Big Design Talk – Produce like Picasso, Part 2

by Kelly Nercess

Last month we discussed how we could take the unique work ethic of artist Pablo Picasso and apply it to our lives. Through the five P’s of Productivity you can be well on your way to improving your potential and maximizing your strengths. These P’s include: Passion, Purpose, Proficiency, Persistence and Partnership. At the Big Design in Dallas, Brian Sullivan and J. Schuh presented a highly entertaining talk that left you feeling motivated and ready to conquer your career.
We already took a look at the first two steps, Passion and Purpose. Let’s take a deeper dive into the final three steps.

“I am doing that which I cannot do, in order to learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso started his path in art at an early age. He was taught brush technique by his father, Jose Ruiz and attended the Barcelona School of Fine Arts. At the ripe young age of 14, his father rented him a studio to practice his talents. Picasso preferred to work in solitude and focus strictly on his work. He allowed animals to go into the studio, including dogs, cats and a monkey. He was also very particular about his work and would not allow for maids to come in to clean the studio. Any wrong move and a masterpiece that he was working on could be ruined.
Picasso was very dedicated to his schedule, and when he had to share his studio he set a schedule for everyone else as well. He took his art very seriously and would not let anyone get in the way. His artistic nature would get the best of him at times when he was bored at school. Picasso would skip classes to visit museums and do his own research. The theory was to always to continue practicing. Every moment was spent toward improving his skill. Picasso began to join networks that would bring him together with other artists. Tertulia was a frequent term used, an informal gathering of artists and musicians. His first network was The Four Cats. Throughout these gatherings he would get the opportunity to talk about art, music, current events, literature and more.

Proficiency Points of Picasso:

  1. Move beyond just pushing pixels.
  2. Get an education and learn on your own.
  3. Research, research, research.
  4. Practice, practice, practice.
  5. Network, network, network.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” One of the most important aspects to staying productive is setting a routine and sticking to it. That is exactly what Pablo Picasso did. Every day was just like the day before. Wake up, eat, work, nap, work, eat, work, and sleep. This ongoing routine kept him persistent in his efforts to be an outstanding artist. Picasso’s popularity grew, and so did his number of visitors. Artists, reporters, Gls, resistance fighters and art dealers all stopped in to pay a visit to this famed artist. The spotlight forced Picasso to open up his studio every Thursday, which ultimately threw off the perfected schedule he maintained.

Keeping a driven attitude involved developing good work habits. Picasso nailed down a work habit that worked for him:

  1. Produces rough sketches.
  2. Explores alternatives.
  3. Iterate his sketches.
  4. Reduces alternatives.
  5. Begins his project.
  6. Picks workable designs.
  7. Took photos in later years.
  8. Finishes his work.
  9. Documents in a journal.

He was persistent in his projects and making sure they were the absolute best they could be. Settling for second best was not an option. He explored several areas of art and mastered them all. Prints, ceramics, stage designs, costumes, sculptures and paintings were all areas that Picasso aspired to dabble in. Persistence was engrained in his work ethic and settling was not something he was willing to do Working towards being his best possible version and maximizing his artistic skills was the only option for Picasso. He frequently would not it right on the first try, or even the second. But he proved that continuing to perfect his artwork and tweak it would gain him success in the end.
Persistence didn’t end in his art studio;, he was persistent when pursuing his artwork to sellers. Exhibiting his work in other countries did not come natural at first. Picasso had no exhibits in Paris until the 1930s. He remained persistent with the Blue Period, which did not initially sell. Twenty years later, these paintings attract the most money at an auction of all of Picasso’s periods.

Persistence Points of Picasso

  1. Your creative process beats blocks.
  2. Develop a schedule and good work habits.
  3. See your setbacks as learning experiences.
  4. Master new disciplines to solve problems.
  5. Empty yourself, fill up with new challenges.
  6. Do not have the fear to begin, again.

This element in productivity could be considered the most critical. Picasso found support from his family, mentors and networks. Even rivals and collaborators were able to increase his productivity and make him work harder. His childhood family support played an intricate role in his career. His Uncle Salvador paid his tuition for art school and his mother consistently wrote him letters while he was in Paris. Knowing that he had a support system and partnerships to help drive his talents only increased his moral. Without his partnerships, Picasso would have not had the same opportunities to excel. His father was his early mentor and was the one to teach him the technique of a brush. Picasso says, “Every time I draw a man, I instantly think of my father.”
Pablo Picasso had other mentors that include Max Jacobs and Guillaume Apollinaire. Max Jacobs was a poet who taught Picasso how to speak French. For a short time, they even shared an apartment together. Guillaume Apollinaire was Picasso’s first critic to review his Cubism period. Other inspiration came from his connections with Tertulia. Writer Ernest Hemingway and journalist Leo Stein were among this elite group. Others like the famed dancer Isadora Duncan and writer Gertrude Stein also grew a partnership with Picasso.

