My Account of GIANT Conference 2015

For People Who Do Rad Work

On June 14th-17th I attended GIANT Conference 2015.

This post is obviously belated, but I wanted to recap my experience now that I have this new blog.

This was my second time at GIANT Conference and in Charleston, SC. I had been looking forward to going back since leaving my first visit.

The location is beautiful, the people are friendly, tons of history, beaches, downtown is walkable and bike friendly. I can't say enough good things about Charleston. I think it's earned a 2nd place seating in my top 5 cities. 

These are my notes, things learned, and good times had at GIANT Conference and in Charleston. 


About the Conference

GIANT Conference is hosted at 3 different buildings within a couple blocks walking distance.

  1. The American Theater
  2. The Charleston Music Hall
  3. The Charleston Museum

The set up means you spend a perfect amount of time sitting and learning, walking outside and sightseeing. 

The generous 2-hour lunch is great. The team I was with (Archer Malmo coworkers) had time to do necessary food things (i.e., get a table, order, eat) and get some work done when needed. 

Each day of the conference was followed by a party at night and then apparently multiple after parties. We were too old and tired to explore the after parties. 

The atmosphere and all the details are what make GIANT so different than the other conferences I've attended.

It's just as much about enjoying the scenery, people and food as it is learning and getting inspired. 

A more holistic approach to a conference that leaves you feeling energised.

I haven't gotten that from other conferences really. Most keep you in the same hotel conference room all week. 

It's also only 3 days long, not counting the workshops, which is a perfect amount of time. There's so much going on by the time it's all over you feel maxed out.


The Speakers

Aaron Draplin @ GIANT Conference 2015

It should go without saying that Aaron Draplin was awesome, as always. I've seen him speak numerous times so I didn't take notes this time. Needless to say, he was extremely entertaining and inspiring. 

Below are some of my standout speakers and a short recap of the notes and takeaways I have.

Brice Bay
Broken Trust: Stop Treating Consumers Like Demographic Blocks and Start Showing Them Respect.

Brice may have had the most informative talk I attended. He had a lot of points of view on trust that really stuck with me. 

He used Amazon reviews as way to illustrate how a brand may not have the customers trust, saying:

"we read reviews of products from ordinary people because we intuitively don't trust the brand".

I'm paraphrasing of course, but he went on to say that brands who nurture and inspire trust provide all the honest information the customer needs. 

When an individual has a question and searches for the answer an absence of content will lead to a loss of trust.

If the brand itself can't provide the answer, they aren't viewed as an authority regarding their own products. 

Even worse, no content/POV on the subject at all, turns into a lack of trust for the customer.

I feel like we have all known that on some level for a while now but what he said that really caught my attention was "lying to customers give ways to new competition opportunities for becoming trustworthy. This can result in losing the customer potentially forever."

In other words, one way of dethroning Comcast would be to make another service provider that customers could trust. Trust becomes a new competitive edge.

Game Over Man

Once the competition has gained customer trust and continue to offer a comparable service, game over.

Content = Trust
No Content = Loss of Trust

Sonya Looney
Why Linus Needs To Ditch His Blanket; Hacking Beyond the Perimeter of The Comfortzone.

Sonya Looney - "Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure".

Sonya was our (the Archer Malmo team) collective favorite speaker. Inspiring, funny, brave, and relatable. 

A profession endurance mountain bike rider who had to use the "google machine" to figure out what User Experience was, had no trouble with the crowd. 

Her personal mantra "Do Epic Shit" was pervasive in her world outlook and resonated with the digital minded crowd.

The phrase is on some socks for purchase if you're so inclined.

I'm just going to share some of the quotes I wrote down from her talk.

Sonya Looney

  • We don't need creature comfort to be happy
  • Believe in yourself when doing something new
  • Focus LESS on getting there.
    Focus MORE on being here.
  • Learn to love fear
  • Find the fun in everything
  • Success = Doing Your Best.
    Failure = Not Trying.
  • Laughter makes everything easier. 

We're all Afraid:

She showed a powerful video of herself in tears on the way down a mountain.

