Adobe Systems Incorporated

Q&A with Adobe MAX Speaker Denise Jacobs

denise-jacobsAdobe MAX -The Creativity Conference, is less than a week away! While you’re planning your sessions at MAX, be sure to add Denise Jacobs to your schedule. She’s the ultimate modern creative web speaker, an expert on both CSS, web design and all things creative. With publications such as The CSS Detective Guide to her most recent work on creativity, we can’t wait to hear Denise speak on “The Importance of Storytelling in Web Design” and “Unfolding Your Brain: Catapult Your Creative Productivity” at Adobe MAX next week. So dive in and get to know Denise a little better in the below Q&A, she’s pretty amazing!

Adobe: You’ve recently announced that just delivered your last article on front-end development: no more CSS for Denise. Could you expand on this professional transition you’ve undertaken?

Denise Jacobs: This transition has been a long time in the making, but my efforts over the past 2 years have finally come to fruition. Right after I finished my book, The CSS Detective Guide, in later February of 2010, I had a major epiphany that what I truly wanted to focus my work on is around creativity. It was at that time that I came up with the title “Creativity Evangelist” (and promptly bought the domain). However, my plan was also to really get established as a speaker at web design conferences, and the topics in my book were a perfect vehicle for that. Once I started to become known as a speaker, then I started shifting my content more towards my true area of interest: Creativity. So, while it looks like somewhat of a dramatic change, for me, that has been the goal all along.

One of your talks focuses on the “The Importance of Storytelling in Web Design,” this is a ideal topic for Adobe MAX. We love your focus on reverse engineering a project to come up with the story that the website or app needs to tell. Do you find web designers often overlook the storytelling framework when approaching a project?

Absolutely. I think Storytelling is a lot like Accessibility still is and User Experience Design used to be: something that is tacked on to the end of the project in the mad rush to just get the thing built. But also like Accessibility and UX, if Storytelling is to be incorporated into a project, it really needs to be done from the start. I truly believe that it gives projects and finished products more depth and richness.

The Importance of Storytelling seems to dove-tail with Content-First framework often heard in Responsive Web Design discussions. How do think Story-telling and Narrative can specifically help web designers going down the Responsive Web Design route?

One of the things I will talk about in the presentation is how Storytelling in web design can be incorporated on the visual, content, and ux levels. From a responsive standpoint, Storytelling will inform the design visually, which means that how the site will change visually when it responds will be richer. I also fell that Storytelling can help you understand your audience better and their needs, which will then inform how you structure your responsiveness on a technical level as well.

Your other MAX session, “Unfolding Your Brain: Catapult Your Creative Productivity” delves into the fascinating neuroscience of creativity itself. What has surprised you the most as you delve into the literature?

One of the things that has surprised me most and that I am now the most fervent about is how at odds current work culture is with nurturing creativity. Working long hours and weekends, meetings, micromanagers, cubicles, multitasking, and working in isolation all are the enemies of creativity and innovation. And yet, they have become the standard of corporate work culture.

Fortunately, there are more and more forward-thinking companies are working to change this by structuring offices that encourage creativity and playfulness, innovation, and flexible work schedules and other methods. My goal is to be an additional force of driving this change forward   by working with more teams and companies with even more suggestions and practices for supporting and fomenting creativity and innovation.

To give people a taste of your talk, what two tips can you give the modern web professionals to unleash their creativity?

The first one is to single-task instead of multitask. I’ll reveal my secrets for that in the talk. The second is to find others to generate creative synergy instead of constantly trying to work by yourself and holding all of your ideas close to your chest instead of sharing them with others.

And what would you recommend to a starting-out web designer?

One thing is know that you can’t know everything. Things are coming out new all of the time and it can become overwhelming to try to be on top of all of it. My strongest encouragement is to keep following your deep interests, even if they don’t seem related — you never know where it will take you. Just look at Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to the Stanford graduating class. It’s a great testimony to what following your interests can do for a person.

Your talk seems focused on some very practical tips and insights. What’s surprised you as you’ve implemented these ideas into your own creative life?

What has surprised me is how many creative ideas I have. There was a point in time in my life where I wondered if I was a creative person and if my ideas were “any good.” These days, it seems that once I acknowledged my creativity and started initiating practices to encourage it, ideas flow constantly. It’s a good problem to have!

So, we have to ask: what would you say is the most pressing obstacle to creativity that needs to be dismantled?

Ah, you want me to reveal my secrets! Right now, I would say that the most pressing obstacle to creativity is fear. Fear inhibits the flow of creative impulses in the brain and keeps you stuck in place with no neurological juice to feed the creative flow.

Thanks so much for taking the time for answering these interview questions. Any final jokes or humor to share with your fellow creatives?

Thank *you* for the interview! Any jokes or humor? I can’t think of any that would be appropriate to share! However, I will share two of my favorite Flash mob dances: Liverpool Station, and Can’t Touch This, and a website that I created about the dangers of spontaneous dancing. Enjoy!

Thinking about attending Adobe MAX to hear Denise speak? Register now and don’t forget to use promo code MXSM13 during registration for $300 off!