Design4Drupal 2019: The time I met Richard Stallman and he didn’t have change

the Drupal drop beside the words Design 4 Drupal Boston 2019

I once again landed in The Athens of America and was met with much kinder weather than Europe had thrown at me. Boston, well particularly Cambridge, holds a lot of fond memories for me. being a mirrored reflection of my beloved San Francisco in many ways, it always sorts feels like home. Maybe that’s why it felt much less like a business trip and much more like a family reunion when I arrived at Design4Drupal 2019.

Food and Fun


I never fear being ‘stuck’ in my hotel when I to to events, and like normal, I immediately found my people. This time it was the whole development crew from Genuine who were just finishing up their get together. Some of us adjourned for further conversations and libations at The Automatic, which has the best selections of Mezcal I have seen East of the Mississippi.


Contributor sprint and trainings shared the same coffee, light pastries and lunch at the Stata Center. Lunch was pizza and salad with an OK vegan pizza pie for us lacto-intolerant folks. By the end of the day though, I was pretty hungry. Thankfully Kevin Thull had a heck of a plan ad we gorged ourselves on plant based diner food at Veggie Galaxy. We had a quick nightcap at The People’s Republik and got ready for the busy next day.


Coffee and pastries and tea awaited us Thursday and Friday morning. The tea was notable higher class and higher quality. Wish I had written down the name on the tin. Lunch was pre-boxed sandwiches and wraps. Whoever made my hummus wrap must have thought the goal was the spread it as thin as possible, as to be almost undetectable on the tortilla. The potato chips were good though.

The after party at Mead Hall, a short block from the venue and my hotel, was hopping with all sorts of folks from the area in their after work revelry, whilst the D4D crew had full run of the private upstairs area. We had fries, sliders, pretzels and a few other buffet served items. Breaking from my normal vodka and soda I tried a couple local beers, but found none worth noting here.


I am always super happy when my buddy J.D. Flynn is at an event. I am also very glad that he has taken the mantle of organizing DrupalKaraoke! He lead us to one of my favorite spots in old Cambridge town, Courtside, The King of Karaoke. We had a good time of it.


A repeat of the coffee and such. The coffee was not too bad, pretty average. Lunch was pizza for people who eat cheese and a pretty awesome and hearty salad with a spicy chipotle dressing for those of us that did not. Normally I would protest a salad as the lunch option, but the beans and corn and awesome tortilla strips made this eat like a proper meal and I am thankful for the hearty portions for greens.

After the last sessions finished, some of us who had the time gathered for one last communal meal. We had fantastic Korean BBQ at Koreana.

DrupalKaraoke Again

We had such a good night of Karaoke, that some of us thought, “why not again?”. So we go the gang back together for one more night at Courtside. It is always bittersweet to have to say the last goodbyes before turning in for the night. Singing together takes some of the sting away.


Contribution/Training day

Wednesday saw some people learning things like Intermediate To Advanced CSS For Practical Peoples to Drupal 8 Crash Course (For Content-Editors, Marketers, And Project Managers). I did my best to contribute to the event but local development setup issues against the dev branch 8.8.0 caused havoc in some interesting ways for me and I spent the day debugging things. Once I got up and running I was able to make a screenshot for another contributor’s request but was too flustered by the ongoing little issues I was seeing I didn’t get much else accomplished. Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes it eats you.

Opening Remarks

Great Drupal Websites Are Made Before The First Line of Code is Written
Chris O’Donnell
Mindy League

Organizing your own thoughts can be hard enough, so organizing the thoughts, wants, fears and concerns of an entire set of stakeholders and end users requires some serious effort. Fortunately there are some pretty well established patterns that we can leverage to make this easier on us all and with better results. I appreciated this session because it was based in real world practice and I got to see part of the reason why the Promet team is known for successful projects. Great info here for anyone trying to take on more enterprise deals.

Raw Notes:
Agile can’t save a bad idea
Developing strategies to make changes early
white boards are cheap ways to make changes
Why human centered design?
Greater client engagement
Early stakeholder alignment
deeper knowledge transfer
How they do it
Series of workshops
identify stakeholders
prioritize stakeholders
ID strengths, problems, opportunities in current system
Group or relate the above attributes
ID solutions to above challenges
Prioritize solutions
Set good ground rules get everyone on same page
Why it works?
Create empathy
validate assumptions
Create solutions for them
What it looks like
stakeholder meeting white board example
persona work
keeps us centered on who we are designing for
ask the clients to close the laptop and engage as people
put pencil to paper to express yourself
workshopping mode
Sticky notes
color coded
rose is a thorn bud
Backend, frontend, content grouping
good ideas from surprising sources
make sure all voices get heard
ideas can become equal and all carry same weight
we walked through live version of this using an online tool
lot of interesting ideas in short demo

How Drupal as a Service Can Save Our Livelihoods and our Lives
Benjamin Melançon

When I think ‘true spirit of Free/Libre Open Source Software’ Ben’s face jumps to mind every time. One of the friendliest folks I have met on my journey, I have always loved hearing him speak about his teams. His casual style of crediting everyone who contributed makes me want to aspire to do the same. Raising up everyone around you seems like the way we should be approaching working together. This talk gave me a lot to think about, as I am finding myself explaining what ‘Free’ in FLOSS means more and more. Knowing there are just a load of companies that are actually supporting ‘Free’ in the way the GPL suggests, gives a credibility many business folks certainly need to be able to wrap their minds around this rather modern idea.

Raw Notes:
understand how the future is services and what we can do about it
bombs in Yemen
people used to terrible consequences for war weapons
tech is not used to this defense style
furniture workers yesterday lead a walk out to stop homeland security from using their furniture
couchsurfing vs airbnb
pioneering from free and open source commercialized
faster and more trusted because of financial model
Harvard studying this how to benefit without contributing back
used to be frowned on to be paid to contribute
now obvious SaaS is going to need to be a thing that helps pay for this
Decline and fall of Drupal empire?
Weekly project usage over time is leveled off since 2015
not world on fire though
Concentrated vs distributed costs
concentrated care way more
The earth is not dying, it is being killed
Utah Phillips
US distribution of wealth
top 20% is 83% od all wealth
people at top agree they have too uch wealth for the most part
knowledge is not real power
organizations are power
Collective Courage book
Jessica gordon menehard?
business opp in
his proposed solution is LibreSaaS
many companies already are, new term though
back to meaning of Free software
people are not economically rational all the time
sometimes people do social good cause it needs done
not really a conscious movement
Discourse web forums
new hotness
ghost, sharetribe, wallbag, tendenci, cryptpad
commitchange, standardnotes, (writely)
and then there is WordPress
Unlike Discourse with a strong moral statement does not make any of these claims
Freedom to move to anywhere and hack as will, so not seemingly really open
it is an advantage but they don’t talk about the freedom from vendor lock in
Free to start, with 5 ways to grow
Whether you want to share your ideas, start a business, or run a store, you can do it all on
Salesforce is closed source, but they foster a community to configure
illusion of power and control
Drupal as a Service
cloud is just other people’s computers
collectively we can own those
power to collaborate and communicate the next level
history of failure attempting this
xxx (missed what he said), worked until updates killed it
Civispace, from Deanspace from Howard Dean campaign
tried to make a service, too high a price
technical prblems
Drupal Gardens for D7 was Acquia’s approach
became Acquia site factory
never thought as a small site builder never thought about D as a service was viable
successes are Sony and NBCUniversal
forms and multilingual because they needed to build them, contributed back
Drupal light and Drupal Enterprise distros and platform there
only open internal to the university
MIT runs one, but universally not liked, not really maintained and not functional
Drupal as LibraSaaS
Roundearth – mydropwizard – supporting old sites, this service is CRM + CMS nonprofit management solution in the cloud
Open Social – goalgorilla internal social networks for large non-profits
roomify – booking engines,, lot of cose outside of Drupal so other projects can use it
easy to get stated and no worry of hitting wall of what you can’t do
no path off a cliff, rug being pulled out
proprietary tech only really becomes profitable once it hits monopoly
OSS not victim of this
App store model and the like basically invented this model
Apple took idea and locked it down
and it is not Amazon Web Services.
that is un-free-software, selling anything they can as a locked down service
mongoDB example
Indie Web Camp
shared protocols
betterverse, mastadon

