My Favorite Albums 2016

Same criteria as in previous years: replay-ibility and few skipped tracks. All links to Spotify.

10. Head Carrier, Pixies
Doesn’t really feel like a Pixies album, but has enough Frank Black mojo to be enjoyable.
9. We Can Do Anything, Violent Femmes
Weirdly, I only like most of the odd-numbered tracks here.
Not as good as the early work, but some good atmospherics.
7. Winter Wheat, John K. Samson
Weakerthans’ front man spins out some great vignettes.
6. Remember Us to Life, Regina Spektor
Quirky, beautiful, haunting. “The Light” is a standout.
5. Wild Stab, The I Don’t Cares
The Paul Westerberg songs are what to stick around for through some of the stupider tunes.
4. Welcome The Worms, Bleached
3. Nice As Fuck, Nice as Fuck
Jenny Lewis-fronted supergroup with tunes that go down smooth.
2. You Won’t, Revolutionaries
Quirky, 90s-inspired rock. Are those bagpipes?
1. Goodbye Terrible Youth, American Wrestlers
Rocking mix of 80s, 90s, and today. Catches the moment so well.

See also my picks for:

My Top 10 Albums 2015

The 90s are back! So many albums I listened to this year were overtly 90s influenced (Sprinter, Dry Food) and some quite good ones (The Magic Whip, Star Wars) from bands who started in the 90s. One real surprise here was Kate Pierson, who released her first solo album at age 67 and it’s delightful—right up there with the best of the B-52s. All links go to Spotify.

  1. Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens
  2. Bleeders Digest, Say Hi
  3. 1989, Ryan Adams
  4. Before The World Was Big, Girlpool
  5. Guitars and Microphones, Kate Pierson
  6. Star Wars, Wilco
  7. Dry Food, Palehound
  8. Sprinter, Torres
  9. The Magic Whip, Blur
  10. Ad Infinitum, Telekinesis

See also my picks for:

How to Program a Conference

I’ve put together two conferences now, Interaction08 and now Device Design Day, as well as observing several years worth of Adaptive Path’s assembling of UX Week and MX. I also attend roughly half a dozen conferences a year. My credentials established, here’s my advice for putting together a conference lineup of speakers.

Don’t have a theme. Unless your conference is extremely targeted and you are planning to work with the speakers to shape their talks, don’t pick an arbitrary theme for your conference, e.g. “Connecting Us Together” or “Exploring New Worlds.” Not only are these sorts of mushy themes useless and ripe for parody, but they almost never work. The best conferences are where the speakers talk about topics they are passionate about without worrying how their talk is going to fit into the conference theme. Let the theme emerge from the talks, don’t force the talks to fit into some arbitrary theme.

Define a target audience. Who are the ideal people (or ideal mix of people) you want to attract and be engaged with this program? Pick your speakers with those people (and their wants and needs) in mind. Not slavishly—give them a few surprises—but they’re the ones paying and spending their valuable time to attend. Make it worth their while.

Overall speaker lineup. If I can see most of your speakers together at another conference, your speakers aren’t a differentiator. Variety is key. Don’t program the same people I can see at ten other conferences this year.

Big and small names. You’ll want a mix of big names—people who will pay for themselves by increased ticket sales—balanced with people we might have never heard of but who have new things to say, or a unique perspective on a familiar topic. The people who aren’t big names take a lot longer to find, but you want people to leave the conference saying, “I’d never heard X talk before, but it was fascinating.” The problem with Big Names is that because they speak so often, they use the same material, often for years. People who aren’t big names tend to have fresher material (which, admittedly, has its own set of problems because it’s less tested).

Avoid Keynote-itis. How many keynotes does a conference need? Not many. If you are doing more than one at the beginning of the day and one at the end, you’re overloading the schedule with Big Names. One could argue that every conference could get by with two keynotes: an opener and a closer.

Gender balance. Enough has been written about this lately, so let me just say: strive for it amongst your speakers. It might not happen for a variety of reasons, but it’s worth doing.

Ethnicity balance. This is probably the next big push. And the same applies as for gender: it might not happen, but spend the extra effort to find people who aren’t white men to speak. It’s going to make your conference better. Why? Because it could expose your audience to a different perspective, and that’s one reason people go to conferences in the first place. (The other is to have their own views validated.)

Breaks. Never put more than three speaking slots in a row without a break. After that, the audience can’t take it. We need time to digest what we’ve heard before hearing more.

Post-lunch. The post-lunch speaking spot is deadly. Be sure to put someone lively there. Or a workshop or activity to wake people up.

