Trey’s Thoughts

GIANT Conf

2014 July 13

Piepmeier and Beaird about to duke it out.

Last month, I attended the first annual GIANT Conf in Charleston, SC. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and had mixed feelings about making the trip back so shortly after leaving1. For better or worse, here’s what I thought of it.

The quality of the talks varied widely. Some talks had me inspired and some had me rolling my eyes after five minutes2.

A lot of different talks had the same theme: make the world a better place with our RAD UX. I don’t know if that was a theme suggested by the event organizers or if I’m just accustomed to more technical conferences. I can’t argue that it’s a good goal, but it left me feeling a little puzzled3.

The highlights of the conferences for me were people talking about either bringing techniques from other fields into the world of interaction design/web/UX or people talking about moving into different careers from the web. The two presenters on those topics that stood out to me were Joanna Castle Miller and Adam Connor.

Miller talked about moving from a job doing content management for lawyers4 to being a writer and producer of big-time plays. She offered such gems as…

Anyone can change what they do, it’s just a shit-ton of work.

..and, on the topic of using your skills in other fields to get your foot in the door of a new field, she warned…

You’re going to get turned down a lot more than you’re used to.

I feel like this topic is ripe for a self-help book.

Adam Connor’s talk was about taking techniques from filmmaking (a field that’s older and more mature than interaction design) and using them in interaction design. This may be old hat to people more versed in the nuances of UX and its related fields, but it was fascinating to me. He talked about the fact that interactive projects need directors, storyboards, and beat sheets. I had never even heard of a beat sheet, but it sounds great to me (especially making note of how the things on the screen are supposed to make the audience/user feel5). It was also neat to learn about some specific filmmaking techniques that I’ve noticed, but never had a name for like rack/pull focus.

And, while we’re on the topic of moving pictures, Rachel Nabors’s talk was also great. The overlap of comics and the web are definitely in my wheelhouse.

The big names of the event (the folks who originally made me want to addend this conference) were fine, but mostly left me cold6. It was the people who I’d never heard of who impressed me the most.

As usual with these kinds of things, it’s the time between sessions that matters most. I got to meet and hang out with a counterpart from MailChimp7, chat with an amazing educator from Chicago, got inspired to work on ComicBinder again, and spent lots of quality time with the folks from eHouse Studio who made me feel at home in Charleston again.

I also took the opportunity to try some Sketchnoting. In this case, that consisted of Drawing at least one quick rendition of the speaker’s head and occasionally giving them a word balloon. It was a fun exercise, but it did feel a little stressful at times. You can see a couple of examples on my tweets from the event.

Those are the big things I took away from GIANT Conf. I had a good time, but I don’t think I would seek out a UX-focused conference again. If I’m going to spend that much time away from home, I would much prefer to have a lot more concrete techniques and functional components (as you say) to discuss with my coworkers. That’s not to say this was a bad conference, I just think maybe I’m no longer in the mode of wanting to be a conference goer8.

  1. I had moved away from Charleston less than a month before for the Piedmont-tastic Greensboro, NC. I had originally signed up to go to GIANT because it would have been “easy” since I was in the same town.

  2. I won’t name names, but if you went to the talk that was entirely devoid of original content and was just an endless series of pop culture references from the 80s and a guy reading verbatim from his notes–it was that one.

  3. Not as puzzled as the excessive use of the word “rad,” though.

  4. Whatever that means. Sounds terrible.

  5. This made me want to dig up beat sheets and storyboards for movies I know and love and see how the filmmaker’s intentions translate into my understanding of the movie.

  6. Unfortunately, I had to leave before I got to see Ethan Marcotte, but I’m sure his talk was superb.

  7. See the photo at the top of this post.

  8. Unless I get off my bum and start speaking and getting paid to go to them, that is.