Category Archives: Community

An inspiring Web Afternoon

Sometimes I like to write thoughtful reviews of the industry events that I attend. Sometime’s that’s too much effort. Today is one of those times. So, here’s a series of 3-word summaries of each talk at today’s inspirational Web Afternoon Charlotte event.

Leslie Jensen Inman
Do good daily

Igor Jablokov
Something about entrepreneurship

Todd Moy
Magic for UX

Doc Waller
Well chosen words

Josh Oakhurst
Skookum Digital disruption

Gene Crawford
Honor – Compassion – Loyalty

Jenn Downs
Conquer fears. Rock.

Giovanni DiFeterici
Awesome concept-driven artwork

Nick Finck
Epic cross-channel future

Jessica Cherok
Facebook privacy? Not.

Carl Smith
Transparency – Flexibility – Accountability

Thanks to all the organizers, speakers, and attendees for coming out and making it a great afternoon!

Lake Ridge to Baxter trail connection

In an effort to make this happen, I went eploring the area along the powerlines off of Solandara Way, as a possible connection to the Baxter trails. It looks deceptively easy in the satellite photos, but the vegetation is extreme and it’s pretty hilly. Still, it’s doable… possibly, maybe…

Here are some panoramic photos of the area (click to view larger) (for super-size, right click and open in new window):

Here, I’m standing in an empty lot on Solandara Way, which is seen continuing on the right. Baxter village is down the powerlines to the left.

This is about a block further in. Rosemary Ln is behind me, to my right. Baxter village is down the powerlines to the left.

Fearing snakes and other unknown creepies, I didn’t venture further. I crossed under the powerlines, and here is the view from the opposite direction. Verbena Ct is behind me, Baxter village is down the powerlines to the right.

More Tega Cay Trails photos and stuff:

Ignite Charlotte!

This is my presentation from Ignite Charlotte v2. I had to cut down the script a lot, to fit the 5 minute format. So, included below is the full story (even though this version is a bit less polished), including links to sources and some really interesting further reading on several topics.

Amateur Advantage

1- A bit of background: this started as a set of slides I began accumulating a couple years ago, exploring the idea of how knowing less about something can be advantageous, and the effect this has on creativity.

2- Knowledge is Power! (…or something along those lines) said Francis Bacon. He’s all about empirical knowledge, the scientific method, learning via observable facts… That’s all well and good, but… kinda boring. I’m more interested in creative breakthroughs, innovation, and invention.

further reading:

3- In his TED talk, J.J. Abrams talks about his “Mystery Box” – a box of magic tricks that he was given as a child, which he hasn’t opened to this day. Not knowing what’s inside helps to inspire him in his work. “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination.” … “Mystery is more important than knowledge”. You can certainly see this theory at work in storytelling – take LOST for example… where mysteries were abundant, and every answer came with 3 new questions… “Withholding information is more engaging”

further reading:

4- Ever been disappointed when you finally saw the movie version of a favorite book, or when a shadowy monster is finally revealed? Seeing it onscreen steals away the multitude of possibilities that your imagination has created.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” — Albert Einstein

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5- If you have kids, you might know the joy of discovery through their eyes… seeing them experience the things in the world – new to them – which you now take for granted. Children are extraordinarily creative… but as they go through school, creativity declines…

Picasso said: “All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up.”

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6- “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” (What is this big yellow thing? It covers my head nicely.)

That’s a saying from Zen Buddhist teachings. “Shoshin” – Beginner’s mind.

A similar point is raised in Marshall MacLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage. “The amateur can afford to lose. … The “expert” is the man who stays put.”

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7- In their book Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath talk about “the curse of knowledge”. They say: “When we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators”. Think of a doctor giving a patient a diagnosis, and using lots of medical terms. Or an IT geek explaining something to a novice user. If they assume too much knowledge on the part of the recipient, they can become unintelligible.

