Sketchnotes from Valiocon

Sketchnotes and memories from Valiocon 2014.

Speaker and fellow sketchnoter Lee Rubenstein of EatSleepDraw. Check out his take on Valiocon here.


Michael Flarup, of PixelResort and Robocat fame. 


Ryan Carson, co-founder and CEO of Treehouse. He gave a stellar talk on his approach to running a company devoid of management layers. You can read more about this on his blog.


Kim Wouters runs a design agency in Belgium.


Chloe Park of OpenTable shared a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of her approach to tackling “un-shiny problems.” Her story was complemented by a stunning, hand-crafted presentation.


Amy Hood and Jennifer Hood shared their thoughts on the role of context in design, injected with personality and humor.


Sam Kallis, visual development artist at Paramount Pictures, is one of my new creative role models. I was inspired by her authenticity, philosophy, and courage. And her work is simply amazing!


Merek Davis of Mextures - helluva beard.


Also - some old-fashioned sketches to grace the Catamaran Resort notepads. These feature Keiran FlaniganJennet LiawChuck Longanecker, and Hudson Peralta.


It was lovely meeting so many talented designers and makers. Onward!

Innovations in Biosensors & Nanomaterials

I attended the Emerging Wearable Technology Group’s first meetup which featured 2 speakers from the biosensor and nanomaterials industry.

Dr. KooHyoung Lee, NeuroSky

Dr. KooHyoung Lee is the CTO of NeuroSky (the EEG-sensor technology behind Necomimi - those furry cat ears that wiggle based on your level of mental concentration)

He spoke on the topic of creating value with wearables - how we can get beyond just creating wearable technology for technology’s sake, and actually apply user experience, product design, and business models to create real value.


He shared how wearables are already emerging in the market - not just to track information, but to up performance and function. For example, SolePower, a shoe insole that generates electricity as you walk.


He shared how Neurosky approached uniting powerful biosensors with simple usability. At the time they were getting started, there were other competitors on the market that were much more accurate and measured many different types of brainwaves (vs. Neurosky only detects EEG). However, the competitors were completely unusable - you needed to apply all sorts of gels and stick things all over your head in order to get the accurate readings.

What Neurosky did was design for simplicity - trade off having 100% accurate data and a bad user experience in favor of a no-setup device that reportedly “tested at 96% as accurate as that within research grade EEGs” (Wikipedia).

They’re exploring different ways to put this device in consumers’ hands: Necomimi supposedly made $10B in revenue (did I hear that correctly?). It’s also used for “neurotoys” - mind controlled games like Star Wars Force Trainer. Doctors are starting to recommend these for kids with ADD, and it’s been used to help the USA Olympic Archery team improve their game (Wikipedia).


The team released a Neurosky Developer Kit which looks incredibly cool. You can measure:

  • Attention
  • Meditation
  • Eyeblinks
  • Brainwave Bands
  • Raw Output

Time to hack your own jedi mind tricks - here are some interesting Kickstarter projects to inspire you!

Jay Ha, Materials and System Inc.

The second talk was from Jay Ha, the CEO of Materials and System Inc. He shared his point of view on the future of wearables and the role that nanomaterials will play. He explained that while “wearables 1.0” is all about devices that you attach to yourself (think FitBit and Polar Heart Rate Monitor), “wearables 2.0” will be invisible and built into the world around you - your clothing and your environment.


He shared many inspiring examples the demonstrate the potential of nanomaterials:

  • a suit that looks and feels like a high quality suit - but is bulletproof
  • a patch that you apply to your skin that slowly releases drugs at a controlled rate
  • a foldable, flexible, and rechargeable battery (developed at KAIST)
  • integrated circuits printed on flexible polymers
  • haptic feedback technology built into motorcycle handles to provide directions while you ride
  • antivirus face mask with 20nm permeability
  • thermoelectric material the thickness of paper that generates electricity

During the Q&A, a topic that came up was that one of nanotechnology’s major barriers is scale. For example, today there’s no machine that can quickly produce thousands of nanobots. However, many nanomaterials can now be produced at scale if you have a big enough demand and budget - did someone say “$40K bulletproof superhero outfit”?

