Design Experiences, Not Websites | A Refresh Portland Review

Refresh PortlandThe first ever Refresh Portland occurred tonight from 6:30 to 8:00 Pm at Jive Software in Downtown Portland.

Tonight’s speaker was Tyler Sticka, an award-winning designer, artist, speaker and educator specializing in identity-driven new media. He was extremely well prepared and engaging.

Micheal Sigler @sigler began by introducing the concept of Refresh.

“Cities have been Refreshing for a while,” he said, “if you visit you’ll find that there are Refresh events everywhere.”

Refresh events serve bring people together who are really intereted in standards based design. The events help them exchange best practices and knowledge. As Sigler said, “towards a portion of design you can walk away with something and use it in your daily lives”.

We just felt that it was time to bring a little design love to Portland.

“We”, being Michael Sigler, @michaelsigler, John Weiss of 5 Edge Media, Josh Pyles @pixelmatrix of Pixelmatrix Design, Carlos @eedorre (a system admin with a background in web development), and you probably Bram Pitoyo @brampitoyo from Twitter. :)

We really want to make this a community where you provide us comments. Also, we are looking for speakers. Feel free to contact any of the organizers if you know of someone who would be awesome for the event.

“Tyler Sticka is now going to take us through the looking glass,” Sigler began….and we were off.

Through the Looking Glass – How the Web is and Ought to Be

“I work at US Digital from Monday through Thursday”, Sticka said.

“But on Friday though Sunday I design logos, icons, and websites.

“This is because I’m really addicted to the idea of creating something out of the vacuum. Unlike art on a all — art stuck up on the walls.

“Communication is one thing, but conversation is the idea of the dialogue — something that’s been absent from the world of fine art for a while.

“The idea that the Viewer is also able to impart part of their experience into the work fascinates me.

New media is the first to take this concept in completely literally.

Spine Tingling Adventures of the Early Web

Sticka picked two people from the audience and gave them scripts:

“Sam, you’re going to be playing the role of website”.

“And the other will stay the part of the user”.

Website: Would you like to talk about our product, our company history….ect.

User: Umm….talk about our product?

Website: Sure…would you like option 1, 2,3,4,,5,6,,457,,8,67,87?

User: Return to home?

Sticka: Do you see how short and unfulfilling that was?

The companies that weren’t having conversations were dying out.

“In reality, users benefited in the end.

Early Innovation in Experience Design

“I like to show when I talk about early innovation in websites. Their recommendations features is one of the best out there — still one of the best out there.

It’s like a sort of Nerd-tastic natural selection happened.

“This sort of word they gave it afterwards was web 2.0. I don’t like it very much.

The revolution in the computer industry had Three Basic Parts

1. Visual — websites before based on the constraints of html

2. Directly from graphic design. pretty, but only a thousand people card.

3. Thematic – we’re catering to the community and the conversational aspects. .


Flickr’s Upload Tool.

“Some might say we’re in a renaissance of information.

“But they’re wrong.

We’re not in a renaissance of information, we’re in the pupae stage.

“We’re now just starting to construct the cocoon that will allow us to emerge as something triumphant.

“The idea of this moving into the mainstream is more important than us understanding what’s going on.

(At this point I realized the screen that Tyler Sticka’s Powerpoint was being projected on was made of 8.5 by 11 sheets of white computer paper stuck to the wall. Way to innovate, Refresh Portland :)

“In essence we are just becoming more understanding of the customer and the customer more understanding of the creator.

Lets go back to 1995. A Simpler Time.

The browser wars between Netscape and the powerhouse Internet Explorer began to emerge.
There was this sort of idea that there should be one victor, that there should only be one IE, or Firefox.

He then showed a slide with 12 different browsers, ranging from the most known and used, to the least known and used. Starting with Firefox 3, then IE and eventually flock and Epiphany (for Gnome).

He said that he posted pictures of browsers that were used by people he knew. Even Epiphany.
“Because I know people who use Epiphany.
“Well, I don’t know them; they’re online; but its practically the same thing now.

He pointed out that Flock and Songbird are both browsers that are augmenting the browser experience in ways that really help the users.


“Hopefully more agnostic choices will emerge for mobile browsing.

“Google has an open source Android emulator — they’ll subsidize the cost of the phone if people put ads on it.

“There is this blurring argument about what is application design and what is web design.

“Adobe Air (adobe integrated runtime). Chrome + Prism (both taking a browser-like approach)
All are trying to bridge the gap between web and desktop applications.

Confusing the Medium with its Voice

“We’re confusing the medium with its voice.. the medium of distribution.

“We need to realize the web is only distribution. It’s just distribution. As long as it remains open – a community of people developing things, it’s a thing of freedom — a whole pasture to run in.

