New Adventures in Web Design | A great new conference

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New Adventures in Web Design conference, 20th January 2011, Nottingham

I’ve just got back in from an inspiring day at the New Adventures in Web Design conference organised by Simon Collison. Here’re some thoughts on what made #naconf a great success.

When this was first announced in July there were some rumblings, quickly rebutted by Colly, that this was another conference with the same old faces.

Chief grumbler, Paul Robert Lloyd’s closing back-handed compliment turned out to be borne out.

With the 5-star lineup, this careful curation could very well mean New Adventures In Web Design is the must see conference for 2011, and I’m intrigued to see what presentations will feature.

Yes, the conference included many faces well known to regular conference attendees, but these speakers are there for two reasons – they are T-Rexs in the UK web-scene (even Dan Rubin because he’s an honorary Brit) and they are friends of Colly’s.

That this conference was Colly’s first and because of the high regard with which he is held, all the speakers pulled out the stops. Colly’s curation led to a series of ground-breaking thought pieces that had each speaker bringing there own particular spin to what became a couple of consistent threads that connected the sessions: The new maturity of the web industry and how art direction can develop better design.

High points

Dan Rubin kicked things off discussing use — and misuse — of language in relation to the web industry which can lead to inaccurate metaphors and difficult to explain concepts. His call to action? Let’s start looking at the language we use to describe things, is it effective, does it work when explaining to people outside the industry?

Everyday I see this is a necessary change, looking forward to the conversation.

Mark Boulton was hot on Dan’s heels with an introduction to some work he has been doing on developing a New Canon for web design. Mark is well known for his work on typography for the web and his current project seeks to re-establish some rules that have been ‘lost along the way’.

Alongside Rubin’s comments on how we view, describe and understand what we do, Mark’s input seeks to bring rationale to the design process so that design remains about the choices made to best deliver the content — not the best way to shuffle boxes in photoshop.

The New Canon is based around 3 themes: Responsiveness, Connectedness and Binding. The core idea revolves around binning the notion of the page which, as we design for a wider range of viewport sizes than ever before, is becoming increasingly difficult to work with. Ignore edges that aren’t physically there and design out from your content. Create scales and designs based on content. Embrace the em and eschew the pixel. Bind your design decisions to the content and to the device.

While a brief introduction to where this can go, it lays the groundwork to a shift in how we approach web design when it is possibly most needed.

Sarah Parmenter delivered a great session that blended design psychology with CRO. A refreshing change on the design conference circuit, I loved her approach to design based on understand the cultural and personal significance of design to the viewer/user and how that could lead to significant changes to increase the effectiveness of the site.

Andy Clarke was on fine form, telling the story of story, using western comics — detectives are so last year — to illustrate how pace and rhythm in the narrative can be reflected through layout, design and art direction. Enthralling subject matter and superb visuals, delivered flawlessy, made this a truly inspirational slot. I just wish i’d had design lecturers like that while I was at uni.

And @gablaxian’s cookies were great.

All in all a great day. Colly you should be very happy with yourself. Same time next year?


About phil

Phil Wright is a digital strategist based in Manchester. An unashamed fan of Apple products and walking into lamposts because he’s too busy looking at his phone, Phil can often be found talk the hind legs off donkeys or anyone else who wants to know more about digital marketing and online strategy.
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  • Paul Lloyd

    Chief grumbler eh? I like it!

    In the end I attended the conference (I was a sponsor, helping out on the Fontdeck stand during breaks). As this meant I got a free ticket, I feel somewhat remiss posting a follow-up to my controversial (although I believe balanced and necessary) post of last year. Overall the conference was enjoyable, professionally organised and it was great to see it take place in a region poorly served by such events. Yet was it flawless (as seems to be the general post-event feedback)? Of course not, nothing ever is.

    So, maintaining my role as chief curmudgeon (or should that be devil’s advocate), I want to ask if you thought there were any areas you saw for improvement? Is there anything you thought was missing, expectations you had that weren’t met? If not, that’s great, but I do find the lack of balanced feedback in our industry disappointing. If it’s not #fail, then it’s AWESOME!, but the fact is events like this are rarely neither; they often fall somewhere between the two. They can only get better if we strive to make them so.

    • phil

      Hey Paul

      You definitely need to go for Curmudgeon in chief as a job title. Just because it sounds cool.

      I think that, a few days after the event, now that the hoopla has begun to die down, the role of Devil’s advocate becomes a more valid one. I agree with you that response has been largely at the extremes, everything was perfect or, as someone tweeted, ‘woeful’ – where the reality for most people will sit somewhere between the two.

      Myself? I enjoyed it. Were my expectations met? Largely, the people that I wanted to see I enjoyed and found thought-provoking.

      The people I wasn’t so fussed about mainly didn’t set my hair alight. But I’ve never been to a conference where I wanted to see everyone though so I didn’t really mind that. Expectations from past conferences perhaps.

      The one exception here was @sazzy who, while her presentation still needs some development, I think covered more in one thirty minute slot about CRO than most people in the room have probably been exposed to.

      I’m at SES London later in the year and there will be a whole track that delves into CRO there but this often falls outside of the realms of what designers are looking at and much more into the hands of us Analytics geeks. So it was refreshing to see it discussed in a practical way at a design conference.

      I think that Colly encouraging the speakers to bring something new to the table was the day’s greatest strength, but also sorted the men from the boys – a well-worn presentation can make life easier if you present often – but, in this case, the ability to come up with ‘knock it out of the park’ sessions outside of tried and tested comfort zones is not something that everyone managed 100%.

      What do I think could be improved next time – i’d have been able to live with a couple fewer speakers to see DR’s, MB’s and AC’s sessions given a bit more time to go into where they thought things should go – even if just to form the conversion a little. I think that a few people are waiting for the ‘what’s next?’ and a longer session may have been able to deliver this.

      So my opinion after a couple of days is that the conference was (still) great, my niggles were mainly more of what I liked and more cups of tea.

      But I might be easily pleased. ;-)

      Anything else is just logistical – power, wifi etc. Liked the idea at lunch, didn’t mind the changeovers…

      …but would have loved the opportunity to get a brew throughout the day. I had to sit out through most of Greg Wood’s session to pick up on some work and the chance to grab a drink while it was quiet would have been great. :)