First-time conference aims to bridge tech and design in Seattle region

A grassroots initiative to improve the connections among technology companies, user-experience specialists and designers in the Seattle region has spawned a new conference called HIVE 2011, to be held next month on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

GeekWire talked about plans for the conference today with Jenny Lam, co-founder at Jackson Fish Market and a former Microsoft Windows creative director. Continue reading for excerpts.

What the conference is about: HIVE is a design and technology conference for developers and designers to get together and understand how to work better together.

How it came about: I did a mini-residency, as a designer in residence, at Ignition last summer. (Ignition partner) Michelle Goldberg asked me to come over and hang out at Ignition for a month, and I got to meet with a lot of their portfolio companies, and it was really stunning. It isn’t like these companies don’t get it — they really do value design. But they don’t know how to get it into their culture, how to hire for it, how to pay for it, how to work with designers. … Michelle said to me one day, why don’t we put together a conference?

Jenny Lam

The underlying trend: The Seattle region is short on supply of UX (user experience) folks. The Bay Area, Silicon Valley, is experiencing the same thing. If you go on Quora, you see a bunch of questions — huge, long threads about why this is so. On the flip side, I’m on the board of the AIGA and that’s the largest professional (design) organization and the oldest. It has over 20,000 members. They’ve got this huge resource of fantastic designers from traditional backgrounds like graphic design that are really eager to cross over into user experience design, especially when it comes to building software.

You couldn’t really find a more perfect complement to the problem that we have — the shortage of designers and the misunderstanding of the role. And then this huge resource of great design talent that is eager to work with and be integrated into the tech culture.

What to expect at the conference: It’s one-track, and we have short talks — 20-minute talks — that are sprinkled with what we’re calling true stories, five-minute true-story talks, from user experience thought leaders in the area. It’s not just designers who are speaking but developers and marketing professionals and program managers. Different disciplines talking about how they’ve worked with the role of design.

We have designed the experience of the conference so that you can watch the talks but we also have a simulcast lounge, where you can hang out and work. Lots of power strips and live streaming feed, with plenty of snacks and comfy furniture. And then we have another space, called the stereotyping room — networking activities to meet someone in a discipline other than your own, to get to know other devs or designers in the area

The conference is Sept. 16 on the Microsoft campus. Early-bird registration ends tomorrow.

  • Victor

    This is great! Great design is certainly a competitive advantage and margin enhancer. Todd, thanks for bringing this to our attention. I have just signed up to go.

  • Savan Kong

    This is the first conference in Seattle that I’m excited to attend!

  • http://www.puzzazz.com Roy Leban

    When I do UX consulting (which I did to support myself while bootstrapping Puzzazz), one of the key things I do is teach people about UX, not just do it for them. I suppose this is bad for consulting income, but I’ve been very pleased with how much people learn about how they can improve the experience for their users, and this is even true of people who believe they can’t possibly do it themselves.

    This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t hire an expert to help you, but every company fundamentally needs to own the experience they’re giving their users. You can’t outsource it. A conference like this is a great opportunity to learn.

  • http://twitter.com/Produxs Produxs

    Great comment Roy – at Produxs, we make it a priority as well to make sure we’re teaching the value and reason behind UX design. It all seems so intuitive but when you’re looking at your website the way you want to see it, it’s too easy miss the real experience you’re giving and portraying to your audience. UX isn’t mainstream, yet, and the more brands that understand it and utilize it, the better for eCommerce and the web in general. I think it’s great that Seattle is stepping up and hosting a conference like this.