Updated 4/6/14: A correction from Dr. Lee -

Other companies had good technology to detect EEG with multi-channels. However, practically, multi-channel EEG systems were complicated and hard to use for general consumers. The multi-channel systems also made errors frequently.

NeuroSky made single-channel EEG system for easy-to-use and low price. NeuroSky also developed algorithms which were easy-to-understand.

Although it is not perfect, it is still usable and enjoyable to general consumers. We are working to improve the technology and usability till everyone can use our technology.

Keynote - MakerBot's Bre Pettis @SXSW

Bre Pettis, CEO of the MakerBot 3D printer, delivered the opening keynote at SXSW'13.

My Takeaways:

  • “The next Industrial Revolution will be printed in 3D”
  • MakerBot got started as a quick & dirty experiment before launch, and now it’s helping others prototype more quickly so they can get their own “quick & dirty” launches out faster
  • SXSW attendees love their booze - MakerBot originally launched at SXSW 2009 by opening for musicians and 3D printing shot glasses
  • Big hurdle for 3D printing is the high level of skill needed to create digital models - but Thingiverse (crowd sourced templates for printing), simplified 3D rendering tools (AutoDesk 123D), and new MakerBot Digitizer are trying to lower the barrier to entry

Full notes below:



Steve Blank: Customer Development and How to Fail Less

Notes from a talk by Steve Blank, father of Customer Development methodology that inspired the Lean Startup movement.


Steve shared how, through his experience founding and working with countless numbers of startups, he had the realization that big companies and startups are very different. Big companies are all about execution: the reason that they’re big is that they’ve identified a business model that works and they continue to execute on that model, increasing revenue each year. In contrast, startups are all about searching for the next big opportunity and proving that it’s valid.


In the “old days”, startups pitched to VCs by making business plans and forecasts for all the money they were going to bring in if their idea worked. The problem with that is when you’re working in a completely new space, on a completely new opportunity, there isn’t really anything to benchmark yourself against. This means that all those “forecasts” are really just blind guesses. Founders try to make better guesses by paying for expensive market research, but market research can only tell you about today, not inform you about tomorrow.


Tech has traditionally followed a waterfall software development approach - specifying everything up front and then building it out from start to finish before showing it to a customer. This was based on the assumption that we already know our customer’s problems and what sorts of product features are needed. This doesn’t work well for startups, though, where the customer has yet to be defined and the features are still TBD.


Steve observed that:


In thinking about how to increase the rate of success and minimize wasted resources and failure, he came up with Customer Development Process.


In considering the definition of a startup:


Startups are constantly searching for a way to create value for itself while delivering products or services for customers in a repeatable and scalable way.

The process Blank proposes is to start by filling out the Business Model Canvas with a series of hypotheses about what will work.

Next, the customer development team (founders from any discipline, without titles) work together to validate each hypothesis. The goal is to test each of these as quickly and scrappily as possible - for example using prototypes or wireframes - to maximize feedback with minimal cost. When hypotheses fail, this is an opportunity to reevaluate your guesses and tweak the business model.

More about customer development can be found in Blank’s books:


I was intrigued by how Blank defines the goals of big companies (“execute”) versus those of startups (“search”). There are many examples of big companies that excel at executing, but fade into irrelevance as times change. As time passes and the market shifts, how can large companies stay relevant? How best to balance the need to execute with the (arguably just as important) need to search?

During the Q&A I asked Blank whether he saw any ways to apply the Customer Development Methodology to large companies. He replied by telling a story about a GE executive who was given a new department and a large amount of funding to run with. The executive decided to reject the funding in the short-term, and instead ask for more time to identify and test the business model. It ended up being the right call– when they were ready to scale, the division was very successful. This showed how focusing on testing out a business model using a Customer Development approach can help large companies to make smart investments in future products and opportunities. 