The idea that your rival may bring out the competitive side is not too far off for Picasso. He had a historic rival with Henri Matisse. “No one has ever looked at Matisse’s paintings more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than Matisse.” Their friends loved the rivalry that went on between to two artists, and even encouraged it. You can see their rivalry live on in their artwork. Picasso’s Young ladies of Avignon (1906) was a response to Matise’s Joy of Life (1905). The rivalry grew on for years, but when looking at the bigger picture these artists both really respected each other. They were competitive and constantly wanted to keep up with one another, but at the end of the day they had a mutual understanding. Matisse and Picasso would insult each other, but when someone else would take a stab it was not considered respectful and rather taken in poor taste.
Partnerships are what allow us to grow and blossom.
Partnership Points of Picasso:

  1. Partnerships affect your productivity.
  2. Your family sets you up for success.
  3. Mentors educate and advise you.
  4. Your network will inspire you.
  5. Rivals push you in different ways.
  6. Collaborators expand your boundaries.

Taking these fundamental elements to productivity that Pablo Picasso used can only strengthen your work ethic. Aside from your career, passion and purpose and proficiency and persistence and partnerships are important to consider in all aspects of life. I want to thank Brian Sullivan and J. Schuh for their motivating talk that inspired me to summarize and share.
For more on Pablo Picasso’s artwork, visit:

Big Design Talk – Produce Like Picasso

by Kelly Nercess
Produce like Picasso
We all know Pablo Picasso and we all know he was a genius.  Primarily known for his role establishing Cubism, he was also an efficient artist.  He brought this discipline to each of his artistic periods including Traditional, the Blue Period, the Rose Period, his African-Influenced work, Neo-Classicalism and Surrealism. His innate talent and unstoppable drive meant that he produced an average seven new pieces of art every day. Today we have over 147,800 completed works of art from this amazing artist.  At this point you may be comparing your own productivity to Picasso’s his jaw dropping feat; try not to feel too bad about yourself. There was a method to his madness.
The presentation was not a Picasso art history lesson, but rather a lesson on how to apply this work ethic to your daily tasks. How can we apply Picasso to our work?  Brian Sullivan and J. Schuh presented their findings on how the average worker can apply these Picasso techniques to achieve success.
It all starts with the five P’s of Productivity: Passion, Purpose, Proficiency, Persistence and Partnership. These five components will pave the road to ‘producing like Picasso’.

The first words that came out of Picasso’s mouth was a form of the word ‘pencil’. Jose Ruiz, Picasso’s father, taught brush technique and was popular for his painting doves. When he noticed that his son loves to draw, he began giving him lessons. The start of his passion for art began at a young age and eventually led to his first oil painting at the ripe young age of 9. The name is the brand. Noticeably, Picasso has a different last name than his father. Could you imagine the iconic name being Pablo Ruiz instead of Pablo Picasso?
Picasso began art school and found himself daydreaming in class rather than focusing on what was being taught. “For being a bad student, I was sent to detention. I liked it there, because I took along a sketchpad and drew incessantly. I could have stayed there drawing forever.”
Passion Points of Picasso:

  1. Find your passion (drawing for Picasso).
  2. Family support for focus and education.
  3. Find a mentor, early on (Picasso’s father).
  4. Get an education (for the sake of learning).
  5. Know life events will fuel your passion.

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Stealing allows you to make something yours.
“Copying is doing exactly like someone else does. Stealing is when you take something, change it so much, the innovation is so disguised, so changed, that it looks like it belongs to you.” Steve Jobs can be known to use those words to his advantage. He took the branding that Picasso created and made it his own. Jobs considered Picasso his mentor and built the Apple brand using the artwork that Picasso created. If you notice the famous Apple ‘finder’ symbol, you will find a very close relation to the artwork of Picasso. Steve Jobs was shameless to steal ideas and build his brand off the work of this extraordinary artist.
There was no stopping the Apple empire, Jobs also wanted to be considered the Ritz-Carlton of retail. Someone is always there to great you at the door and the genius bar is a place to get advice on your products, rather than drinking a gin and tonic. Again, this goes back to the idea that Apple was shameless bout stealing great ideas. In order to be the best, you had to follow the footsteps of the best.
Looking back at the work of two brilliant innovators, they both continued to reinvent their brand and give their work a purpose. Picasso established his work in the Blue Period, Cubism and Neo-Classical, while Apple continued to push the boundaries with new technology including smartphones, tablets and computers.
Picasso held a great influence to Steve Jobs. Without his impact on the Apple brand, I would imagine some of the products we use today would not be the same.
“Steve Jobs admired Picasso because he could have taken a conventional approach and done it well for the rest of his life, but Picasso (like Jobs) tried to change things.” – Dr. Enrique Mallen, Forbes 2013
Purpose Points of Picasso:

  1. Have an open mind to new experiences.
  2. Be original. Challenge the status quo.
  3. Look beyond your own design discipline.
  4. Steal great ideas, but make them your own.
  5. Take risks. Do not copy other people.

