Event Recap: Adaptive Thinking for the Modern Web


Attendees at last week’s well-received presentation by Mike Wald at Oniracom got something a bit different from what they may have expected. Mike approached the idea of “resolving the tension between designers and developers” in an oblique way, focusing on an overall theme of open communication between colleagues, and using examples from his own decade’s worth of experience building websites.

Mike illustrated the designer-developer conflict as the right-brain vs left-brain clash—noting that, like the now-debunked popular conception, tension between designers and developers is an argument that doesn’t need to exist. The nature of web design and development merging so completely in recent years practically does away with the idea of those roles as separate entities. “Those titles mean less and less anymore, except as personality definitions that help us generalize, so let’s just throw them out the window right now,” he said.


Mike described the extremes to navigate between by using opposing personas in four key areas: ownership, priority, workflow, and aesthetic:

1) Ownership: What are you working on? Can you describe it succinctly to someone who doesn’t do it every day—your spouse, your friends? If not, is it truly yours? One one extreme, the punter—divested from the task for fear of failure: “I’m only doing this because I was told to do it.” On the other side, the personality that’s too invested in the task to share credit or ask for help.

2) Priority: Where does what you’re doing fall against everything else you’re doing? When you get a new task, do you jump to that one and let your other responsibilities suffer? Or do you push it under existing tasks and it never gets done? Mike offered tips, tools, and tricks to combat this: free applications like Asana and the Google stable of apps (Drive, Docs, etc).

3) Workflow: Presented as an opportunity to fix priorities, Mike suggested a middle ground between two more extremes: the worker who treats their process like a sacred cow and never changes it vs. the worker who throws away process whenever they feel like it. If the workflow is successful, then respect that—but if it’s broke, figure out the problem and fix it!

4) Aesthetic: Mike stretched this word to fit the idea of “How much of you gets put into the work you do?” Some designers do exactly what their client asks for, refraining from imposing their style on it. Some impose their own style only, regardless of what their client requests. The recommended action: be confident enough to value and invest in your talent, since that’s why your client hired you—but recognize that they’re the one allowing you to do what you love to do. Trust your own talent and apply that to each project, but pick your battles!

The following Q&A session centered on attendees’ experiences, but most questions were about getting buy-in from supervisors for deviating from existing procedures. Mike suggested finding like-minded colleagues for creative collaboration, but still keeping open communication with decision-makers. Indeed everything came back to clear communication—the bedrock fuel of design—being the best way to solve problems and remove roadblocks to completing any creative project.

Photography by Tad Wagner and Nicki Gauthier.

From Mike:

“It was my pleasure to present to SB AIGA. I had a great time and the crowd was wonderful and attentive. I especially enjoyed the thoughtful questions and conversations after I presented. I hope to be involved with future AIGA events and enjoy seeing this community flourish in Santa Barbara. Below please find several of the books I mentioned and referenced concepts from during my presentation and Q&A.”

Tribal Leadership – Dave Logan
Value-Based Fees – Alan Weiss
The Success Principles – Jack Canfield

By Keir DuBois
Published January 31, 2015
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