Designer vs Developer (making of)

Yesterday, I went all the way to somewhere on the middle of Hackney (North-East London) to participate in Google's Designer vs Developer series. The first 'season' included only Googlers, but they've decided to open up to external developers for this run of episodes, and that's how I came to be invited into this.

The premise is this is a conversation between a Designer (Mustafa Kurtuldu) and a Developer (me, in this case).

Without giving too much away, we talked about layout on the web, old versus new, creativity, developer tools, the responsibility that comes with developer power, and much more. It was really fun and it went through really quickly! We had had a call a while ago to discuss some topics we could talk about, but then we sort of went off-topic but not really, and I think it worked out pretty well.

And it was also a truly fascinating experience from a technical point of view.

I've given many talks, but the amount of production that goes into a talk is way, way, WAY lower than what I witnessed yesterday.

Let's start with the "stage". We were on a converted garage which looked absolutely non-descript from the outside--just a black iron door that smelled of damp, but opened up to a small passage leading to a big space full of quaint knick-knacks, lit by a massive skylight across the length of the roof. And I wondered how on earth did they find this place! Well, apparently there's a website for location scouting so you can find places that look like they could instil a given "vibe" and would work for the sort of ambience you're looking for, then you visit to check they actually look like the pictures, and that's how they found this location, after visiting many prospective settings.

But that's not all there is to create a vibe. The crew were busy arranging all the props so they would look good on the camera. This was one of my favourite bits: seeing how they arranged the contents in the frame so it would look good from all the angles, and there were many to consider, as they were using three cameras!

Other limitations: branded content! You can't show stuff with brands because then it makes it very hard to clear rights. And you would be surprised at the amount of branded stuff that surrounds us; even things that you are not aware of being "branded". For example, the crew thought about placing some colourful mugs in the table to match the colours of our clothes, but then decided against it as there were some drawings on the mugs and they weren't sure they weren't not part of a brand. So they just went with plain white china mugs.

More interesting technical details: to witness the use of the clackety thing to mark the beginning of recording! It's still a thing! It helps them sync all the cameras when they go into post production. And it's actually called a clapperboard. But I prefer the clackety thing.

Sound wise, they used a hanging microphone plus wireless microphones that we literally attached to our chest with a bit of sticky tape. By being under the clothes it looks more professional, and it helps you avoid the classic "hair gets on top of microphone and makes scratching noises" or "clipped microphone is too close to mouth and you make popping noises", plus they capture your voice better... although they can also capture your burping if you have any (luckily I didn't!). The sound technician was continuously supervising the levels and what we captured, and there was one time she interrupted the take because the microphones were picking the sound of an overhead plane. I had been warned of the possibility of sirens interrupting the take, "as it's Hackney and there are sirens every five minutes". But there were no sirens actually!

Something I found a touch eerie compared to a live talk was that there was absolute silence on the part of the crew while we were filming. I am not a "stand-up developer comedian" and have never designed my talks with the goal of being "funny" per se, but I have often managed to sneak in a couple of "funny moments" or two. And we had a couple of those yesterday, but hearing no reaction from the crew was quite the contrast from the usual giggles you get to hear at a conference.

We also had a bit of make-up applied to our faces, as there were lots of lights and they can easily make your skin shine! So the make-up person made our faces matte. An interesting side effect is that then your eyes become super lively and noticeable! Or at least they looked that way on Mustafa. I couldn't see myself!

And that was even if this was very subtle compared to the last time I went on a TV set and the make-up artist spent quite a bit of time applying various sponges with products to my face. So either my skin has got better with time, or it was Valencia's weather in July making my face shiny! (I suspect the latter).

Thanks to Ben (the director) and the rest of the crew for explaining all these fascinating technicalities and process miscellanea to me and putting up with all my questions. Also thanks of course to Mustafa and the rest of Google DevRel-ers for thinking of me and inviting me to this season. I found everyone incredibly professional and I just hope I can work with them some time in the future! It was my favourite film experience to date.

I also felt a big wave of pride by talking about what my team (Developer Tools) have been working on, and it felt very humbling to think of all these features we are building to empower developers, which was also a fantastic feeling to have. To all my colleagues: thank you for all your hard work!

The chapters will now go into post production, so you'll have to wait a couple months until they are published. I have been told sometime in June, but we'll see! I'll keep you posted.