Breaking into the speaker circuit | August 6, 2018

As somebody who both organises and speaks at events, I’ve got a good insight into the workings of the conference circuit. This is probably why I regularly get emails from people looking for advice on breaking into the speaking circuit. So rather than repeating the same advice via email, I thought I’d write a quick article I could point people to.

First off, breaking into the speaker circuit can feel intimidating. If you look at the line up of most international conferences, they’re packed with veterans speakers from well known brands. It’s easy to feel that the speaker circuit is already locked down and there’s no way to break in. However it’s worth noting that every veteran speaker was in your shoes at some stage. In truth, audiences get bored of the same old faces pretty quickly, so conference organisers feel a huge pressure to find new speakers from diverse backgrounds. As such, conference speaking is surprisingly egalitarian, and talent rises to the top surprisingly quickly.

Conference speaking can be a lot of fun, but before you start dedicating too much time and effort becoming a speaker, it’s worth thinking about your motivations. There are a lot of reasons why people choose to speak at events, and there’s no right or wrong answer. However the most common motivations I see include:

While all the above reasons are perfectly valid, focussing on the intrinsic benefits of public speaking like a desire to help people, share knowledge and to push the industry forward, will lead to a longer and more fulfilling speaking career. Conversely, if you focus on extrinsic reasons like building a person brand or landing that next job, you’re more likely to stop once those goals have been met. Either way, public speaking is incredibly rewarding, so let’s look at where to start.

I regularly get emails from people wanting to speak at one of my events. When I ask where they’ve spoken before and what they speak about, the answers are often the same; they’ve not actually spoken anywhere before, and don’t have anything specific they want to talk about (worse is when they ask you what you want them to speak about, when you have no idea what they’re actually good at). This is a relatively new phenomenon, and it seems that speaking has gone from being a means to an end, into an end in itself.

So my first piece of advice would be to think deeply about the topics you want to talk about. If you have a particular skill, passion or experience you want to share, that’s great. However there’s a misconception amongst a lot of people that you need to be an expert to speak. While knowing your topic is important, you don’t necessarily need to be the most experienced person in the Universe on your chosen subject.

There’s a strange irony that the most experienced people in a particular topic are often the worst communicators, while those relatively new to a field can be great at explaining things, because they’ve recently gone through the process of synthesising the information themselves. As such, great storytelling usually trump superior domain knowledge.

There’s no point being a great storyteller if you don’t have a good story to tell, so its worth thinking about the particular point of view you bring to the topic. Do you have recent experience in the subject matter? A project that went well of badly? A technique you’ve developed, or a perspective that’s slightly different from the norm. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about something that’s been spoken about before, as long as you’re bringing a new and interesting perspective to the conversation.

Its also worth mentioning that just because your topic have been done by other people, doesn’t mean that everybody knows the subject inside out already. There’s a tonne of new people entering our industry every day, so there’s always a market for seemingly obvious stuff. In fact, I have no problem finding people to talk about cutting edge techniques at my conferences, but I really struggle finding people to talk about foundational skills. So don’t think you have to have something unique before you start talking about it.

Another common mistake new speakers make is coming up with a new talk for every event. Public speaking is a learnt skill, so the more you do it the better you get. That means that the first time you do a talk will probably be the worst time, and as you do it more and more, you’ll get better and better. You’ll learn which parts of the talk work well, and which bits need tweaking. You’ll see where people laugh, and where they don’t, and use the feedback k to improve things the next time you speak. As such I generally find I have to do a talk three or four times before I’m happy with it.

A lot of professional speakers will have 3 talks on the go at any one time. They’ll have a talk that they’re just debuting, a talk that they’ve been doing for a while and really happy with, and a talk that was super popular a few years back, but they are slowly running down. The new talk will be reserved for smaller conferences or conferences looking for fresh material, the main talk will be for the big events looking for a surefire hit, and the older talk will usually be the one you’ll do for free at local events.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m seeing a lot of new speakers expecting to start right at the top, with the big international conferences. I’m not sure if there’s an x-factor type level of expectation here, but most of the good speakers I know started building their reputation and learning their craft by talking at small local meet-ups. After a few years they’d start speaking a local and sometimes national conferences, and only start being invited to speak at bigger international conferences after a good few years on the circuit.

This is similar to bands and comedians, who spend years learning their craft in local bars and comedy clubs, before getting the big TV spots and stadium gigs. As such, my advice would be to start small, get in loads of practice, and work up to the bigger conferences and events over time.

Public speaking can be a nerve-racking experience, and even the most experience speakers feel stressed before going on stage, In fact I have a few friends who are literally nervous wrecks in the run up to their talks, wondering why they put themselves through the stress, and swearing that they’ll never speak again. Yet the moment thay step on stage something changes, and as an audience member you’d never know the stress they were going through back stage.

A small amount of nerves are arguably a good thing, and can act as a performance enhancer. However there are lots of “tricks” that can help you combat the inevitable stress of public speaking; exercise in the morning before your talk, listening to music backstage to get in the zone, or just being quiet and peaceful before your session, in order to blank out any fear and self doubt. Whatever techniques you use, things do generally get better with time and experience.

My top tip for getting over nerves isn’t anything especially revolutionary. I just try to memorise the first few minutes of my talk, so when I get on stage I can do it confidently and eloquently. It usually takes a few minutes for the nerves to subside, and for you to hit your stride. So nailing the first few minutes, usually helps.

The other little secret is the best speakers often get coaching. Public speaking is a performance, and generally get’s better through active improvement. So training and coaching can help you structure more engaging talks, develop a good stage presence, increase your vocal range, and generally improve your delivery and confidence. So no matter what level speaker you are, whether beginner or expert, consider getting some external help.

When you’re ready to move from smaller local events to larger conferences, organisers are looking for three things, generally in this order.

Mostly, conference organisers are looking for people who can demonstrate expertise, so if you are reaching out to organisers to suggest your services, you need to understand their conference, the audiences it attracts, and the topics that will be of interest to them. If you’ve been to the conference before, let them know. If you haven’t been, maybe you should consider buying a ticket this year, and then suggesting yourself as a speaker next year. It’s always more flattering as a conference organisers when the person genuinely knows the event, rather than bulk emailing a list of conferences they got off lanyard. Even worse is when the person’s assistant or PR firm reaches out, as it demonstrates that person is to busy or self important to bother reaching out directly. This anonymous shotgun attitude always gets a black mark in my book.

If you’re already an experienced speaker with a good reputation, organisers will mostly know who are are, and what you talk about. If not, you’re going to need to give them a couple of possible talk ideas, along with a video or two of you speaking. If you don’t have videos of you speaking, it’s going to make your lives a lot more difficult as the organisers want to minimise risk and be sure that you’re going to do a great job. So consider recording a version of the talk when doing a run-through for colleagues or friends. Failing that, offer to drop by the event organisers office to run the talk by them in person. Organisers get dozens of unsolicited talk requests, so you need to make their jobs as easy as possible, by demonstrating how good you are and the value you can bring to their event.

When preparing talks, I usually allocate 1-2 hours of preparation for every minute of the talk. So a 45 minute talk would take me 90 hours (roughly two weeks) to pull together. The more you do it the quicker you’ll get. A lot of novices don’t realise the time it takes to put together a great talk, and will skimp on prep. In fact I see a lot of novice speaker (and embarrassingly some experienced speakers) bragging at speaker dinners about how little effort they’ve put in the talk. Even worse is when they get up on stage and say to the audience that they were finishing their slides off the night before.

While we’re all busy people, this unpreparedness is unprofessional and disingenuous to both audiences and event producers alike. So make sure you put enough time into the preparation of your talk, and run through it at least 3 or 4 times before you present to a paying audience.

Lastly, if you are a novice speaker, asking for a fee can be tricky. It’s amazing how many conferences don’t pay their speakers, or even cover expenses. In fact some conferences still expect speakers to pay for a ticket. While it’s tempting to speak for free, in exchange for the “exposure” you’ll get, this makes it harder for other speakers. Especially ones who are having to take time off work to speak at the event, or dip into their own pockets to cover things like childcare. So when you’re approached to to speak at a conference, it’s always a good idea to ask what package they can offer, and not necessarily take “no fee” as the first answer.

