My LightningUX talk – Postmortem

This is a long overdue post that should have gone out a week ago, but I guess it’s better late than never.


I’ve been keen on improving my presentation skills (I hear it’s a good thing for UX designers), so I jumped at the chance to present when Lee McIvor announced LightingUX needed some speakers. I’ve given talks before, but it felt a lot harder speaking to my friends from the UX community. I was concerned that my talk wouldn’t be relevant, unique, or entertaining — in the end, I decided all this worrying got me nowhere, and went ahead with the developer-to-UX-designer idea.

I felt some UX folk would benefit from seeing things from a developer’s perspective. I also felt that while there’s much general advice about becoming a UX designer, no one has really shared their experiences publicly. Finally, I wanted to know how other people would respond to my talk in order to improve/learn/synthesize/etc.


It took me about 24 hours in total to prepare for this talk. 5 minutes isn’t a lot of presentation, but it’s good to dive deep during prep. I started out getting philosophical and started brainstorming thoughts about the essence of what made developers different than designers, but that fizzled out quickly because I felt it would be hard to do in 5 minutes. I also scoured the internet looking to see if other people had similar experiences, but that didn’t help me focus my talk very much.

I posted a message on twitter asking what others would like to learn from my talk, and got some interesting responses:

  • @myddelton – re: your talk. is it an advantage or disadvantage to know about practical coding constraints when doing UX design?
  • @mikejthompson – Do you see your technical knowledge of what’s possible as limiting your creativity or ensuring the relevance of your work?
  • @francisnorton – How to avoid the trap of premature commitment? As a coder, I want to start coding; as a designer I need to keep the options open.
  • @futureshape – do you still catch yourself thinking of the development impact of what you design? I know I sometimes do
  • @ifenn – How has your mindset changed? Do you approach/think about things differently? How?

I knew I couldn’t address everything in a 5 minute talk, so in the end I examined deeeeeep inside my gut and asked myself what it was that made the biggest difference for me, and what were the major paradigm shifts I experienced since doing UX full-time (it’s very different than doing it while being a dev). I came up with this one-pager of prep notes:

lightningUX talk prep notes

My main point was to highlight the fact that what specific things made a difference for me:

  • Seth Godin’s AMAL book left an impression that led me to seek out more not-so-tech related stuff.
  • About Face 3 – it was practical enough for me as a developer to not just apply it but teach others how to apply it as well (JJG’s Elements didn’t cut it although it’s a good book)
  • The UX community – I felt I didn’t do that slide justice. There were specific names I wanted to mention (Alex Baxevanis, Ian Fenn, Tom Coombs, and the StartUX crew) but I felt it would kill the pace of the talk.

With the list of changes a.k.a. the paradigm shift after becoming a designer, I summarized it to these three main points:

  • Big Picture thinking – much more holistic as opposed to complex like software architecture, scalability, etc.
  • Creative work requires creative methods – learning that the screen is extremely limited, and that the critical part of the process is about thinking, not creating (e.g. wireframing).
  • Communicating my work well became a lot more important (though talking code to non-dev people is usually unnecessary and leads to social ackwardness).

The Glue Thinking thing just came to me as a way to summarize the balance between architecture, making things work well, and delight.


I screwed up a little on the 2nd last slide and thought I could’ve done a better ending. I think some people liked the Glue Thinking thing (especially the part about getting users high), so I should’ve played that up a bit more. I think I got a bit too self-conscious towards the end after I realized I’d gone over a little bit at the 3 minute mark. I got a bit sensitive when Cennydd made a remark about “staring at screens” just before he started his talk but I’m sure it was just me.

I was surprised to hear other people got some benefit from the talk. Johanna said she was happy that Design Jam had impacted me (she’s one of the local champions). Martin Belam, who does some really amazing work at the Guardian, came up to me after the talk and shared his comments (and made a blog post too). Others tweeted about the Glue Thinking thing. I was really touched – just the comments made it worth it.

Overall it was a good experience and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do the talk. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity and have a few ideas in mind. It certainly forces you to be critical about your work, and that’s what I like about it – that my work can be validated because it should be validated.

I encourage others to do the same.

p.s. The “drunken robotscape wallpaper paper-prototype mural” and the “epic win dragon” on the first and last slides were the awesome handiwork of reyhan (I forgot to credit him in the slides).

How a developer became a ux designer

View more presentations from Boon Chew.

5 responses

  1. Boon I thought you did an awesome job, and the dev to UX design journey is not one I’ve come across much in the past.

    Great post, really insightful, and has inspired me to submit more talks!

  2. Don’t worry, the screens comment was just about my own style. I prefer to move around and I find that more difficult with a computer screen – but since I’d left my notes at home I had no choice.

    No slight intended :)

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