Design sessions: why and how?

A design session is used to focus on one or more design items to achieve business objectives with a group of designers. This technique could radically improve the dynamic of your team and the outcome of your project. The technique is best used when you have a three or more talented developers. 

10 reasons to conduct design sessions 

 1. Keep the team engaged and motivated
 2. Tap into the creative potential of the team
 3. Bring the team together on a decision with a common understanding
 4. Separate the designer from the design. You are not your design
 5. See with new eyes
 6. Learn from each other
 7. Close gaps (reduce distance between team members)
 8. Keep it simple
 9. Improve and simplify your process
 10. You think that you know it all

How to conduct and structure effective design sessions?

Here is an effective way to conduct and structure design sessions for your team.

How to Conduct a Design Session
A design session usually consists of two to three design items to help reduce time and consolidate our moves. A design item typically takes about 15 - 20 minutes. A design session should separate the “what we want” from the “how we want to do it.” It provides a venue to consider alternative solutions that could be simpler, clearer, easier, more secure, and more extensible.

Session Goals
The goals for the design sessions are to be…

        Encourage and allow others to contribute
        Be respectful
        Make your point
        We need to quickly understand, justify, and agree on an approach (the how)

    Interesting (not boring)
        Innovative solutions are a side-effect
What’s in it for you?

    Your idea gets used in an area that makes a difference
    Learn from others
    Gain a common understanding
    Have fun 

Attendance is optional. There are probably a few different reasons to join a particular design session:
    You are passionate about it
    It directly impacts your work
    You are interesting in learning more about a particular area

Design Item Template

 Description: {Describe the problem statement}
 Alternatives: {List out alternatives provided by team with pros and cons}
 The Action, Next Steps (such as a spike solution), or Decision
 Rationale:  (A is important, so we chose B, accepting downside C): {There is always a downside; no decision is perfect}

Challenge Questions


Can this be deferred?

Is this the right item to consider?

Is there a way to simplify the problem/solution?

Does the item imply the what we want to do?

Does this help us deliver on-time?

This same format can also be used for process items.


The results of these sessions should be kept in a journal. The journal can be quite helpful to review decisions and to stop history from being rewritten. I have used this technique with bigger teams  including the redesign of The journal should be comprised of notes for each design item (design item template) and the overall structure described above.

Often, you will still need to make a decision to resolve a team deadlock, but by using the design session technique, there will be fewer deadlocks and members will be able to accept and follow the direction.

The 360 feedback that I have received about the sessions: they are fun and effective. Team members want more of them. One key to success is to have the following team values: respect, collaboration, communication, and simplicity.

I would like to know what works for you. Is your team engaged or zoned out?


[Build 2014] Day 3: Final day

I could definitely have one more day here at //build/. Catching sessions, lunch, and airport later. Many good sessions available today.

Grateful to be here.

Great weather. No fog is good on a day when you are in or out of SFO.

11:00 AM
Exhibit hall. Gave New Relic a new feature idea. TPS Report: Total Production Stacktrace report. It provides the top stacktrace occurrences. We used it during redesign of When you get millions of page views per day, this kind of report is important. Oh, don't forget the cover sheet.
Selfie at Nokia #SpaceSelfie. Fun. Looking forward to Nokia 1520 waiting at home. Got the red one.
Also, got freeze dried ice cream for my daughter. Fun exhibit.
All the //build/ 2014 keynotes and sessions are available on channel 9. Plan to watch a few this weekend that I missed. I will update with a list of my favorites.
Cortana and Windows Phone 8.1 were a hit with everyone at //build/ 2014. It has a 3rd party app integration point via XML file.   

[Build 2014] Day 2: Scott Gu's keynotes, sessions, and Microsoft party

7:20 AM
Scott Gu's keynote this morning. Sessions this afternoon. Microsoft's party this evening.

8:30 AM Keynote
Scott Gu.

11:30 AM Exhibit area
Cortana demo.

4:21 PM Migel de Icaza
Presenting "Go Mobile with C# and Xamarin"

5:30 PM
In line to get Xbox.