Of course you then have to decide what your fee should be. Whatever it is, you’ll be lucky if the fee covers your time out of the office, let alone the time it took for you to put the talk together. One way to look at it is to assume you’ll probably give the talk a half a dozen times, and spread the cost over a a number of events based on a rough day rate. Another way to look at it is to pick a fee that a low multiple of the average ticket price. At the end of the day there’s no perfect way to set and negotiate fees. It’s something that comes with time, practice and a certain level of experience.

I hope this article has given you a few ideas for whether public speaking is right for you, and if it is, how to go about breaking into the speaking circuit. In my experience, conference speaking is a highly rewarding thing to do, and its fun being part of a smart, supportive and diverse community of speakers. So I wish you all the best on your future speaking career, and hope to see you on stage at a conference soon.

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Norwegian A.I. Retreat | October 1, 2017

Last week I took a group of friends and colleagues over to the Norwegian Fjords for a 3 day retreat. We’d all been working hard the past year, and were feeling pretty burnt out. So everybody jumped at the chance to breath in the clean Nordic air, marvel and the beautiful surroundings, and get a sense of inspiration and perspective.

We’d booked the wonderful Juvet Hotel, a place I’ve wanted to stay ever since seeing it used as the location for Ex Machina. We needed an area of focus for the retreat, and considering the location, Artificial Intelligence seemed like the obvious choice.

Once the preserve of Science Fiction, A.I. is starting to weave its way into our lives. At the moment there’s a lot of hype and speculation; over active marketing teams trying to convince us that adding the letters “A” and “I” to a product instantaneously make it better. While that isn’t always the case, it’s helping lots of start-ups attract more investment and increase their valuation.

At the same time there is also a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt being generated by the media. Rarely a day goes by without some news story proclaiming an end of days scenario, only for that same publication to dismiss the fears as irrational a week later. It seems that if A.I is good for one thing, it’s boosting circulation.

With opinions fluctuating between utopia and dystopia, I was struggling to get an accurate view of the field. As such, one goal of the retreat was to gain a more realistic understanding of A.I. away from the media hyperbole. We did this by starting the retreat with a simple domain mapping exercise, to ensure that we all had a shared vocabulary and understood the general direction of travel.

My other hope was to bring more diversity of thought to the conversation, and break away from the usual circle of computer scientists and technocrats. Rather than domain experts, we were a group of interested parties, comprised of people from the arts, humanities, academia and design. We weren’t necessarily the people inventing this brave new world, but we would be the type of people called upon to make it palatable to the general public through story telling and design.

At the outset of most technological revolutions, the focus is understandably on the benefits it can bring. For industrial advances, these benefits are often in the form of reduced costs, increased productivity, and increased shareholder value. It’s only later that the social effects become clear.

As a group of user-centered designers and humanist technologists, it became evident that our interest lay in the effects A.I. would have on people and society as a whole, rather than the more immediate and obvious benefits to productivity and commerce. Over the course of around a dozen unconference style conversations, from brainstorming dystopian futures to discussing robot ethics, a pattern of concerns started to emerge. We’ve tried to capture the outputs of these discussions as a series of open questions, which we hope to share soon.

One big topic of discussion was the fear that A.I. and robotics may bring about large scale under-employment. Past technological revolutions have sparked similar fears, and humanity has always been able to adapt. Engines surpassed human power, production line technology automated mundane and repetitive tasks, and computers allowed people to outsource data storage and processing. Each time this has happened, we’ve be able to find new and meaningful work to replace the lost jobs, driving productivity ever forward. However could A.I. be difference? If we can finally outsource human cognition to the machine, is there anywhere left to go?

A related problem is the nature of the work we’ll end up doing as a result. A.I. has the ability to remove mundane tasks and let us focus on the fun and creative parts of our work. It also has the ability to create a generation of workers who’s sole job is to babysit machines, only stepping in when some sort of exception is thrown up. While this may be efficient, it’s not a great route to job satisfaction. As a result A.I. could very well eat into the middle of the jobs market, pushing some people up the skills ladder, and others down.

Another big problem was the realisation that as systems become more and more sophisticated, they become more difficult to understand. It’s no longer just a case of viewing source and checking the code, but also understanding the training data. If the training data is biased, because society can be biased, the results may be skewed and difficult to detect. This could result in new jobs like A.I. trainers and data bias consultants to ensure that new A.I.s are being fair with their decisions.

We briefly talked about robot skeuomorphism; how a lot of household robots are currently designed to look vaguely humanoid. This has certain benefits, such as signalling the robots capabilities to their users. If the robot has eyes, you presume it can see, if it has ears you presume it can hear, and if it has legs you assume it can walk. A lot of robots also seem to demonstrate rather childlike capabilities like big eyes and short stature, partly to communicate a level of simplicity and demonstrate that they aren’t a threat. At the moment the form is largely a consequence of engineers trying to create robots that can do similar tasks to humans by duplicating their movements. However over time I believe that robots will move away from the humanoid form and develop shapes which are better designed and more suited to their particular tasks.

We also touched on the area of ethics and morals. For instance should A.I.s be forced to adopt a human moral code, and if so, what would that actually be? If we did manage to create some form of super intelligence, would we have to grant them human-like rights, or could we still consider them a utility like a car or a toaster. If they were treated like utilities, wound’t that raise some rather uncomfortable questions?

On a slightly more mundane, but possibly more near-term scenario, should we encourage people to be polite towards A.I.s in the same way we are polite to people? Obviously the current crop of A.I.s wouldn’t really care if we say please or thank you. However by ignoring these common social behaviours, we may be baking in problems for the future. One of the attendees mentioned how they accidentally started talking to their partner like they were talking to their Alexa, while several parents noted their kids had started to behave in similar ways. Imagine a future where robots pets and helpers were common. Could we imagine a scenario where mistreating a robot pet change the way we treated actual animals? If so, would we eventually have to consider legislation to prevent robot abuse?

Obviously a lot of these questions are just thought experiments, and are a long way off at the moment. However I truly believe that when I’m old enough to need some form of home care, there’s a good chance I’ll be looked after in part by a robot. So many of these challenges may will be here In our lifetimes, and a few may arrive sooner than we think.

Of course the trip wasn’t just pondering theoretical questions. I was as much a holiday as anything else. So as well as lots of stimulating conversations over good food and slightly overpriced beer, we had plenty of time to enjoy our surroundings. This included a lovely forrest walk along King Olav’s Way, a hike up a mountain to visit a Glacier, and even a chance to see the Northern Lights. These shared experiences helped us bond as a group, while the beautiful scenery helped put things in perspective and provide the space to think.

Considering the short amount of time we had at our disposal, It’s amazing how much ground we managed to cover and how productive we felt by the end. We had started the retreat with the 20 of us sitting around discussing what we’d hoped to get out of the next two days. We finished on a similar note, explaining what we’d all taken away. Everybody had a different story to tell, but we all left with new connections, deeper friendships, a better understanding of the emerging field of A.I. and a newfound love of the Norwegian Fjords. So much so, that we’ve already booked next years trip. I for one can’t wait.

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Talk Tropes and Conference Cliches | December 30, 2016

Over that last 12 years of attending, speaking and organising conferences, I’ve seen a lot of talks. Probably upwards of a thousand. I’ve seen talks that have inspired me, talks that have challenged me, and talks that left me welling up. During that time I’ve seen themes start to emerge; topics our industry find fascinating and love to revisit time and time again. Many of these topics I’ve used myself, and were I ever to write a “101 things I learnt at architecture school” style book for the interaction design industry, these tropes would feature heavily.

After spending two days binge watching talks in an attempt to find the last couple of speakers for a conference I’m organising, I was amazed how regularly these tropes appeared. I was also surprised how certain traits and behaviours kept repeating themselves across speakers. So I thought I’d jot them down, on the off chance people found them useful. Either as things you hadn’t heard of before and wanted to explore further, or topics and behaviours you wanted to avoid in a search for originality.

