New Adventures in Web Design

This week Howie and I attended a new conference in Nottingham, New Adventures in Web Design, organised by Simon Collison, or Colly as he’s better known.

Since Colly is possible the nicest guy on the internet and well respected, finding quality speakers wasn’t going to be a tough job, and for the conferences first show, the list was impressive. There were gripes from some quarters that all these speakers have been seen before, it’s the usual industry pundits, but I think that’s just sour grapes and being picky for the sake of it. Out of the ten speakers, I’d only seen five before.

In an effort to make conferences affordable and accessible, the venue was Colly’s hometown of Nottingham, which is in a great location, allowing access to people travelling from all points of the UK, the likes of Cole travelling from near Edinburgh, or Remy from Brighton, plus of course the foreigners who always make it over.

We hung out with Chris Mills, Dan Donald, Rob O’Rourke and of course, my long term partner in crime, Phil Sherry. On a side note, it was Phil’s 40th birthday last week, and I needed to get him a present. What can you buy a loud mouthed smart arse who likes to make his opinion or cutting wit known, especially in a crowded venue? Why, a megaphone of course! The look on a few people’s faces (especially the ones who know Phil) when we unveiled it before the conference kicked off was utter gold. Any situation is instantly made ten times more funny by adding a megaphone. Even the bouncers in the boozer the night before had to agree.

The Speakers

Dan Rubin – The New Language of Web Design
Cool, calm, collected, with a great delivery, Dan was an inspired choice to kick things off. His talk was about the language we use to define our trade, and how it’s about time this language matured and became “ours” instead of borrowing phrases or meaning from other trades, such as “page”, “fold” and “bleed”.

Mark Boulton – A New Canon
Mark talked about the need for a New Canon, a new set of rules for design interactive content in today’s digital age. Screen sizes and content delivery devices are all different sizes and shapes, meaning a lot of old ideas and methods are clunky. We need to design from ‘content out’ – not ‘canvas in’ as traditionally is done – to create connectedness and bind the content to the device. Mark’s delivery was a little nervous to begin, as he himself has acknowledges on tweets, but he soon found his stride. I’d not seen Mark talk before, and admire his design and typographical approach, so found this enjoyable.

Sarah Parmenter – Crafting User Experiences
I missed Sazzy‘s talk at DIBI, having stayed in a Build track, so it was a first for me. Sarah focused on the more emotional level of design and UX. Rapid cognition, sensation transference and how to connect on an emotional level to influence actions and reactions. A few good branding examples involving Coke and Pepsi showed where she was heading, and the colour chart that maps colours to different emotions around the world was great (for instance, while red may mean love in the West, it’s green in some Eastern countries). Unfortunately, I think the session lost it’s way a little towards the end, a few more strong examples of execution would have been good as Sazzy alluded to how you could use the emotional ties in UX for a shopping cart system, but while the ballon and card marketing for her agency was good, but I’d have preferred a more recognised brand, and not self-focused.

Refreshments –

Elliot Jay Stocks – With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
I like Elliot. He’s one of these people who can design, program, draw, play musical instruments and basically – I think – turn his hand to anything creative. He’s also really bloody modest. His session was a rant, a rebellion against the over use of the Web 2.0 look that is prevalent in online design. He calls it the “distraction of the real”, trying to make everything look like a real object by overuse of bevels, shadows and no real consideration to content. Good examples about traditional design styles, a look at print design, humour, typography and actually admitting that “giving in was ok” when a client wanted some of these drop shadow and real adornments, based on their audience. He’d get on well with our Creative Director who bloody hates the over embellishment by designers who’ve learnt “on the job”.

Jon Tan – Language and the Lizard Brain
A comment Jon‘s friend made to him, about the brain having a small area that literally had no language. This struck a chord with Jon, and he talked about connections on an emotional level, and how we can elicit response from colour and shape, without knowing meaning. He used a couple of typographical examples for this with the words love and hate (written in a foreign language) in fonts that said exactly the opposite. He showed how the designer for Blue Note records could design a cover that spoke volumes about the audio content of the record, despite not particularly liking jazz, because someone had written what kind of emotional response and feeling the record should produce. He even wove in a Bruce Lee slide and quote to illustrate his points. Good stuff!

Q&A session 1 –
A few questions that had been sent in via the twitter back channel, and a few from the crowd.

Lunch –
Interesting point about lunch. Because the conference was running a little behind schedule, Colly and the organisers had been following the back channel on Twitter – #naconf – and adjusted timings accordingly, cutting things short when people were complaining about being hungry around 1ish. Very smart.