6:30 - 9:30 PM Microsoft Attendee Party
At the Metreon across from Moscone West. Microsoft has reserved the entire place.



Most theaters hosted different Xbox One games. This was my favorite part. Command center style with bartenders.

Need to buy Titan Fall.

Best build party for providing the right environment. The MC/Announcer for the  Forza Motorsport theater was the best. Ridiculing drivers and pretty much everyone that showed up. It became the best demo room.

My daughter could have beat most of those drivers driving sims in  Forza Motorsport.

11:20 PM
Packing Xbox will be a challenge. Might have to document since 5,000+  people will get to experience it.

Going to break down box. It must weigh 25 lbs. Maybe a little less.
I pack minimally, but have ops on my side.


Here is a creepy picture of the hardware. Got rid of cardboard.  Xbox "I know you." Xbox "select -- suite case."

Not fitting.

Put most in backpack and console in suitcase.  

[Build 2014] Day 1: Keynote, sessions, giveaways, and more

6:33 AM PST
//build/ 2014 has already been interesting and it hasn't even started. Join me today with live blogging of the keynote, sessions, giveaways, and more. The keynote starts at 8:30 AM.
Here are my expectations and predictions along with Day 0.
8:01 AM

 Moscone West keynote line

8:10 AM
Moscone West this year. Got seat for keynote.
No empty seats.

8:14 AM
Massive keynote stage.
8:30 AM: Keynote Day 1
Time for keynote.
8:31 AM
Terry Myerson taking stage.
8:35 AM
Going to be about Windows Phone 8.1 and its convergence with WinRT.
8:38 AM
Joe Belforiore, CVP, Operating Systems Group, takes stage.
Announcing two things:
1. Windows Phone 8.1
2. Windows 8.1 Update
Prestigo phone.
Growing ecosystem for phone: htc, nokia, lg, Samsung, presigio, zte, Lenovo, Karbonn, Huawei, Gionee
8:42 AM
New action center. Nice looking. Lock screen personalization. Highly interactive. Background images for tiles as previously leaked. Looks cool.
8:45 AM
Cortana. Awesome. Glad they stuck with the name. Very cool.
8:47 AM
Cortana looks like a hit. Personalized digital assistance. Think Siri and Google now combined.
8:50 AM
Cortana notebook -- a way to personalize Cortana: interests, remind me, quiet hours, inner circle, places, music searches, settings.
Looks like he is holding a 1520. Could it be the giveaway?
8:59 AM
"Wake me up at 7:00 AM tomorrow"
"What is on my calendar for Saturday?"
"Put dentist appointment on my calendar for Friday August 1st at 10:00 AM"
She knows previous context.
Cortana in beta.
9:05 AM
Type or talk with Cortana.
Cortana has people reminders.
"Next time I talk with my sister, ask her about her new puppy."
Cortana has integration with other apps. Very interesting to me.
9:14 AM
Cortana is the first truly digital assistant.
Nick Hedderman, Senior Product Manager, Windows.
Showing off policy control for Windows Phone 8.1 for corporate users.
Enhancements to the Windows Store:
+ Featured apps
+ For you (personalized suggestions)
+ Categories (same as on Windows 8)
+ List
New calendar:
+ Weather
+ Swipe right to get to next day
+ Other views: week view with day expansion
+ 3rd party API
Improved performance
WiFi Sense
Storage Sense
9:25 AM
Word flow keyboard now for Windows 8.1. Shape writing. Looks good.
Now worlds fastest keyboard.
Available to consumers next for months.
Available on brand new phones late April.
"For all of you developer... Have to wait for David Tredwell."
9:40 AM
Universal Windows apps. WinRT is now on phones.
GridView control that works across different form factors.
9:44 AM
Universal apps are based on WinRT. Same way as for Windows 8 apps: C#/XAML, Javascript/HTML, C/C++ XAML/Direct X
9:48 AM
Update to VS 2013 that allows one to develop universal apps.
9:55 AM
Store apps are now 50x faster through process.
10:04 AM
100's of new features added to Windows Phone 8.1
+ Triggers for background tasks
Cortana's complex grammar capability is now at our disposal. Very cool. XML.
10:11 AM
Side-loaded apps now seem to have access to all of Windows and .NET capabilities.