Top Talk Tropes

One of the earliest tropes I can remember is “paving the cow paths”; the idea of designing for observed behaviour rather than imposing strict architectures of control. This concept beautifully illustrates the fields of user centred design and lean startup. It’s also one of the pervading philosophies behind the web; that there is intelligence in the system, and it will find its way around any blockage. In the retail world, “cow paths” are also known as “desire lines”, and are used to maximise product exposure. In past talks I’ve used this example to explain why milk is always placed at the back of the store, and how casinos in Vegas are designed.


If desire lines can be seen as a highly optimised user journey, the “peak-end rule” is a similar short-cut our brains make for judging how we experience said journey. Research from the field of hedonic psychology has shown that we tend to judge an experienced based on two things; the intensity of the peak condition—positive or negative—and the end state. This is one reason why the most memorable customer experiences are often the result of something bad happening. We remember the intensity of the bad experience, plus the happiness caused by a positive outcome, and the differential between the two frames our perspective. That’s not to say that we should deliberately try to manufacture negative experiences. However it does suggest that people will judge experiences more favourably that have peaks and troughs of emotion, but ultimately end well, rather than an experience that was consistently good, but not noteworthy.


A related cognitive bias is the idea of “change blindness” as illustrated perfectly but the classic basketball video. Viewers are asked to count the number of times the basketball changes hands. So fixated are they on this task, a good proportion of viewers fail to spot the 100 pound gorilla in the room, both literally and figuratively. This goes to show that even when we think something obvious is happening with our designs, many of the people using our products literally don’t notice the things we’re carefully designed.

One tool to help craft these peak experiences is “The Kano Model”. This model classifies features into three different types; basic needs, performance pay-offs, and delights. I usually describe the Kano model in talks by using the analogy of a hotel. A hotel room just wouldn’t function without a bed, a door, access to a bathroom, electricity and a few other must have items. Theses are your MVP feature set. However in order to compete in a crowded market, you can add performance pay-off features like a bigger TV or after broadband. Over time, these nice-to-have features eventually become basic needs, which is why most MVP aren’t very minimal. It’s the third type of feature in the Kano model that interests interaction designers and product managers the most. The small additions which have an unusually sizeable effect. This could be the warm cookie waiting for you at check-in, the free bottle of champagne in your room, or something as simple as a handwritten note from the cleaning staff, letting you know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow.


All these items can be mapped as peaks on some form of journey map. They can also form part of the classic “hero’s journey”, another common trope. If you’ve not heard of the hero’s journey before, it’s essentially the idea that many well known stories follow a common archetype. Somebody is given a challenge, they set off on a journey, aided by a wise confident. They overcome a series of increasingly difficult challenges, only to return back to the start a changed person. Stories like the Hobbit and Star Wars follow the heroes journey closely, which is one of the reasons they have endured so well. Narrative storytelling is all the range in the interaction design world at the moment, in large part thanks to the work of content strategists. We’ve actually used the hero’s journey framework in the case studies on our new site, making sure to cast the client as the hero, rather than ourselves.


The preceding tropes are good, but I think my favourite one has to be Stewart Brand’s “Shearing Layers” diagram from his book, How Buildings Learn. The original diagram was used to demonstrate the different speeds at which buildings grown and evolve, as well as the friction caused between layers moving at different speeds. I tend to use this as a megaphone for organisations structure and learning. Add to this the idea of pioneers, m settlers and town-planners, and you have a powerful tool for describing why different teams, disciplines and functions within organisations often struggle to work together.


There are dozens of other common tropes I could mention here, like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the classic three ringed Venn diagram with whatever the speaker does shown in the middle, or the classic illustration depicting lean start-up by showing a product move from skateboard, to bike, to scooter, then finally ending up as a car. I won’t bore you with my thoughts on that particular diagram here. Suffice to say there are a lot of common trends repeating themselves in the speaker circuit, and for good reason. However if you’re goal is to present something new and original, it may be worth picking something slightly more obscure.

Common Conference Cliches

As well as picking up and using a common set of tropes over the past 12 years, I’ve also adopted common traits and behaviours from other speakers. Behaviours like asking the audience about their backgrounds, or whether anybody has heard about the topic you’re about to discuss. It’s a way of building rapport with your audience, while making yourself feel comfortable on stage. However as audiences become more savvy, asking questions like “who here has heard about Lean” becomes increasingly meaningless, especially when their response is unlikely to change the direction of your talk. I’ve witnessed several awkward moments where a speaker asked an audience if they knew about a certain thing—when they clearly did—only for that speaker to launch into a 10 minute scripted description of what that thing was, making everybody feel like they hadn’t been listened too.

A similar faux pas is spending a sizeable portion of a talk introducing who you are and where you come from. A little context can be helpful, but I once witnessed a speaker give a 15 minute bio of pretty much every job they had had in their career. By the time they reached the meat of their talk, they had completely lost the audience—in some cases literally as around 50 people had walked out. The frustrating thing is the rest of the talk was amazing, or at least what I saw of it was, as the speaker ran out of time and had to cut the bulk of the talk short.

In this case I suspect the speaker simply felt nervous and wanted to justify why they had earned the right to be on stage to the audience. However from the audiences perspective the speaker had already earned their place on the stage and were expanding on information that was already in there conference programme. So rather than being interesting or helpful, it actually came across as self indulgent and disrespectful of the audience’s time. From that point on I decided never to introduce myself on stage, assuming that if people were interested they would read the schedule or check out my online profile. I’d urge folks to do the same, although if explaining your background is important, a great way to do it is part way in. I call this “The Hollywood opener” as you throw your audiences right into there middle of the action, and only introduce them to the main character once they’re hooked.

Making the audience feel uncomfortable is never a good idea, so having an understanding about the audience and their culture really helps. I’ve seen plenty of amazing speakers have great success with audience participation on their home turf, getting folks to stand up, stretch, introduce themselves to their neighbours, or discuss something that’s challenging them at work. I’ve seen those same speakers crash and burn in more conservative regions, where force social interaction makes people feel awkward. One particularly uncomfortable incident featured an exuberant North American speaker, a room full of stoic Europeans, and a compulsion to high-five everybody in the front row.

Ironically I’ve also seen audience participation go too well, with speakers allocating 30 seconds to something that should actually take 5 minutes of more. In that situation the audience is having such a good time chatting to their neighbours, having the speaker cut them off to get back to the talk can actually be quite jarring and a little insensitive.

One of the most challenging forms of audience participation has to be the Q&A at the end of a talk. I’ve seen some fantastic Q&A session that were actually more insightful and interesting than the talks that preceded them. However I’ve also witnessed my fair share of awkward sessions where a shy audience is cajoled into asking meaningless questions, just to break the silence and make the speaker feel liked and appreciated. More often than not these Q&A sessions suck the energy out of a carefully scripted talk; like a Director being forced to explain the plot-points of a move once the credits have rolled. They also get in the way of the audience members getting coffee, grabbing some food, making an important call or a much needed comfort break. So can also be a source of discomfort to some. As such I think it’s better to finish a little early than force an unwanted Q&A session.

This brings me to my biggest bugbear of late—not least because I’ve used this one plenty of times myself. It’s people making THAT joke about being “The only thing between you and food/beer”. It was funny the first couple of times I saw a speaker say that, and its’ always resulted in a titter of approval when I’ve used that line myself. However at a recent conference I saw two consecutive speakers make exactly the same joke, to clearly diminishing returns. As such I think THAT joke has now jumped the shark, so I’m going to do my best to stop using it.


It’s worth noting that there’s nothing wrong with any of these talk tropes and conferences cliches in and of themselves. They all have value if used appropriately. As such there is no judgement on anybody using them. After all I’ve used most of them myself. Instead I present them to you more as an observation from years of conference speaking, attending and organising, in the hope that both new and experienced speakers find them interesting. What you do with the information, if anything, is up to you. However I thought it was worth adding that caveat as you know how touchy people on the Internet can be.I’d hate for anybody to overreact or anything like that :)

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Paying Speakers is Better for Everybody | August 16, 2013

When I attend a conference I’m not there for the food or the venue, I’m there for the content (and occasionally the after parties). So it amazes me that conference organisers typically pay for everything but the thing people are there to see. That’s right, despite the often high ticket costs, very few events pay for speakers for their time. I think this is bad for conference goers, event organisers, speakers and the industry as a whole. I’ll explain.