It was a very honest look at the human condition we usually try and shield from others. It was empowering to see her disclosure. It's always good to have the "you can do anything" idea reinforced. 

Steve Steglin
Voice and Content: Giving Your UX It's Soul

Steve's talk had a HAL 9000 reference, so I was already a fan. 

He urged that our user interface systems should use language that is more natural and human sounding, and less robotic.

Some good Examples of human tone of voice:

  • Mail Chimp
  • Groupon
  • TurboTax

Tips for writing more human:

  • End with a preposition to sound more human
  • Read content out loud
  • Kill Jargon
  • Never say "whom"
  • Start with error messages

Moments of "cheekiness", like on 404 pages, can help interactive products seem more relatable. 

Brad Nunnally
Practical Techniques for Field Research

When I got started in UX I realized most of the artifacts I was creating were simply communication tools. Conversations over the deliverables would go well sometimes, and others they would be all over the place.

I came across "Designing The Conversation" and it was quite a help to me. I didn't realize Brad was an Author of the book until he started speaking and I saw the cover on his slide.

His talk was somewhat related to the book in that he shared ideas on how to conduct research without influencing the results. The goal in research is to find the truth. His book helped me keep conversations focused on the facts. I recommend it.


  • Ask yourself why you need to ask each question in an interview.
  • Why does the question matter?
  • Make the interviewee feel comfortable and that they can quit at any time.
  • Provide mental resets between sessions to stay fresh.

He had a quote I liked as well:

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view. - Wolfgang

Scott Berkun
5 dangerous Ideas for Designers

Instead of a full-on recap I'll point you in the direction of Scotts page dedicated to this talk which includes video, the deck and a text summary.

I'll add that after being asked to do a talk titled: "Designing for Social Media" for an AIGA Memphis event, I picked this up. 

I've always been comfortable in front of people, but I wasn't sure how to be good at it outside of a music environment.

His book gave me a lot of great insight and I recommend it for anybody thinking about speaking publicly or just wants to add another skill for your work environment. 

The City

Charleston is one of the most beautiful cities I've visited. I thought Memphis was the most humid city there was, but Charleston took the cake. 

The architecture is amazing.

The beaches are great. 

It has a classic American city feel with amazing and terrifying history on every other street corner. 

After only 2 visits it seems like a home away from home.

The Food

Coast Bar & Grill

Coast Bar & Grill

My favorite place to eat was Coast Bar & Grill. Best tasting food, the menu was large, and there were a bunch of options, best drinks too. I went there three times this past trip.

The best lunchtime spot was either Closed 4 Business or the Taco place on King st.

Another great location was Stars. The drinks and food were awesome.

The macaroons near the Charleston Music Hall are amazing. The owner is first generation, so the recipe used is the real deal. 

I bought three bags, kept them on ice, and brought them back to Memphis with me. What was left of them.

If you get a chance to go to GIANT Conference next year I highly recommend it. You can give it a test run if you need to at their Tiny GIANT conferences.

Tragedy in Charleston

Charleston Shooting Victims:
Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54), Susie Jackson (87), Ethel Lee Lance (70), Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49), Clementa C. Pinckney (41), Tywanza Sanders (26), Daniel Simmons (74), Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45),  Myra Thompson (59)

There's not much that can be said about the tragedy in Charleston that hasn't already been said.

It just so happened that I was near the church when the shooting happened. 

Texts came in saying there was a shooting, but I thought it was a couple individuals, nothing like what it turned out to be. 

The Embassy hotel where we stayed was even turned into a temporary meet up area for family and others while the details were being sorted out. 

The shooting happened while we were a few blocks away at Coast Bar & Grill for dinner. I had a very offputting feeling once I realized we had walked past the church around the time the terrorist, Dylan Roof, may have entered the building.

I've never been that close to a tragedy of that magnitude. Even as a tourist there, I had a sense of needing to help or do something but feeling totally helpless. I can't imagine what the friends and families felt like.

The day we left Charleston there was a march across the bridge. I was very sad I couldn't join them. 

It left a large impact on me I'll never forget.

Feeling Charitable?


Finally, some miscellaneous pictures from the trip.