Seattle LeanCamp

I’ll be participating in Seattle Lean Camp over the weekend of July 16 & 17, and am really looking forwards to the event. At my current job, I spend time doing software development, but almost none reflecting on process (“the” process, as well as my process).

Thinking back, turns out I’ve only been involved in one (1) Big Design Up Front metacolossus software project. Not much to note about that one except that:

  1. we wasted a big amount of time up front;
  2. the software is still in use 6 or so years later;
  3. the best parts of it are those which were unplanned; and
  4. never again.

Generally, agile/haptic/emergent/no design has been the norm in my work. This is probably due to my age and the fact that I didn’t get into serious software-as-deliverable gigs until grad school (about 02006). I’m one of the lucky ones.

Point being that, in software, as in design, and as in life, you make it up as you go along. At the beginning of a project you’re making something from nothing. Later, you’re making something with quality/utility/beauty out of that first something. How you’re making it up, and why, is all that matters. Specifically: these are the only things you have control over, so you’d damn well better make them the only things that matter.

That’s the lesson of the independent practitioner. You spend a lot of time saying “yes”, and a lot of time saying “no”, and most of your time saying “maybe” (which means “no”) — but all of that time needs to map onto getting paid doing valuable work. The work of reversing entropy, delighting clients and customers, creating complexity that can be taken for granted.

This is why I’m fascinated by the intermediary artifacts people use to generate, contain, and communicate design (oratory, reports, explanations, wireframes, maps, e-mails, drawings, scale models, whispers in the night, extended metaphors, etc.) and bored beyond the vale of tears by the professional identities and associations the same people wrap around themselves (information architect, user interface designer, user experience designer, researcher, product designer, librarian, futurist, urban planner, etc.). I get it: you need a professional identity to get paid situate your self and your work. It’s useful language.

So let’s treat the language of identity and association as damage and route around it.

Let’s try a roomful of people, each doing different things in different ways, with different teams and to different ends; fill that room, and say: great, now that we’re all here, take a weekend to listen and speak about how to make the things which, in turn, let you make the things you actually care about.

Symbols pave the path

symbols

Tacoma is one of those lucky cities, young enough to start feeling old: the kind of place where stuff lasts longer, ages slower, holds the years better. The city looks worse for wear but doesn’t crack. Behind that gentrifacted storefront is a quick-and-dirty shed that’s a hundred years old. Some of the very best things to ever happen to Tacoma had already come and gone before that shed was built. The city’s fortunes have always been indexed to current events, but not in ways you’d expect. Good news: the Northern Pacific Railroad. And bad news: gold in the Yukon. An accumulation of events, great and terrible in turn, and you can feel all of them in the soft tile and brick underfoot.

This city isn’t finished yet. I could tell you about the close of the century, how things got a little worse, but then started to turn around; nineteenth and twentieth centuries both. For a dude from Michigan — a state that’s been doomed to inexorable decline for an entire lifetime, at least — it is an ongoing relief to be here. Every good thing in Michigan (“back home”) was only good because it used to be a lot better. But, Tacoma: wait for an uncloudy day and walk a few blocks, to the top of the hill, see mountains in three directions. When it rains it never stops. Neither do the ships rolling in and out of Commencement Bay. Better coffee than Portland, more serious about its beer (and less serious about everything else) than Seattle. A ceiling of clouds, each stretching from white to that heavy gray, beneath the biggest bluest sky you’ve ever seen.