User Unfriendly: A practical guide to losing control
Miriam Suzanne

I was not sure what to expect out of this keynote. As someone without a design or front end background, I was not familiar with her work, just had heard the name a few times. I left the room a real fan of what Miriam is all about. The talk itself veered all over the place and I kept wondering where it was going to land. Thinking back on it, I like the approach and for sure walked away with some fresh ideas on how to think about design. It sort of reminds me of the talk from Kandace Brigleb back at WooConf 2017 with her line ‘It’s not “design a chair” its “create a way to suspend a person.”’

Raw Notes:
Started web Dev in 2006
Drupal 4.7
Oddbird with her brothers
from scratch
also susy (don’t use it now)
re imagined in Sass
nothing new, she is a core team member
2009 first commit, attributed to her brother
ensemble for theater
borrowing a lot foideas
can’t create results, create environments in which something might happen
letting go of the end result
our process Making things with people
conditions for Creation
making this for people
letting go of control
conditions for interactions
ideas => UX
performative turn(s)
re-framing makes it art
the lone genius myth
down with that sort of thing
riding sidesaddle
notes to box of note cards (performative turn)
her band uses text from novel in songs, same source material, different performative turn
then a play
source can become many things
We choose the medium
Theater = dance + words + architecture + lights +…
Web = Text + Media + interactions + Semantics
look at a website
templating, build step
browser picks it up
cool, but hard to read when turn text on the side
what is user friendly?
No one is an esdge case if everone is an edge case
a Queer theory
strange or peculiar
in 1800s a sexual insult
reclaimed in 1980’s and 90’s
a Big Tent movement
defined by their difference
different in ways that struggles and identities intersect
Normal is suspect too
who defined it and who benefits?
Normal embraces a power imbalance
skin toned bandage
names, that name never changes, this does not fit for many people
single real identity?
FB relies on this
no code switching ever
things that fit work ID vs personal ID
under and increasing pressure to monetize the data they store, FB looks for ways to limit difference across the site
used to have open text, now just pick pages you like, structured and trackable data
turns out algorithms are racist?
we don’t rally know our audience unless they are in the room
Empathy is not enough
listening > imagining
find people and ask them what users want
ask Different people
users are experts!
if I had asked people that they wanted, they would have said faster horses
Our job is to not just listen, but to ask why
UX 1 End Goals
2. existing Solutions
3 Points of failure
User blind spots
1. interface design
ask about problems, not solutions
works with art feedback as well
Always ask why
Look for root causes
Analyze patterns
common pain-points, related issues, etc
Recognize Personal Bias
when the problem is in act 5, the solution is often in act 1
sometimes you can solve a problem but focus on ohter part
Set meaningful Goals
click-though rates are not universal success
what goals are we setting and why are se setting them
Jon Tan, Durable Design
impact vs immersion
see once and POP vs something over the long term, spend time in
enacted vs emergent narrative
Mario vs Zelda
no one right way, just good to know they exist
Do I want to create work in which everyone feels the same, ir everyone feels differently
know your innovation budget
when can you turn things sideways
Test and Trust
the audience is smart enough too follow a non-linear knowledge
we invented the nav bar, cab ve replaced bow
Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users
All websites look the same, from no volume
It takes craft to set up circumstances that are simple and yet contain the ambiguities and the incongruity
What’s in a medium
Bed has a Mission
Web for all. Web in everything
braille reader and headphone screenreader
writing for different mediums at the smae time
different devices at same time
resilient by design
customizable by design
built into medium
by design user controlled
HtML and CSS are declarative, too many variables
That’s actually true, HTML developers work in a much harder problem space
design and ship content that infinite and undefined canvas
The fact we can control a paper page is really a limitation of that medium
John Allsopp 2000
broadly accessible
limited authorial control
awesome or frustrating
limited business control?
maybe I believe more in the open web than you controlling and tracking everyone
bootstrapping vs plug and play
Lori Emerson
the invention of user friend;y
open development
people are already pretty smart
Douglas Englebert
mother of all demos
how are we going to help experts for making bettert things
focuses on users as experts
Any barrier that exists between the use and some part of the system will eventually be a barrier to creative control
Susy came out of this idea
what if all the math tools n your hands
Susy was written in Sass, and used n Susy
same familiar language
Plug and PLay
it Just Works
more of a closed system of user friendly
what the Apple 2 is
identical, easy to use, low costs appliance, appliics=ion
instructions for invisible
Open vs Adaptable
it just depends
aesthetics didn’t make people wan to use a tool, but once tey found it usefull, then they wanted it prettier
humane by design
empowering, finite, inclusive
respectful, thoughtful, usable
Solve real problems, for real people. Using software using SW when it’s the best choice
Delegate and Present
balancing solo vs team Time – essential
2 modes of writing, word docs, vs Google docs
present context and trade offs
establish yourself as a teammate
she would get defensive from client feedback
always a tension
at beginning now explain context
Mind games always backfire
no tricking your client into right decision
Experimental is a process
research, gather, and create the materials
organize, outline the structure, ot impose one
then draft things
less theory, more practice
put options in front of users
the feedback loop
Ugly helps (isolate variables)
full mock ups are dangerous
Copy Transform Combine
Kirby Ferguson
encourage playfulness
‘spark and slip”
use all the tools
user friendly is meaningless because there is no opposite
unison, harmony, dissonance
look at different angles
elements of design
aspects of the web
open mode when pondering, closed mode then implementing it – John Cleese
iterate iterate iterate