Talk durations. There seems to be three durations that work well for talks: 40 minutes, 20 minutes, and 10 minutes. You can get an awful lot of information and interest out of ten minutes; witness the TED talks. It’s a great length for a single story and one strong point. Twenty minutes is enough to have a strong main point with several examples. Forty minutes is enough to do a complex topic with multiple stories and examples. Seldom have I seen talks that go on for more than an hour that are worth listening to for that long. Mixing up your talk times is good too. A long talk mixed with a short talk can provide variety—provided you don’t do it too much.

Topic variety. While you don’t want to dictate what speakers talk about, choose your speakers so that the topics they are likely to cover will vary both in subject matter and perspective. Audiences want a mix of the inspirational (make me feel better/more important/smarter) and practical (give me information I can use). Find speakers who will play to one or the other, then mix. An all-practical conference will eventually seem like a slog; an all-inspirational conference will seem frivolous.

Have backup speakers. I guarantee that it is very unlikely all the people you want to speak will be able to, particularly when trying to land some Big Names. Have others who might speak in mind. Certainly go after your Dream Team, but unless you’re TED or another high-profile conference, don’t expect to get all of them.

Speaker quality. Do due diligence on your speakers before you select them. Can they speak well? Are they really the right person to speak to your audience? Do they have enough credibility in the field to speak on this topic? What will your audience think of them?

Always pay your speakers. Always pay your speakers’ travel. Always give your speakers free conference admission. It’s amazing how many conferences want speakers to provide their services for free. Now of course, for non-profits, new conferences, educational institutions, and other special cases, this can be waived, but as a conference organizer you need to realize that people are coming to hear the speakers: they are your draw, your talent, your selling point. Treat them as such.

So there you have it: my thoughts on planning conference programs. Now go make us some great conferences to attend!

Turning into the Skid

It’s a crappy time to start a business. Or is it?

Dan Kimerling’s article on TechCrunch entitled The Seeds of the Next Big Thing Are Being Planted Now echoes what other people have told me privately. Although it might seem bleak as hell right now, it’s in the troughs that small companies can spring up. And some of my favorite small design firms (Adaptive Path, Mule, Behavior) all started in 2000-2001, at the bottom of the last crash. I hope I’m as lucky.

Right now, though, it feels a little like playing chicken with the world. Who will blink first?

Topless in the Echo Chamber

I unwittingly entered Bizzaro World yesterday when the LA Times put on its front page a story about Todd Wilkens’ War on Crackberries which mentioned a term I’d jokingly come up with two years ago: the “topless” (as in laptopless) meeting. United Press picked up the story, and before you know it, we had three news crews in the office asking me about going topless.

The ABC piece was national which was fun (my parents’ friends called them: “Danny was on TV!”). Ironically, the ABC News clip is preceded by an ad for Blackberry. Heh.

Here’s the local CBS news:

Here’s the local NBC clip:

Some guidelines for topless meetings.

Going topless at meetings is apparently a women’s issue too.

Pushing the RSS Reset Button

I made a mistake today, an undoable one. I accidentally marked every single RSS feed I had as read. Some 700+ unread posts on the 130+ feeds I read.

Needless to say, I survived. Once I got over the “D’oh!” feeling, it was actually pleasant, a weight off my shoulders. I can actually tell at a glance what is new.

I need to do this more often.

Blogs as Education

In a sense all blogs–like newspapers, magazines, and non-fiction books–are learning tools. But, like most people I would guess, I usually follow the blogs that talk mostly about topics I know quite a bit about. It usually doesn’t take much for me to grasp what is being discussed on most of the blogs I follow.

Well, I decided yesterday, partially inspired by Adam Greenfield’s IA or Not IA post about the conservatism of our industry, to shake things up and get rid of the RSS feeds of blogs who only said things I already mostly knew. (This was about 30 feeds!) Then I went and found blogs that were saying interesting things about subjects about which I only knew a little bit, but wanted to know a lot more: mobile and devices. I found a handful of blogs that are outside my comfort zone, speaking different terminology and, well, thinking differently. I’m going to use these blogs (and any others you might suggest about devices and mobile, to educate myself about new subject areas.

This might be old hat for many of you, but it’s new to me. My 130 or so blog feeds are mostly friends and acquaintances, many of whom do the same things I do. I want to stay current with that, of course, but I also want to learn more about other interesting stuff out there. So this is, like most things, an experiment.

In case you’re curious, the new blogs I subscribed to are Little Springs Design, Small Surfaces, MEX, Wireless Wonders, Crunchgear, Pocketfactory, and Touch.

Portland Bound!

I’m headed to Portland early Thursday morning for Webvisions 2006. If you are there, come to our panel: Let Go, Jump In: Community Marketing Strategies for Empowered Customers or just find me and say hi. I’m easy to spot these days: Elvis Costello glasses, orange bag, blue spot in my hair. I’m staying at the Jupiter Hotel, so likely I’ll be found at its late night bar, the Doug Fir. I’m also bringing a bunch of peyote so we’ll be sure to have some webvisions.