When speakers don’t get paid for their time it’s really hard to justify putting much effort into their talks. So I’ve been to plenty of conferences where speakers will rush their preparation, and end up delivering a mediocre performance. They’ll joke that they wrote the talk the evening before, and will duck out of the speakers dinner early to finish off their slides. This shows a certain amount of contempt for the audience, many of whom have had to fight for the budget to attend, or save up out of their own pocket. However it’s really not their fault. Even first time speakers are busy people and if you’re not able to justify spending the time to write, hone and practice your talk during working hours, the quality will suffer.

Another justified criticism I hear is that conferences are full of the same old voices. Interestingly enough I believe paying all of the speakers, and not just the experienced ones, would help balance this out. This is because many first time speakers give up after their first couple of attempts because they just don’t see the value in speaking. Maybe it took them much longer to write the talk than they expected and their work or home life suffered, or maybe the fame and fortune the conference organisers promised didn’t actually materialise. If potentially great new speakers don’t see the conference circuit and a viable and sustainable ecosystem, they just won’t partake. I think this is a potentially huge loss.

From the organisers perspective, conferences are very expensive, so if they can avoid any additional costs, they will. The venue, catering and AV team most definitely won’t work for free, but it’s relatively easy to convince a speaker to do this, so many of them will. The usual arguments are that the conference organisers aren’t making any money so why should the speakers? As a conference organiser myself, this argument doesn’t hold water for the reasons already stated. In relation to the other costs involved, speaker remuneration is actually very low, and I’m sure most attendees would be happy to pay an extra 10 or 20 to ensure the speakers had enough time to write their talks and deliver good content.

The other argument is that the speakers will be getting exposure and possible work. This may be true in a few instances, but I’ve never had anybody give me work as a direct result of a conference. I’m not saying it does’t happen, but it’s not as common as conference organisers would like you to expect. In fact this argument is a bit like sleazy movie moguls doing screen tests with young models for exposure and a shot at the big time a shot that rarely ever happens.

In truth, it takes a speaker at least a week to prepare a new talk, if not longer. You’ve then got to add on the time spent out of the office traveling to, and being at, the event. So even if you pay them $500 or $1,000 it’s unlikely they’ll be making a profit. It just makes it easier to justify the loss of income. As such the arguments around exposure should’t be used as an excuse not to pay, it’s just the icing on the cake if they do.

As an organiser I think paying speakers is actually a very good idea, whether they ask for it or not. This is because it changes the relationship from a voluntary one to a business one. When you’re not paying somebody you really can’t expect them to put a lot of effort into their talks, help you promote the event or respond to your emails quickly (a constant bugbear for organisers). However by paying speakers for services, you set up a different relationship and a level of expectation that makes your life easier and the quality of your event better. We’re not talking huge piles of cash in un-marked bills btw. Sometime a few hundred dollars or a voucher from Amazon is enough to make a speaker feel valued.

Now I’m not saying that speakers should always charge to speak. Far from it. There are plenty of situations where it’s not practical or even desirable, such as small local community events or the local University. There are also plenty of speakers who are paid by companies to speak as part of their jobs, so don’t expect payment. However if an event organiser is charging for attendance and paying other suppliers, I think it’s reasonable to expect to be treated similarly.

When you don’t pay your speakers, they will often try and get value back by other means like pitching their product, service or upcoming book. This is especially common in the tech and start-up arena where many of the speakers will be promoting their companies, looking for investment opportunities or attempting to hire. So I’m sure we’ve all sat through sessions which were essentially thinly veiled product pitches. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen when you pay people to speak, but it tends to be a lot less overt. Instead, folks tend to focus more on sharing useful content than gaining additional value.

On a broader level, I think conference organisers wield a huge amount of influence in our community and this sends the wrong message about the amount of value we put in a persons time and expertise. It’s basically saying that your experience is worthless and you should only get paid to push pixels or deliver code. This is the same problem I have with speculative design work, free “design competitions” and unpaid internships. So as community leaders I think it’s important for conference organisers to help define the industry they want to be part of, rather than simply save a few pounds because they know they can get away with it.

That being said, it’s also the responsibility of every speaker to ask for a fee and turn down the event if it’s not forthcoming, just as it’s your responsibility to be paid for your design work and turn down creative pitches if they don’t want to pay. If you don’t behave this way it’s not just yourself that you’re hurting, but every other speaker (or designer) out there. Conferenced can get away with not paying their speakers because speakers allow it to happen.

When I first started speaking it was very rare for people to actually offer to pay me to speak. However when I went back to conferences with a fee, they almost always agreed. At the very least it was the start of a negotiation. So I think speakers should be a little bolder and ask for speaker fees.

Ultimately I think the default setting should be for speakers to expect to be paid and for conference organiser to expect to be asked to pay. Not exactly a radical suggestion I’m sure you’d agree. This creates a market and helps ensure quality and longevity. As things currently stand, most conference organisers expect everybody except the biggest names to speak for free, and do a good job of making people feel guilty if they ask. Consequently only a few people jump the chasm to become “big names” and end up speaking at every conference under the sun.

Want more quality and diversity in your conferences? Pay your speakers.

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Why The Same Old Faces? | March 27, 2013

In an eailier post I discussed one reason why some people may perceive a lack of new faces on the speaker circuit namely that by the time you reach the point in your career where you’re being asked to speak at conferences, you will most likely have had so much exposure already that you’ll no longer feel like a new voice.

This being said, there is a small but growing number of people who are continually asked to write articles, comment on news stories or speak at conferences. Is this due to lazy editors and event curators, or due to the existence of an “old boys network” that aims to exclude outsiders in favour of it’s own?

While it’s easy to assume that the road is blocked by others, sadly the truth is usually more mundane. Being an awesome designer or developer doesn’t necessarily make you a great writer or speaker. I’ve met some truly outstanding practitioners who show almost no interest or ability in sharing their knowledge on the public stage. Conversely I’ve met plenty ofoften only slightly above averagedesigners and developers who have an amazing ability to tell stories and communicate ideas.

It turns out that the ability to inspire, inform and entertain is pretty rare, so is it any wonder why these people are approached time and again? In fact, wouldn’t it be a little strange if conference organisers and publishers routinely ignored people with a track record in favour of less experienced people?

It also turns out that being knowledgeable in a particular topic doesn’t make you automatically attractive to conferences and magazines. Especially if there are dozens of other people talking about the same thing. Being a recognised authority in a subject is attractive to commercial organisations as it helps increase sales and minimise risk. So it’s important to build a strong following, whether that’s because you were the first, the best or simply the most prolific. Self promotion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as long as it has some substance to back it up.

One reason for seeing the same old faces is because they are the ones offering to write content or speak at events. There seems to be an unhealthy belief that it’s solely the responsibility of publishers and conference organisers to discover talent. However that’s not true. It’s also down to the individuals to promote themselves, and some of the most recognisable faces happen to be the ones that put themselves out there time and again.

Reliability is another big factor here. One of the reasons I get asked to comment a lot in magazines is because I respond quickly and have something relevant to say. This feels like such a small thing, but if you’re working to a deadline and you know somebody is slow to respond and variable in quality, you’ll simply stop asking. We’ve had similar issues with speakers. You’ll set deadlines for speakers to send in bio information, provide talk descriptions and confirm flights. People are really busy these days so you have to make allowances, but if folks are continually late sending you information, you eventually stop asking, no matter how good they are.

These are just some of the many reasons why you see the same people cropping up time and again. It’s not that they are necessarily the best designers and developers out there, or that they have the most cutting edge things to say. It’s usually because they put themselves out there, can spin a good yarn, respond to their emails in a timely manner, consistently deliver the goods and a host of other pedestrian reasons.

