I started at InterWorks back in olde July 2012 (I used to open casinos), which in Tableau and InterWorks years makes me one of the oldest people alive. Since San Diego in 2012, I’ve been attending the annual Tableau Conference with the InterWorks team. The scale of the last couple shows (15,000+ in Austin) is comical compared to those quaint old days. This year, however, I skipped the show. I love Austin and working like crazy for a few days with the InterWorks team, but I instead chose to attend Adobe MAX the week prior.
Few people in this country are unfamiliar with Adobe. Between the ubiquitous PDF file format and the verbification of “Photoshopping” to refer to photo touch ups and alterations, Adobe is EVERYWHERE in this country. Adobe’s MAX conference is their chance to wow creatives with product updates and launches, but it is also meant to inspire and shape design.
Design at InterWorks
For the last couple years at InterWorks, I’ve had the privilege to lead our visualization practice, dubbed “The Viz Lab.” The Viz Lab is an informal group of InterWorks consultants that care about improving the user experience of those consuming data. We review dashboards, both internal and externally produced, portals and general design. We talk about what works, what looks good and, just as importantly, what doesn’t improve the user experience of consuming data. Additionally, we serve as the internal visual center of excellence.
We produce things like style guides, advise on designs for clients and help folks that are new to visual analytics understand what a good dashboard looks and feels like. Our work is regularly highlighted and honored across the Tableau space; from Zen Master Robert Rouse’s incredible “Us vs. Them” being highlighted by The Washington Post, to Tableau Community Ambassador Derrick’s Austin’s beautiful visualizations of everyday life, our commitment to excellence is everywhere. Justin Lemmon, who joined me on the trip, is our top portal developer and wanted to see how Adobe enables UX/UI web developers but, like me, to also see style and design trends. Our customers regularly tell us how much quality design means to them, and the premium they place on exceptional work.
Art and design have also been at the heart of Tableau’s mission since day one, and their conference is a great extension of that passion. There are always sessions highlighting visual best practices for visual analytics, artist showcases and a general feeling of “design matters.” This year, though, I wanted to see what a true “creative conference” could offer those of us pushing design of visual analytics with Tableau.
Adobe MAX is aimed squarely at those who use the Adobe product family. As wide as the product family they produce is, the conference didn’t overlap with visual analytics as well as I’d hoped. While there are plenty of sessions that appeared useful to a consulting creative analyst, actual session content varied from pre-conference abstracts more than I could make use of. Other sessions that seemed useful were overbooked on their scheduler with completely full waitlists, so I may have missed out on those that could have helped me more directly. Much like Tableau, Adobe is providing recordings of some sessions on their site, so hopefully I can catch them after the event.
Amazingly, my value of the conference mostly came from the exhibitor hall. That may be the first time anyone has ever said that about any conference, but it was definitely true for me. As a conference for all creatives, both output mediums, physical (print, 3D printing, signage, etc.) and digital, were broadly covered by dozens of colorful and impeccably designed booths. The legendary French Paper had thick stock posters and beard glasses (check the gallery). Draplin Design Co., a popular graphic design genius, led a session and inspired me to restart my own graphic design work. Even Microsoft was on hand with their new Surface PCs to steal the design hardware market from Apple. There were also an unnerving number of business card shops …
Below are some of our favorite photos from the trip:
Applying My Experience to the Viz Lab
I wanted to see design from creative professionals OUTSIDE the business intelligence (business at all, really) space. In order for InterWorks to remain the premier visual designers in the Tableau space we have to push ourselves harder than anyone else. Our consultants regularly work with the professional designers in our marketing department to ensure dashboards and portals meet the same expectations that a creative professional would have of any quality composition. Cornerstones of traditional art and design like weighting, color usage and typography are just as important to dashboarding and portals.
We’re always pushing ourselves towards our company maxims: Best Work. Best Clients. Best People. This year, Abobe MAX became part of the secret sauce that makes InterWorks such an amazing place to work. Management fully supported the change in my conference focus, with the foresight that it will make all of us better in the long run, even if that was a product of what seemed to be an unrelated vector of focus. The trends, styles and techniques on display at Adobe MAX will shape how the Viz Lab helps everyone at InterWorks creates their own style and continue to produce amazing portals and dashboards.