Great for enterprise apps.

Has to be wrapped in a windows runtime component.

10:15 AM
3rd major theme. Enabling cross-platform apps.
Going to announce Xamarin acquisition?
Cross-platform frameworks.
WinJS now open-source and available across platforms: web, phone, windows modern UI apps
10:20 AM
Windows 8.1 update available on MSDN today.
VS 2013 update 2 RC available today.
Windows phone 8.1 preview available today.
10:24 AM
Now talking about future roadmap.
Universal apps running on Xbox One in future.
10:42 AM
New start screen for desktop users. Has live tiles too.
10:43 AM
Jeez. Free Xbox one to everyone in the office.
$500 gift card to the Microsoft store.
I totally guessed wrong.
10:49 AM
Announcing Nokia Lumia 930.
Wireless charging for 930.
630 has great price point $189 for most expensive with dual sim.
11:17 AM
Satya answering questions. Doesn't look like Xamarin will be acquired. Looks like I owe Mike Kush $5.
11:20 AM
The closing is coming. Is there one more thing?
11:25 AM
Bizspark program. 75,000 startups leveraged it.
Build platforms...
11:30 AM
That's a wrap for the keynote. Heading for lunch then sessions. Plan to attend the Xamarin party tonight.
1:31 PM
Unboxing won't be the same since Xbox and gift card.
3:39 PM
Hall 1A: Super long line for Ander's TypeScript talk.
4:00 - 5:00 [Session] Anders Hejlsberg on TypeScript
He's a tech rock start -- no doubt. Used his Turbo Pascal compiler -- a very long time ago. It was lightening fast and affordable.
Top 10 Reasons why TypeScript will be widely adopted that I wrote when it was initially announced in 2012.
Now 1.0.
TypeScript uses "Structural Typing" also known as "Duck Typing." If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.
5:25 PM: We're all connected...
Luckily, ran into a couple of people that I know since surrounded by 5,000 people that I don't know. Appu Saigal, a minimalist designer that helped me question dogma, and Jeremy Ruggaber now at Jeremy and I worked on the BMW redesign at and financial services integration together. Both guys are the best of the best.
Going to Katanya for noodles, then Xamarin party at 8:30 PM. Might post some photos of Xamarin party. I guess there is still a chance for the Microsoft acquisition announcement tomorrow during Scott Gu's keynote in the morning. If not, I lose $5 to Mike Kush. Knew it was a risky prediction.
5:37 PM
Was completely wrong about the giveaway. Microsoft gave away an Xbox One and a $500 gift certificate at Microsoft store to buy whatever device you prefer. I already used my cert to get the high reviewed Nokia 1520 -- a beautiful (6" phablet) Windows phone.
This is my second Xbox One, but very grateful and my daughter even more since it will go upstairs with her. She's used Windows a year before it came out. I don't think that anyone is ruling out the possibility of computer science degree for her.
I really thought that they would giveaway a phone since Build is focused on the release of Windows Phone 8.1 this year, but ultimately I guess it was a giveaway for me.
6:44 PM
Best Ramen at Katanya's. If Ramen noodles tasted this good in college, I would have never left. Very small place but always a wait.
8:30 PM
Clean demo area connected to dev challenge. Nice lighting. Casual but great Kinect 2 out front. Tech girl in sound proof box asking questions to Cortana -- well done.
8:38 PM
Poor photographer, but shows dimensions of Nokia 1520 against a larger display. Beautiful glass. 1080p.

8:55 PM
Line for Xbox. Normally I would be trying to assist the line, but this is the front of the line.

9:25 PM Xamarin Party
Captured best moment. Talked security guy to get a photo with a guy with Marvel potential. The freak show begins -- not completely unlike Comi-con. 


[Build 2014] Day 0: Travel & registration


6:20 AM CST
Excited to be on my way to //build/ 2014. At DFW heading to SFO. Here are my expectations and predictions for Build 2014.

On time and expected to be in San Francisco at 9:30 AM. Happy to be going to build again.