In part two of this article, I will deep dive into findings that Brian Sullivan and J. Schuh shared on the remaining three P’s: Proficiency, Persistence and Partnership. Stay tuned in our March newsletter for the final article!

Big Design Talk: The Real Mobile Experience

by Kelly Nercess
Lets face it. We live in a society where the majority of people are glued to their mobile devices. Whether it’s texting a friend, finding an online recipe for dinner, or taking a selfie…everyone, at one point or another, is guilty of being attached to their smartphone.
During the Big Design conference in Dallas this year, I had a chance to attend Pamela Pavliscak’s workshop on “ The Real Mobile Experience”. Aside from her entertaining jokes and quick wit, she gave us a her insights on what people really do on mobile phones and how to design for those activities.
Some quick facts:
–       For every baby born, there are five mobile devices activated
–       7 billion mobile phones in the world. 55% of those are smartphones
–       Typical mobile users check their phones 150 times a day
–       Smartphone owners spend over 2 hours on their phone each day
–       21% of US mobile phone owners go online primarily using their phones and globally that number is even higher
–       Out of preference: 50% of smartphone owners under 30 use the Internet primarily on their mobile phone
–       Out of necessity: 55% of Americans who make less than $30k/year have no web access at home
–       For convenience: 34% use the device simply because it is close at hand
–       29% say that their phone is the first and last thing that they look at everyday
–       44% sleep with their phones (in a very platonic manner)
Based on the data that Pavliscak reported, people show a remarkable dependency on their smartphones. The fact that we now wake up and go sleep with this electronic device by our side can even be intimidating for a spouse. Women were asked if they would rather give up sex or their mobile phone for 1 month. Can you guess the answer? 48% of women said they would rather give up sex, while the other 52% said they would rather do without their mobile phones. Hmm, interesting. Where do you fall on the spectrum?
An experiment was performed where she asked 250 people to “take a look at their phone”. She was requesting the owner to just happily pass their phone over to a perfect stranger. The result:
–       A slim amount of people actually handed over their phone
–       Some made an excuse not to pass it over
–       Some also just instantly put their phone away
–       Majority of people would hold the phone out and show it while it was still in their possession

So, what does this mean for society? We are way too overprotective of our phones. It’s as if it was our newborn child.
In addition to our phones providing a channel for enhanced social interactions, they also allow us to also solve problems. Pavliscak reported that 86% of people solve problems with their phones, which includes troubleshooting emergencies. What else do we use our devices for? High on the list is making sure our kids are happy. Only 20% of parents don’t use tablets or phones to keep their children occupied. So next time you are at a restaurant and you see a young child playing Angry Birds as opposed to eating their macaroni and cheese, you can look at them and think “Oh, you’re part of that 80%”.
We all know that we love and adore our phones, but what are we really doing on them? Ms. Pavliska proposed another experiment to research what we are spending our time on when our eyes are glued to that mobile screen. Even though we look at it over 150 times a day, we’re usually using it in three ways:
–       72% of the time we Tap
–       77% of the time we Swipe
–       94% of the time we are Scrolling

People know how to use the zoom button, but surprisingly a lot of us will continue to read the small text as opposed to using the gesture to make it larger. How can we optimize the mobile experience based on this data?
–       Take the guesswork out for the user, but give them obvious cues
–       Get rid of any needless gestures
–       First impressions hold the most value for The Flick (scroll down to the bottom, and then quickly back up to the top)
–       Don’t have to many hidden menus for when a user applies the The Washing Machine method (someone who swipes up and down/right and left)
–       We go to great lengths to avoid typing, so consider that when designing your mobile site
–       Use icons in a way that is consistent with other sites
–       Essential content should be on the page or on the top (hamburger menus are iffy)
–       Sound cues are a missed opportunity – only 74% of people leave their ringer on
Overall, there is much room for improvement for the user experience of mobile devices. They are attached to their phones almost as if it were another limb. Aside from the great content she was able to share, she had an upbeat and entertaining presentation style that did not go unnoticed by the crowd. If I get the chance to attend another talk by Pamela, I won’t miss the opportunity!

