I attended Web Visions 2010, the Design Conference in Portland, Oregon. Compared to 2009, the conference feels much smaller: perhaps half as big as last year. The conference also seems more tightly focused on design. In 2009, I recalled more sessions on social media, analytics, business, and technology.

CORRECTION: 2010/5/28: Brad Smith, Executive Director of Web Visions, informed me that there were actually more attendees this year, but that the conference moved to a bigger event space. It goes to show that the context in which something happens can substantially influence your perception of the event.

I love design, don’t get me wrong, but I think I liked it more when there was a greater variety of topics. I’m not a full time designer, although I do have design aspects to my work. But I also have social computing, startup, and business aspects to what I do.
Sessions I attended this year:

I tend to like both the expert topic type presentations as well as people’s personal stories. In what I think of as an expert topic presentation, the presenter has deep expertise in a given field, and can draw upon many experiences and other people’s research. By comparison, people’s personal stories of building a business focus on a chronological unfolding of their experiences over time, and give you a very realistic portrayal of the pitfalls and roundabout way that things happen in the real world. Both are valuable, and I do like that Web Visions has both kinds of presentations.

Here are some of the themes I noticed this year:

As I noted before, the critical innovation in many cases is now the user experience, as opposed to any kind of technological innovation. Alexa Andrejewski told the story of having the idea of Foodspotting but no technology expertise – so she spent six months iterating on the design before she found someone to implement it. Gene Smith spoke about creating a good user experience on top of Sharepoint. Web implementation is cheap, it’s something you can do in your spare time, Jason Glaspey explained, with many examples of businesses launched over the course of weeks and in people’s spare time.

In many cases, the best ideas come when there is no expectation of profit, no goal to launch a business. This was a topic at SXSW Interface, and again at Web Visions in Jason Glaspey’s talk on Build Something, Build Anything. delicious, upcoming, metafilter, even facebook were all started as sideprojects to “scratch an itch” as they say. Americans watch 100M hours of TV commercials in a single weekend – that’s the same effort that went into creating Wikipedia. We could have a new Wikipedia every weekend if we just gave up commercials. A good side project should fulfill some goal completely (art, money, career), rather than be something that might be for any of those, but doesn’t accomplish any of them.

User experience design has some concrete tools you can use to create, communicate, and validate your product vision. There are also some specific lessons about how to get people registered on your site, get them engaged, and get them to come back. We want to include humanness in our interfaces without making them too uncanny.

Other summaries of Web Visions 2010: