Behind the Scenes: HOW Interactive Conference

When you’re planning the program for a conference of any kind, it’s incredibly helpful to have someone on the team who’s part of the target audience. So the HOW Interactive Design Conference program is noteworthy because of the involvement of Bridgid McCarren.

(BREAKING NEWS: As of 8 a.m. ET today, the HOW Interactive Design Conference is currently filled to capacity. But we’ve established a waiting list for designers who want to attend, so don’t give up. Occasionally, plans change for current registrants, and we may see some cancellations over the next few weeks. By placing your name on the waitlist now, you’ll be closer to the possibility of being a part of this in-demand event. Visit the HOW Interactive Design Conference website for details.)

Bridgid led the planning effort to develop the inaugural conference agenda, which was ideal since she herself is the prototypical conference attendee: an experienced and talented print designer who’s learning interactive skills. In addition to being HOW’s senior art director, she’s earning her MFA in interaction design from Savannah College of Art and Design. You’ll be seeing a lot of Bridgid at the conference. Recently, I asked her how her professional evolution into web design influenced her programming choices.

What’s keeping you busy these days?
At F+W media, I’m the senior art director for HOW and I’m also the program chair for the HOW Interactive Design Conference.  I’m pursuing a Masters of Fine Art in interactive design at Savannah College of Art and Design. When I’m unplugged, I love anything that gets my blood pumping: snowboarding, running, cycling, yoga and my newest obsession, swimming.

You’re smack-dab in the target audience for the conference yourself: You’re an experienced magazine designer who’s pursuing a master’s degree in interactive design from Savannah College of Art and Design.What’s been the biggest challenge for you personally moving from print to web design?
The biggest challenge was to discover where to begin and what to focus on. It  can be very overwhelming to move from print to web design. HTML, C, C++, ASP, PHP, Perl, ColdFusion, JSP, Python, Java, CSS … OMG! Would someone just tell me what I need to learn and where I can learn it, please? I wanted a quick fix.

And then it occurred to me that I didn’t become a graphic designer by learning the Adobe Creative Suite—or any other program, for that matter. I won’t learn to be a interactive designer by learning aspecific scripting language. So I made a decision to learn the fundamental concepts of interactive design. That’s why I’m really excited about this conference: It will provide a strong foundation for me to build my interactive skills upon. And in the years to come, the conference program will grow and include more advanced topics  that will help continue to develop my interactive skillset.

How do you feel your print-design expertise and skills carry over into interactive design? Where are the similarities between those two disciplines?
I feel that the design process can be very similar to the design process that print designers use. I was surprised to find that much of the process is done on paper, before you even write a single line of code. I’m not a programmer, and while I’m learning more all the time, it’s not my strongest skill. So it really saves me a lot of time and frustration to iron out  and troubleshoot my designs on paper first. During the conference, I’m really looking forward to David Sherwin’s creative challenge as a means to better understand the interactive design process.

One of the differences between the two disciplines is print designers can be very deadline-driven. I complete a project, send it to the printer and it’s done. Interactive design is an evolving project that needs continued attention—and that has required me to shift my thinking. I have to think about how the project will be updated and let that inform some of my decisions during the project planning and site build. This also relates to designing content across platforms. As a print designer, you decide on a format and design to fit that fixed format. With interactive design, you have to assess how your content will be viewed across platforms. Cameron Moll’s session on The Non-Desktop Web and How to Design for It will address this complex challenge.

You led the HOW team in working with the conference advisors to plan the program. How did your own experience in learning interactive design come into play as you thought about topics and speakers?
Interactive design is very difficult to teach to a group of professionals at varying levels of knowledge. I wanted print designers to avoid getting bogged down or intimidated by the heavy tech-speak and really dive into the concepts that drive great interactive design. That’s not to say that the technical aspects of interactive design aren’t important, but I don’t believe a conference is the best place to learn those concepts. There are lots of wonderful sites, online communities, books and classes available that can help designers learn to write code. This event goes beyond that. It will be very beneficial to those just making the switch from print to interactive, as well as self-taught web designers who have been teaching themselves the technical aspects of creating interactive projects but may have missed some of the fundamental concepts that can move their designs to the next level.

It was also very important to me to have a killer lineup of speakers who are designers themselves. Many of them had begun their careers as print designers, so I feel that they’ll have a lot of insight into the attendee experience. I also wanted there to be opportunities for the attendees to interact with the speakers and ask questions. The daily panel discussions will server as an open forum to dive deeper into sessions or discuss topics not covered.

What are you most looking forward to at the conference?
I’m most excited about meeting attendees and speakers to connect with a community of designers who can relate to my experience. I’m also looking forward to Julie Beeler’s session on User Experience Design for Multi-Disiplinary Teams. I’m a fan of Second Story‘s work and also feel strongly that experience design is what really drives our relationships to powerful brands and ideas. If you can master this as a designer, you have the potential to create interactive, exciting communication and connections with your audience.

As you scan the technology landscape, what are you seeing that really excites or intrigues you?
I’m very intrigued by Adobe Muse and Digital Publishing Suite. I think there are lots of designers with high hopes that this will help them to accomplish the designs they want without the struggle of learning to write complex code.

What’s your favorite:
1) website

Ohh … Just one? I can’t. How about two: good.is and smashingmagazine.com

2) mobile app

I have a different one every week, but today it’s the ESPN Fantasy Football League 2011 app. It’s amazingly user-friendly.

3) book

New: Brian Miller’s “Above the Fold”

Oldie but goodie: I’ve been revisiting the “Looking Closer” series by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel and Steven Heller. I wish they’d come out with another one.

Learn more about the HOW Interactive Design Conference program and save $100 when you register by midnight September 30.

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