11:24 PM PST
Landed, ground transportation, and already having Hong Kong crispy noodles at M.Y. China recommend by Eric Hanes.
Sitting where the action is.

Registration does not start until 3:00 PM

1:10 PM
Literally back at room charging batteries. Have a view of cable cars on Powell Street.

2:22 PM
Here is agenda in case you missed it from yesterday:

Videos of keynotes and sessions will be available 24-48 hrs later at same URL.

2:33 PM
In search of energy drink since I have been awake since 3:00 AM PST. Red Bull.

3:05 PM
Was in line next to Rocky Lhotka (CLSA fame).

Rocky: for more great insights, remember you just have to google or bing for "pursuit of great design" and you will find more.

Should be a great conference. It has best potential. Enjoy.

4:13 PM
Here are the items from registration. Ignore the strange device to the right.


//build/ 2014: expectations and predictions (#bldwin)

//build/ 2014 is the fourth build event from Microsoft (April 2 - 4). Like last year, Build is being held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Despite never having a real agenda for the conference, build always sells out fast; last year within a few hours.

Why attend Build?

Each Build that I have attended (2011 and 2013) has been a week of fun — the best ever. Build gives me a week to come up for air to learn new technologies, share ideas, get new gear, and attend a few parties. Ultimately, it is a geek week for me. The key: fall in love with your work.

My expectations and predictions for Build 2014
The expectations and predictions below are based on the same information that you have available: tech news and previous conferences.


Satya Nadella Vision Keynote 
First keynote for Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO and a true tech geek, will be about his vision for Microsoft. Beware: the geeks are running Microsoft again. Looking forward to it. This new vision should include mobile first and cloud first as a big part of the strategy.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Released 
Windows 8.1 Update 1 will be released at Build initially to at least MSDN subscribers (Source).

Windows Phone 8.1 
Windows Phone 8.1 is going to be a big part of Build 2014.

Cortana is named after one of the main characters, an A.I., in the Halo game series. Originally, Cortana was the codename for Satoria knowledge repository powered by Bing, but it seems that the name will remain. I really like the name and that it associates some Xbox cool with Windows Phone. Perhaps, I will have her call me Master Chief and post some recordings of her in the live blog of Build 2014 for Halo fans.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Download
Likely available to MSDN subscribers for the first few days, then soon after available via Windows Store. It is free.

SQL Server 2014 
Including big data enhancements (SourceSource)


One additional expectation: do not expect all of these predictions to be true. :-)

Microsoft announces the acquisition of Xamarin 
Perhaps, I am projecting what I really want to happen and it will only be a co-marketing and integration deal; either will be good for C# developers and give momentum to a great cross-platform development approach that is already a great solution (Source).

One example: asynchronous design and programming is the next software development paradigm shift in my view, and no other language supports it better than C#. I will be attending the Xamarin/Microsoft event next Wednesday evening at Mezzazine and blogging some of the details. See "Live blogging of Build 2014" section for more details.

Anders Hejlsjberg said about Xamarin last year at Build, “I’m a great fan of their work." Xamarin could really fit with Microsoft's new mobile and cloud first strategy. We should also hear more about the strategy at Build.

Visual Studio 2014 Preview
Developers will get a preview of Visual Studio 2014. The Visual Studio team now has yearly major releases. One of the big enhancements for VS 2014 will be Roslyn (a rewrite of the C# and VB compilers in C# instead of C++ — enabling not only dynamic compilation, but also more meta-capabilities for the future). It could be too early, but we will see.

Windows 9 Roadmap 
The roadmap for Windows 9 will be provided likely from Satya Nadella. No bits will be provided. I predict that Microsoft will go deeper this year into the strategy compared to previous Builds.

C# 6.0  / C# 7.0 
Expect C# 6.0 to be available along with Roslyn via VS 2014 CTP and vision for C# 7.0 presentation by Anders Hejlsjberg.

JavaScript / TypeScript for Windows Phone Development
We should see Windows Phone becoming much more common with WinRT including JavaScript/HTML bindings that we have today with WinRT.

Xbox One Development Kit
We should expect to see the software development kit for Xbox One with more in common with WinRT and Windows Phone. WinRT (Modern UI), Windows Phone, and Xbox One with more common API Platforms are more common — hopefully, with a simple developer licensing model.