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The Same Old Faces | January 17, 2013

I occasionally hear people grumbling on Twitter about the same old faces appearing in web design magazines and at conferences. As somebody who takes an active interest in nurturing new talent, Id hate to think we had a glass ceiling that prevented people from progressing in our industry.

With the ubiquity of self-publishing tools and grass roots events, it certainly doesnt feel like there are any major impediments to getting your message out. In fact Id say it was easier to share your knowledge today, than at any time in history.
Maybe this is the problem? There are just so many people sharing that its becoming impossible to get heard? Pundits in the music industry argue that todays networked society makes another Elvis or Michael Jackson an impossibility. Instead were entering into a world of musical diversity.

I think this argument holds some water. After all the networked society favours people with the biggest networks, and one way to do this is to have been there from the start. Starting conditions mater and various scientific experiments have shown that the artists at top of a randomised list end up becoming dominant, irrespective of the quality of their work.

The funny thing is that Im constantly reading articles or sitting in conferences listening to people Id not heard of 2-3 years ago, and the things they have to say are pretty good.
I think a lot of this has to do with the perception of time on the Internet. It can take years for people to graduate from writing a few blogs posts to taking their first steps on stage. By the time this happensif youve been paying attentionthey already feel like one of the usual suspects.

Interestingly Ive had conversations with at least 3 speakers who on their second or third talk ever, were already being lumped in with the same old faces. Ive seen this happen many more time, so it would seem that you really cant win.

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A few of my favorite talks throughout the years | December 5, 2012

Design for Start-ups at Pioneers Festival 2012

Beyond the Mobile Goldrush at iakonferenz 2011

Persuasive Design: Encouraging Your Users To Do What You Want Them To! at IceWeb 2010

Seductive Design from Build 2009

Designing the User Experience Curve at FOWD 2008

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love SXSW | March 17, 2011

I’ve been coming to SXSW for 7 years and I’ve seen it change from a small and intimate event to the tech sector’s equivalent of Glastonbury. Back then bloggers were king and CSS2.1 was the hot technology of the day. Today the conference has gone from 2,500 people to an astonishing 25,000. Blogging is considered old hat, and the new tech superstars are the start-up founders, the professional publishers and the best selling authors. Think Gowalla, Mashable and Shirky rather than Zeldman, Bowman and Veen.

The marketing world has finally realised the importance of the web and SXSW was awash with “social media experts” wanting to learn what the designers and developers have known for some time. 2011 was also the year that corporate America arrived at SXSW in the form of the Pepsi lot, the CNN cafe and the Playstation Lounge. As such, it would be easy to say that SXSW has jumped the shark.

In reality in think SXSW jumped the shark in 2008/09 and is now an entirely different conference. It’s just taken me a couple of years to reconcile the difference and develop a new set of coping strategies.

This year I finally gave up on the conference itself, going to a handful of sessions. I met many more who hadn’t seen a single session and several who didn’t even bother buying a ticket. Instead people spent time seeing friends and maintaining the weak ties in their social graph. I say that somewhat wryly, but SXSW really has become about networking in the most real and genuine sense of the word.

Gone are the days when people would congregate in the hallways after sessions and head out in search of food on mass. Instead I ended up organising lunches and dinners in advance to make sure that I got to spend quality time with the people I most cared about. I also sacked off most of the big parties, preferring to head to a local pub that my generation of SXSW attendees had adopted as a temporary home.

It would seem that SXSW is no longer a single conference, but a collection of overlapping events. You have the start-up kids and the VCs sniffing round them in search of the next big thing, the marketers and social media experts pimping out their wares to all who will listen, and the big agencies trying (and generally failing) to position themselves alongside the cool kids.

Amazingly, the organisers have somehow succeeded in keeping all these distinct groups separate. So I was able to bump into friends in the hallways while avoiding the slew of booth babes in comically tight fitting tops trying to pimp products they new little about. This latest addition to SXSW was actually pretty unpleasant and it’s the one thing I’d call the organisers out on.

The sessions were of typically average quality. However this is to be expected when you mix popularity driven selection with the belief that speaking at SXSW will benefit your career. As such it would seem that the bulk of the talks we designed to get selected rather than deliver value to the audience. That being said, there was a lot less variance in quality this year. More solo presentations and fewer panels meant that I didn’t see anything at truly sucked (except perhaps the battle decks session). The good things is that I didn’t really mind. SXSW is no longer about the panels for me. They are literally the framework around which interesting conversations happen.

On the whole I had an absolutely lovely time at SXSW this year. I had a wonderful lunch with a group of agency founders I’ve long respected, the Great British Booze-up was back in full force and turned out to be one of the most convivial events of the season, and Media Temple pulled out all the stops at their closing party by booking the Foo Fighters to perform to an intimate crowd. I got to spend quality time with a bunch of nice people like Dave Gray, Kevin Hoffman, Ms Jen, Ben Ward, Mike Stenhouse, Josh Porter and Stephen P Anderson, along with more fleeting exchanges with a few dozen more.

It wasn’t the best SXSW since 2005’ as my friend Derek Fatherstone suggested. However it ranks pretty highly and I definitely had the nicest time for a good few years. So thanks Hugh, Shawn and the gang. Hope to see you next year.

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10 tips for public speaking | March 10, 2011

If you’re going to be speaking at a conference soonfor instance SXSWhere are my top 10 tips.

  1. Start with a story (but not your life story).
  2. Aim high and leave them wanting more.
  3. Entertain, inspire and educate (in that order).
  4. One concept per slide.
  5. Pictures not bullets.
  6. Talk to your audience not at them.
  7. Use the stage but don’t pace.
  8. It’s all about pacing (different kind cheeky) and delivery, so practice.
  9. Dress slightly smarter than your audience (the Veen rule).

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Clearleft offers free training to budding conference speakers | February 3, 2010

In order to get more people in the design scene speaking at events like SillSwap, BarCamp and even dConstruct or UX London, I’ve been toying with the idea of organising a free public speaking course. It would be held on a yet-to-be-determined Saturday at the Clearleft offices in Brighton and would focus on practical, hands-on tuition.

We would start with how to plan, research and design a talk that delights your audience, paying special attention to story telling and narrative. We would then move onto the delivery and performance side of things; teaching people how to project their voice, vary their tone, use the stage and work the audience. It’s all basic stuff, but it’s these rookie errors that can damage an otherwise excellent presentation.

To ensure everybody gets the individual attention they need, the even will be for a limited number of people. I’m not sure how many yet, but probably no more than 12. Everybody will be expected to present a short practice talk and we’ll video each session so the attendees see how they improve over the day. So they’ll be no tourists.

This workshop will be aimed at people who are really keen on breaking into the conference speaking circuit and need some coaching and improvement. So it’s not for folks who want to brush up on their general speaking skills.

In order to select the best candidates I’m asking that people record a short 5 min presentation, post it up on Vimeo and then add the link in the comments below. If you could add a little background info as well, that would be great.

We’re not looking for super slick presentations, or the folks that need the most help. Instead we’re looking for people with an interesting message and a passion for what they do. Oh, and at the risk of being charged with positive discrimination, if there are two equally strong candidates and one comes from an under represented segment in the web community, we’ll invite them first.

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More on the sorry state of web design education | December 2, 2009

Yesterday I documented my thoughts and observations on the standard of digital design education. From talking to current and recent students I’ve shared their frustrations as they bemoan being taught out-of-date technologies by lecturers far removed from the daily practices of design. Through visiting degree show I’ve witnessed a slew of substandard work caused by an over reliance of tool based education and a lack of design thinking ( If I witness one more Flash portfolio in the shape of a designers studio I think I’m going to cry.) So where does this problem arise from and what can be done?

It’s true that the web is still in it’s infancy and the profession doesn’t have the heritage of architecture or product design. However the web isn’t as young as it used to be and change happens a lot slower than we’d like to think. I’ve been pushing web standards for nearly a decade, yet we’re only now starting to see wide spread adoption. Sure, HTML5 and CSS3 are bleeding edge at the moment, but it’s going to take a good 3-5 years before they gain widespread adoption in the industry, so there’s plenty of time for Universities and Colleges to adapt.