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8- Here’s an interesting exercise:

Write a set of explicit step-by-step instructions for a relatively simple task, like making a PB&J sandwich

Follow the instructions – better yet have someone else follow them – assuming no prior knowledge of anything (“what is a sandwich?”) Notice how many opportunities there are to make mistakes. This can reveal a lot of assumptions we have about our audience.

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9- So, knowledge can be a double edged sword. But, that doesn’t mean we should opposed to learning. Kids, don’t go dropping out of school. Without knowledge, you’re not even in the game.

The point is: how do we train ourselves to get around the roadblocks that expertise can put up?

10- Empathy is a good place to start.

Empathy is a skill that designers have to use a lot. We create something for a client, which is intended to reach an audience… we’re not a direct stakeholder in this transaction. We have to get into the head of the client, to understand their motivations and goals, and we have to get to know the audience, as well, to try and figure out how to connect with them.

Shifting your point of view – or frame of reference – is an important way to leave behind some of your own prejudices.

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11- But empathy will only get us so far. We can design something we think will be perfect, then put it in front of users to find that it baffles them. Ultimately, you have too much knowledge of your project – whether it’s a client’s website or a new business idea – to objectively judge it. You have to get it in front of someone else, who has no prior knowledge of it, to get some fresh feedback.

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12- And do it early enough in the process that you can get feedback you can act on. Paper prototypes, mockups, sketches. In fact, the less finished it looks the better. People will be more likely to offer criticisms if it does not look like a finished product.

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13- “yes, and” is a mantra for improv performers. It’s about accepting all suggestions. You take what the other actors present you, and go with it. If you don’t, the scene is losing momentum. You have to say yes, and… add to it… move it forward to advance the story.

14- like in improv, “yes, and” is a great mantra for brainstorming. Don’t shoot down any ideas at this stage. Welcome all points of view. Explore all avenues.

15- A team of T-shaped people, who have deep skills in one discipline and empathy and understanding of others, make powerful project teams. An expert in one discipline is an amateur in another. Start collaborating early in the project and run your ideas by one another.

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16- Ask “What if…?” Ask “Why?” Be childlike. Don’t be afraid to question everything. Propose alternatives, question assumptions. And welcome this questioning from your peers.

17- Think outside the box while you can. Soon enough, you’ll have to answer to the box. The box represents the realities of project schedules, budgets, technology constraints. These things are crucial to know. You have to know where the box is. But don’t let it inhibit your early conceptual work.

18- To avoid getting too caught up in details, artists will stand back, squint their eyes and look at their work. Obscuring their vision, to just get a sense of the thing, the overall composition, and flow. Do other things to freshen the eyes. Put the work away overnight and revisit it fresh in the morning.

“I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I am doing.” — Robert Rauschenberg

further reading:

19- “If you want to keep your brain alive, you have to do things your brain doesn’t expect.

The cortex forms new patterns… new synaptic connections in response to novel activity, and PET scans show that far fewer pathways are activated when the brain processes a routine task… even a complex one.”

further reading:

20- “The creative life requires a steady progression of experimentation and discovery. While acquired wisdom is useful, your knowledge must work in tandem with the daily exercise of your curiosity.” — Robert Genn

further reading:

Amateur Advantage

Barcamp Charlotte 2: the unconference strikes back

Another great Barcamp was held in Charlotte this weekend, and like the first, it was a fun, creative, and inspiring day full of user-generated sessions on a variety of topics, from balloon twisting to iPhone app development. Area 15 hosted the event again, and the diverse space was great for hosting the variety of topics and conversations that took place.

My day consisted of How to Ruin Your Small Business on Twitter with Lyell Peterson (@93octane), Twittercasting with Nathan Richie (@NathanRichie), going down the creativity rabbithole with Jared Nicolson, HTML5 Preview with Adam Hunter, and The Future of Journalism with Andria Krewson, Desiree Kane, and Austin Light.

