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A peek into the future

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The annual WebVisions conference is part TED talk and part hands-on hackathon.The online world is in anniversary mode: 25 years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, the 32nd birthday of the smiley face emoticon, and Twitter at seven.

The WebVisions conference this week in Portland (now 14 years old), however, always looks to the future.

WebVisions founder, Brad Smith, also runs Hot Pepper Studios on increasingly hip (or Duane Sorensonified) Southeast Division St. He brings speakers and audiences together in a mix that is part TED talk, part hands-on hackathon.

The event is aimed at designers, UX (user experience) practitioners, strategists, marketers and even CEOs. People who need to know about the new creative possibilities online.

“We’re trying to push the limits and explore the future of web and mobile, technology and design,” says Smith. He sat down for a double macchiato with the Business Tribune at Caffe Umbria, where each coffee comes with a little chocolate on the saucer. He likes little extras like that.

by: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Brad Smith, founder of the WebVisions conference sits down with the Business Tribune to talk about this year's event.Smith raves about the presentation set for Thursday, May 8, by Tomer Sharon, who is a researcher at Google.

“He deconstructs the scripted format of WWF wrestling, but you can take any community or practice and break it down using the same techniques,” says Smith. “It starts to reveal things that show you where that industry is going, how people feel about a product.”

Smith explains that programmers and web and UX designers need to get out of their silos and develop empathy with each other and with end users.

“We give people this lateral view into how to understand each practice and the trends that are happening. So when you go back to your job, you have better understanding of the motivations of the different people and organizations.”

That is distilled in a quote for programmers and designers that he loves, “’You are not the user.”

Other speakers include Tim Gray, who helped develop XML, discussing universal access to the web, and Maria Giudice, Director of Product Design at Facebook, talking about design leadership.

“It’s about design having a role at the executive level because it’s what helps tell stories,” says Smith. “For too long it’s been as part or marketing or sales or industrial design, but not part of a company’s mission.”

So how did he get a top Facebooker to Portland? Smith has known Giudice for decades. She founded Hot Studio in San Francisco which was bought by Facebook.

A fan of the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, a lot of the conference is about doing not talking. He cites local company Urban Airship, where some staff decided to make a new online business in six weeks, as a test. They made www.bacn.com [BACN] which became the number two online vendor of bacon and cured meats. It was a joke that came true because of the power of the Internet. Beyond the zero inbox, however, Smith sees his digital tribe now agitating to problem solve and do good in the world.

One big trend at WebVisions this year is gaming: game design, storytelling and gamification (rewards).

Another is wearable computing and the convergence of digital designers and makers and crafters — people who use their hands for more than typing. The wrap party on Friday, called Future Fashion: Design and Wearable Technology, is also the kick off for the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s new exhibit, which features wearable computing and 3D printing.

He is excited that innovation has been democratized (cheap tools, cheap parts, faster processes), “that’s why we want to connect people from WebVisions with makers and crafters, and offer opportunities for collaboration.”