360iDev Conference: iOS Tech, Design, Business, and Mariachi Bands

Last week I attended 360iDev, an iOS developers conference, in Denver. In my last post I covered all the great things that happened as a result of attending conferences. Not only are they valuable education, but also a indirect marketing benefit. Nearly every person I spoke with at the conference this week agreed that the return on investment, although unmeasurable, easily covers the cost of attending the conference. 360iDev is not only a conference focused on technical sessions for developers, but also runs the gamut of sessions from UI/UX design, to graphics design, to management, to great business-side information from contracting, to marketing, to business models. In this post, I'll go through some of the tips and tricks I picked up from this year's conference.

360iDev is a conference for developers by developers. Members of the iOS community put forth papers on topics and are selected for the presentations. Some talks are highly technical, giving you detailed information on a topic, some talks share experiences—what worked and what didn't, some talks give tips and tricks. I'm not the main coder in our partnership, so I was interested in anything non-code intensive, but my colleagues who code found great nuggets of information in the sessions they attended. To see the full list of sessions, visit the 360iDev website or download the 360iDev 2011 app from the AppStore. Each session was videotaped, so if you find one that is interesting, the videos will be available for minimal purchase at a future date. The following is my take-away of the talks I attended.

Sunday Workshops

Sunday sessions are workshops, so they are half day to one day sessions. Topics ranged from Photoshop for Devs to iOS 101. Essentially there was something for everyone. Being a designer is one of my many hats in our partnership, so I opted to attend the Photoshop workshop.

Mike Berg (@weheartgames) put on his Photoshop workshop in two parts. In the morning he went through some details for using vector-layers in Photoshop, with lots of tips along the way. In the afternoon, he went through an example for everyone to follow along. I use GIMP on Linux, so some of the information didn't translate across platforms, such as PS shortcuts. However, his session was a good springboard for understanding the potential of graphics software, the theory behind the layer blending, tricks for masking objects, and using advanced tools. I have a long list of things I intend to google, but it was great just gaining an awareness of what I CAN do with the software.

Monday thru Wednesday

Each day started with a keynote or general session for the whole crowd, followed by a series of breakout sessions in four rooms until lunch. During lunch a panel spoke to a certain topic, with the final day showing up the results of the Game Jam. After an afternoon of additional breakouts, a second general session topic for all wrapped up the day. Sponsored parties in the evening were great for finally meeting your twitter friends, for making new friends, and for general networking and sharing of ideas and experiences.

The keynote speaker was Matt Drance (@drance). He stressed the importance of planning and interaction between all parties working on the app. The goal was to focus on Appearance, Interaction, Stability, and Performance, all of which each person on the team can affect. The talk cemented my conviction that projects should be planned, rather than just worked on until their done. My background is in program management, so I Plan the Work and then Work the Plan. Matt's keynote covered the essential phases of the project and how each one should be managed to reach the ultimate goal—shipping!

The first session I attended was Kyle Richer's (@kylerichter) session on Going Indie Without Going Broke, which was not what I expected. From the title, I thought it would be more about how to keep from going below water in finances, but instead focused on how to influence people. He brought up many management techniques I've learned in the past (7 Habits, Dale Carnegie...), but did a great job of bringing them all together for one single thread—being friendly to people will go a long way in securing projects that will keep your business afloat.

The last three sessions I attended on Monday included John Ellenich (@ellenich) providing tips on the projects where he's done UI redesign on apps, Greg Raiz (@graiz) pointing out understanding how a user uses mobile (where your thumb taps while one handed, for example) when designing your UI, and Chris Parrish showing how they went about designing Postage, explaining the design decisions they made and what worked (or not). Understanding how others made their choices is invaluable information.

At the end of the day, Mike Lee (@bmf) spoke on Product Engineering. When he walked in full Mariachi band garb, with a back-up band, we knew we were in for a non-traditional presentation. The biggest take away was to have a hook for your product. You can do something that has been done, but don't make it boring—make it have something that people didn't even know they wanted. And tell them about it—he stressed to everyone to tell people what it does, and tell them why they should want it.

The last part of Mike's presentation was on Appsterdam, a place for developers around the world to meet and live. He described the benefits, the support available, and Amsterdam, a city I've loved from the minute I visited it in 1996. I had heard rumblings of what this project was about, but had no idea the depths. The idea of developers coming together in one place was intriguing. I'm sure it was received in many different ways by attendees of the conference, but for me it struck a chord. After leaving the comfort of a full time job to “become an entrepreneur” anything seems possible. My thoughts were “Why not?” I've spent much of my life doing what's “safe.” Sometimes it's ok to do something impulsive. Still, I'm a newbie when it comes to risk taking, so the idea is something I'll stew on for a while. I have kids who aren't willing to move, the logistics are overwhelming, and I have extended family to consider. However, in discussions with Judy Chen (@judykitteh), another @appsterdamr, a complete commitment of moving to a new country isn't the only option—we could spend the summer there, or come for a visit, both of which seem more possible. Who knows? I love Amsterdam and an extended visit, money and time permitting, would be a great experience for our whole family. Call me crazy.