I hope to write some followups, as I continue to process all the great info that was shared, but in the mean time, here is a roundup of BarcampCLT-related media I’ve seen so far:

Search “BarcampCLT” on Twitter


BarCamp Charlotte 2 Pre-party by James Willamor/CLT Blog
A Moment by Summer Plum

Session materials

Manage Your Social Networks – session slides (plus links) by dizzySEO
HTML 5 Examples by Adam Hunter
How To Get The Other 9 Listings on Google video of Robert Enriquez by David Wells


Barcamp 2 is in the bag and you made it great! by Barcamp Charlotte
First photos of BarCamp Charlotte 2 by James Willamor/CLT Blog
BarCampCLT 2 photos by Cara Couture
Alphatracks Visits Bar Camp Charlotte 2 photos by Tom Bonner
BarCampCLT2 photos by Tom Bonner
Lyell Talks Serious Twitter Business photo by Summer Plum
Get a little weirder, Charlotte by Jeff Elder
A Smarter Charlotte by Eric Orozco
Charlotte BarCamp – What did you think? by Corey Creed
Barcamp Charlotte SEO Session with NC_SEO by David Wells
barcampCLT 2 by Mr. R
Overheard in Charlotte: BarCamp Edition by Meck
Technology, Media “Unconference” Draws More Than 100 To Area 15 by Andria Krewson

If you know of anything I’m missing, please let us know in the comments!

Happy trails to you

Tega Cay Parks & Recreation sent an email Tuesday announcing a new committee to design and build trails in Tega Cay. (Yay!)

I will be taking an active part in getting this group up & running, and have developed this slideshow to help sell the idea of Tega Cay Trails. (In typical fashion, I’ve also gone overboard and set up a Twitter account and a Flickr account to spread the love further still.

Please follow, link, promote, and/or join, as appropriate. ;)


For a second there, I thought I saw a bunch of bots at Barcamp, but then I realized I was mistaken. But, I must say there were some people that looked really similar to:

@39octane, @annoyabrah, @bemnarvin, @brahdesigns, @cristaldempsey, @Itsnotem, @JaredWwwOs, @JedFelder, @onanything, @s1paulds, @smallfleet, and @twinkhanson.

Torgny claims to have spotted the only real bot to show up at Barcamp: #NSFW #SHD

Charlotte UX August meeting recap

After a summer hiatus for the month of July, the Charlotte UX group convened for lunch this past Wednesday at Principle Solutions on Tryon St. They provided lunch from Jason’s Deli, and a posh conference room. We went around the table and did introductions consisting of our titles and roles, for the benefit of the staffing folks, and got down to business. The topic for the month was start pages, and we took a look at Yahoo (which recently redesigned), iGoogle, Netvibes, Pageflakes, and Popurls. We examined interaction patterns and compared interfaces, explored the way different sites allow you to customize your content, and weighed in on what we liked to have on our personal start pages.

As far as group news and general info, it sounds like the Charlotte UX community on Ning may become our central spot on the web for discussion and event info. The Facebook group will remain, as an additional place to interact, and the current might be redirected to the Ning site.

For those who have recently inquired:

The Charlotte UX group (formerly IA Cocktail) is a group of professionals (students and other interested parties are welcome as well) in the Charlotte, NC area specializing in User Experience. The group holds regular meetings and events to share information of mutual interest and provide networking opportunities. Members have expertise in Interaction Design, Usability Engineering, Graphic Design, and Information Architecture.

We hope you’ll join us at our next event.

Charlotte UX June meeting recap

ioThe Charlotte UX group met yesterday at Modis, Uptown. Good turnout, pizza, and conversation. I dropped some Pecha Kucha knowledge, and hopefully generated some interest for PK Night vol 4 in August. Greg Corrin talked about Google Wave and let us play with the Android phone from the Google I/O developer conference.

Twitterers in attendance: I met @wwwmarty IRL for the 1st time, saw my coworker @shelkster, saw @inkblurt, @gcorrin, and watched @jorah knitting some funky wool socks.

In other Charlotte UX news, we’ve officially abandoned Evite for event administration and, for now, that is handled at We’re also trying out a Ning site, so if you want to check that out, post something in the comments (it’s invite-only for now).