The speaker interviews: John Gruber

John Gruber is the man behind Daring Fireball. We asked his good friend and sometime collaborator, Michael Lopp aka Rands, to interview him in the leadup to Webstock.

Rands: Why the hell would you fly all the way from Philadelphia to New Zealand? It’s the goddamned other side of the world.

Gruber: That was my initial reaction to the invitation. I don’t think I phrased it quite that way when I demurred, but that’s what I was thinking. But everyone I know who’s been there says it’s a gorgeous country. And have you seen the iPhone market share numbers down there? These are obviously my people.

Rands: That’s impressive given the abundant lack of love the carrier Vodafone has given the Kiwis. They make AT&T look good — which is hard. Any idea what you’re going to talk about at the conference?

Gruber: Definitely — which is unusual for me when I agree to speak. But another reason I agreed to go is that I thought of a good topic: the differences and conflict between consistency, uniformity, and individuality in user interface design. I spoke about this topic back in 2006 at the first C4 conference, and it was one of my favorite talks I’ve ever given. Even better, much has changed in the world of UI design since 2006. Back then, there was the desktop and the web. Now, there’s desktop, web, and mobile. And it’s probably worth splitting mobile into two separate fields: mobile apps and mobile web.

Rands: Well, you’re ahead of me. This will be my third Webstock and each time I get off the plane, find the nearest purveyor of flat whites, and then sequester myself in my hotel room as I construct a new presentation. My current presentation title is, “Why you should build your team like Webstock”Hello Darlin’ — Conway Twitty, The Man, The Music, The Legend”, but who knows what I’ll end up with.

You and I have attended a lot of different conferences together around the U.S. and I’m wondering about your definition of success for a conference. What needs to happen so that when you’re leaving the conference, you’re thinking “Nailed it”?

Gruber: There are two sides to that. One is being a speaker. For me as a speaker, my favorite thing to hear afterwards is something along the lines of “I disagree with you about (some major point of the talk), but, I must admit, you made a good case for that, and have given me something to think about.” I don’t want to get up on stage and tell the audience only what they already know, or what they already believe. I think public presentations are ideally suited for challenging people to change their mind about something. There’s something about making the case with your voice, rather than the written word, that makes it easier to open people’s minds to new ideas.

The flip side is being an attendee. And what I like best about a conference is walking out with an opinion on something that is different than my opinion about that topic when I walked in. Convince me to change my mind about something. I’m sure I’m wrong about many things — a good speaker is someone who helps me figure out what some of those things are.

Of course, the other factor is simply that of entertainment — the simple joy of watching a presentation and feeling like your mind has been fully engaged.

Rands: Agreed. I put equal value on the stumble’n’learn factor outside of the conference proper. How much stumbling into random people results in learning? I think this is one the main reasons you and I continue to attend the likes of WWDC and SXSW is the constantly high likelihood of discovering interesting people with great stories.

Gruber: No doubt about it. I spend so much of my professional life interacting with people solely through the computer. It never ceases to surprise me how different — how much more efficient — face-to-face communication is. You learn things, hear things, say things, and notice things in person that would have gone unlearned, unheard, unsaid, unnoticed otherwise.

I’d say that as my overall day-to-day communication goes ever more computerized, attending a few good conferences per year becomes ever more essential.

Thanks to John and Michael for the interview! We’re really looking forward to having them at Webstock.

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