I think one of the biggest problems stems from the faculty members themselves. In the early days people didn’t know what to do with web courses so gave them to the departments that resembled them best; computer science, graphic design, library sciences or HCI. Each department bought their own spin and their own set of prejudices and pre-conceptions. If you want to teach front end development, don’t give the course to a Java developer. Similarly, if you want to teach web design, don’t run the course out of the graphic design department. They may share similar DNA, but the differences are a lot stronger than they may first appear.

We need design courses to be taught by web designers. It’s as simple as that. So we need to remove these courses from the auspices of other departments and give them the room they need to breath. Much like architecture or product design, It’s a multi-disciplinary subject that needs to be taught my multi-disciplinary teams; interaction designer, front end developers and usability specialists.

For this to work we need buy-in from the Universities and a strong, charismatic course director to drive their vision through. A fantastic example of such a person is Liz Dansico, the force behind the new Interaction Design MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I had the honour of speaking to some of Liz’s students last week and I have to say that I was truly impressed. Liz has managed to pull together an amazing faculty which includes Jeffrey Zeldman, Robert Fabricant, Jason Santa Maria, Christopher Fahey and Khoi Vinh to name just a few. The week I was there she had Matt Mullenweg and Scott Berkin present to her class while the week before Jason Fried gave a talk. This is a line-up worthy of any industry conference. To have these people as your lecturers is outstanding.

What we need to do is encourage more practitioners into design education and encourage more design educators to continue their practice. Rather than having their own education stall at the point they enter the teaching profession, we need to encourage lecturers to keep up-to-date with the latest trends and techniques. This can be done by keeping abreast of books and blogs, by going to community events and by securing enough budget to attend industry conferences. We also need to encourage some of the great designers in our industry to take up teaching posts. In short, we need educators who are leaders rather than followers.

A great example of this are Web Standardistas Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson. These guys lecture on interaction design at the University of Ulster in Belfast. As well as writing a best selling book on standards based design they speak at conferences, organise community events and generally act as part of the glue that keeps our web community together.

Similar inspirational educators do exist, but they’re often poorly supported by their institutions and fairly thin on the ground. People I know doing good work include Dan Dixon at the Bristol Institute of Technology who I first met at London BarCamp and who regularly organises a web design conference for the students on his course. Or you have people like Leslie Jensen Inman from the University of Tennessee who is one of the driving forces behind the WASP Educational Task Force. We even have a few people from the school system like David Smith from St Paul’s School, London, who we first met at Reboot and who teaches his 14 year olds how to hardware hack on Arduino.

So what can be done?

In the medium term (2-3years) what I’d like to see is an inspirational course director get the backing of a respected University and given the remit (and budget) to put together a world leading curriculum. I’d like to see them assemble an amazing faculty passionate lecturers and industry experts in an amazing location and attract some of the most promising students around. Due to the density of local talent I think London is a logical place, although Brighton and Bristol run a close second. With a model to follow and something to strive for I imagine this would encourage other establishments to follow, in order to gain the respect and kudos this kind of excellence brings.

In the shorter term, I think we need to bring together some of these pockets of excellence and open up a discussion on the subject. It’s early days yet but I’ve already starting talking to the web standardistas about the possibility of arranging some kind of meet-up. We’d need facilities and preferably some sponsorship. But most of all we’d need a small but passionate group of people who are interested in changing the quality of design education in the UK for the better. I’d be interested to hear what you think and whether you feel that you fall into this category.

Over to you!

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The Sorry State of Web Design Education | December 2, 2009

A couple of weeks ago Wired Sussex invited me to a debate on the standard of design education in the UK. Being a topic incredibly close to my heart I literally jumped at the chance to participate. In order to create a sense of drama, the event pitted three designers against three educators in a heated and passionate discussion on the quality of design education in our industry.

I started by citing the recent ALA survey which showed that only half of the people polled felt that education was relevant to their work. For such a highly skilled profession, this is pretty shocking. However it’s understandable when you consider that most mid-to-senior level practitioners don’t hold a relevant degree as such things didn’t exist when they entered the profession. What really struck me was the response from those aged 19 and younger, 75% of whom felt education had little or no value. The statistics would seem to indicate that the education system is failing people at the point of their lives when it matters the most. From my own anecdotal experience I’d have to agree.

For the last 18 months Clearleft has been running an internship program to give young designers the practical experience they need. During that time I’ve interviewed dozens of people and the stories are almost always the same. Passionate designers and developers trapped in outdated courses where they often end up knowing more than their lecturers. One such student writes…

“The course is mainly just covering everything I have already taught myself. I’ve talked to my lecturers about this but none of them have worked in the industry, (worryingly) some are teaching themselves the stuff we are meant to be learning as they go so that they can teach us. “

Sadly, rather than being an anomaly, these type of comments have become par for the course. Consequently I’m seeing more and more young people eschew higher education in favour of the workplace. As somebody who understands the value of good education and looks back on their University times fondly, I think this is a sorry state of affairs.

So what has gone wrong? Well, for a start I see a lot of generic “web design” courses placing too much attention on tools and technology. Rather than teaching people Flash, Photoshop and Dreamweaver, we need to teach design fundamentals like grid layouts, typography and colour theory. We need to create students that are connected to the medium and have an understanding of the provenance of their craft; students who are schooled in critical thinking, who can deconstruct ideas, analyse briefs, solve problems and critique solutions. Just because you’re a digital designer doesn’t mean everything has to be digital, so we need people who can sketch out concepts, articulate their reasoning and defend their decisions both written and verbally.

In short we need to create good, well rounded designers.

Now I know we can do this as I’ve seen it happen in other areas. The UK has some of the top fashion schools in the world, producing graduates of outstanding calibre. We’ve got graphic design schools staffed by some of the top names in the industry, and product design schools creating our next generation of innovators. So why don’t we seem able to do the same for the world of interaction design?

More on this and other subjects soon.

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dConstruct Time Capsule Project Win VIP Tickets! | August 7, 2009

The theme for dConstruct this year is “designing for tomorrow”. This got us thinking about what cultural objects or experiences may not be around in the future. The kind of things that future digital archeologists may uncover and showcase in museums or write hypothesis about their place in naughties culture.

We had our own ideas, ranging from obvious things like Twitter, Facebook and the iPhone, to slightly more obscure things like the mass of wires and adapters than plague our digital lives, or the fact that you have to carry a piece of card on a train to prove your right to travel. However we wanted to hear from you, so we started the dConstruct Time Capsule Project.

The idea is simple. Grab a photo of an interesting object, experience or cultural phenomenon and post it up to flicker with the tag dconstructcapsule.

As an extra special inducement, the best submission will win a VIP ticket to dConstruct, which includes 2 nights free accommodation in our speakers hotel, along with attendance to the exclusive speakers dinner.

To interrogate your flicker feed or grab your camera and start snapping.

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dConstruct Tickets on sale from 11am Monday | June 20, 2009

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to set your alarms or calendar notifications as tickets for dConstruct go on sale this Monday at 11am. As always we’ve scoured the world to bring you an amazing line-up of speakers. People who educated, entertained and inspired us over the last couple of years.

We’ve got insightful speakers like Adam Greenfield, author of “Everyware”, talking about ubiquity and location, or Russell Davies from Wired Magazine talking about the rise in post digital culture. We’ve got entertaining and educational sessions like Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel’s excellent talk about interaction paradigms in science fiction movies. And dConstruct wouldn’t be complete without it’s share of practical sessions like Brian Fling’s talk and subsequent workshop on designing for the mobile Internet.

But it doesn’t stop there. We’ve got a fantastic line-up of workshops this year with topics like jQuery for Designers, HTML5 and CSS3 Wizardry and the sure to be popular Internet of Things Master Class.

As you know, tickets for dConstruct are always popular and tend to sell out fast. So tie a not in your hankie, clear your schedule for the morning and secure your tickets before it’s too late.

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Conferencing part 2 - SXSW | April 1, 2009

Every year SXSW takes on a slightly new dimension so it’s never the same experience twice. Change is inevitable and I always have a good time at the event. However I always find myself harking back to years gone by. I guess that’s age for you.

