MIX09, Las Vegas

* these are my live notes – will edit and try to make sense later 😉

I’m at MIX09 Microsoft’s conference for web developers and designers. I’m impressed by the big screens and sound which are crystal clear because I’m in a room with 2-3 thousand geeks so the speakers are quite far away! The keynote kicked off and with a very interesting talk by Bill Buxton, principle researcher at Microsoft Research, who spoke about the future of user experience, prototyping and good design.

He ended with a quote: ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’ – Senca

There followed a spoof video of Scott Guthrie getting ready for MIX, after he came onstage to talk about MS products and introduce various people do quick talks about new apps such as ASP.NET MVC 1.0, Web server extensions, Microsoft Web Platform installer and SuperPreview.

Jeff Atwood & Joel Spolsky, whose podcast I watched last night, came on to talk about Stackoverflow – quotes: ‘we built stackflow not to make lots of money, but to make a cool hack’ + ‘we save money by starting programmers really young’ = *humour* 🙂


Update: Sorry, been a bit busy, but finally here’s some more of my thoughts on MIX09:

T’was a staggering four days of intense talks and workshops. I met some great people here from all over the world – I’ve especially appreciated spending time with Microsoft blog queen Betsy Aoki and Betsy Weber, Chief Evangelist at TechSmith: two very cool geek ladies. We had some great discussion on geek, media and gender issues as well as a lot of fun – they were also really kind in helping me find vegan food in Las Vegas, and also loading me up with vitamin C and herbal teabags as I had a horrid cold – such bad timing!

It was great to bump into our old Backstage colleague Matthew Cashmore and slightly surreal for us to be in Vegas together 🙂

Have to mention the fab MIX09 party on the roof of Tao, where we kicked back and relaxed for a while with some yummy cocktails and great company. Ian and I had an amazing, affirming chat with Molly Holzschlag, (who is quite frankly a legend) about life, confidence, work and the great stuff that we get to do, and I also got to meet the wonderful Erica O’Grady, social media consultant at Peanut Butter Media

There were a huge variety of talks to attend and I had to flip a coin in many cases to chose between them – just to give you a flavour, here’s a shortlist of some of my favourites:

Johnny Lee – talked about some of his projects, it was great to hear how he had built his famous 3D display with head tracking and other projects with the Wiimote. He also gave us a tour of some of his favourite research projects by other people, such as mixed reality devices including haptics, tiny handheld projectors and augmented surfaces: where you leave the traditional monitor area expanding out onto tables and surfaces. Some of the prototypes that he mentioned can be attempted using easily available kit and household bits and pieces and as Johnny will be in the UK in May at Thinking Digital (Backstage are a sponsor) – it will be a great opportunity for any developers and home tinkerers to ask him how they can investigate building and forwarding open source research into some of these emerging technologies 🙂

2ndfactory – these guys have created an open source toolkit for the Deep Zone image generator called Jellyfish Deep Zoom which has two main parts: the first is a client side library (.dll) that can be used for Deep Zoom development on client side, and the second is server side deep zoom slicing application that can use for dynamic generation of deep zoom images and collections

Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher Microsoft Research – his keynote kicked off the conference making some cool observations about the future of user experience, prototyping and good design – he was also around all week mingling and talking to students and attendees

Sketchflow – a prototyping tool that uses pipes with Silverlight3 that can be used to distribute your application sketches and workflow designs to your clients – I wonder what Adobe and their users will make of this?

• Joe Fletcher – discussed touch and gesture computing, citing examples from his work on Surface and its design principles. He made the point that ‘touch’ is not good for everything, but is great for specific aspects. He took us on a historical journey of interfaces from the command line to graphical user interface, to contemporary natural user interface – describing and comparing each one in turn. He finished with a quote from the film Ghost in the Shell: ‘your effort to remain what you are is what limits you’ – very true! I enjoyed his honest style of presentation and that he took a very objective look at the functionality vs. limitations of this growing technology

Deborah Adler, who spoke at the keynote on day two. She told us the story of her quest to investigate better design for pharmacy labeling for her master’s thesis after her grandmother took the wrong medicine and became ill. She created a system that uses colour coded bands for different family members, labeling in colours that people could read, intuitive icons, consistent labeling and more. She also made prototypes: “I’m not an industrial designer, so I had to make my prototypes out of plexi tubing and doll house materials” – a very interesting insight into the importance of UX and a humanised approach to working out problems. I think essential design and packaging problems like the ones Deborah encountered makes a very good case for open design principles!

• Live Joel Atwood & Jeff Spolsky podcast recording was very interesting to listen to and Ian managed to get a question in!

Objectified movie by Gary Huswit – this was the 2nd showing in the world of this movie, after last week’s SXSW. It’s a very interesting insight into the motivations and thought processes of product designers, as well as how we relate to objects and they become part of our lives and finally what happens to them when they are cast aside. The film is beautifully shot and looks great on screen, though I’d have like to seen the designer’s probed a little more on some subjects!

From a corporate point of view, there were a lot of announcements and launches from Microsoft, such as Internet Explorer 8, which was backed up with workshops to explain and probe deeper into the inner workings and features such as new menus and the interesting ‘private mode‘ – hmm what’s that for? 😉 I will have a closer look at IE 8 back home, but I’ll be sticking with FireFox3 for now 😉 Also, tons on Silverlight3 applications such as the Sketchflow application I mentioned earlier (interestingly, Silverlight isn’t bundled with IE8).

Overall, MIX09 was a really good conference with a lot to see and hear. It was really great to see some blurring/mingling between designers and developers and even some mutual appreciation 😉 The quality of the talks and workshops was excellent, but of course, this often made it really tough to chose what to attend!

If I could offer a few suggestions to the organisers for next year to make MIX even better:

• Closing thank you’s and goodbyes: it was odd that delegates just drifted off homein the afternoon – I think the organizers deserved to be seen and thanked!

• Closing round up – would have been great to have some highlights and maybe some prizes

• After party – there were loads of people wondering what to do for the evening after MIX, so would have been brill to have met up and gone somewhere – also a great chance for the organizers to let their hair down

• MIX09 women’s size t-shirts – I’ve got enough huge nightie t-shirts and women’s size conf t-shirts acknowledges that not all geeks are men 😉

• More women developers speaking – there were some lady designers speaking , but not enough women developers

• Later starts: 8am breakfast/9am starts are too early for me, although I made it there I was a bit of a zombie till lunchtime 😉