Tag Archives: sxsw

What I’m listening to: The Head and the Heart

Cindy and Andy on the balcony at the Moody TheaterI’ll admit it right now — I don’t get out much.

Kinda hard when you’ve got little kids and piles of projects in your lap.

But when I do, I try to make the most of it — by eating at the restaurants I read about on all of those foodie blogs I love and seeing live music.  Austin is such an awesome place to see live music, especially by bands you’ve never heard of before but are fantastic.  It goes without saying that South by Southwest is a prime time to check out some new bands, and Andy and I had a chance to do just that.

Moody Theater stage all lit up for IE9 launch partyWe lucked out in scoring fast-passes to the IE9 Launch Party, which was held at the Moody Theater — the new home of Austin City Limits Live at the new W in Downtown Austin.  (Fabulous venue, by the way).

Microsoft pulled out all of the stops for this party.  I wasn’t much interested in the free alcohol, but the theater itself was amazing.  The stage was all lit up with amazing graphics, and the screens were showing projected 3D.  It’s so hard to describe.

One of the opening bands was Fences, who are pretty good.  I really enjoyed them.

They must have hired a really good DJ, because even the house music in between sets was good.

At 11pm, the theater darkened and the background lit up with all of these colors as an announcer said IE9 was being launched at that moment all over the world.  It was such an event, even I (a devoted Firefox fan) wanted to download it.

But what really got my attention was the next band: The Head and the Heart.

Head and the Heart perform in the ACL Moody TheaterTalk about energy!  The harmony of rock and folk sounds caught me, and I never lost interest.

Very few bands have instantly appealed to me.  Usually it takes a few listens to get into them — but this band was different.  They’re from Seattle.  NPR did a story on them here.  And they reviewed their SXSW set here.

I was exhausted, but we stayed longer than we originally planned just to hear as much of them as possible.  The next day, I downloaded their album, and I’m loving it.  To be honest, it doesn’t have the same level of energy as what we say live, but it doesn’t detract a bit.

If you get the chance to see them, I highly recommend going.  They won’t disappoint.

SXSWi Panel: Drawing Back the Curtains on CSS Implementation

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’ve been posting a new one each day.

Today’s topic: Drawing back the Curtains on CSS Implementation, presented by Molly Holzschlag, from Opera, Elika Etemad (Fantasai) from the W3C working group, Sylvain Galineau, from Microsoft, Tab Atkins, from Google Chrome and David Baron, from Mozilla.

Some of the audio can be heard at the link above.

I’ve been working with CSS for the past 3 years, and I’m kind of a CSS junkie.  I have to admit, I’m slow to learning CSS3, but I have a new book and direction (more on that below).

I’m going to share some of my notes from the talk, and then tell you about the CSS Meetup I went to where I actually had a chance to talk to David Baron, Elika Etemad (Fantasai), and others about CSS.

Question to the Panel:
WC3 — How do you  prioritize?

Right now, they are looking at what the browsers are doing and taking off with that.  But there are challenges for implementation.

  • Tab — First, what would be most interesting and fun.  Also, anything that makes it easier to do layout and design
  • Sylvain — Anything that’s really stable tends to have priority.  Microsoft doesn’t like to prototype in the browser.  But nothing can replace what designers are asking for as a feature.

How does it compare to working group priorities?

  • Fantasai — Is there an editor actively working on the spec?  And is there active feedback?  You need both.  Some specs are moving faster because there’s more interest and feedback.

Do you have feedback?  Make sure the working group knows.  Don’t just write it in your blog and assume the working group will see it.

What are the most damaging mistakes in working group and development of CSS?  Where did we screw up?

  • Fantasai — Current box model
  • Tab — It’s more short-sightedness than a screw up, but floats (a text-feature) because there was nothing there for web developers to work with.  CSS started when web was just beginning, and it wasn’t set up to do that stuff (even before table-based layouts)
  • David Baron — The most damaging mistakes were where the group made things more complicated than they needed to be.  In some cases by hiding something complex — like margin collapsing.  By not defining things precisely, it leads to the spec being misinterpreted.
  • Fantasai — specs are more precise now than in the 90s — and not by example.
  • Tab — It will become less and less of a problem as they go

The specs can lead to problems for ordinary web designers because they ARE so precise.

  • Sylvain — Floats.  Why not position it like anything else?  Seems imbalanced.  Z-index is also weird and complex.  (Sylvain) thinks it’s odd for not having a substitution values.  Reusing elements would be more useful.  More process information.
  • Molly — We think of CSS as the design — presentation.  But set up properly it becomes efficient for processing information.  Part of our challenge is to figure out where it’s going to take us.

How come in 20 years there is not a reasonable way to do layout?

  • Tab — Layout languages really suck.  It’s hard to do it in a way that simple and intuitive.
  • Fantasai — It’s also really hard to implement layout.  It’s also harder to add to incrementally.  Print is using fixed everything — but on the web everything is fluid.  The CSS working group is trying to solve the problem of fluid design layouts so they are fundamentally flexible.

Let’s design a system where it’s less likely to break on another system.

In next few years — all sorts of tools available for print design layout will soon be available for the web.

The next day I went to the CSS Meetup, and David Baron and Elika were there.  There was a big group around them, but after a while I walked up and introduced myself.At my mention of my need to really delve into CSS3 and learn what the browsers have already implemented.

Elika acknowledged that CSS3 is a challenge when the specs haven’t been completed, but she suggested looking through the working group’s snapshots, which have a breakdown of what is already stable, that way I won’t be left behind, but I also won’t be spending a lot of time on stuff that could change in the future.

A quick search of the W3C site found Snapshot 2007 (revised in July 2010) and Snapshot 2010 (revised in December 2010).

I also won a book at the meetup — “CSS3: Visual QuickStart Guide” and the author, Jason Cranford Teague, actually wanted to sign my book (he was there).  So now I’m REALLY ready to delve into CSS3.

Are you?  Have you been using CSS3?  What really excites you about it?

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 www.sensible.com.

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.  Sucri.net 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) http://tl.gd/98qhie

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.