Speaker interview – Amy Hoy

In the second of our speaker interviews, we caught up with Amy Hoy, globetrotting in Vienna!

Webstock: Ok, so describe a typical day at work for Amy Hoy?

Amy Hoy: That’s a tough one. My days are really varied!

A typical day “at work” in the past few months would almost indubitably find me somewhere other than home, quite likely in Europe. My partner John and I have been travelin’ fools lately. Inconstancy of location has been the most constant thing for me in the past few months. (Case in point: I’m in Vienna right now.)

While trying to resist the delights of whatever foreign place I find myself in, I’ll be fielding calls and emails with clients, working on sketches and diagrams, trying to get inside the heads of the audience for the product I’m working on (and sometimes trying to help the client determine what the heck the product is to start with). Preferably not in that order, since there’s something about contact with other humans that I find irresistibly distracting.

Some days I don’t even need to touch a computer other than to do research on a topic (for example, the relative success of various file representation metaphors), working almost exclusively on paper. Other days, things are less conceptual and I spend all day in Photoshop and OmniGraffle, only coming out of my designer-coma to wipe the drool from my mouth and fetch another [insert local caffeinated beverage of choice].

Our conceptual work often involves a mix of early stage product design, marketing and positioning, and selecting feature sets in addition to the actual nuts and bolts of interface and interaction design and, finally, visual design (and sometimes implementation)… so there’s always enough to keep me occupied.

I haven’t written much code in the past few months but I’m getting back into the swing of it for an upcoming project. I’m excited.

Webstock: The cowboy hat. Will it be travelling to New Zealand with you?

Amy Hoy: It probably won’t! Sadly. It’s a $3 K-Mart special and I doubt it could make the journey alive.

The now-famous “Amy Hoy” cowboy hat was originally worn (and spraypainted red) by one of the organizers of FOSCON (Free Open Source Convention) in 2006, when the theme was Ruby Rodeo. Their “street team” wore those hats around non-free OSCON in the evening so we could know where to hitch a ride to FOSCON (because, let’s face it, geeks in red cowboy hats stand out in a crowd). One of the guys jokingly plopped it on my head and, in my obnoxiousness, I asked if I could keep it. I think he was a bit surprised by my gall and therefore shocked into saying “Yes.”

Otherwise, I’m not much of a hat person.

I will be bringing my blue-and-green hair, though. It’s easier to transport.

Webstock: I’ve got a Blackberry. It’s new, I’m still getting to know it, but I do like it. Should I be worried that you’re coming to New Zealand?

Amy Hoy: Yes. I may appear to be completely in love with my iPhone, but a girl can’t help her wandering eye. I’m a famous device lothario.

So… what’s your Blackberry’s sign?

Webstock: Who’s had the most influence on you as a designer, and why?

Amy Hoy: That’s also really tough question… or possibly I’m just a wuss about interviews.

I’ve mimicked all sorts of other peoples’ styles over the years, and I’ve certainly learned new techniques that way, but I’d have to say that the people who most influence me in design aren’t actually designers, but more along the lines of worldly philosophers. People who have taught me how to really see, think and question, rather than any particular visual or usability tactic. And especially people who have taught me how to understand people.

Once I pop I can’t stop… I can’t pick just one. I’m totally schizophrenic with what I like and I can never name a single favorite book or movie, either—and people are so much more complicated than that!

I’d have to include such people as Thomas Frank, Daniel Pinker, Pema Chodron, Daniel Goleman, Desmond Morris, Franz de Waal, Seth Godin, Daniel Gilbert, Kathy Sierra, Robert Wright, Neil Gaiman, Roger von Oech, Brenda Laurel, Douglas Hofstadter, Henry Petroski, Wil Wright, and Don Norman (ok, he’s a designery person).

These people have all had a huge impact on me through their writing and speaking, although the list could go on much longer than that, even.

Webstock: Aside from Webstock, is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to while visiting New Zealand?

Amy Hoy: The scenery, the people, the beef — it all sounds great. I won’t mind missing the ickiest month of the year back in Maryland, either. And I think we’re going to pop over to Australia a little bit, too, although that might be wishful thinking based on the schedule.

Webstock: Which other Webstock speaker are you most looking forward to seeing, and why?

Amy Hoy: You just like putting me on the spot, don’t you? And I’ve been told that New Zealanders are such nice people!

If you pressed me, I would have to say Scott Berkun. His books and blog have been a big inspiration for me—which I can also say for at least half the other speakers!—and he’s also situated next to me on the speaker list page, so he’s obviously the clear winner.

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