One of my favourite parts of RailsConf is the lightning talks.  These are 5 minute talks that can be about anything.  As a result, you see a lot of cool stuff in two hours, and if you get a bad one…you just need to wait 5 minutes until the next one comes along.

This year, inspired by not only my own team, but also by the many talks I saw about harnessing your creativity at RailsConf, I decided to give a talk on one of my own personal pet peeves.  People who say “but I can’t draw”, and how that internal script is holding you back.

I got a really good reception from people, which kind of surprised me since most of the talks were super technical, and mine was only one of two or three that were about non code related skills.

This is my talk from RailsConf – The Magic Word to Transform Developers into Designers

Brian Garside

This is me, I’m Brian Garside, and I’m in charge of the design team, as well as the Website Experience Team at the Infotech Research Group.  I am mostly a designer, although I know enough development to rake my Gits and pull my DB’s.


Of course like most companies at RailsConf we’re hiring.  We recently bought the Masonic Temple in Toronto, and have turned that into a great space, so if you’re looking for a cool place to work, give me a shout.

Break The Walls Down

In our teams at Info-Tech, we broke down a lot of different walls.  We broke down the BA and Business wall first, and turned our BA’s into product owners who are embedded in the business and invested in their success.  We broke down the walls between QA and development, our developers have test suites and run peer reviews on all code, while the product owners do product verification.  The thing I’m most proud of though is that we’ve broken down the design/developer wall.  We don’t have people saying “That’s a styling issue.” and throwing major UX problems “over the wall”, instead our developers contribute to the design, and our designers are active in development.

Everything is Awesome

I got my start in design, and while I’ve always known how to write good, semantic HTML, I was a whiz at Photoshop and a star with a pencil and paper way earlier.  I love to draw, and I know that it’s such an effective way of communication that I consider it as much of a super-power as learning to code.  Drawing is a short-cut to communication, when I sketch something simple for you, it eliminates many of the communication barriers that we have with verbal communication.

Everything Is Awesome

I started a team, and we called them “Team Awesome”, they were cross functional, and had three designers and three developers.  We cycled the ownership of the team, and every week a different person was responsible for hosting the team.  The host had to come up with a design exercise, and was responsible for leading the conversation around what kind of cool design trends they saw in the internet.

The Squiggle

For one of my exercises, I brought a favourite design game of mine, it’s called the squiggle exercise. Everyone got the same squiggle, and the idea was you had to turn it into something, and tell a story about what made you make those design choices, and what it represented to you.

The shocking thing was that two thirds of the room said “I can’t draw.”, both designers and developers said the same thing.

I told them a magic word, the magic word that will turn every developer in this room into a designer. When I turn the slide, we’re all going to shout it out all at once, and I promise you…magic will happen.



Maks Drawing

I have a 5 year old son.  This is Maks, at 7am, in the cold of a Canadian morning, blanket shrouding him as he gets to work drawing.  He does this a lot, and is constantly drawing things.

Maks' Turtle

This is one of his drawings of his favourite ninja turtle Mikey.  His anatomy is a little janky, his feet and hands are more suggestions than actual realistic representations…but I have NEVER heard him say “I can’t draw.”


This is Kaylin, my daughter.  She’s 8…and one day she told me that she didn’t want to draw with Maks and I, because she can’t draw.  I told her a magic word.


Okay, I didn’t say that…I would be a HORRIBLE father if I said that.

Nope, I figured out that somewhere in our childhoods, we write scripts for ourselves, we tell ourselves what we can and can’t do.  I can’t code, I can’t draw, I can’t play basketball…all of this is bullshit.

All it takes is time, and an open mind.  The magic word I told her was “Practice”.

The Squiggle

So everyone made their squiggle, and some of them were incredible. They had great stories for why they did what they did, and they realized that they CAN draw, and that there is a large difference between “can’t”, and “am not very good at”

Squiggle Drawing

We aren’t the stories we tell ourselves. We are so much more than that. We are a fountain of unlimited potential, and what you need to do is go forth and create. Don’t let your internal script hold you back…just like the day that you first started to code, or the time you cooked for yourself the first time, or the time that you first learned how to read.  You may not be great at it right now, but you CAN draw, and every time you put pen to paper you will get better.

You can do anything you set your mind to, and anything else you tell yourself is just…