Introverts vs. Extroverts

by Kelly Nercess

Where do your social preferences lie when you think of a typical Friday night? Do you envision dancing the night away with a group of friends at the hottest nightclub? Or opt for a more laid-back evening with the latest Stephen King novel and a glass of wine in front of the fire? By choosing a preference, you are also declaring the trait of an introvert or an extrovert. Mike Townson shared his insights to the topic of introverts and extroverts at the Big Design conference in Dallas last month. How does this concept impact your ability to screen the right participants for your study goals?

On the scale of introverts and extroverts, sometimes there is no clear direction. You might feel drawn towards one side of the spectrum or you may find yourself smack dab in the middle. I, for one, can totally relate to this idea. I learned there is a word for that, we’re called Ambiverts by Townson. We  “can be considered moderately comfortable with groups and social interaction, but also relishing time alone, away from a crowd.” They are an intermediate between an introvert and an extrovert and share the same qualities that are possessed by both personalities. As an Ambivert, I can prefer quiet nights alone re-energizing my mind by simply keeping my thoughts to myself. Activities might include getting lost in a new book or reorganizing my kitchen. I get easily exhausted when I am constantly surrounded by people or feel the need to entertain others. On the other end, I do frequently enjoy social outings and I like to engage and interact with other people that are similar to me. I find comfort in a Friday night out with friends sharing our weekly stories over a beer.

Aside from my personal take on the topic, what does this mean for the UX industry? How do personality traits of an introvert and an extrovert really affect the moderator that is conducting an in-lab Qualitative study with a one-on-one interview, or a focus group? The loudest person in the room and the most outgoing is the right one in a focus group. That is absolutely not true. User Experience focuses on introverts and getting in to their minds and what they think and pulling out their thoughts and making them feel comfortable to share their opinions. When you are in the interview process to gain participants, it shouldn’t be about having the outgoing extrovert personality. It doesn’t mean that they are always the best candidate for the study and can get the most valuable information because they are the loudest.

Even being classified as an introvert or extrovert can play a considerable role in an office environment. It can determine whether a person is better suited in a cubicle setting with frequent loud conversations happening around them, or a more excluded setting that includes a private office and fewer distractions. So Townson poses the question, “How can we have a more friendly work environment for all personality types?” Well, the answer may be simple by using these tactics:

  • Quiet time blocks
  • Check with someone over IM/email before coming over to talk with them
  • Huddle rooms for quick conversations
  • Phone “booths” for conference calls

Management styles should adapt when considering introverts and extroverts. Ideally a mixed management style that caters to both personalities. Take advice from all angles and don’t exclude particular insights because it may come from someone else with a different personality. The allure of living in a society that can be considered a melting pot allows us to gain different points of views – leverage that!

Overall, I was able to learn a great deal from Mike Townson about the psychology behind introverts and extroverts and how we can incorporate these personalities in to not only the UX world, but also our daily lives. So now I pose the question, where do you think you fall on the spectrum?

Big Design Dallas Day 2 Recap

Overall words to describe the Big Design Conference 2014: Jam packed, smart people, memorable and, of course, Phil freaking Tippett. In case you don’t know this legend by name, he’s been the visual effects creative mind behind on Star Wars and Jurassic Park! Here’s the highlight reel on Day 2 to close out this exciting two day conference.

Do You Trust Me Now?: Content Convergence in the Age of Social Media  by Rahel Anne Bail @rahelab

Rahel talked about having a content marketing strategy. The quicker your company realizes that everyone is a brand ambassador, the more successful you’ll be. A couple takeaways:

  • Unless we’re creating content meant for social validation and social interaction, we’re not doing it right.
  • Social media is not the same as social business. One-way communication is not social. It’s advertising.
  • Customers may claim that they don’t care about social in business context. They’re in denial.

Give a hoot! Mapping (and caring for) the Semantic Environment by Jorge Arango @jarango

This lively (and academic talk) had audience members shouting “Give a Hoot!” throughout the presentation in order to confirm salient points. Jorge taught us how human beings react to and derive meaning from language and the nuances of context. For example, responsive has a different meaning for web designers vs medical device developers. Be thoughtful about the semantic environment in your writing.

