DIBI Conference 2010

Time for another conference road trip!

The inaugural DIBI Conference took place at the Sage in Gatehead on the 28th April, with a fantastic crop of speakers and promising bunch of attendees, judging by the twittering.

DIBI’s format is a little different than a traditional conference, being a two track event. DIBI, which stands for Design It. Build It., was aimed at both developers and designers, with two sets of sessions running all day. Attendees could chop and change and “jump tracks” as they liked, and since a lot of the crowd were front enders, this seems quite a logical thing to do.

The journey up involved the usual road-tripper Chris Mills, but we picked up Dan Donald too, and headed up to crash at Phil Sherry‘s house, since he’s now resident in Gateshead. Yes, this small fact did make the trip more appealing!

We went straight to the venue when arriving, to pick up Phil, who’d been on an HTML5 Doctor course, taught by another mate of ours from Northern Digitals, Rich Clark. A quick wave/face pull at the window to put everyone off their stride, we then disappeared back upstairs to grab a drink. Here we met Gavin, Ellie and a few more of the DIBI organisers. I’d met Gav briefly at Speak The Web, but he was happy to chat with us while we quaffed a drink. This attitude from the organisers was there every moment of the conference, you could go ask them anything, and they were more than accommodating. Big props to them for this, as it made the whole gig feel a lot more accessible. Paul from Technique in Manchester also caught up with us for a pint, whom I’d met at a Transmission event in Manchester, and was to stick around with us for the next day.

Back to Phil’s to dump our gear, then after a veggie curry and a few cans, we headed off to The Forth to meet another mate from school who Phil and I hadn’t seen in around 15 years. There was no mistaking Simon Slater when he walked in, he’d hardly changed a bit! So we stayed in the excellent Forth pub for a few and caught up with him.

On to the pre-party, which was on the Tyne at Pitcher and Piano. Up the stairs, blag Si in at the door, get the beers in. Then start craning around to see who’s about! The pre-party was pretty well attended and it wasn’t long before we were bumping into twitter contacts and putting names to faces. The atmosphere was really laid back, and I think this helped the approachability for everyone.

I think we partied a little too hard at the pre-party, as I kinda remember heading to bed at 3.30am, and didn’t really arise ’til after 9am…

Anyway, hungover, and late to the conference, we skipped the keynote and Wolfram lecture, going straight for coffee and muffins, pocketing many little bags of Haribo for sugar fix rushes throughout the day.

I decided to go for the Build It track to kick off, the first session of which was run by Elliott Kember on jQuery. I’ve used jQuery a total of once, since our nerds at JP74 prefer MooTools (they can actually code javascript!), so there’s no need for me to get involved really. I learnt a lot in Elliott’s class, but it was not without it’s floors. There was a lot of code, but no visual examples of what was happening, and I think it may have been technically aimed a little low for some of the attendees, but his style and enthusiasm was irrepressible.

Next up, nearly half the hall exited for Sarah Parmenter‘s iPhone design session. I was too hungover, and felt well up on the HIG rules for iPhone interaction, so decided to stay for the Last.fm vs Xbox360 class. This was wryly and dryly delivered by David Singleton, who nearly thrashed my head when he said it’d be more technical than Elliott’s jQuery sesh. He lied, though not on purpose. It was about scaling the API and hardware to meet demand of an Xbox version of the Last.fm service. Really insightful process and decision making about how many features you can cull in moments of intense use before a user drops your service. Good stuff.

Lunch, burger, juice, coffee, more chat, meet more faces, both old and new.

Design track for this afternoon, as the speakers all looked excellent.

Tim Van Damme. Photo by @drbparsons
Tim Van Damme. Photo by @drbparsons

First off was Tim Van Damme, recently of Gowalla fame, urging us to keep evolving with not only our design, but the tools we use to create our designs, lest we become lazy monkeys. Good thinking, excellent art, Tim’s talk was enjoyable, although he himself admitted it was brief. Gavin stepped up and asked plenty of good questions to finish the session.

Next up was Simon Collison. I’d seen Colly talk at Speak The Web, and both his presentation and delivery were excellent. A very measured speaker, it serves to underline he knows what he’s talking about. This session drove at the principles of designing to communicate, highlighting basic rules, methodology and why we do things a certain way. Well worth a watch when the sessions are streamed on the DIBI site.

Short break, laugh that Phil fell asleep twice in that last sesh, cans of Red Bull.

Dan Rubin took the stage to host a talk on usability testing, in which he sighted two examples of real live client work and how they made a difference. Really insightful stuff, I thought Dan’s talk was excellent. Usability is something we should all do more of, but tend not to because of the perceived time it takes. Dan explained how they mocked up sites with a static PNG graphic as the background, then skeleton HTML & CSS to map out buttons on the page. Users were told it wasn’t finished, so only certain buttons worked, which kept expectations in check, and the format made updates and tweaks near immediate, ready for the next test subject. Not rocket science, and something you may think was a bit “ghetto” if you ran a usability session this way, but proved that the big boys have to Blue Peter their way through a job too!

Time for the tour de force that is Andy Clarke, with his Hard Boiled Webdesign. I’d seen malarkey’s talk before at Speak The Web in Leeds, but damn, I was quite happy to see it again. Andy is at ease under the spotlight, and knows what he’s talking about, which makes compelling viewing. The talk urged front end developers to start using the CSS3 progressive fanciness now, because if we didn’t, these cool things like border radius and animation would not make it into a browser spec. The W3C is holding everyone back, browsers include and work on things that devs start to use regularly, which then in turn become ratified into the spec. Excellent working examples, rallying of the troops and generally inspirational. I possibly enjoyed it more the second time round as I was ready to pay attention at the right times!

More refreshments, then time for a musical interlude from Sancho Plan. An interesting mix of live music triggering animations in a live on-screen virtual world. My ears were enjoying the music, whilst the brain was working out how to do what they’re doing. My route, use Director to catch MIDI triggers from the instruments to fire off animation sequences for sprites on the stage. If you understood that, that was the gig. Good, not offensive in anyway, but not my music of choice.

One last speech, by a usability company called What Users Do, which was interesting, but not as engrossing or hands on as Dan Rubin. This was followed by one last Sancho Plan performance, plenty of thank you’s from the organisers, and directions to the after party.

The after party was at Sea, over the other side of the Tyne, and the beer was free. All night. And there was free pizza. From Pizza Hut. Someone had our number and knew exactly what we liked! Everyone got together and exchanged views on how the day had been, high points, low points (if any) and got a chance to say hello to anyone you’d missed during the day.

I also gave a mate of mine who collects Sega Mega Drive games a ring and dragged him down for a beer. I’d talked to Ian online, swapped games and knowledge and envied his game collection, so it was great to meet him in person and to talk about more than just games too.


The after party was well attended, but people started to drift out and leave after the pizza, and we moved onto the Quayside for a swift pint with a few of the speakers. Colly, incidentally, is more than happy to chat with most people, about design and football (Notts County in particular) which was ace. The stragglers carried on the chatter and said good byes, we hopped a taxi and headed back to Phil’s, and I do remember getting to sleep shortly after 1.30am. Quite sensible.

So, to summarise. DIBI was excellent. The venue was class, easy to get to (though the walk with a hangover up all those steps would have me believe otherwise), the speakers were excellent. The crowd was fantastic, and you may have realised from some of this write up, the people you meet at conferences are just as important, if not more so, than the people you go and see. The conference itself was so professionally ran, so much so that it belied the fact it was the first DIBI. The team have ran many conferences before, and it moved smoothly.

Tickets are onsale for DIBI 2011 in June, and I’ll be there.