Keynote day 2
Uncertainty Principles
Deborah Levinson

As Deborah started her talk, I thought for a moment that the whole talk would focus on structural misogyny. It is not that I am against such a talk, but I was wondering where she was going with all this in relation to the central ideas of Design which the event is named for. About the time I had that thought she dove into the MIT website history and started tying things together. I left the talk feeling this is one of the more useful keynote talks I have attended, since now I have a quick set of guidelines to ask as I am proposing new ideas and trying to elevate the community.

Raw Notes:
Impostor syndrome
harder for women, women self select our, self disqualify
structural misogyny
Women only apply for a job at 100% qualification
men at 60%
what is uncertainty
she set up a survey
Uncertainty prevents u from acting
Ends up with giant unorganized messes we are terrified of tackling
MIT homepage Jan 1999
all looked like ASCII art
14 links on the page
no department was allowed to be more important in the page
2018 huge redesign
47 links on the new page
this is what happens when you are afraid to confront people about how the page should work
also apathy playing into this
“we need this on the homepage” and you get tired of fighting
Other side
Overconfidence makes us arrogant and complacent
makes us feel the rules don’t apply to us
in accessibility
Web needs to be available to all of us
if you are someone like Target, $6M to federation of the blind
over 50 colleges were sued in 2018
2258 lawsuits in 2018
177% increase over 2017
‘too hard’ ‘don’t care’ are not good or acceptable reasons
what is worse, we prioritize profits over people and ethics
Youtube is an example of this
algorithm over everything else
internal the employees were flagging issues
far right videos and alt-right, created an internal vertical that showed how popular they were
each time they were told not to rock the boat
what if uncertainty is a good thing?
MIT building 10
everyone there general educational requirements
chem, maths, labs
they teach you certainty. The underpinnings of the system
what you have to know to study these things
Heisenberg uncertainty principal
if you are looking at a particle, you can know where it is, or how fast it is traveling, but not both at once
what if uncertainty is something to be hopeful about?
Steam example
in April after the Notre Dame fire, free giveaway of assassin’s creed Unity which featured rendered cathedral
uptick in sales
review mobs
trolls who hate a game
Stream reviewed off topic and review mobs
realized they had a question they did not answer
do positive review bombs exist?
are they off topic?
they analyzed the reviews
negative review bombs typically have low numbers of players to reviews
uptick in AC:U review stats matched patters of game that had gone on sale and received update
Look at review content
some referenced typical things
are they off topic
Step 3 , review off topic
had had not changed but context did
question are game better or worse after context changes
are the things positive but are they related?
Final verdict, who knows? And that’s OK
Lesson 1: UNcertainty can provide value, learned their definitions had limitations, and they had questions for explore
Lesson 2: research and analysis is iterative
lesson 3: transparency is awesome, share so we all learn
Uncertainty principles
1) ask questions
don’t be afraid to ask questions
Google, stack overflow, discussions with peers, spread the burden
review and summarize what you do know, when evaluate what questions need better answers
Schedules and budgets that leave time for research don’t make people lazy
they result in better products
2) hope for the best, plan for the worst.
risk matrix
legit fears of what could go wrong
identify what people are afraid of and find mitigation ahead of time
alleviates peers
plan for negative persona,
how to plan, ask yourself, who is this for
