Conference Reflections | April 8, 2007

In the last month I’ve attended four conferences, and spoken at three of them. I’ve already talked about SXSWi 2007 in some detail, so though I’d give the other events a quick write-up.

First up was the IA Summit in Las Vegas. Despite going to a lot of standards based conferences, my interest has firmly been with IA and UX for the last couple of years. This is why at events like SouthBy, I’m more likely to be seen in a session by Peter Morholz than I am by Eric Meyer (sorry Eric). I’ve been looking for a good IA/UX event for a while, but they either seem to be ridiculously expensive, or painfully academic. This is why I was extremely pleased to see the schedule for the IA summit this year was very industry focused and shied away from the more theoretical discussions.

It was very interesting going to the IA summit for a number of reasons. Firstly I was attending a conference as a delegate rather than a speaker for the first time in ages. Secondly, apart from a couple of people, I knew practically nobody at the event. This allowed me to experience the conference as a relative newbie, something I really enjoyed.

The first thing that impressed me was the sense of community at the event. Some of the attendees had been going to the conference for years, and had built up a good network of friends. For others this was their first time. The organisers went out of their way to create an atmosphere designed to help people mingle; from a volunteer help booth, through to a social trading card game.

Most conferences I attend are fairly general, so it was nice to be able to immerse myself in a single subject for two whole days. There were some fantastic presentations and I came away feeling very inspired. Much more so than I did from SouthBy this year. One of the best presentations came from the architect Joshua Prince-Ramus, who gave an insight into his working practices and demonstrated the similarities between our profession. If you’re an Information Architect or User Experience Designer, or if you just have an interest in creating better online experiences, I’d highly recommend attending next year.

Unfortunately I had to miss the last day of the IA summit as I was speaking at Web Design World in San Francisco. In all honestly I had little or no expectations for this conference. I had never been to one before and knew nobody in my circle of friends who had. My understanding was that it was aimed at a more entry level audience, so didn’t expect the sessions to be of much interest to me. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

There were a couple of good sessions on Ajax, and while I disagreed with a lot of what was being said, it was interesting to hear other peoples opinions. I just wish all these back-end Ajax “experts” would stop promoting libraries that encouraged people to write their code in C++ or .Net, and have it automagicaly spit out JavaScript. I also wish they would stop confusing their over-relaiance on inaccessible libraries with the inability to create accessible Ajax sites. Thankfully Nate brought the sanity level back to normal with a couple of good presentations on the YUI.

Other good sessions included an interesting talk on SEO and landing page conversions, a good case study on Ajax usability from Steve Mulder (who incidentally wrote the Web Monkey article that got me into CSS in the first place) and a characteristically flamboyant presentation from usability maestro, Jared Spool. The main thing this conference lacked was a sense of community, but then again, it wasn’t really targeted at a community audience. All in all, a very interesting couple of days, and a good way for somebody to dip their toes in the conference merry-go-round.

I was back home for a few days, then flew up to Edinburgh for the inaugural Highland Fling conference. With so many things happening in the South of England, I was excited to see the first big conference north of the border. Not least because Edinburgh is a fantastic city and a great place to hang out for a few days. In fact, it’s one of the few cities in the UK outside Brighton and Manchester I could imagine myself living. So I’d like to extend a big “thank you” to Alan White for organising the event and looking after us while we were there.

I think the audiences lack of conference experience was evident, as all of the speakers I talked to found them to be a tough crowd. Many of the speakers jokes raised barely a titter and even pictures of fluffy kittens failed to get a reaction. Still, everybody I spoke to said they enjoyed the event and put their silence down to extreme concentration.

My session on the future of CSS seemed to go down well, and I hope it rattled a few cages. I’ll write up my thoughts when I have a spare moment, but you’ll get the drift of my argument from the slides. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to do the talk again as I think it raises some interesting questions.

The day after the conference saw the second Refresh Edinburgh take place. This was the first Refresh I’ve been to, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Like a big skillswap or a mini BarCamp, around 50 local designers and developers gathered together to discuss a variety of topics. It was great hearing local developers talk about their projects, and I hope some of these people will make it onto the bill of the next Highland Fling. The Refresh crowd were a lot more vocal, and the sense of community was evident. It’s great seeing the start of a burgeoning community and I hope everybody involved manages to keep the momentum going. If they haven’t done it already, I’d highly recommend setting up a local mailing list to make sure the conversation continues.

I’ve enjoyed attending these conferences for various different reasons. Some for the social side, others for the topics, but al have left me feeling very positive about the industry we work in and excited about what lies ahead.

Posted at April 8, 2007 9:10 PM


Jeff L said on April 9, 2007 2:12 AM


Funny that you mention Steve Mulder’s CSS article…I wrote a blog post about a year ago about that article as well, after I got to meet Steve at SxSW ‘06. I think Steve’s article was the first CSS introduction for a lot of us who have been in the game for a while.

I took a look through your CSS3 slides, some good stuff in there, but I think you misused the word “opaque.” :-)

Matt said on April 9, 2007 9:04 AM

Thanks for the fab review, Andy. As far as I can tell everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves at Refresh — which is really, really exciting. We hope to have the audio from the event available soon.

And yes, we do have a mailing list. If anyone’s interested they should take a look at the Refresh Edinburgh group on Google Groups.

bgw said on April 9, 2007 3:41 PM

Us Scot’s aren’t allowed to show endearment at fluffy kittens. Not with the English in the room, anyway. …and after the photo of you in those granny earrings, it’s hard to laugh any more.

Great presentations all around at the Highland Fling. I’ve reams of notes. I really hope Alan will put it on again.

Scott G said on April 10, 2007 8:24 AM

I found the same kind of thing when I recently spoke at an SEO conference…

It was refreshing to meet new faces and also see a new group of people and see what they dealt with everyday and surprisingly how similar some of their efforts are to many of us web standards enthusiasts.

I would definitely love a chance to check out a good IA conference some time. Great summary.

Ross Bruniges said on April 10, 2007 8:36 AM

Like the presentation slides - looks like it was a good presentation and conference.

Paul S said on April 10, 2007 10:43 AM

They were great presentations at the Highland Fling and cheers for pointing us at some CSS3 stuff :)

It was my first conference but I did chuckle to myself.

So many thanks to you all for the day and here’s hoping for next year!

Kathy said on April 10, 2007 4:56 PM

Thanks for making the “Future of CSS” slides available. Looks like it was a great talk.

Donna Maurer said on April 13, 2007 1:02 PM


Rob Goodlatte said on April 14, 2007 4:35 AM

Right on about auto-generated javascript for Ajax. Writing the back-end code that actually changes data in the model and manipulating the DOM on the front-end are completely separate tasks. IDE’s for this kind of stuff in general are pretty nasty.

Ewan McIntosh said on April 14, 2007 9:23 AM

Don’t forget the BarCampScotland itself, in Edinburgh last March. About 120 people ended up coming through the door and, funnily enough, we found the same reticence to start out with. With time, though, and the fact that everyone participated to some degree, we saw people becoming more loosened up.

It’ll be interesting to see what the next one brings in that respect.