Future of Web Apps is now

Great people, great sessions. I was privileged enough to have been accepted to run a workshop at the most recent Future of Web Apps conference in London.

How to Build a Web App Fast

Eewei Chen, BSkyB & Jill Irving, ThoughtWorks

This workshop allows you to experiment with rapid design and coding techniques to help you deliver an idea for a first prototype in less than 8 hours. Teams will be issued a surprise challenge and have the duration of the workshop to create a web app that will delight users and answer the challenge!

What participants learned:

  • How to think creatively and generate ideas that really matter
  • Learn how and when to focus those ideas and tie it back to real business and end-user goals
  • Know when to create prototypes and concept usability test at key stages of a project
  • Understand the key development challenges and learn valuable tips to help you work faster
  • Create a minimum viable delightful solution and get it out to market fast!

The future of web apps highlighted to me the fact that there are some very good practitioners already creating some amazing apps using the very latest techniques and software. Some of my favourites included:

Christian Heilmann – Mozilla,
Alex MacCaw,
Eric Wahlforss – Soundcloud
Giorgio Sardo – Microsoft
Dave McClure – 500 Startups
Cennydd Bowles
Pete Koomen – Optimizely
Adam Seligman – Heroku

Have a look at some of the presentations including mine!


Thank you Ryan Carson, Lou and Cat for having us and putting on a fantastic conference!

Here are some pictures from the workshop I ran with Jill Irving (ThoughtWorks):

My Agile 2011 workshop – How to design stuff that matters, fast

That's me telling the best in the Agile world how to design fast!

If I had to sum up Agile 2011 in Salt Lake City, Utah in three words it would be, “Wow, wow, wow!” I was lucky enough to have been accepted to present, speak and run a 90 minute workshop at the 10 year anniversary of the signing of the Agile Manifesto.

Workshop attendees had to solve my design challenge in less than 90 minutes. The trick is, the actual challenge is not revealed till 5 minutes after the start of the workshop. With ‘surprise’ workshops like this it is vital for me to get participants to emotionally buy-in to the challenge from the very beginning in order to then successfully guide them rapidly through each step of my design ideation and creation techniques.

My workshops are very fast and furious. There is very little time to think. More importantly, though, there is, however, just enough time to be creative and make decisions in order to move on to the next creative ideation technique phase.

Here is are the workshop slides

My take on important factors when running a collaborative workshop where time is short and creativity needs to be high:

  1. Set the scene. Make it real and personal
    “New conference attendees who arrive in a foreign town away from home have limited knowledge about where to go and what they can do locally…”
  2. Surprise them. Issue the challenge and make sure it is interesting
    “Design a mobile app to help people new to Salt lake City & Utah explore all that the area has to offer from a ‘local’s’ perspective.”
  3. Let them know it can be done
    Show participants what each subsequent creative ideation technique phase is going to be. Give them an overview from start to finish. Giving them this visibility will help them understand what they need to complete to proceed to the next phase.
  4. Guide each step of the way
    I had to facilitate 6 teams in the workshop. Even though personal attention all of the time is not possible, I gave them hints and tips at each creative ideation technique phase on screen, then proceeded to walk round and act as a design ‘catalyst’; challenging ideas and creatively ‘nudging’ teams to help them move towards successfully completing each phase.
  5. Make it good not just OK
    Just because it is a 90-minute workshop where time is short does not mean the ideas need to be ‘below-par’. I always encourage participants to push their ideas harder and further. After all if you can’t do it when you are having fun (hopefully) when are you going to do it? Some participants are there to just observe and learn the techniques, which is great but I always make sure each teams knows they have to present back to each of the other teams. I find that introducing this low level of competition makes team members want to do a better job of their overall idea.
  6. Be passionate
    My workshop was a huge success and for me personally, I never tire of seeing how creative people and teams can be once they embrace and start sketching! I am so privileged and proud to have been allowed the opportunity to share the way I do things in the best possible way… by being infectious and work together with willing individuals to collectively create some thing from nothing in less than 90 minutes. I do this every day of my life. For me this way of agile creative ideation is part of my DNA and I hope has become part of all those who I have ever worked with.

Thank you to Darius Kumana, Darci Dutcher, Jeremy Sutherland, Anders Ramsay, Pat Kua, Martin Fowler and Jonathan Rasmusson as well as all other participants for making my day in Salt Lake City one of the best ever!


Presentations need to focus on one specific example to get the message across more effectively

I recently presented as a Key note speaker at the 21st Oxford Geek Night.

When I arrived, about 70 people were crammed into a very small space at the top of the Jericho Tavern in Oxford. Drinks were free (at least the first one was) then we quickly simmered down in preparation for the first talk: Styleguides for the Web, by Paul Lloyd, visual designer at Clearleft (slides).

There was a five minute break before Nick, my side-kick UI developer, and I went on stage to present 15 minutes on: Rapid prototyping: fast, continuous, informed design and development, by Eewei Chen and Nick Bailey, Experience Design at Thoughtworks (slides).

You can step through the slide above at your leisure but my biggest takeaway is that people want specific examples they can focus on and pick apart. Some feedback included:

  • Would be great to see how all this theory can be applied to one project from start to finish
  • Provide insight into lessons learned and how they were applied to improve the user experience and better meet customer goals
  • Break a project apart and show where low-fi all the way to coded more hi-fi prototypes aided user testing and ‘getting the idea across’ more efficient
  • List of tools and techniques was useful
  • Presentation was good but was too much to take in
  • Tell a story, take us through the highs and the lows, how you learned to adapt and improve for all to see
  • Live code was brave but we get it. We want to learn about where to integrate, how it was done well so we can apply it

I look forward to giving this presentation again but next time it will be focussed on one project touching upon all areas. Tell a story that everyone can follow and have key take aways and tools at the end.