PSFK San Francisco: trip report

I spent last Thursday at the PSFK event in San Francisco and I’ll be honest, I needed it. I’d forgotten how good it can be to take a day away from the office, kick back and listen to people smarter than myself talk about a wide variety of interesting topics. Many of them were not germane to the work I do at Microsoft, or the themes of this blog, but sometimes it’s just good to step outside of the day to day and get an injection of creativity. The lineup was perfect for that.

Yves Béhar of fuseproject paid his respects to Steve Jobs and talked about Apple’s role in legitimizing design. He also talked about typography asked attendees to imagine what a world of Microsoft typography would be like – I think he meant that negatively but aside from Comic Sans (of course), I think we’ve had a solid contribution there. He reminded me of my pal Hugh MacLeod as he talked about products being the brand and the declining role of marketing and advertising to shape our perceptions. I have to say, I totally agree and his closing sentiment that design isn’t a short term assignment was right on a brand needs to be curated over a long period of time. My addition to that though it that changing a brand perception needs the same tenacity.

I’ll dig deeper into some of the sessions over the coming weeks and as the videos become available will post those but a few other takeaways to share:

  • Erik Joule got me thinking about whether I ought to wear my jeans less, or not at all. He works for Levis so he knows his stuff about denim.
  • Gerald Richards from 826 National blew my mind with their work. And they have a store in Seattle…don’t know what 826 National is? You need to by a gallon of gravity.
  • Micki Krimmel from NeighborGoods was a great presenter and reminded me it’s easy to be that way when you’re so passionate about your product. She’s driving a revolution not only in environmental awareness but also social networks…real life ones. It got me thinking about the potential for technology to support sharing of local expertise, not just good.
    • did you know there is 7.5 sq ft of storage in the USA for every person in the country. insane.
  • Joe Fernandez from Klout was disappointing. Not really, but I was hoping he’d give us all 10 free Klout points for attending. He actually spurred lots of ideas for me about the potential for Augmented Reality + Klout.
  • Chris Riley from studioriley was a brilliant speaker – he had the perfect way to deliver his message with gravitas and without drama. A REALLY good speaker who talked about storytelling, narrative and and introduced a new word in to my vocabulary – povertyporn.
  • Ariel Waldman of was as engaging as always. Another lady who is passionate about her subject and it shines through. Did you know you can buy a satellite for $99? Me either…she also had a lovely phrase that I’m going to try to abide by “Doing something changes how you see it.”
  • George Parker was living proof that swearing and lying can be successful. I can’t condone any of that but I can condone his book which I started reading as I listened to him talk. If you’re a fan of Mad Men, this is the real thing. George was brilliant.
  • Joe Gebbia of Airbnb was a master storyteller, though he nearly took out a few of the audience by flinging his Critbuns. You may have heard of Airbnb but have you heard of Critbuns? My takeaway from Joe was persistency counts for a lot but I’d have loved to hear him talk about lessons from handling the recent drama.
  • I missed much of the talk from Dan Hon and Nick Barham at Wieden+Kennedy but I did like Dan’s opening gambit that “this talk is in beta.”
  • The guys from COMMON were cool but by this stage a minor crisis was underway as my Samsung laptop power supply had been trashed by someone and juice was running low. However, they still managed to capture my attention with cool slides; it’s just I didn’t really leave with a sense of what COMMON is all about. Must go back and look at the video I posted a while back.
  • And finally, I missed Eric Ryan from Method – which I am still traumatized about. Not only because nowhere in San Francisco sells a Samsung Series 9 power supply but also because I love Eric’s products and marketing…another video I’ll have to wait for! Sorry, Eric. Fortunately, Leon wrote a great post on this session already.


In summary, Piers and team at PSFK throw a fine event and gather a brilliant mix of thought-provoking speakers. The panel session didn’t quite work for me but in terms of spending a day of my time getting a brain recharge, it was terrific.

More to follow as I dig in to the sessions in more detail.