Blank cautioned that for large companies to take a Customer Development approach, it really needs to “come from the tops down” because it’s a real mindset shift. This made me thankful to work at a company like Intuit which is actively adopting a “lean startup” philosophy across the organization. By shifting our mindset across the organization, we too can reduce “waste” and more quickly get to solving the right problems for our customers with the right products and services.

Researching Games with Kids

Notes from the BayCHI talk “Please Don’t Face-Plant Into the TV: Researching Games with Kids” given by Sarah Walter, user experience researcher and consultant with a focus on games.


Sarah shared several techniques for conducting user research with children. The first two techniques (usability and playtesting) are fairly standard techniques that are used throughout the games industry.


Although these techniques have been long-used for “hardcore gamers”, a target that is well understood, there was much to be learned about designing games for children. How do you know what’s “fun” or “engaging” for a 4 year old who can’t fill out your post-game survey? And how do you even find that 4 year old to play test with?


So her team came up with some “kid-friendly” ways to conduct user research for the younger audience:

Bringing kids into the lab on designated days…


Working directly with schools…


… and visiting families at home.


Since this was with children, they had to be extra diligent about explaining who they were, answering any questions, and ensuring a safe environment for their young play testers. 


Notes from UXLX Gamestorming workshop taught by Dave Gray


Gamestorming is about keeping energy levels up during meetings to get great results. Can be used with teams, clients, users (participatory design), and more. See related book and iPhone app.

The workshop was a mix of theory and interactive examples that taught us several Gamestorming methods in a hands-on way.

Icebreaker: introducing ourselves by making our “trading cards”



Improv: Get into partners. Partner 1 describes her dream house. As she describes each detail, Partner 2 says “yes but…” to everything Partner 1 said. After 5 minutes, Partner 2 now has to say “yes and…” to everything Partner 1 says.

Notice the difference? Need to help people get to the “yes and…” and listen before judging. You dont need to necessarily agree. You just need to understand where the other person is coming from

Elements of gamestorming:


  • Sparks: exciting things that get people going. Ex: asking "what is a project that you’re really excited about right now?“ can ignite the initial energy of the team
  • Boards: the space. Can think of the room as a game board, where people are pieces in the game. 90% of things you can do to make a meeting better is stuff you can do before (prep right materials, right room). You’re setting the space and stage in which things happen
  • Pieces: The things that are moved around (ex: post its) These help people focus on the important things because they no longer have to hold everything in their head. Consider: chess masters can play chess without a board because they can hold everything in their head, but most people can’t. So provide the board and the pieces!
  • Time: Think about what is going on. People will get involved but unless you can keep things moving you might not get everything out that you want
  • Choices: Decisions need to be made, so you need to facilitate decision making
  • Chance: Creating serendipity and random chance can help people to get to know each other (ex: trading card game, world cafe game)
  • Making: creating, sketching, drawing, ideas


Everyone can draw!

People are more engaged and have better ideas when they’re drawing themselves.

Can educate people how to draw using the "visual alphabet” - 12 simple symbols that you can use to draw anything. It’s not about teaching people to draw. It’s about giving them permission to draw!



Visual Frameworks



Visioning Exercise




Empathy Map Exercise



6-8-5 Brainstorming


More techniques to try:








You can learn more about Gamestorming on the Gamestorming website.

Eric Ries: Lean Startup + Big Biz

Notes from Eric Ries’ talk about applying Lean Startup to a large software company at the Intuit Delight Forum.

