school — we’re so lucky!)

Once you have the challenge, you present another intrinsic motivation — choices and conflicts, such as limited duration and competition.  Then you build in feedback loops, which are the secret to changing human behavior.  Plus, attaching a measure to anything turns it into a game.

And finally, you introduce goals and rewards — the extrinsic motivation — like badges and points.  The sugar coating!

But it can’t just be a game.  You have to do more than delight.  It must:

  • Be reliable
  • Be easy to use
  • Be affordable

You have to provide a service that is trustworthy and of value.


  • Look for the game that’s already there
  • Focus on intrinsic motivators

SXSWi Panel: Anatomy of a Design Decision

It’s been a week since South By Southwest Interactive ended, and now that I’m finally back into a routine, I wanted to share some of the amazing stuff I learned through the conference.  I’ll be posting a new one each day this week.

Today’s topic: Anatomy of a Design Decision, presented by Jared M. Spool.  The audio of the presentation is available and I HIGHLY recommend listening, because the guy is freakin’ HILARIOUS.  Seriously.  My friend Richard, who has about zero interest in design, tagged along and thought Spool was an awesome speaker.

My notes can not possibly translate how entertaining this was, but I’ll attempt to boil it down to the nitty-gritty.

Basically, there are 5 different design decision styles. They all have their place, but some are more desirable than others.

  1. Unintentional design
    This is what you get when the design happens on its own.
    It works when users put up with whatever you give them and developers don’t care about support costs or the pain from frustration.
  2. Self design
    This is when you design for yourself.
    It works when your users are just like you and you regularly use the design like your users.
  3. Genius design
    Designing when you’ve previously learned what the users need (you know what works)
    It works when you already understand their knowledge, experiences and problems.
  4. Activity-focused design
    Designing something you’ve never designed before that researches the users and their activities
  5. Experience-focused design
    This goes beyond just looking at the user’s activities and seeks to fill the gaps in between the activities for the entire user experience.  It’s the highest level of design.

Design decision also come in one of two flavors.

Rule-based vs. Informed

Rule-based (style guides, etc.) prevents thinking, so it fails on exception cases and NEVER WORKS!

Informed decisions require thinking and works with both normal and exception cases.  It uses techniques and tricks to build a better design, rather than methodology or dogma.


  • Every style has its its purpose
  • Great designers know which style they’re using
  • Great designers use the same style for the entire project
  • Great teams ensure everyone uses the same style (No “swoop and poop!” from the CEO)

He asked the audience what kind of design we wanted to create?  Of course I want to be an experience-focused designer, but it will take practice and lots of research.  No time like the present to get started!

SXSWi Panel: Conserve Code with Storyboarding

It’s been a week since South By Southwest Interactive ended, and now that I’m finally back into a routine, I wanted to share some of the amazing stuff I learned through the conference.  I’ll be posting a new one each day this week.

Today’s topic: Conserve Code: Storyboard experiences with Customers First, presented by Joseph O’ Sullivan and Rachel Evans from Intuit.  Once again, audio is posted at the above link, but here are my notes.

I gleaned a lot from this presentation thanks to the skill of the speakers (not boring) and practice (we all got some paper and there was time built in to put some of what they were saying to use).

So what is a storyboard?  It’s a quick illustration to understand the context of use of a product.

Intuit apparently uses it for just about everything — from web and mobile applications to internal human resources.  O’ Sullivan and Evans say storyboards:

  • Can identify the real need before a lot of time is spent building a product
  • Can encourage more honest feedback because the designs are crude. (Customers don’t think they’re hurting your feelings)
  • Let you do more experimentation and drafts because they can be thrown away.

There are three parts to a storyboard

  • Problem — What can you learn?  Do you understand the problem?  Is it important?
  • Solution — Does it solve the problem completely?
  • Benefit — What is good about the solution for the customer?  Will it delight them?

First you make out a script based on that structure. Then you draw up the visuals — the cruder the better! After that, you have to learn from your storyboard, so you show it to people and ask for feedback.  The goal is to gather as much feedback as possible.  Who knows?  You may not have discovered the right benefit.  You may even have misidentified the problem!

I walked away really inspired to use storyboards from now on.  I have a bunch of ideas buzzing around my head for different applications.  Time to test them out!

SXSWi Panel: Making Money with WordPress

It’s been a week since South By Southwest Interactive ended, and now that I’m finally back into a routine, I wanted to share some of the amazing stuff I learned through the conference.  I’ll be posting a new one each day this week.

Today’s topic really appealed to me: Making Money with WordPress.  It was presented by Shane Pearlman, CEO Shane & Peter Inc, Alex King, founder of Crowd Favorite, Brandon Jones, Creative Director of Epic Era Studio, and Sonia Simone, CMO of Copyblogger Media.