This year attendance had grown by around 30%, and numbers fluctuated between 6,000 and 12,000 depending on who you spoke to. One things was certain thoughit was big. With 20 tracks spread over three floors of the conference centre and expanding into the Hilton, SXSW obviously hasn’t been affected by the current economic climate. In fact I’d say that it’s probably benefited from it. After all, it’s pretty cheap for a 5 day event.

This year over 300 Brits attended, which was a big increase from the dozen or so who made it over in 2005. At times it was like a Friday down the pub in Brighton, being surrounded by so many UK friends. I’m not complaining, but I did find myself hanging out with the Brits far too much. I can now see why the San Franciscans always end up moving around in tribes. It’s not through cliqueness. It’s just very difficult not to, especially if you’re showing people the ropes for the first time.

The sessions themselves were predictably average, bar a few notable exceptions. Author and previous dConstruct keynoter, Steven Johnson, gave an impassioned speech about the state of the newspaper industry, mirroring my thoughts a lot more eloquently. The session from the Obama design team was excellent, not least because they mentioned using Silverback during the campaign. I also really enjoyed Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel’s talk on sexual interfaces in science fiction, aptly named make it so. The Zappos keynote was predictably good, as was Chris Anderson on the price of free. However the surprise stand-out this year seems to have been our very own Paul Annett, who gave a talk on design delighters called Ooh, that’s clever.

The Great British Booze-up was back for a third year, this time sponsored by Boagworld, NakLab and ourselves. It’s always an honour to see so many of our friends in one place so I’m just sorry I didn’t get a chance to speak to you all. As with previous years, the value of SXSW was more about the socialising that it was with the sessions. Speaking to the UK Trade and Industry digital mission the day before things kicked off I spelled this out, explaining that SXSW was a place to meet people and make long term connections rather than sign deals. That being said, SXSW was a lot more businessy than previous years and was awash with social media consultants peddling their wares.

Cogaoki was my favourite party, followed closely by the closing shindig from the guys at Media Temple. I also had a fun evening out on the RVIP Bus which was strangely sponsored by by fellow panel members. Definitely a novel way of driving people to our session, although I’m not sure how much affect it actually had.

SXSW for me is always about seeing old friends and making new ones. It really is the Glastonbury of Geek. Big, noisy and overwhelming, but nevertheless fun. Each year I say I probably won;t go back the next year, yet 6 months later I can’t wait for March to come round. Let’s see what happens in 2010.

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Conferencing part 1 - ETech | March 27, 2009

As you’re no doubts aware I’m an unabashed conference junky, so it will come as no surprise to you that I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in the States attending three such events.

First up was ETech, the emerging technology conference from O’Reily. Moved from it’s spiritual home in San Diego, this year it was help in the Chino wearing capitol of Silicon Valley, San Jose. The event was much smaller than last year and the tone was somewhat downbeat. However I don’t think this was necessarily down to the economy as a lot of people were speculating. ETech is an amazing place to showcase new technologies and is where start-ups like Flickr made their debut. However if there are no new breakthroughs on the horizon, the events obviously lacks its reason d’etra. I think that was the case this year.

As with the previous year, there was a lot of green technology being discussed, which led one attendee to suggest that it be renamed GreenTech. There was also a lot of ubicomp stuff like the lovingly realised siftables which made a big splash at TED. I definitely have to get hold of when they launch. O’Reily bought along their Maker Shed and I was tempted to buy a whole stack of tech to take back to Clearleft with me. Home assemble robot kits and botalicals arduino kits that will Twitter when your plants need watering. Sadly the weak pound put a stop to that.

One of my favourite talks was a session from Nick Bilton of the New York Times innovation labs. Nick showed some really interesting examples of the thinking going on behind the scenes at the NYTimes, including a lovely demo of a digital newspaper format that completely changed layout, image style and content density depending on the size of the device being used.

However the stand-out talk for me had to be a session on the info you can learn from monitoring GPS data, which turns out to be a lot. By mapping users GPS date onto census and commercial activity data, Sense Networks were able to deduce exactly what type of person a particular subject was and the percentage chance where they would be at any given time. By using a sort of Geo Page Rank algorithm they could look at the kind of place you had arrived from, the kind of place you had let to and by that deduce the kind of place you were at. They would then use cluster analysis to match you with similar types of people, thus defining you as a member of a particular type of tribe.

Sadly the current use was rather pedestrian, taking GPS data from marketing companies to deduce the type of people going to different types of bars to enable more accurate targeting. However the business opportunities were huge, and I could easily see the creation of some kind of Geo Google. On a very prosaic level you could create an amazing, geo-aware dating app that would let you know if you were in the same location as other people like you, and then facilitate you hooking up. A mundane use, but one that could prove popular and make a mint.

Apart from those two sessions I thought the rest of the presentations were rather weak, like an edition of Wired magazine in a month where nothing much had happened. My feeling that ETech was in a holding pattern this year, waiting on the next big thing to emerge. When it does, ETech will no doubt be at the front of the queue. However I’m not sure Ill be rushing back next year as it’s all somewhat out of my domain. One for the Friends of O’Reily I think.

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9 Ways to Stop Your SXSW Panel From Sucking | February 24, 2009

Each year, hundreds of assorted geeks will get the chance to speak on a panel at SXSW, many for the first time. I’ve witnesses some truly inspiring and thought provoking sessions at SXSW. However I’ve also had to sit through my share of turkeys, from the mind numbingly boring to the painfully embarrassing. So here are my top 9 ways to stop your panel sucking.

  1. Keep your introductions short and sweet. Nobody wants to hear your life story.
  2. Create drama. Panels suck if everybody agrees, so don’t be afraid to argue.
  3. Plan your panels in advance. Don’t tell your audience you met for the first time that morning.
  4. Alternatively keep it spontaneous. Don’t tell your audience about the great discussion you had over breakfast.
  5. Make your responses snappy. Don’t hog the mic and don’t waffle.
  6. Don’t try to be be smart, cute or wacky if you’re none of those things.
  7. Be interesting. Try to entertain and inspire as much as educate.
  8. Keep the pace going. A good panel will live and die by it’s moderator.
  9. Audience questions need to be short and to the point. Cut people off if you need to.

As I’m on a panel for the first time this year (I normally do presentations) hopefully I’ll heed my own advice and manage not to suck.

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UX London book competition | February 9, 2009

Register now for the chance to win a mountain of UX Books, signed just for you!

Thats right. If you register for UX London before the Early Bird ticket deadline of 25th February, well enter you into a free prize draw to win a stack of books by the speakers at UX London. Whats more, all the books will be signed by the authors themselves and contain a personalised dedication just for you. So youll be able to show off your signed copy of Don Normans Design of Everyday Things to all your mates in the office, complete with an inscription saying that you taught him everything he knows*.

Just register before the end of the early bird discount period on the 25th February and youll automatically be entered into the prize draw. To do this, either buy your ticket by credit card or complete the invoice form. This applies to those of you who have already registered too.

So what are you waiting for?

*Inscriptions may vary ;-)

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CSS Mastery Workshop in April | February 5, 2009

Just a quick note to let you know I’ll be running a public CSS Mastery workshop in Brighton on the 16th June. It’s going to be based on revised material for my book, so you’ll be amongst the first to sample it.

Hope to see a few of you there.

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UX London Registration Launches | January 2, 2009

Ticket sales for UX London launched today so I thought I’d take this opportunity to outline what we’re trying to achieve with this event.

A lot of industry conferences are what I’d describe as “talking heads” events, where well known speakers stand up for an hour and give the audience a big does of inspiration. I love these type of events and this is essentially what we do at dConstruct. I always come away with a head full of ideas and an a renewed interest in my profession.

The one criticism I hear is that, while these events are inspiring, you don’t usually end up learning new skills. I think a lot of people blame the speakers or conference organisers for this, but I actually think it’s down to the format. With just 45 minutes of productive speaking time and an audience of wildly differing needs and abilities, It’s just not possible to teach anything substantive.