Giveaway Predictions
Microsoft has a long tradition of treating developers well. Microsoft understands developers are key to its current and future success. The emphasis on developers should only increase with Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO and a true tech geek.

Code is real, it runs the world, and it helps to have good gear and tools to create it. Even if you are not that materialistic, it is still all about the gear.

Previous Build Giveaways 

Build 2011: Quad-core 11.6" Samsung tablet running a preview release of Windows 8 and Visual Studio 11 
Build 2012: Surface RT and Windows Phone
Build 2013Surface Pro and Acer Iconia W3

This year, I predict that the giveaway will include a phone and Surface. Given the expected focus on Windows Phone 8.1 (blue) and the Nokia acquisition, a Nokia phone should be included in the giveaway. Previous Build conferences have included a tablet in the giveaway so makes it likely this year as well.

2014 Phone Giveaway Predictions

#1 Nokia Lumia 930
Rumored to be a slightly larger version of the Lumia Icon and international (Source)
#2 Lumia 1520
Lumia 1520 is a 6" phone; with a phone like this, there is much less of a need for an 8" tablet; just a phone and a large tablet
#3 Lumia 929
Currently available but built for Windows phone 8.1

2014 Surface Giveaway Predictions

#1 Surface Pro 2
Not likely to have LTE
#2 Surface Mini
Microsoft's rumored 7-8" surface. More likely to be released in June; otherwise, I would have made this #1 prediction, but rumors indicate a later launch.
#3 Surface Book
A long rumored 13-14" ultra-book addition to the surface line.

While I correctly predicted the giveaways for Build 2011 and 2013, a possible upset to this year's prediction could be some larger announcement and giveaway from Nokia via Microsoft — a wearable for example. Granted any combination would be fantastic as a conference attendee, my preference would the Lumia 1320 and Surface Book, although seems the least likely to happen given supply chains. One thing is for sure: it would be nice to get a phone with Windows 8.1 pre-loaded since it will take a while for the carriers to push updates. I could be cool for a couple of weeks at least within a small group.

See you at Build 
Look forward to seeing you at Build. If you are not attending, check out my upcoming live blog of Build 2014 below.

Live blogging of Build 2014 
This year, I will be live blogging keynotes, giveaway unboxing, sessions, parties, and more.  I will provide links to key streams and resources for you as well. You can follow the live blog at pursuit of great design. I am excited and ready. 


Update: Microsoft just posted the agenda via Channel 9. It validates the expectation that WinRT will be available for Windows Phone 8.1.

Screw best practices and dogma

The term "best practice" is naïve, condescending, and quite dangerous. Why? Because it implies it can get no better and used regardless of your context or situation. You (and your team) live in a temporal context. Given your context, some practices are helpful and some are harmful. If you think about it, best practices do not even exist and hearing the term indicates that it should be aggressively challenged.

What should you embrace instead of best practices? Certainly consider practice patterns. A practice pattern is a practice that only makes sense in a particular context for a reason. Know your context and your practices will become clearer. The same is true for design patterns and you would not blindly use a design pattern no matter the context.


Dogma is a set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.

5 problems with dogma (and principles)
1. Like best practices a design principle leaves no room for improvement and only makes sense in a context.

2. Combining design principles often works against your real and honest goals. 

3. Design principles are often in conflict, which can only increase complexity. 

4. Design principles come with a downside. This also reveals the truth about dogma: dogma lays down negatives as incontrovertible truth.

5. Design principles that worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future. Dogmas eventually collapse.

Why is dogma even more dangerous than best practices?
Dogma is even more dangerous, because dogma is much harder to refute, and teams can base even more value on dogma since it is an entire set of principles driving an entire architecture. Challenge one principle and you challenge the dogma and architecture as a whole.

"Don't be trapped by dogma  which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice." 

 Steve Jobs (1955 - 2012) 

What should you embrace instead of dogma?
Simply embrace design rationale and empirical data:

      A is important, so we chose B, accepting downside C.