“There are 3 acts to every story, and entrepreneurship is mostly in phase 2, the boring part” – Eric Ries

Entrepreneurs are everywhere

  • They aren’t just “the guy eating ramen in the garage”
  • Definition of a startup: “A human institution designed to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty”
  • Nothing to do with size of company, sector of economy, or industry; it’s about running experiments


  • If you’re building something new you are naturally in extreme uncertainty because you don’t know the users or behavior
  • Since nowadays we can build everything, the question isn’t “can it be built” but “should it be built”
  • Today lots of companies waste people’s time– no one takes ownership for it
  • Who’s to blame? Fred Taylor, the father of “Scientific management” - study work, find the best way, manage by exception, standardize work into tasks, compensate based on performance, “the system will be first”
  • What we need is “Entrepreneurial management”, where we can pivot (change direction but stay grounded in what we’ve learned)

Speed wins

  • If we can reduce the time between pivots, we can increase odds if success before we run out of money
  • Minimize total time through the loop - ideas, build, code, measure, data, learn - by avoiding “achieving failure” (successfully executing on a bad plan)

Innovation Accounting - 3 Learning Milestones

  • Establish the baseline -  build a MVP and measure how customers behave right now
  • Tune the engine - experiment to see if we can improve metrics from the baseline towards the ideal
  • Pivot or persevere - when experiments reach diminishing returns, it’s time to pivot


Eric held a “live coaching” session in which he provided feedback and advice for teams regarding real projects that they were working on. Top takeaways:

  • Don’t worry about the competition and what they know about you. It’s all about you moving faster than the competition.
  • Regarding competitors stealing ideas that you’re just testing: “Try to get someone else at another company to steal one of your ideas and notice that it’s really hard to do that” - observed that many competing companies have similar backlogs of features but it can be equally hard for both to actually get them into a product. In the end, it’s all about how gets there first.
  • Worried about potentially damaging your company’s brand? Try releasing under a different brand name.
  • You can test different types of application positioning by using different words or images on your marketing pages.
  • Regarding sustainable growth: New customers come from the actions of past customers. Engines of growth: Paid, Viral, and Stickiness/Engagement. Growth needs to be engineered, so choose one to focus on and do everything you can to help drive that up. Can use “lifetime value” as a framework for thinking through this
  • Consider the distribution channel you will use to get to your customers
  • Get into a rhythm/cycle where every 6 weeks, you meet to decide whether you’re on track or need to pivot. Have a clear understanding of the evidence you’ll need at that meeting to make that decision.
  • Remember: pivot is changing the strategy without changing the vision

Wrap up

Myth: Lean means “cheap and saving money”
Truth: It’s not about cost, it’s about speed

Myth: Companies are “lean” if they are small bootstrapped startups
Truth: Companies are “lean” if they are ambitious and are able to deploy resources in a good way

Myth: Lean startups replace vision with data or customer feedback
Truth: They are driven by a compelling vision, and are rigorous about testing each element of this vision.“ You don’t turn on your GPS and ask it where you should go. Data helps you get there, it doesn’t tell you where you should go.”


A few final thoughts from Eric that emerged during the Q&A section.

A message to big companies: “There are startups gunning for you right now. It’s not like size is everything.” At big companies, people know what needs to be done but are afraid to do it. Hopefully this is an invitation for people to actually do this.

Regarding whether Lean methods of testing represent loss of integrity: Integrity means being clear and honest with the customer and apologizing when you do something wrong. “We are already doing the wrong thing. Our customers dont know how to use our products, so our customers are constantly experiencing us as a bait and switch.”

Early adopters would rather have things in an unfinished state and being the first to try it. If you are spending too long perfecting it, customers will get mad because they can’t use it yet.

Regarding legacy code: Being first means that people will be gunning at you, but whoever moves faster will win. Legacy code means that everything we’ve learned is embedded in the code. If you have a choice, invest in new features, in cleanup, or in things that help you move faster in general. Refactoring tools can help you to move more quickly so they’re a good investment. But if you pivot because your use cases change, refactoring is better than starting over.

Teams need good measuring tools. "Metrics are people too.“ Best method is usually a homegrown way to see important data for a product, such as 5 key metrics pulled straight from the master database.

"Most visions can’t be recognized. As a startup, think that you’re the exception and systematically try every idea about getting there.”