Tim Van Damme – Designing On Solid Foundations
Tim tackled the issues of  one hit wonder, pixel heavy sites compared to relatively clean and minimal design on sites that keep you coming back for more. Calling us all Web Bums, for doing the same kind of job and getting paid as we do for free for our own projects, he urged us to make lists about the Good and Bad after a project, see where we can refine our processes. He talked a lot about best approaches for handling clients and the process in general. Tim’s delivery was a bit stilted, not because English is not his native tongue, but because it felt like this talk was brand new, and he was still getting to grips and trying it on.

Greg Wood – Art Direction & Editorial Design on the Web: Does it Work?
One of Greg‘s first slides had us laughing, about being able to piss a 50 mile bike ride, and his slides were all beautifully presented. Greg set out to illustrate the connection between seeing and experiencing, and how good art direction will connect and resonate with a reader with greater impact. And he was right, as he backed it up with stats from his own personal test with styled and unstyled content. Very interesting results, and I know Howie really got a lot from this talk. I think this may have been Greg’s first talk to a big audience, as he began brightly, but his delivery dried a little as he neared the end. Biggest reason for this, I reckon, was that he literally read out what was on the (well designed) slides. Still, the actual message and stats were very enlightening.

Veerle Pieters – Unraveling the Mysteries of Inspiration
Veerle‘s choice of subject was going to cause problems. Inspiration is unmeasurable and almost indefinable, you set the conditions up time and time again, sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. Her artwork and illustration was beautiful, and I found her lilting accent a little hypnotic, but it certainly did not get in the way of the delivery. Veerle talked her way through a piece of work, how she got started, how she was inspired, how she mixed it up to change track and put her mark on it. Good slides but nothing earth shattering. I think the best takeaway from Veerle’s session was the sources of her inspiration, her Firewall. She chose a tough subject to articulate, and that did show at times.

Refreshments –

Andy Clarke – Once Upon a Time In The West
Like him or loathe him, Malarkey can tell great story. Confident, well dressed and sharp wits and words, he is a great speaker. I’ve seen him twice before at Speak the Web and DIBI, and enjoyed them immensely. This talk was different. There wasn’t one slide with code on. There was no rant about supporting IE and designing in a browser. He talked about telling a story, using comic books formatting to speed up, slow down and give sense of size and space through clever boxing of content. He did apply this to how design can be expansive and let the brain fill in the blanks and how this may work on new devices like the iPad, but generally, we were there to think a little differently than we may normally do, sans grids.

Brendan Dawes – Produced for Use
I’ve known Bren for about 15 years. I’ve seen him on his soap box and riffing in a studio and on stage, but bloody hell he was on fire at #naconf. Bren’s been trying to declutter his life, and get rid of consumer products he doesn’t use, but get excited about the inherent beauty in products that do their job well. Crap tea strainers and paper clips from different countries, delivered in his “favourite uncle” style, I tell you, he had us all in stitches. Stand out line was when advocating a bit of digital play time, he said “Yeah, it’s in Flash, and guess what? Nobody died!” to which we gave him a round of applause. Bren’s approach to work is very creative and not tied to a platform or medium. He just makes things. A few glimpses at actual live projects and his latest acquisition, a Maker Bot, added oomph to his ranting, and showed he’s not full of shit. Great pick to be on last, he really gave the conference a massive, massive finish.

Q&A session 2 –
Again, a few questions that had been sent in via the twitter back channel, and a few from the crowd.

Thank you and goodbye –

After party –
The after party was at Escucha (Spanish for “listening”) where we got to catch up with all the online friends you don’t see often, or have yet to meet. Great bunch of people, from luminaries like Jon Hicks (taller than I thought) and Elliot mixing it with the crowd and chatting, to a bunch of Irish design students, who had the balls to introduce themselves and listen intently to industry advice.

Thoughts –
Colly has undoubtedly given the best inaugural birthing to a conference he possibly could (sorry DIBI, he just about pinched your newly acquired crown!) A brilliant community feel, great mix of speakers, lovely venue and exceptionally good price point made it all very worth while. If I could change anything, I’d move the date, as so soon after Christmas, some people’s pocket have taken a pounding, but I am really looking for a reason to be pick on here. I’m very much looking forward to next years event, and seeing how other people can up their ante in the aftermath of such a high quality event.

Thank you Colly and team, it was awesome.

Links –
Flickr group
Twitter stream