Mark Boulton Design Blog

Who said lectures need to be boring?

Posted on by Colin

Well, here I am again talking about all things apprentice-y.  Before I start sharing the contents of my brain, I’d just like to thank everyone for the comments on my last blog post and application.  I appreciate you all taking the time to check out my progress and tell me your thoughts (even the cantankerous ones).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been thrown into the unfamiliar depths of the conference world.  Armed with many books, a lust for learning and double my body weight in snacks, my adventure was set to begin.

Welcome to the jungle…

Web Directions @Media -

Being my first ever conference, I was nervously excited to venture into the world of the web community and meet some of it’s inhabitants.  Amongst the hordes of attendees were an interesting variety of species – Designers, Developers and the illustrious Speakers.  Knowing that blending in to such a complex ecosystem would be tricky, it made sense to offer a treat to it’s dwellers to gain a basic level of trust.  “How did you manage that?” I hear you cry.  After setting up camp, it was merely a matter of strategically placing the bait – otherwise known as the great range of Five Simple Steps books.  Once the natives had approached the bait, I was able to engage in a relaxed and friendly conversation with them.  Blending in with the natives…achieved!

My next task was to seek out the rarer species, known to the web conference community as ‘The Speakers’.  Utilising my advanced tracking skills (looking at the event programme), I was able to observe a number of these Speakers up close in their natural environment (on stage). Below, I have given a brief summary of my observations of these fascinating characters:

Brian Suda -  Brian is the tribe’s equivalent to a supercomputer.  His wizardry with data knows no bounds!  I was lucky enough to see him discuss methods of visualising information in an engaging and concise manner to produce beautiful and accurate representations of data.  A key point Brian made was that the best forms of data display tell one story and only one story, so find your story and execute it well.  Brian highlighted a great example of this using the ‘Red Shirt’ theory graph.  Another intriguing subject raised, was how various methods of presenting data can give false impressions through deceptive visual trickery.

Relly Annett Baker – Within the tribe, I noticed an excitable and humorous character who seemed fixated with the ideas of something known amongst the natives as ‘Copy’.  Presenting a “Rollercoaster Vaudeville Tour of Content Throught The Ages!”, Relly shared how we have treated content in the past and how it can help us grasp what people want from mobile content today, and even tomorrow.  Focussing on a no-shit approach to content, Relly pushes the idea of creating content with intent.  By creating content with the audience in mind can make a huge difference to the success of any project.  A key point raised throughout Relly’s talk is that content pushes technology forward, and has done since before this generation of the tribe were around.

Hannah Donovan -  This curious character takes a very hands on approach within the tribe of Speakers by exploring everything with a hint of child-like wonder.  Hannah claims to be five…she is not.  However, she does display an admirable curiosity with her “Just go look” approach to design.  By following this approach, you will have observed key information which can aid you in making informed decisions.  Hannah also discussed traditional tools and techniques akin to that of an architect/illustrator, reinforcing the importance of drawing as a powerful tool.  Through investigation, communication and validation, sketches can be used as a conversation with yourself to help explore and refine your design work…so get drawing people!

Stephen Anderson -  Stephen showed a great amount of understanding of his fellow tribe members and how to sustain their interest through the use of psychology.  Within his talk exploring how to sustain passionate users, Stephen highlights that by finding the fun in the core of interactional activity engages the users more effectively than simply adding fun to the task.  Stephen notes that by giving users a level of curiosity, a feedback loop and appropriate challenges, your users will remain motivated about the experience you are providing.  Stephen also highlights the pitfalls of gamification in sustaining users as inappropriate rewards, which soon lose value.  Appropriate and engaging content and experiences are the way forward!

Sebastian Deterding –  Referring to himself as the “grumpy German” of the tribe, Sebastian gave a detailed analysis of what makes games engaging and how this can be used in ‘gameful design’.  Looking at the success of Lego and Go, Sebastian elaborated on their popularity due to their function as ‘possibility engines’ that allow for a vast range of creativity from it’s user.  In contrast to this, Sebastian presented some apps as ‘exhaustibles’ because of the limited gratification the user gets from their experience.  After exploring these themes and possibilities with a great sense of humour and relevance, Sebastian noted that the key to designing gameful systems that will sustain users in the long run is to reward players with something that is genuinely valuable so that there is an equal exchange.

DIBI Conference -

Following a very short break, I was setting off for a new adventure of similar ilk to that of Web Directions.  This time I was headed north to investigate a relatively newly discovered tribe of the web conference community in the regions of DIBI.  Using the tried and tested techniques from the previous conference, I managed to track and observe a set of Speakers that displayed some very different behaviour and thought processes.