Regarding selling through channels: Ask “am I creating value for the end user? What is lifetime value of the customer?" It might make sense to use the channel, but for testing you might first want to try selling direct and learn, then start applying that learning when you get building with the channels.

Designing a UI for 6 Billion People

Notes from a BayCHI talk given by Larry Tesler, the father of the “cut and paste” interaction.

Challenges in designing “cut and paste”:

  1. Unfamiliar metaphor - unfamiliar to anyone not in the copy industry, and for those in the industry the definition was different
  2. User mistakes - they observed that users would make mistakes, such as accidentally leave things in the buffer
  3. Extensibility to other applications - how would it apply to non-text programs such as drawing applications?

Although it wasn’t perfect, they continued to push for it and consider new ways to extend it. They even spent a lot of time dreaming up future possible applications to think about how they might use it later.

Since the first time he thought of cut and paste, it took him 7 years to roll it out.

Other UI paradigms that require exploration and definition: gestures, speech. We’re just at the beginning.

Reflection on Apple: They got so good at understanding their users that the culture moved away from user testing. That’s why some gestures on iOS aren’t necessarily intuitive today– user research is no longer as big a part of their DNA.

Life Learnings

  • Build bug-free, easy to use software
  • Don’t focus on being compatible with a bad UI 
  • Never confuse “busy” with “productive”
  • You don’t have all the answers, so team up
  • If everyone thinks that something is impossible, it’s a great topic for research
  • To fight an uphill battle choose a short hill 

BayCHI: Turning Mediocre Products into Awesome Products (Zurb)

I recently attended a BayCHI talk entitled “Turning mediocre products into awesome products,” led by two members of interaction design consultancy Zurb.

Amidst screenshots, photos, and Star Wars references, Jonathan Smiley & Jeremy Britton told the story of how they designed & launched a new product in 4 months. My notes from the talk follow:

“Design for People”

Design Principles:

  • Small details can change the world
  • Craft matters (you need to be able to design and build it!)
  • Everybody should be able to design - “Can’t draw stick figures? Pick up a yellow pen and highlight something. Can’t pick up a yellow pen? Pick up a red pen and cross something out”
  • You need people
  • Ask “why” five times
  • We love businesses with a long-term view
  • UX design doesn’t exist (as a discipline) since you can only control ½ of the experience; the other person brings their own context to the table

What do you need to make awesome products?

  • Lots of enlightened trial & error
  • Customer feedback ASAP
  • Team behind it - buy-in, want it to succeed

After this talk, challenge yourself to:

  • Design 1 more prototype
  • Demo with 5 more real customers
  • Create 1 more team advocate

The “lone genius” doesn’t exist - everyone’s heard fables of insight happening overnight, but we know that’s false & lots of work goes into every great invention

- ex: the lightbulb

- ex: Steve Jobs (has deep intuition for people, iterates, fails)

Building Verify

Week 1: Sketches

  • multiples -> no ego bruise (don’t feel bad about ones that suck)
  • fast -> in a flow (don’t need to set up anything beforehand)
  • cheap -> easier to repeat
  • disposable -> just a spark (easy to chuck bad stuff)
  • opportunity -> “wow” moments (accidental moments of insight)

Sketching becomes the “requirements” doc - better than a huge doc because they look less intimidating so people respond to them more honestly & productively

Month 1: Prototype

  • Front end code in ~1 week
  • “Spec” - Created a single page that lists out every screen in the app in order to build the app, including thumbnails of what they screens will look like. Divided up by user task. Links directly to the pages.
  • Literally scanned, chopped up, and dropped hand-sketched icons into the app

Month 2: Test Ideas & Iterate

  • presented at “Demo 2010” conference, got lots of excitement & signups
  • shared with users & iterated

Month 3: Private Release & Feedback

  • beta with 200-300 users
  • once people were using & paying for it, feedback came in strong
  • continued to learn user behavior - when added links to more tests at the bottom of the “Thank You” page, they found users would usually take another test because they’d found the last one to be so quick & fun

Month 4: Launch!

Additional Reading Material