This is my second time up north in Gateshead for Design It. Build It Conference so it certainly made a good first impression in 2011. One thing I particularly enjoyed last year was the ‘Afternoon with startups’ the day before the conference. It gave me some great insights into the world of entrepreneurs and the different kinds of people who have started there own venture and been very successful, doing what they love.

That wasn’t part of the schedule this year. Instead we had an afternoon of workshops. I think workshops can be a great way to learn new skills and meet people in smaller groups, but I was a bit disappointed that the majority of workshops were more ‘back-end focused’. I would’ve liked to have seen some more front-end focused workshops requiring no programming knowledge and maybe some theory based workshops discussing subjects such as freelancing, paper prototyping, wire-framing etc. So how was the workshop for me? Well, being the only female, not great. It’s normally not an issue, but certain trainers communicate better to men than women, shall we say? Not to mention the poor wifi connection and the lack of access to the websites we needed, which meant a venue change half way through!

DIBI delegates queue in The Sage Gateshead

Conference day!

First up to speak is Seb Lee Delisle, looking at the separation between designer and coder and how we need to bridge this gap. I didn’t envy Seb being the first one to speak on the morning after the opening party, you could sense the weariness across Hall 2 of The Sage, but he did a great job demonstrating live coding in Javascript to produce simple graphics and animations! Although it’s all good fun, he did, however, emphasise that no one will pay you to do this kind of work, it’s a hobby that designers need to explore. Similarly, coders need to experiment with visuals. Seb finished with 3 words, which summed up his talk: Play, Create, Share.

I’ve made the conscious decision to remain in the ‘Design It’ track for the day, so the following observations are from those speakers in Hall 2.

Next up we have Paul Annett and Tim Paul working on government websites – making digital services usable and information accessible and the challenges they are facing. It’s not entirely relevant to my line of work now, but I can relate to the difficulties in getting changes through endless redtape and decisions on design and usability being made by people who know nothing of online design and usability.

Our first female speaker of the day is Susan Weinschenk talking about the ‘Top ten things every designer needs to know about people’ – from her book 100 Things Every Designers Needs to Know About People. With a PHD in Psychology, she should know what she’s talking about!

  • According to ‘The Brain Lady’ peripheral vision is much more important than the central in web design as people react to these areas of the screen more than we think.
  • Another finding was that people’s attention is always drawn to the human face. That’s something I’ve heard in the past and used successfully to increase conversions on landing pages, so it’s good to hear that theory backed up by science.
  • Interestingly people can only remember 3 or 4 things or processes at once, I always thought it was more like 5, so what we can learn from this is that it’s important to give people choice, but not too much choice!
  • People have a mental model about how technology and devices work. This stays with us throughout our lives, so generations who were introduced to televisions, approach all technology in the same way they approach television in terms of functionality and capability (I’m over simplifying it here, but you get my point).

It’s lunch time, and DIBI lives up to last year’s standards with hot food served swiftly by the amazing team at The Sage. It’s a welcome break from the butt-numbing seats and a chance to catch up on emails and a bit of work. The wi-fi is reasonable outside the conference hall and it’s a great environment to work in with the cafe and views over the Tyne and across into Newcastle.

The Sage and Tyne GatesheadBack after lunch and it’s Chris Mills and Bruce Lawson speaking about Angels and Demons: Balancing Shiny and Inclusive. Chris and Bruce used a unique role playing/fancy dress act to argue the case for using new technologies and catering for older browsers. Whilst the presentation was humourous to a point, I felt it was old ground that has been covered a lot over recent years.

Chris Mills and Bruce Lawson as Angels and Demons DIBI12

Paul Boag of design agency, Headscape, is up next, and it’s one talk I was looking forward to having just finished his book ‘Client Centric Web Design‘ on the train on the way up to Gateshead. I guess you could say that I already knew what the talk was going to be about, but sometimes it’s good to have that reinforcement from the man himself. What I didn’t get from Paul in the book, that you instantly notice in real life is his enthusiasm and animated way of presenting. He certainly keeps your attention and makes you think. The mainpoints I took from Boag’s talk were:

  • Client centric web design was born out of Paul’s frustration with other web designers’ attitude to client projects. But he turns around the idea that clients are a pain in the arse, and points it back at us designers – it’s down to us to know the clients, educate them and involve them continually to get the response from them and the best result for us.
  • Client needs come before user needs – controversial, but the clients pay our wage and pleasing the client, improves our job satisfaction. They also know more about their product and industry, even if they don’t know about the web. Boag emphasised the importance for respect, good communication, involvement and education in a successful client/designer relationship.

Paul Boag's Client Centric Web Design DIBI12

After a well earned break, it’s Dan Rubin on the Design It track stage. He begins with a rant – “we don’t try hard enough”. What he means by this is our lack of ‘do’ and our abundance of excuses when it comes to using new technologies like HTML5 and CSS3. Take aways from Dan Rubin’s talk:

  • Recommended reading Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono.
  • How do we take all the suggestions we get from conferences, articles etc and put them to work? It’s all about your mindset – you need to strive to know more than your boss.
  • Not everything can be solved, but with help it can be.
  • The mission he set for us this week is to “Try one thing”.

The final keynote comes from Cameron Moll who discusses ‘The Burdon of Being Creative’. He starts with a video he took walking around Newcastle on the night he arrived in the city. Using 2 iPads for his presentation – one for his materials and a second to write his slides live in a sketchbook app.

  • He challenges the notion that being creative is coming up with something that hasn’t been done before. This is a pressure and a challenge for creative people.
  • Originality is a modern invention. Previously, artists were judged by their ability to imitate others accurately.
  • To be creative is to organise existing matter. A new idea is a new connection between old ideas – J Lehrer.
  • He introduces a mathematical equation to define creativity – as a function of organisation and synthesizing c=ƒ(s,o)
  • Moll states that ‘grit’ is greater than talent where grit = passion + persistence + execution.
  • He reminds us that creativity is a verb – a doing word, it requires work.

Moll expands on his creativity equation to include the human factor and grit. There was no way I could get this down on my laptop, so here’s a photo of his final equation.

Cameron Moll demonstrates the Creativity Equation

Highlight of the conference

Cameron Moll’s live slide sketching – I’ve not seen it done before and it must have taken a bit of planning.

Best Speaker

I’m going to say Seb Lee Delisle. His enthusiasm for playing with code and visualising data was infectious and I’ll certainly be learning some new skills going forward.

So, overall, how was it?

Well, after a disappointing start with the workshop, the conference had some great speakers and was well worth the trip to Gateshead. Will I go next year? Perhaps, if only for the conference day. The venue is superb and you don’t feel corralled at break times – there’s space to move about and find a quiet spot if you want.

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