The Design of Content: Strategies for Lasting Impressions by Keith Anderson @suredoc

Keith argues the point that the design and reading experience has been improving since the 1450s. He takes his theories from Gestalt psychology, the idea of what the eyes take in the mind will process as a whole. Takeaways from the presentation include:

  • Content strategy can be defined as the art AND science of controlling the creation, storage, maintenance, and dissemination of words and their associated assets and context to be congruent with an organization’s goals.
  • The User Experience movement has simultaneously helped and hindered how we communicate.
  • Our job as content writers is to anticipate readers’ expectations and provide them with quality content within a context perspective.
  • Take your content seriously. Write and design with a purpose.
  • Take the time to conduct reader research. Build profiles, conduct surveys, and make sure you understand what they expect from you.

Body Language: Hidden UX Insights from Body Language by Brad Nunnally @bnunnally

Brad cited scientific examples that included the fact that human beings make decisions 7 seconds before they physically communicate them. If we can focus in on body language we’ll get an early indication and non-verbal confirmation from our qualitative work.

Lights, Camera, Interaction: Design Inspiration from Filmmaking by Adam Connor @adamconnor

We’re not filmmakers but in the interest of broadening our horizons we decided to take a closer look. What a treat to step outside the walls of marketing and UX-concentrated workshops to learn more about design in film-making. Adam took his passion for film and his experience in design to share his unique perspectives. Fun fact: Designers with a creative vision are often not put in the position to manage. There is a big difference between leadership and management. Here are some facts we came away with:

  • Leadership is about vision and inspiration towards the future of that organization.
  • Management is to keep things together and MANAGE the organization, not necessarily lead the creative path.
  • Scenarios are the interaction between a persona and a use case.
  • Mise en Scene: All of the tools other than dialogue, used by a filmmaker to tell a story (everything to design the scene that does not include any actual conversations).

Lessons I Have Learned from Leading UX Designers by Russ Unger @russu

This talk was brimming with great leadership advice that can be applied to any process. For now we’ll just share our favorite quote:

A leader is best when people barely know that she exists

when her work is done and her aim fulfilled they will say – we did it ourselves –  Lao Tzu

You’ll have to wait for the blog post for the good stuff.

Headlines, HBO, and Harry Potter: A Case for Context by Justin Smith @xenoabe

Justin can win the award for most compelling topic title. Yes, he did briefly discuss Harry Potter and HBO and how they relate to compelling context. The audience also got to watch a very touching TD Bank commercial, which proves the case that meaningful context can really draw the emotions you are seeking for from your viewers.

  • Context is the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement or idea, in terms it can be fully understood.
  • Context is like a green screen.
  • Sometimes you don’t want to give it all away in your headline. You want to be mysterious It’s ok to play with the user and some fun with your messaging.

Mitigating Scope Creep: Useful Tips for Project Peace by Michael Vaughn

Another good tactical approach presentation. Our top takeaway here centers on taking accountability when you start a project. Accountability for  your company AND for your client. If you have a clear understanding of your roles then it’s easier to maneuver the project segues when they happen….cause they WILL happen.

Why Photos Rule The Internet by Tony Cecala @tonycecala

Companies like Target, Starbucks, UPS and Fedex have such a strong brand image that their logos can do all the talking. From passing a billboard in Times Square or swiping through your newsfeed on Facebook, you’ll recognize the logos of these brands. It’s a brilliant visual communication tool….once you have that kind of brand recognition.

  • When building an identity for your logo and image, put a fair amount of consideration in to the design and colors you choose.
  • Memes have become a popular way brands can communicate with a younger audience.
  • Text and image-based posters used for political campaigns were memorable prior to the internet and can be considered a “meme” (think Uncle Sam).
  • Facebook beats out Instagram, Snapchat and Flickr as the #1 outlet for photos and images to share your life with your friends.
  • Tweets with images get 150% more retweets
  • Tweets with images get 18% more clicks

Produce Like Picasso by Brian Sullivan @brianksullivan

We have one word for Brian’s presentation to close out the workshop portion of the conference: INSPIRATIONAL. Brian delivered a compelling presentation on the much-admired artist, Pablo Picasso, and showed us how to apply Picasso’s work ethics into our daily lives. Here is the secret, it is 5 Ps:

  1. Passion
  2. Purpose
  3. Proficiency
  4. Persistence
  5. Partnership

Our keynote closer was Phil Tippett and for this crowd it was quite a treat. Phil is best known for his VFX work on some of Hollywood’s most beloved movies including the Star Wars triology and Jurassic Park. It’s no wonder he’s crowd favorite at Big Design. We were struck by his opening statement that he isn’t a digital designer at his core but a student of art history. He loves making things with his hands and is still committed to stop motion animation. It was a nice ending to a great conference.

We’ll be sharing more opinions over the next few weeks so stay tuned if you want the inside scoop on BigDesign Dallas 2014.