I’m moving more and more toward WordPress development, as I mentioned in my post about the Interview with Matt Mullenweg of WordPress/Auttomatic, so I really wanted to hear more.

What’s absolutely fabulous is that the folks at SXSWi have already posted audio from the presentation at the above link.  If you don’t feel like listening to it, here are some of the main points I took away.

If you’re a developer:

  • Consider making and selling WordPress themes.
    Wordpress is open-source and you can learn to use it through the tutorials on the WP Codex.
  • Consider starting out by selling themes through a marketplace like ThemeForest, which takes a large cut of the profits but drives marketing and protects the author from support issues.
  • Also consider child themes, which are built on existing code.
  • If you build themes, be sure you know your users and look for niches.  Ask clients what they’re looking for and develop it.

“Content is education and personality” — Sonia Simone

If you want to make money off of the content in your WordPress blog:

  • Make sure your content doesn’t suck.
    Your content should teach something that people actually want to learn and have personality so readers don’t drown in information.
  • Keep your site secure so readers won’t be turned off if you are hacked. will monitor your site for malware/hacks
  • Get a theme with clean code for search engine optimization (some free themes have crap code).

And here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t sell stuff to broke people — i.e. a market not willing to pay for what you’re selling.
    Customers have to have money and also find value in your product.
  • Not define your end product and expectations.
  • Be impatient.
    Content or themes won’t make you money in 6 months.  It doesn’t happen right away — just wait for it.

What’s a nursing mom to do?

Cindy holds Madeline right after her birthWould you eat dinner that was cooked in a public bathroom?

How about a fried egg after someone just flushed a toilet? Or maybe a sandwich?

Most people would give a resounding “NO” to that question. It’s gross, right? And yet that’s what people expect babies to put up with when it’s chow time and their mom doesn’t feel like hiking up her shirt in front of thousands of people.

In Texas, nursing moms are legally allowed to feed their babies in any public place.

Unfortunately for me when I attended SXSWi, I did not have my baby with me.  It probably would have been easier had she been with me.  Then I might not have dealt with what I did.

I took my breast pump with me to the conference each day (I live in Austin), and when I arrived on day 1, I asked at the info booth if there was a room where I could sit and pump — not a bathroom, because that’s gross.  Using a breast pump is not very discreet, and it sounds like a milking machine.  I did not want to be out in a hallway.

They were very nice, asked a lot of people, then sent me to another info booth when they couldn’t find the answer.  Same thing at the next info booth — very nice and understanding, and told me a room was available beginning on Saturday at noon.  They even told me where it would be — Mezzanine 2 in the Convention Center.

Cool.  I was jazzed.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t true.  On Saturday at noon, I trooped up to Mezzanine 2 to find a door that said it was under “lockdown,” and watched a staffer walk in.  I glanced inside for a moment to see several people staring at computer screens.  Dumbfounded, I searched out an info desk again to ask.

Again, the volunteers were very nice, but they couldn’t find the answer.  One even offered to walk with me back up to the room to ask what was going on.  Inside, we found a very busy SXSW production room with staffers who had no idea what I was asking about.  One staffer offered to find out.  He called and then ran down to find someone who could answer my question — was there a room where I could pump in private?

The answer: No.  Apparently there had been a room in 2010, but not this year.  And then the staffer told me he knew of a one-room handicapped bathroom where I could pump.

“Is that OK?” he asked.

“Do I have a choice?” I replied.

I was angry.  I was annoyed.  I had wasted so much time and missed a panel session in search of this phantom room.  I tweeted my frustration:

Dear #sxswi: really? No room for nursing moms? I have to use a bathroom? You suck. Really. Thanks.

Then, after fighting through a crowd to find the bathroom, I discovered it was locked:

So the “single” bathroom I was directed to is locked and no sound inside. Hmmm… Stall or car? #thissucks #sxswi

And that’s when I went to my car.

My friends tweeted about my experience, and I even talked to a SXSW staffer at the Digital Moms Meetup who seemed very sympathetic to my predicament.  The next day I got this response:

@cindybrummer Not sure who you talked to, but we very much support breastfeeding in public here at SXSW. (Many (cont)

I felt embarrassed when I saw it.  Had I really thought they were keeping me from doing my thing?  I just wanted to crawl in a hole.  But then, later that day, as I made the trek to my car — in the heat — to pump, I started to wonder whether SXSWi misunderstood what I was asking for.  So I sent a direct message — since that seemed to be the only way to get a response.

sxsw: So, is there going to be a room available for me to use my breast pump? I’d like to not use my car mon and tues…


I heard nothing.  I took it as a huge no, and I quietly went about my business.  I made it work in my car, trying not to feel entitled to a precious room, but still feeling the sting that some mother last year was allowed privacy to nurse or pump in air conditioning.

