Days of Learning: 2015 Spring Summit Diary

J.J. Arnold ·

This month we welcome J.J. Arnold to the Carbon Five blog. J.J. recently joined us as the office and events coordinator in the San Francisco office. Her first week coincided with one of our semi-annual retreats, and she graciously agreed to write up a diary of her experience.

April 21st marked the start of Carbon Five’s 2015 Spring Summit! Team members from San Francisco, Chattanooga, and New York converged on our new office in Santa Monica. The days that followed included informative presentations, exploration, experimentation and a whole lot of team bonding.


Day 1

To kick off the summit, we met at the beautiful Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, CA. After sharing breakfast in the open air, we made our way inside to listen and learn.

Jon and Suzanna presented Connecting the Dots—a technique that ties together the many activities we perform during a project kick-off. A week of kick-off meetings will yield personas, experience maps, problem statements, 6-ups, and so many two-by-twos. Jon and Suz put artifacts into context by mapping the experience of each user role across each artifact using a different colored dot for each role. Connecting the dots. Get it? When clients (and other team members) can picture who would benefit from each feature idea, they can more easily prioritize features that help the most important users.

Our process for starting a new project is always evolving. Jon and Suzanna shared their experiment so future projects can benefit from this helpful technique.


Next, Alexa and Sue Anna deepened our understanding of experiment-driven product development. They shared the principals of experiment design and examples from recent projects. We learned how to discover potential experiments, form testable hypotheses, decide which experiments to run, and make sense of findings.


After a picnic lunch in the sun, Alexa and Sue Anna facilitated team members in designing experiments of our own in a hands-on workshop. Our hypothetical product concept—Uber for pets—yielded lots of funny ideas and thoughtful conversation about how to put assumptions to the test.

See Alexa and Sue Anna yourself when they present Experiment-Driven Balanced Teams at the Balanced Team Conference in June.


To wrap up the day, we headed out to dinner in Venice Beach at Wurstküche for some German bites and drinks. Nothing washes down rattle-snake sausage like a frosty Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse.


Day 2

On Wednesday, we gathered at our new and improved Santa Monica office for a day of learning. We filled a board with topics we’d each like to learn more about, grouped off according to common interests, and got down to it! We spent the day researching subjects ranging from diversity in the workplace, to the hottest JS frameworks (of the week), to WebGL-driven VR. In the afternoon, we took a break to hear lightning talks from some of our teammates. Among many others, we all loved Alex’s talk on arty 3D printing! Things got silly with some new employee interviews, then we christened the new office with an all-hands happy hour.


Day 3

We made the most of our final day by spending more time in our learning groups, then each group presented what it learned. One research group explored techniques for better collaboration between designers and developers. They came up with a tool that lets designers easily develop style tiles with CSS. Designers use the tool to sketch out a visual design language, and developers can use the resulting code to implement it.


We wrapped up a great retreat by each capturing our “likes” of this summit and our “wishes” for the next one (on stickies, of course). We came up with insights and suggestions that will come in handy for our next summit in San Francisco this fall. We headed home feeling refreshed with ideas and closer to our teammates!


If the summit looked like fun to you, and you’re a developer or designer looking for work, drop us a line. We’d love to have you at the next one.