Last week myself and several hundred web heads converged on Nottingham for New Adventures in Web Design 2012. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – some very good things had been said about its inaugural year (2011) and this year looked to be a very well put together gig. The brainchild of a fella called Colly – ’twas a real labor of love by the look and feel of things.
I signed up for a workshop on the Wednesday – the day before the conference ‘proper’. This workshop – one of three on the day – entitled “Paper is your friend” was run by a charasmatic duo who call themselves “The Standardistas“. In a room right at the back of Nottingham’s Albert Hall, (with it’s massive organ) this pair of authors and Ulster Uni lecturers kicked off the days activity.
I think I already knew that paper was my freind but the arty, paper friendly side of my brain guilt-tripped the ‘efficient’ computer hungry side of my brain into giving it a go. They put thought into action – with web design in mind. The first part kindled a theme about the diversification of an idea and how to get it down on paper – principally through mind-maps. We learned that these work “because your mind wants to fill in the blanks” – good point – turns out, that’s true. Trying to use pictures instead of ‘just’ words was a new twist for me. Diversification of ideas was the justification of purpose. Don’t just go for the obvious, solution or to put it another way “don’t just go for the path of least resistance” – these were watchword for this part of the day.
They showed us some other fantastic paper based tools – like Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategy Cards’ [click here for an online version]. A very interesting concept. An idea wildcard system – you think of your idea then challenge it with these Oblique Card – works really well at the ‘pitch’ end of a concept – how to play Devils Advocate all by yourself. Mental Notes was another card based thought jogger that they introduced. Not quite the simplistic brilliance – but potentially useful, in the right settings – more of an after dinner muse that a hard n fast ‘tool’ perhaps. They also told us about the value of mixing up existing teams – don’t always work with the ‘go to’ people – mix it up if you can. The Mind Map Book was ref’d a couple of times during this session – it looks pretty comprehensive.
The second part of the workshop was about the aesthetics. Look and Feel. Colour and emotive response to design (in a way). – the Visual Grammar as they referenced it as. Moodboarding is something I’ve used from time to time. I find it a handy way of expressing an idea, or, to help me arrive at an idea and convey it. The Standardistas were pushing the idea of not neccacarily just screen shotting a load of stuff of the internet but using the real world and (more importantly) real bits of actual paper to create a moodboard. They also suggested that we screenshot stuff from real life – using photography. Go to a library. Take photos of stuff. Go to an Oxfam and buy a bunch of old books and hack them up and stick them down to a board. Some of the latter ideas I found a bit limiting / limited though – if you’re going down that route – bring out the paints. If an oxfam had a limitless supply of stuff – then cool, but I saw this particular excercise a bit limited by the designer of the times mood / brief / etc. It was a bit ‘pot luck’ that we got an Envelope of Awesome (their pre filled cut up mags and books of stuff) that had some good stuff in it. Problem was it was all the same as the other groups. Anyhoo – not a biggy, I got the gist. The big take away for me was the way they implored us to diversify an idea – to expand an idea to several ideas – build on them for a while then hone in. Think outside of the (Mac / Dell / IBM ) box.
Kicking this off was the web legend Dan Mall who structured his bit around “what do you do”. A good question. As for him, he designed startwars.com (that piqued our interest). A fascinating and funny guy who oozed creativity. Down to earth even though he’s done some world class stuff. He told us to build a fake CMS and that humans > algorithms. He told us that his biggest challenge of recent times was the notion of all things “Releted” (products / concepts / content). He also told us about the back (rub) story on a project called mostawesomestthingever.com . He illistrated a point by showing us this;
His point was – Encourage the adjacent possible. Creativity is just connecting things. Enjoy yourself. Spare no expense.
Following Dan, was a young British designer, who’s on the up – Naomi Atkinson. She has some interesting ideas – quite a lot of it to do with yourself – as a brand. Think about how you promote yourself, where you get talked about, how you are seen by others and that you should evolve your brand language. The cited example was Sean Combes into Puff Daddy, P.Diddy, Diddy and for one week only ‘Swag’. Clever.
Next up – Travis Schmeisser – a UX guy who’s big n bold slide style kicked off with a thought – “we used to build forts” (as in dens). We’re all creative. We grew into this job because it suits our creative ‘type’. The stand out bits for me were “Appreciation for the experimentation is the wild west of the internet”. He told us to become an artist again and that we should inovate, create and dedicate. We should (and this was quite a reoccurring theme from a few of the speakers) Keep making stuff. It’s not a waste of time just because its not client work – it’s training.
