Voice of the Future: An Interview with Luke Wroblewski

To accompany the release of his 2012 An Event Apart presentation as a Full-Length Friday video, we put a few questions to super-genius visitor from the future Luke Wroblewski, author of Mobile First and CEO of Input Factory Inc.  We asked Luke about what he’s presenting at AEA in 2013, how he juggles everything he does, and other interesting tidbits.

What do you like most about living in the San Francisco Bay area?

There are two things that make it perfect for me: the Silicon and the Valley. The “silicon” might be a dated term, but to me it represents all the technology companies and their constant spin-offs that are based in the Bay Area: Apple, Google, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, and so many more. You can’t go anywhere without bumping into people working on interesting things who are excited to talk about what they’re doing. That kind of passion is infectious and a constant source of ideas.

The valley is the natural environment out here. I’m just a few blocks away from the Santa Cruz mountains and I get out at least once a week to mountain bike up there on amazing terrain. The fact that this is California and I can do that ten months out of the year doesn’t hurt either.

You write books, track floods of data about mobile and other devices, are CEO of a hot startup, manage an incredibly busy speaking schedule, and have a family at home. How do you find time to do it all?

I don’t. There are always things I’m dropping that I just can’t keep up with. And to be honest, that’s hard for me. I’m interested in so much of what’s happening in this industry that it kills me when I don’t have the time to dig into something I want to explore, write about, or best of all, build. Over the years I’ve really been working on saying “no” more—often just to myself. I’m getting much better at it but if you see me doing a lot of stuff, that’s a result of me being too interested in everything.

One of the nice things about being CEO of a start-up is that it forces you to focus. There are so many things you could be doing and want to be doing but only so much time to do them all. So you’re constantly prioritizing and adjusting. It’s been really good for me.

What’s on your horizon right now?  Anything new in multi-device world?

Well, it’s no secret that we’re in a multi-device web and lots of organizations are struggling to adapt to a world of smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and everything in between. There are still a lot to figure out just with providing a good web experience for people across these devices and new techniques and ideas pop up every week, it seems. But technology doesn’t know how to stand still so even while we’re wrestling with big questions like these, new, equally important, questions are coming up.

Top of mind for me is how do these devices interact? 13% of US adults have a laptop, tablet, and smartphone. We’re just starting to figure out how these devices can be used together. In fact, there are a number of emerging cross-device behaviors. Things like the flow of tasks and processes between devices, the ability for one device to push things to another or to simply take control of it, and likely a lot more we haven’t seen yet.

On top of that, there’s even greater device diversity coming our way: smarter TVs, watches, glasses, wearables, cars, homes, and whatever else you can imagine. It’s a really exciting time to be working on multi-device designs.

What are you presenting at AEA this year, and how does it differ from your workshop in 2012?

Not coincidentally, I’ll be talking about multi-device web design. My full-day workshop brings people up to speed on the latest thinking and techniques for taking advantage of the increasing opportunity that comes with more always-connected devices. I start with a framework that helps make sense of the device diversity we’re seeing today. Then I walk through examples of designs that excel in this environment, and finally walk through all aspects of multi-device design needed to create these kinds of experience.

Each time I give the workshop (city-to-city) I turn over a good amount of the content. So even if you attended last year’s workshop, about 75% or more is going to be new this year. That’s how fast this stuff is changing.

What was your first AEA experience like?

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought of it like every other conference I had been to before. It was only after I sat in the audience for a full day did I realize this was something special. All the speakers brought their A-game and the audience was so involved. Back then it was live-blogging and posting Flickr photos. But I quickly got very nervous about my talk—I was in stellar company and unprepared. Somehow I didn’t screw up too badly because I seem to get invited back. So, big thanks for taking a chance on yours truly, what… six years ago. Wow, time flies. I guess I do keep busy!