Tuesday

David Whately (@nsxdavid) opened the day with his post mortem on a new management process that he implemented in his company, Simutronics, makers of the new game Tiny Heroes. The process was started by Best Buy: ROWE, Results Only Work Environmnent,, His employees are allowed to come and go as they please, as long as they produce work and results. Their time is their own. ROWE seems to take away all the politics, clock-watching, calling-in-sick, etc. that really puts a cramp in productivity and produced happy, productive, satisfied workers. Employees are treated like adults—they can manage their time, meeting attendance, and workload. My thoughts were that the benefits of ROWE is THE main reason my husband and I became entrepreneurs and are working from home. We can decide when to work, what hours, and still manage our life and family. It's all about freedom, no longer about money. It's exciting to imagine what a company can achieve with this same freedom, which is what the presentation on the success of ROWE conveyed.

The rest of Tuesday was a trial and error for picking the right sessions. I had a few conflicts and a few time slots filled with only coding technical observations. The conference had labs as well, which I should have taken advantage of. The 360iDev app had an update to schedule changes, which I couldn't get to work (I had to delete the app completely and then redownload from the AppStore, not an easy task due to the load on Wifi and 3G at the hotel).

The afternoon sessions fared better for me. Dave Wiskus' (@dwiskus) presentation “What Would Don Draper Do?” covered what happens when you over-design an app, which can be easy to do. The takeaway here (and supported by many of the other speakers) is it's ok to do custom controls, but use it sparingly. If you want users to “just know” how to use your app, keep it familiar. You can add style, but don't overdo it. Stick to well-understood gestures and navigation, as well as a familiar look/feel. Quality and performance are just as important as design.

The final session of the day, by Jonathan George (@jdg) was good one. He discussed how to “Hack the Press” which always seems to be an exercise in futility. Jonathan summed it up with common sense—make friends with the bloggers and reporters. Don't just throw your reviews over the wall, or send them to a generic email. Get to know the people doing the reporting, help them find interesting articles, and then include some of your releases in the mix. It works. Reporters are always looking for tips and ideas, love it when you care about them (genuinely!) and have read their work, and are more helpful in looking at your products if they know you. Plus, you might make some friends in the process. Long story short, it's a long term commitment to get coverage.

Tuesday night was the Game Jam, where developers spend the night cobbling together a working demo for a new game, based on a theme. I don't do the coding in our company, but I popped in to wish my friends well. I even spent a bit of time doing some sketches for one of the games. It was great to join the energy in the room, but also nice to get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Wednesday

Wednesday was a very productive day for me. The first session I attended was by Ken Yarmosh (@kenyarmosh), author of App Savvy. His talk was discussed creating the UI on the iPad. He stepped through some do's and don'ts, which were very informative. He gave app examples of things done right and things done wrong. Ken also showed us some great tools, like Balsamiq and Invision, for creating a full plan of your app, prior to any coding.

Michael Simmons (@macguitar) did a fantastic session on marketing your app. He discussed setting goals, creating a plan (both for the app and the marketing campaign), and knowing your weaknesses. He stressed quality and design. His talk covered pricing, ads, co-marketing, getting reviews, and evangelism. He covered a lot, so catching the video is the only way to fully appreciate the wealth of advice given.

I found that sometimes speakers contradicted each other. For example, Jonathan George stated that press releases are a waste of time, but Micheal Simmons was a proponent of press releases. His take was to get your name out there in any method within your means. I can see Jonathan's perspective—releases will not guarantee reviews (his goal), but they will get your name all over the web (Michael's goal). Personally, I've found they are great SEO for your website. Without them, it's difficult to get good Google.

I wrapped up the day with two sessions on how to approach consulting. One cannot survive on app sales alone, so getting some side projects is essential to us. Mark Johnson (@markjnet) and his business partner quote time and materials (hourly), whereas Andria Jensen (@andriajensen) is strictly project based. Both offered great suggestions in determining good and bad leads. Andria suggested not selling just development, but everything as a whole solution, from development to design, to marketing, to industry insight. She's even hired a sales person, who works strictly on commission. Andria shared some very specific numbers and formulas for coming up with project costs. Both presentations helped me understand the process, giving me the confidence to pursue work in a manner that will make sense for our company, Creative Algorithms.

One thing that struck me is that key items cross industries. Just like automotive (my work background) we should all strive to Surprise and Delight our customers. We should develop working relationships with those in our industry from our customers to the press, to colleagues, to those in support functions for our apps. Another common thread that resonates across industries is the value of networking, planning, marketing, and producing a quality product. The conference didn't disappoint and I highly recommending taking the time and money to go to 360iDev in the future.

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