who does this help?
who does this harm?
who will use it for harm?
anotherlense from the airbnb design team
online flash cards for designers
balancing your bias – what are my lenses?
consider the opposite – who might disagree?
embrace a growth mindset – how can I learn for the future?
plan for iteration
3) sometimes you have to take a leap of faith
learning fills in gaps of uncertainty
Start small if you need to, clean up your invisible corner
if a leap of faith means you might have to rip out work later, that’s ok
lather, rinse, repeat
listen to your gut, gut instinct is powerful and often right
All we have are assumptions, but that’ all we ever have
4) build community, give back to it
get involved in a way people can see your work
speak at conferences
write a book
what a coffee and a chat with someone seeking mentorship
5) uncertainty is normal, don’t fear it; embrace it
Panic is an essential part of my process

So another client ruined their website. Here’s why it’s your fault.
Jessica Ito

I love any talk title that starts with the word “So.” I think this is because that is how people talk and how I have titled several things. While I don’t professionally design websites, I do sometimes actually build things and I know design is the one area I need the most help with. The simple, straightforward strategies that Jessica laid out, like not using images all the time if they don’t add value to the page, or simple sketching first can save many hours later, will stick with me for all my future work. Again, this talk was grounded in real world lessons learned and that makes it oh so much more valuable to me.

Raw Notes:
Easy to pout when the client messes up the site
and blame them
why are they messing it up?
Nobody wants a hot mess
1) the client does not know their site as well as you do?
2) your client isn’t thinking about content in terms of design?
3) Maybe they have an intern doing content entry?
but really the client did not have all know knoweldge and tools they needed for success
processes can seem like a lot of work but it works
conducting a content audit and invite your client to participate
noted if content was timely and actionable
manual audit, page by page
documents gave client insight into the ET way before even really got going
use Wireframes to check strategy
gives clients a frame of reference
example conversation
talked about news type, wireframe vs old design and why each part
showing taxonomy as menu shows value
Also use wires to explain
current vs wireframe side by side is important
page on the left
longform mapping to component page is hard
atomic is hard but right path
if creating a lot of content references ona site, break them down ‘Barney’ style
pulling in screenshots for visible reference
go slow
Benchmarks are great to get an understanding
The client (example)
a leading HR company that provided valuable resources to very busy HS pros
they sent over some goals
sent some
2 minutes on a site was all anyone would give them
you can take a lot of time to get right images
stock photos
get an understanting of clients imaging capabilities
how do you plan on sourcing your images
subscriptions to stock images?
Any guidelines?
anyone can produce on their end?
room for budget for pro images?
lesson learned
images didn’t add value to the components,
don’t always have to use an image
Run content entry in a way that is meaningful to your clients
Training is always neglected, smallest part of a budget
mismatching content on the wrong type of page means pain all around
manual recreation of the content
Walk them through in a visual way
explain why the site works the way it does
much happier customer
make a quick sketch to show the idea of the page
boxes and some labels is pretty much enough
don’t ask ‘is that OK’ because it is too easy to say yes and ignore learning
most people solidify learning by doing, invite clients to run the training
never one and done
never stop learning

