Top Takeaways from WMC Fest 2015

A few weeks ago, the WillowTree (formerly Dynamit) design team headed north to attend the 2015 WMC Fest — a three-day design conference in Cleveland. It was an amazing, inspiring event that helped us generate new ideas and validated some old ones, too. There was a ton of great content at the event that we want to share, but you probably don’t want to read over our pages of handwritten notes. Instead, we give you our four top takeaways from this awesome experience.

1. Share Deodorant

Designer / developer duo Aaron Kaufman and Will Dages shared some great ways to enhance communication between disciplines. We live this every day at WillowTree but loved hearing how others make it work. Key themes from the talk were proximity, shared language, and respect.

Proximity. You can’t always sit next to your counterpart, especially if you work with remote teams, but having someone sit with you, even if virtually, to explain their thought process, intent, and ask questions is invaluable. The days of handing off designs and walking away are long gone, and we’re all better off because of it.

Shared language. If I call it a menu and you call it navigation, maybe we’re talking about the same thing, maybe we aren’t. One of the keys to communicating effectively for better collaboration is to develop a shared language. This is extremely important but often overlooked. We assume everyone knows the lingo, but you need a way to be sure. At WillowTree, we’ve created a series of tools in our Interface Driven Development process to ensure we are on the same page.

Respect. We’re all on the same team. We all want great results. We need to respect and understand each other’s perspectives, skills, and ideas. This is the way we reach the right questions and the best possible and implementable solutions for clients.

2. Take Risks

Jude Goergen gave one of the most inspiring talks of the event. Goergen talked about applying the “figure it out” mentality — taking on things that you may not be 100% qualified for, getting outside your comfort zone, and learning as you go.

The “figure it out” mentality allows a person or an organization to grow to heights that could never be achieved by sticking to the status quo. This talk made us all eager to take the next uneasy bite and try new and more challenging things.

3. Understand the Impact of your Design

Michael Bierut, partner at Pentagram, told the story of his journey, the evolution he’s seen in the design industry, and how it’s shaped the perspective he has today.

The part of his story that resonated most with us was about how design is understanding the audience you are designing for, and the indirect effect that design has on people.

It seems like a simple concept, but some designers fail to understand the audience they are targeting and the impact their work can have on those that sit outside their core audience.

Bierut told the story of a pro bono project that he did for the New York Public Libraries. The project focused on giving the brand and interiors a fresh look that was more telling of the kids who were taking advantage of the library’s learning environments. At first he only thought about getting it done; collaborating with talented artists to let them take a stab at making the environment creative and fun. His target was always the kids, knowing they were a major contributor to the space, what went on there, and who the facility and the people really were working for.

One night, as he was leaving, he met a janitor who was shutting the place down. The janitor stopped and said, ”I always leave the lights on to remind me what I come to work every day for.” The janitor looked up above the bookshelves to the artwork of children’s faces. They had no idea the work they were creating would have a major impact on people other than the kids. It was profound and shifted their perspective on the project.

At WillowTree, we are always trying to find ways to better understand our clients, their customers/users, and how we can better accomplish the goals of any project we tackle. It reinforced our philosophy of user-centric design/UX, where we are understanding, advocating, and executing our decisions with those groups of people in mind. A healthy reminder how important that really is for an application to be successful.

4. WillowTree is a Community

The biggest thing we took away from the conference didn’t come from any talk. Having the opportunity to take the entire design team to Cleveland, to hang out together outside of the walls of WillowTree, and bond with one another to strengthen our relationships was priceless.

We are a community here at WillowTree, we look out for one another, and we enjoy the idea of getting to spend time together outside of the context of work. We can’t wait to do it again at another conference and to come back to WMC Fest next year!