Robbie Manson had me (and judging by the #naconf tweets that were flying around) awestruck – something quite bard like in his performance. He structured his opening around a reference to Kubric’s 2001 – the atmospherics, the emotivity, the timings and the feel of it all. He Talked about time to tool and, like The Standardists, stressed the importance of paper in your process – he favoured a concept called ‘6up’ which is simple, easy to adopt and effective (I’ve used it this week). He suggested that we “Step away from the computer at every possible opportunity”. As I type these words, I think – how would I do that? But I guess I could always dictate and transcribe. I can see his point although his idealism isn’t always practical – sometimes, the computer is the paper. The keyboard is the pen.
After Robbie, we got Trent Walton. A Texan font maestro and Responsive Web Design (RWD) aficionado, who referenced his family in a heart warming and relevant way – how his dad (a proper engine head, car enthusiast, a grease monkey (his words)) used to spend months making a car – then race it – then take it to bits again. Every nut and bolt, every turn of the spanner – has it’s place and often earned it through trial and error. This whole speech reminded me of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance – how you’ve got the classical v the romantic types – those who understand the machine intimately and those who (just) know what it does and how to use it. He was saying we should think about our craft in the same way – break everything (so we understand it and can refine and improve it I guess).
Cameron Koczon was up next. Big bags of charisma type of guy. A guy behind a highly regarded project called Brooklyn Beta. He talked about start-ups, and how we should all make something we love. Effect change, elicit emotion. Induce Action. Easier said than done – but sound advice.
The wild card of the day – who’s thang really polorised the crowd (#naconf live) was Denise Jacobs. Web interlectreratii high council. Her piece was entitled “Your brain on creativity” was unlike any of the other talks. If the content of her fairy tale style delivery wasn’t so subconsciously compelling, I’d have thought she was utterly patronising. However – her left brain / right brain “be balanced” advice cut through and won a few hearts – in hindsight – mine included. She talked about helping your brain achieve Alpha state to increase creativity – through the application of Low Fi time (again – a ‘get away from the computer’ chime). I particularly liked the ‘Don’t force creativity, let it come to you’ quote from Erik Ford – from To Sketch Or Not To Sketch.
The headline act came from a slight man in a tie called Frank Chimero. He started out with story about a tiny pony he saw in an Apple store. He talked about “The Search” which smacked of “sometimes the journey is the destination” sentiment. He was revalationary in the respect that he told me that design is the bit that sits between art and commerce. He stated that designer are choreographers. Design is the bit between A to B. Spaces are important. The bit between the past and the future. Brilliant. Clarity. So now I get it. Thanks Frank. Thranks.
Frank also came out with my two favorite soundbytes from the whole thing; Firstly “The world is not yet done… lucky is” and a gem of a George Kubler Quote – “The moment just passed is extinguished forever, save the things that were made during it”. Which summarises the big take home for me – the observance of a common theme form so many great minds – keep making stuff.
The social aspect…
One of the surprise bi-products of having that many internet heads in the same space was the extremely heightened propensity of appropriate use of social media – or to put it another way, a shed load of geeks tweeting about the same thing at the same time in the same place. On twitter – the ‘official’ #naconf hash tag was on fire – update after update of people commenting, sharing and generally discussing the world of New Adventures 2012. Sat right at the back during the conf, as was my want, I could see a sea of iPhones scrolling through twitter – especially during the contentious bits. Like a telepathic / silent conversation amongst hundreds – and it wasn’t that people were missing a beat – the tweeting enhance the whole thing.
I’ve never been in that kind of environment before – often I’m tweeting and foursquaring and g+ing and it feels like I’m talking to myself. These few days were fascinating. People were tweeting – I’m here, having a beer, talking shop and within minutes, a the bar was full of internetz. I’ve never been to things were so many people had ‘checked in’ before. It really did feel a very ‘collective conciseness’ (dare I say borg like). Internet community – this was a thing to behold. It wasn’t just a conference, but a convergence. So many conversations with like minded people. A success for (I hope and presume) the organisers and contributors, a success for me and my fellow attendees. If you’re reading this and contemplating 2013… do it! hope to see you there!