Preventing Burnout
Michael Miles

I have been a fan of Mike Miles for a long while. Every time I get to sit through his sessions or just get to hang out with him for any small bit of time, I feel like it is always time well spent. This talk, appropriately at the last session of the last day, had me recognizing how exhausted I really do feel. But instead of just a pep talk, Mike laid out some real strategies on what the heck to do about it. I know I will be thinking on this pretty deeply as I plan ahead.

Raw Notes:
Last session of day 2
100% of room heard the term burnout
3 main types he will be talking about today
to understand why bad,
Dred – don’t want to get out of bed, just don’t wanna do it
Exhausted – you have many more things in your life than work, this affects that
Annoyed –
DEAD developers
Burnout has a domino effect
3 types of burnout
Worn-out – too much to do with too little time to get it done
Cause – root comes from a sense of disrespect
Working hard and not getting any recognition and just move on, never taking time to revel in your accomplishments
Treatment – Encouragement. Does not solve issue, but soothes issue
Prevention – Teamwork!
Retrospectives are important
annual as well as per project
2 – Frenetic – more and more and more and more….
Cause – mistrust – yourself or others, yourself is imposter syndrome
more you do the more I prove myself, but overladed is not good
‘I’ll just do it myself’ – robs the team
treatment – build a plan
prioritize. get rid of low priorities
figure out a plan for a later date or delegate
Prevention – Say no!
easy for a junior dev to say yes to anything that comes through desk
hard lesson to learn
3 – Underchallenged burnout
soooo boooooored
Cause – Emptiness, maybe 50th time doing it, not personally motivated
external sources, seasonal dips
Treatment – Take control
can you try something new?
ask for different type of work
Prevention – Set Goals
retrospectives – see how you are doing vs the goals
n) Burnout in general
Cause – Stress
Treatment – reboot
could be as simple as walking around the block
Prevent – learn how to ask for help
this is hard to do
we fear the impostor syndrome and being seen as weak
Recap: Burnout is bad
prevents you from being your best
has many forms and causes
burnout as soon as you recognize it
work towards preventing burnout from happening

My Talk

Making A Tour: Leveraging The Tour Module For A Better User Experience

Sometimes when I ma giving a talk I look out in the audience and see a number of people engaged with their computers and think to myself ‘I might have lost them.’ That for sure happened this time, but I had instructed folks that they could get the most from the presentation by playing along from their seats. When Q&A rolled around I was pleasantly surprised that the very people I had seen focusing the most on their machines were the people asking the deepest questions. I was delighted to be asked a few questions I didn’t know the answers to, so I got to learn with everyone else by experimenting with it live. There is so much to learn together, I am truly grateful for every opportunity I get to share what I know and find out what I do not yet know. That is the best way I have found to grow.

No pics exists of this session, so here is a Tour related tweet from the past.

Wrapping up

As I alluded to in the title of this post, I got to meet the one and only Richard Stallman. He likes us Drupal folks and wandered around the event a few times with a paper sign hung around his neck that read “Its not Free, It’s Open/Libre”. He was also selling his collection of essays and little stuffed gnu/wildebeest plush toys. I got one of each, which ran $50 total, of which all profits go to the Free Software Foundation. I had three $20 bills and looked at me and said, “Sorry, I don’t have change.” And in that moment, I realized that the man who is more responsible for be being on this career path in open source than almost any other individual I can name, and who is responsible for the licensing model of literally the internet at this point, is just this hippie looking guy who is still selling his books one at a time for cash. And that might be the greatest moment at any event I have ever participated in.

It will not be long before I am back in Boston. Just a few weeks this time around, as I return for WordCamp Boston. I do love the City of Notions and especially the deep feeling of connectedness to the birth of Free/Libre Open Source Software. I hope to make it back next year for the 12th annual installment of Design4Drupal!

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