We need to stop designing websites, and we need to start designing experiences.

“What were we really doing here ? Why was web design all one thing? There are many things. We are designing experiences.

Tip #1: Make Sure You’re Solving a Problem

“I have so many clients come to me. They have funding, or a team, or whatever, and we sit down over coffee and they tell me “all right, I want a myspace killer”.

“So I ask them, “Okay, what are you doing that’s different than Myspace?”

“The thing is, they don’t tell me anything different from what Myspace already is. I tell them that they have to do something different, or there’s nothing there.

“Google killers. There’s a new Google killer every day. Make something that solves a problem.

Tip #2: Try to do Straightforward Before Clever

“Google was straightforward. The Microsoft Office paperclip guy was clever.
But everyone hates that paperclip. Be straightforward.

“You want to say, “okay, we’re doing social networking — but we’re solving a problem”.

“That’s why LinkedIn was started, because nobody in the professional world wants tom as their first friend and hear about movies he likes.

Tip #3: Embrace Web Standards

“If you don’t know what these are, here’s a link to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

“We’re going to have these browsers, and all of these mobile mediums. Do you really want to spend all of your time worrying about whether your thing works on one thing and not the other?

“I didn’t use web standards before. Once you get your feet wet into CSS – it just frees you up. Working in CSS is a wonderful experience for me — I look forward to it.

“We came here so that we could design these experiences for people to enjoy.
“And it will help you not get sued by those who are disabled.

“The State of California recently ruled in the victim’s favor on a Target usability case. It treated Target’s website as if it were an actual brick and mortar store. Target was penalized because it could not be accessed by those with visual disabilities.

Tip #4: Decide Which Distribution Suits you the Best

“Then you can use the master medium as a promotional or auxiliary arm to your business.

“We’re such a new medium, and we have such small visual language to ourselves right now.

“Give your site personality — people will have more and more relationships with their websites and their users experiences. If the enjoy the experience of your site, they’ll visit it.

Example: Ubiquity, by Mozilla Labs

“Web mashups and API’s used to reduce the distance between two points.

“Use open API’s. Google will release ways for you to join in a symbiotic relationship with its data.

“If you use a company’s API services, you’re benefiting from their design/development team, which may probably be larger than yours.

Ubiquity is a great example of a service that uses API’s to reduce user action.

“For instance, I can book a flight or search for pet care by simply writing a sentence to Ubiquity that tells it what I want to do. I can write that I want the information sent to my mom, dad, and sister by simply typing it.

“Ubiquity will parse out the language of simple sentences and combine the conventions that established in those to get things from multiple places done in one place.

Tip: #5: Remove Obstacles

“The conventions that should be broken are those that are obstacles to user interaction.

I like sites that allow me to try a service before I sign up.

Tip #6: Evolve with Your Audience

“One of the best examples of this is Twitter.

“Twitter started as micro-blogging: it was something between a blog and mass messaging. It was like mass chat.

If there is demand/audience — people will make a business plan around it, because there are people who need to use it.

I love the idea of users using something and evolving my product through their use of it.

“This could all be turned into television again. It could be controlled by a small number of companies who decide what we see and hear, and there’s a lot of precedent for that.” – Jamie Zawinski.

“We basically need to peer through the looking glass at the way users see our websites.

“Tyler finished the following quote:

Lewis Carroll said, “It’s poor sort of memory that only works backward — so here’s to the future”.


That was it. Lots of applause. Really nice turnout. Very enjoyable experience.

Enough said. Tyler Sticka is brilliant. Check out his Website Experience at, or follow @tylersticka on Twitter.

And if you’re interested in the next Refresh Portland event, it’s tentatively scheduled for October 7, 2008. But check the Refresh Portland Blog as that date arrives for more information.

Refresh Portland on Upcoming! Other Exciting Events!

Refresh Portland will also be posted to Upcoming and is part of the Silicon Florist Upcoming Group headed by the awesome Portland Tech blog Silicon Florist, of course. If you join that group on Upcoming, you’ll really know what’s going on in Portland. And if you have an event that relates to Portland Tech, you can send it to the Silicon Florist group in Upcoming and reach an awesome audience.

———- is written by Cyborg Anthropologist from Portland who enjoys documenting innovative events such as this one. She’s generally findable on Twitter as @caseorganic.

2 thoughts on Design Experiences, Not Websites | A Refresh Portland Review

  1. Hey Amber,

    It was great seeing you at Refresh Portland. I hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did. BTW, my Twitter name is @eddorre.

    Already looking forward to the next one!

  2. Great, thanks — added you to the links in text. Looking forward to the next one as well.

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