Design Teams
Design teams can easily be locked in best practices and dogma. These often times divide a team in dysfunctional and irrational ways. Blindly following the dogma while losing sight of core goals.

Empirically, I have seen some of the most successful (and profitable) teams refute best practices and dogma, so there has to be something to it.

The main point: any design team should challenge best practices and dogma. As Alan Kay said, "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points."

In my view, best practices and dogma do not lead to great design  more often, they lead to poor over-abstracted design which can be even worse than an under-abstracted design.


[Y3] in pursuit of great design

In pursuit of great design started three years ago with a focus on software systems. From the start, my intent has been to share my pursuit of great design with my friends and colleagues.  

I am more motivated than ever in the pursuit of great design and appreciate your participation and feedback this year. Expect more this year.

Attending build again this year was a blast and really changed a few things for me:

The need for software intelligence was amplified: with new services, we now have the eyes, ears, and mouth for applications apps now need intelligence more than ever

Travel lighter: The Surface Pro giveaway from build is now my primary machine. I no longer carry the mobile command center back pack, but very small brief case; simpler and easier; I know sales have not been stellar, but it is a wonderfully powerful and small device; I dock it to a 23" touch display when at home

Design of the command center: after experiencing the new hardware available, my command center design now includes touch displays only; also, I will making at least one update post to How to design your own command center on a budget; it is surprisingly popular and I have made quite a few changes. It is about 50% complete a great place for design
So what is to come? There are three main questions that will help drive the pursuit:
  1. Does great design need to be intelligent or at least smart enough?
  2. How do we make software smart enough?
  3. How do we produce great designs and products consistently?  
The pursuit continues…

[Y1] chronologically

[Y2] chronologically

[Y3] chronologically

Top WinRT .NET needs
Two reasons you will like Windows 8 store apps even on your desktop and laptop
Top 10 reasons why TypeScript will be widely adopted
Fall in love with your work
Security Alert: Disable UPnP on your router
A look behind the Windows 8 curtain
What percentage of Windows Store apps are written in HTML5/JavaScript?
What might surprise you about Windows 8 store apps written in HTML5/JavaScript?
What to expect at Build 2013 (#bldwin)? Knowns and unknowns. 

[Build 2013] Day 0: Travel, registration, & hackathon
[Build 2013] Day 1: Keynote, sessions, giveaway, & hackathon
[Build 2013] Day 2: Keynote, sessions, hackathon, and party
[Build 2013] Day 3: Final day

Thanks again for joining me in the pursuit of great design. Enjoy!

[Build 2013] Day 3: Final day

The final day of Build 2013. Just some sessions today until 3:00. There is some amazing hardware at the exhibit hall. I really like the larger screens. This could be the $399 ultrabook from Acer. If so, a great machine for $399.

More to follow today.

Here is where I used to work a long time ago: Post & Market. The Net with Sandra Bullock was filmed there and surrounding streets. A Lexus commercial too (where a Lexus SUV drove up the side of the building).

Got to get some Dim Sum today at Yank Sing -- the best (but expensive).

Here is a link to the video of the keynotes and sessions:

It takes them about 24 hours to get the sessions ready for download so a day behind.

Lots of 3D printers around in the exhibit hall since native support now in Windows 8.1.

Exhausted, but made the most of Build 2013. I will update will resource links once I recover.

Update: Video and slides for Build 2013 keynotes and sessions.

I am really enjoying the Surface Pro giveaway. It has now become my primary machine. The build quality is excellent. I am even impressed with the cabling and accessories.

During the hackathon and judging, Microsoft supplied many touch displays to attach to the Surface for demoing. Interacting with them changed my plans for the command center. Instead of dual panels for each workstation, I decided for one large touch display. I chose the highly rated Acer T232. The current street price is $449 and will certainly get cheaper. Really loving it. The larger the display, the more fun to touch.

The touch display standard requires that you connect to the display via HDMI, DVI, or VGA. I chose the mini display port to HDMI adapter to connect (so that it transmits sound too). In addition, it requires you to connect a USB cable (for transmitting the touch information). 

Here is one of my workstations with the Surface Pro driving it. Also bought another Apple keyboard.