Mike Kus -  This visually-focussed member of the tribe likes to share his passions for a visually stimulating approach to web design.  Mike highlighted the importance of making use of graphics with purpose, direction and functionality.  After touching on examples of a ‘duplicated web’, Mike was keen to stress the fact that the web no longer has visual limits but should be approached with consideration and meaning in order to provide the best possible user experience.

Faruk Ates –  A relaxed, confident and slightly philosophical member of the Speaker species took to the stage to discuss the importance of looking forward in order to shape the web of today.  By learning from the history of the web and the importance of emerging technologies, we can decide where the web will be in the future.  Faruk discussed how “ideas lead to form – this is design”, and “form leads to a product – this is development”.  With this in mind, focussing on content and the best possible experience should always drive a project forward.  In order to make sure you’re going in the right direction, take the time to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.  Rembrandt used this method when creating artwork and who can argue that it didn’t work for him!

Jeremy Keith -  Jeremy is a very animated, energetic and passionate character.  He really cares about what he says and freely highlights the almost ranting nature of his talks.  Notions of websites that will meet you wherever you are thanks to universal access (referred to as the ‘one web’ approach) was the driving force behind Jeremy’s discussion.  This idea of ‘one web’ was reinforced through the argument that there shouldn’t be a ‘mobile web’, ‘desktop web’ or ‘tablet web’, but rather a singular web that functions across multiple devices and still delivers good content.  Expanding upon designing from the content-out, Jeremy emphasised the importance of creating effective, fluid designs that deliver good content to everyone in relation to the context of the users experience.

Jared Spool – Entertaining and informing is Jared’s game.  Utilising the analogy of air conditioning, Jared accentuates how intuitive design is invisible (as nobody mentions when it’s working).  Following this principle, Jared noted how design breaks when the focus moves away from the content.  This was reinforced by suggesting that “if they (the user) notices the change then you’re doing it wrong”.  Jared also expressed the importance of spending time watching our users interacting with our websites to gain a better understanding of their intuition and knowledge.  By doing so, we are able to bridge the gap between our users ‘current knowledge’ and ‘target knowledge’, resulting in good, intuitive and invisible design.

Jeffrey Zeldman –  Leader and law man of the interweb community, Jeffrey was a key figure to watch during my time within the DIBI region.  Commenting on how the web is still in it’s infancy, Jeffrey mentioned how we’re still working it out and trying to understand it, and that’s probably a good thing.  With a smile on his face, Jeffrey also proclaimed that “a certain type of holistic thinking is taking root in the community” since a level of maturity is emerging through new technologies, user experience and content.  An exciting time for the web is definitely upon us!


During my time in the depths of the conference jungle, I made an incredible discovery of an unbelievably rare species.  This intriguing animal has really caught my attention and I predict it to become a prevalent species in the future.  So, in a King Kong style man-captures-beast unveiling, I give you…Cecil the scooter-riding squirrel!

Cecil on his scooter ‘Fat Brian’


Sooooooooo busy!

As suggested by this heading, it’s a very busy time in the studio at the moment.  With several projects and promotions really kicking off, it’s been all hands on deck.  After attending the conferences, my involvement with all things Five Simple Steps has expanded along a new and exciting avenue.  “What are you on about man?” you say.  I’m on about getting stuck into creating books!

With the excellent guidance of Nick, I have been involved with typesetting our upcoming book by Rob Mills.  It’s been great to be involved with each stage of the production process so far.  Our time, care and attention is initially focussed on typesetting the copy, ensuring the content is well structured and beautifully presented ready for our lovely readers’ eyes and brains.  After typesetting the first draft, it’s ready to be picked apart to the very last detail just to make sure everything is exactly how we want it.  This is what we’re doing right now ready for the release on the 19th of July!

The wall of notes

My little piece of the interweb

Being involved in so many different aspects of Mark Boulton Design and Five Simple Steps is amazing, but there’s always more to get stuck in with.  In order to be slightly more useful in the area of all things web-ish, I have started learning how to design and develop…you guessed it…websites!

There’s no better place to start than with my own site.  My aim for the site is to act as a portfolio and shop for my illustration work and t-shirts.  As the basic skills are being instilled, I have created a holding page (with some guidance and explanation) for the time being, complete with links.  It’s nothing mind-blowingly amazing but not too bad for my first web page.  Keep an eye out in this blog for updates on the sites progress.  For now though, check out the holding page here.

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