I’d had doubts about coming to Industry Conference leading up to this week simply because I’d had my ticket since last year when the conference was originally scheduled and I was wondering if I could afford to take 2 days off work at the moment because of various project deadlines looming but I’m glad I did come to what was an interesting and varied day of talks from a mixture of speakers.

Gavin Elliot should certainly be congratulated for the variety of speakers he put together and not to mention a wonderful venue (although the chairs were a bit uncomfortable!) in Newcastle and the day ran very smoothly and unlike some conferences there were generous breaks and a lunchtime slot allowing people to talk about what they’ve just heard. All too often I think the breaks are too short and you can end up missing out on the interesting reactions of your fellow attendees  Not this time though. The pace of the day was just right for me.

Industry Conference

The talks

Summing up a range of good range of talks in one go is tricky so here the key memories from each speaker yesterday:

Rachel Andrew – The things we learned while supporting Perch

Rachel Andrew spoke at length about how they manage the customer service side of running their Perch CMS and how a good support system enables them to not only help customers but improve their product. I have to say I love these kinds of talks and indeed sharing some of the lessons we learnt from running a small business is something I’ll be talking about at Hybrid Conference in August so I’m pleased to see someone like Rachel (and Drew) at Perch also take their customer support so seriously but also manage it very efficiently.

Harry Roberts – Architecting scaleable CSS

Following Rachel was Harry Roberts (@csswizardry) talking about how he works with and structures his CSS at SkyBet. I like hearing about how other people work and Harry shares a great deal of his process and how it fits in with working with a large team of engineers and other developers and while Harry takes his work to a level I often can’t do because of the nature of projects I work on (I work on a client, then the next one then the next etc rather than a single site) there are a lot of things still to take away from the talk.

This talk was a good overview of how Harry breaks down his CSS and rather than being a dry, technical talk it was well put together and not too heavy which is always good. If you ever get the chance to catch Harry for a chat, he’s also a truly nice guy to grab a drink with.

Now I’ve finally got up and running with Sass I will be looking into restructuring and reorganising how we work at Offroadcode to try and make our code more granular.

Christopher Murphy – We are navigators

After a short break, a talk from Christopher Murphy (one half of the Standardistas) called We Are Navigators which told his story about his role as an educator and how the dynamic of teacher/student is changing and evolving as we try to figure out how to teach the next generation about design and development in an academic environment.

I know the talks were recorded and video will be available soon – WATCH THIS TALK. I felt genuinely inspired by Christopher’s work and background and having recently been exposed to what (and how) students at Huddersfield University are being taught it’s something I still feel strongly about and I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to chance to catch Christopher to talk more after the day.

Sometimes you know you’ve just seen one of the defining talks of a day, a conference or an entire part of the industry. I’m glad to say I saw this one. It will be the basis of how we as an industry can follow in his footsteps helping students develop and learn. Truly inspiring.

Ashley Baxter – Changing a stagnant industry

I know a little about Ashley in that she’s not working in a design agency or freelancing but instead running an insurance business and that she’s never done a conference talk before. What could wrong – a new speaker talking about insurance … I have to say Ashley’s talk was superbly delivered and listening to her passion for what she does and her ability to share her story in such a way was very enjoyable.

Ashley’s focus and drive to improve things she doesn’t like is something else, she taught herself enough RoR in order to improve how insurance quote forms work because none of the other insurance companies seemed bothered about fixing and optimising their forms so she did a better job and is now reaping the rewards for her company. Carrying on with the theme of sharing personal stories, Ashley did a great job telling hers and I’m sure it won’t be the last time she’ll be invited to be on a stage. It was a pleasure to very briefly say hello at lunch.

Noah Stokes – $50,000 mistakes

I’ve been a fan of Noah‘s work for years and it was interesting to hear his story about his past and how he’s reached his current role as principal at Bold – a small studio in a very similar setup to ourselves at Offroadcode which made it very interesting listening. The mistakes and successes all felt quite familiar and it’s a bit of a theme for the day really that I could relate to so many of the speakers who while doing different things all did other things in common with how I work so it’s nice to know that sometimes when you eventually fall into a process or way or working that you do so because it’s a result of making mistakes and learning and over time many of us converge on a way of working.

A key thing we’ve found at Offroadcode that Noah also alludes to is that the time required just to run a business (not doing the actual code or design) can be significant and once you’ve got a handle on that, and devote genuine resource and time to running your company good things happen.

Rasika Krishna – Cross cultural UX

Working in different countries on projects that span cultural divides isn’t something a lot of designers will ever do so Rasika’s talk was interesting in its scope because she shared some fascinating reminders that cross cultural design means a great deal more than changing text from LTR to RTL or running a site through a translator. I’d love to work on a project of the scale and complexity that we need someone as skilled as Rasika to teach me a bit more about this side of design and culture!

One interesting piece of research she shared was her investigation into what users thought of the “hamburger icon”, in particular what they thought it did and what they thought it should be called.

On a personal note, I’ve always thought anyone who calls it a hamburger icon should probably be slapped (it’s a menu icon, call it that) but it was amazing to hear that in her research of 50 users, not one person knew it was called (by some people) a hamburger icon and many were confused by such a name. Stop calling it that.

Josh Brewer – Redesigning Twitter

I thoroughly enjoyed Josh‘s very polished talk about the redesign of Twitter in 2010 and the scale and scope of the project which spanned many platforms and aimed to unify a lot of the design elements.

Josh Brewer - Redesigning Twitter

It was fascinating to hear how Twitter was set up a couple of years ago, designers working independently in different product teams and how in order to have any chance of success in such an ambitious project they needed to pull together to effectively form an internal design studio.

One of the notable things the Twitter design teams did that I also do (see that theme of shared technique/process again?) which is sometimes underrated is that they print everything the design out and use that during feedback and assessment. It’s a very simple, lo-fi way of working but it’s something I’ve embraced again and it’s a great way to draw other people into giving feedback as it’s not sat on a screen somewhere.

It was was particularly interesting seeing how even at a company like Twitter a couple of years ago, people were in many ways doing their own thing regarding the tools they used and the way they reached a design solution. Part of Josh’s role in the redesign was to standardise tools and processes including simple things like folder and PSD layer structures, version control and the actual tools being used to design. Often vital on a project of any scale.

Jeremy Keith – What we talk about when we talk about the web

Sadly the original speaker John Allsop was unable to attend at short notice so Jeremy was good enough to step in with a talk that perhaps would have been better suited as an opener for the day as he spoke in detail about many of the facets of how the web actually works which was in interesting reminder of what the web was like and how we have got to where we are. It’s uncanny how circular the web is and how we seem to be bashing our heads against a wall trying to solve old problems.

As a side note, I’ve been grappling for a while with what to do with this site as it’s not really a portfolio any more. I haven’t done any design work as “welcomebrand” for 4 years and I’d begun to think that my portfolio is in fact the articles here and listening to Jeremy talk about a range of issues with modern and older web design it occurs to me that I’ve written about many of these problems years ago too and that the redesign I’ve been pondering is something that I now have a direction for so indirectly, thanks Jeremy for giving my subconcious a prod.

The conference

A massive congratulations to Gavin (and his family) for putting on a great day. Thanks to the speakers who all delivered great talks, it felt like a very informal and friendly day and the venue was superb. If Gavin puts on another one next year, I’d certainly recommend checking out the day.

James Young

Written by James Young

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