I tried to be positive — at least I was parked close by.  And at least I only had to miss two panels a day.  And at least I didn’t have to lug around my pump.  Still, I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had taken the MetroRail instead of driven.  I guess I would have used a bathroom stall.


Should I have made a bigger fuss?  That’s not really me.  I didn’t want to go to bat over a breast pump.  And I don’t want people to think I felt like SXSWi should have set aside a giant room just for me.  But it steams me the amount of conflicting information I received and how much time I wasted trying to seek out that information.  If I had learned on Friday that there would be no room, I would have been disappointed and moved on, rather than spending so much time getting to the bottom of it.  And yes, it sucks that last year there was a room, but not this year.

It won’t be a problem for me for SXSWi 2012.  I don’t plan on breastfeeding that long, but if you’re a nursing mom who’s planning to go — be aware!  If you’re like me and you like being discreet, it might be easier for you to just bring your baby.

SXSWi panel: Interview with Matt Mullenweg

South by Southwest Interactive kicked off Friday with a bang!  On entering the Austin Convention Center, there was an excitement in the air that seemed to raise the hair on my arms.  Goose bumps!

It’s amazing to see so many people excited by their work and by meeting new people and being a part of innovation and technology.  I remember being incredibly inspired at SXSWi 2010, and after getting a taste today, I know I’ll walk away inspired again this year.

I was pretty disappointed by the first panel (at 2pm) — How not to Design Like  Developer (#betterdesign).  It was unfocused.  It didn’t inform me much.  I expected better.

But I was totally excited by the interview with Matt Mullenweg of Automattic/Wordpress (#sxswwp).  I’ve really moved into designing for WordPress over the last year.  And I’ve been using WordPress more and more as a CMS, rather than just a blog — which seems to be the way WordPress development is heading.

And Matt talked about that — when at it’s best, WordPress is invisible.  It’s a tool.

Currently, he says 12% of the Internet is using WordPress.  That’s pretty impressive, and for those people who say blogging is dead — it’s just not true, according to Mullenweg.  WordPress adds a new blog every 2 seconds.

I could tell that Mullenweg admires the power of Twitter and up-and-comer Tumblr.  Twitter — for taking mobile seriously — and Tumblr — for it’s simplicity and great design.

And while there was a lot of talk about WordPress’ business model and how it works, what I took away about the future of WordPress is that it will continue to be an open source platform that focuses on a user-centric model (offering products that users find valuable and want to pay for) rather than and advertiser-centric model (relaying on ads for revenue), although some ads are necessary.

WordPress 3.1 was just rolled out along with a couple of major products for .com and .org users, so work hasn’t yet begun on the next version.  But Mullenweg said his ideas for the future include slicker media embedding, a better writing experience in full-screen mode, an easier way to integrate podcasts, and making the mobile apps better.  he freely admitted they aren’t good and they should be.

I loved hearing from Mullenweg, and I’m excited about the future of WordPress, especially since I’m having so much fun designing and developing with it.  It’s definitely become my favorite platform to work with.

In the meantime, I’m soaking up as much as I can at SXSWi.  There’ so much to do and see!  I’ll be tweeting more than I blog, but I will be doing both on Saturday!

Follow me @cindybrummer.

Countdown to SXSW 2011

With just 2 weeks to go before South By Southwest gets underway in Austin, I can feel my excitement building.

The 2010 Interactive festival was an inspiring touchstone for me, and I can’t wait to go back.

Last year I mainly attended business sessions, with some design and technology thrown in.  This year my focus will be on social media, design and marketing.

I’ve already started working on my conference schedule with the help of the newly released SXSW Go app, now available in the app store for iPhone/iPod Touch.

Interactive has grown by leaps and bounds (pardon the cliche), and this year panels and presentations will be spread to 10 campuses according to organizers.  They addressed it at a recent mixer, and you can read more about what was discussed in the Digital Savant.

I’m not sure I will be able to keep up the go-go-go pace I kept last year of going to sessions in nearly every hour and a half.  This year I face the added challenge of having a 5-month-old baby.  She won’t be attending with me (my mom is flying into town just to watch the kids during SX), but I’m still nursing, and I’ll need to make arrangements during those days.  I’ll probably have to miss some sessions that I would otherwise be able to attend.  Ahhh, the challenges of motherhood.

Still, this year I won’t be nearly as exhausted and I’m already planning to check out several evening mixers and parties. (A bunch are listed at EventBrite — just do a search for “Austin”.)

Networking!  It does a business good!

If you’re also planning on being at SXSW Interactive — holla at me!  Check me out on Twitter and tweet me at @cindybrummer.