So with UX London we’re trying to change that. Rather than a straight up conference, UX London is much more about professional development. Sure we’re going to have a conference track with inspiring speakers like Don Norman and Jeff Veen. However we’re then going to break off into two days of intense, half day workshops, where you can really start to focus on those hard skills.

There will be three workshop tracks at the event: “Core Skills” for people transitioning into a UX role, “Advanced Skills” for those people wanting to hone their knowledge, and a “Strategy and Management” track for people running UX teams and needing to sell the benefits of UX to their clients and managers. So you’ll get to learn practical tips and techniques from the likes of Peter Merholz, Luke Wroblewski, Dan Saffer and Jared Spool.

We’re putting the finishing touches to the program right now, but workshops so far include:
* Influencing Strategy Through Design
* Brainstorming and Concept Generation
* Design Research
* Quick Sketching for Interaction Design
* Information Architecture Essentials
* Copywriting and the Scent of Information
* Interactive Wireframing
* Getting Real with Agile Design
* Managing a Team of UX Professionals

As you can see from the program, this event is aimed more towards the corporate end of the spectrum. So people working for organisations like the BBC and design agencies like LBi as well as individual consultants. Of course we hope to have all kinds of people attending, but we realise not everybody will be able to afford the ticket price. That’s why we’re still committed to bringing you great speakers at events like dConstruct.

On the subject of price, I just wanted to assure people that this isn’t an attempt to “cash in” (those of you who know us know that we’re not particularly profit motivated, much to the disappointment of our families). In fact, this event is costing so much money I doubt we’ll make a profit this year. London hotels, top name speakers and three days of catering don’t come cheap. Instead our goal is to bring over some of the best known speakers in the industry and have them share their knowledge. By doing so we hope to build the European UX community and help raise the level of education in our industry as a whole. That way we all win.

At a cost of 895 this event may still seem expensive to some. However it’s actually no more than going to the dConstruct conference and both workshop days. We’ve simply decided to do it as one fixed price rather than break it down into it’s constituent parts. That way we can keep that sense of shared experience.

I know I’m really excited about the event and I hope you are too. We’ve gone to great pains to bring together what we think is the perfect line-up. Sort of a fantasy league UX conference. I’ve already got my eye on the workshop sessions I want to attend, assuming I’m not running round like a mad person organising things. I’m also very excited by the conference sessions we’ve got planned, so look forward to making more announcements in the coming weeks.

So if you want to stay up-to-date with all the latest UX London happenings, why don’t you subscribe to our events feed or our Twitter account.

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Big In Japan | September 10, 2008

So I’m very excited (and a little bit scared) to be speaking at Web Directions East in Tokyo this November. I’ve never been to Japan before, but it’s somewhere I’ve always dreamt of going. I’ve got around 10 days to explore, so would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and recommendations.

I obviously want to see Downtown Tokyo, including all the crazy Otaku haunts. I’m not one for Karaoke but definitely want to check out a cosplay bar or two! And before you ask, no I won’t be dressing up as my favourite manga character! I’m also keen to do a spot of “Lost in Translation” sightseeing as I kinda like the movie. Maybe just grabbing a drink at the hotel bar. Daft I know.

I’m equally keen to get out of Tokyo and explore the more traditional side of Japan. I’ve been a big fan of the rural, feudal face of Japan ever since seeing Shogun with Richard Chamberlain on TV in the 80s and then discovering the joy of Akira Kurosawa while at school. So any tips for traditional places to visit or stay would be most welcome. Oh, and I’m wondering if I’ll have time to see Mount Fuji and if in fact, it’s worth the trip.

So suggestions on a postcard please.

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dConstruct Tickets Are Go! | June 24, 2008

Just a quick note that tickets for dConstruct 2008 went on sale at 11am BST this morning. It’s now 2:30pm and we’ve got around 135 tickets left. We’ve got some great people like Steven Johnson, Daniel Burka and Joshua Porter speaking this year, so it should be a lot of fun. So if you want to come along I recommend popping along now to secure your ticket.

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Win a Free Ticket to dConstruct | June 13, 2008

To win a free ticket to dConstruct simply grab the code for one of our customisable buttons, add your own image and upload it to your website. Next, take a screen grab of your button and post it to our flicker group. The best button posted added by the evening of the 30th June, as voted by ourselves, will win a complimentary pass to the event. It’s as simple as that.

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dConstruct Workshops | June 13, 2008

As well as a great line-up of speakers we’ve got some amazing workshops at this year’s dConstruct. We only launched them a couple of days ago, but several of them are already half full, so we expect them to sell out a lot faster than they did last year. I think people have realised that the workshops are one of the best was to guarantee a place at dConstruct, which typically sells out in under 24 hours. However I think it’s mostly down to the fantastic people we’ve got running these workshops. It’s just a shame that I can’t see them all!

First up we have Lane Becker, Thor Muller and Leslie Chicoine from Get Satisfaction running a session on building and managing online communities. They will cover everything from the effect design can have on community growth and behaviour, through to community managers and dealing with unhappy campers.

Following on from this we have Daniel Burka and Mark Trammell from Digg on how to scale your designs when your community becomes a success. Daniel and Mark will look at things like performance tips, designing for unknown numbers of users and how to grow your site over time. If you’re involved in developing or managing social networks of any size or scale, these two workshops will be a perfect accompaniment.

For the more user experienced focused we have an excellent workshop from Joshua Porter on how to design sites that encourage social participation by using the insights we’ve learned from social psychology. Drawing from year of experience as a consultant at UIE and his amazing new book, Designing for the Social Web, this is the workshop you’ll find me hiding in the back of.

Last, but most definitely not least, our very own Richard Rutter and James Box will build on the excellent session they gave at SXSW and run a workshop on the practical aspects of architecting social websites. More specifically, how we can create wireframes and interactive prototypes in a world that has moved away from static pages and towards fully featured online applications.

So if you want to come to one of these workshops I’d defiantly recommend getting over there now, before it’s too late!

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dConstruct 2008 FTW! | June 6, 2008

If you haven’t already heard, we quietly launched the dConstruct 2008 website at the start of the week. So if you’ve not seen the latest incarnation yet, I suggest you pop along to take a look.

The conference itself will be take place on Friday the 5th of September, back at the
Dome in sunny Brighton. And like last year, we’ll be hosting a series of practical workshops in the run-up to the event.

Rather than putting on the same show with the same people year after year, we try to mix things up by focussing on a specific theme. One that we feel sums up the current industry (buzzword alert) zeitgeist. So in previous years we’ve covered the meaning of web 2.0 (it’s the sound of one hand clapping), the importance of open data and the art of experience design. This year we’ve decided to turn our attention to the social web.

We’ve got an amazing line-up of speakers this year, all of whom will be asking the question ‘what makes the web social?’ We’ve got author, web entrepreneur and veteran TED speaker, Steven Johnson, kicking things off with a wide-ranging discourse on how communities form and ideas spread. We’ve got Guardian podcaster Aleks Krotoski looking at the psychology of game play while the Internet’s Joshua Porter will show us how these theories can be applied to the web. Using his experience working on Digg and Pownce, Daniel Burka will explain how we can use design for social interaction while limiting negative behaviour, while Tantek Çelik will examine the growing importance of social network portability. We’ve then got the guys from Dopplr showing how they brought all these ideas together to form a complete ecosystem of feeds, widgets and APIs. Wrapping the day up we have our very own Jeremy Keith with a high-brow look at what it means to be social in an always-on, networked world. Expect lots of big words and event bigger concepts.

Of course it’s not all talk, talk, talk. The hallway conversations are just as important as the sessions, so you’ll have plenty of time to meet your fellow delegates and chat with the speakers. As well as nice long breaks we’ve got two great parties full of networking (aka drinking) opportunities. Incidentally we’re still finalising sponsorship, so if your company wants to buy everybody beer, please let me know.

The event has got a lot bigger and (hopefully) better organised since the first one we ran in a converted church hall back in 2005. However we still strive to maintain that community spirited, grassroots feel we’ve come to be known for. dConstruct is all about the people, so we hope you’ll help get the word out by posting buttons on your site and blogging about the event.

As you’re probably aware dConstruct is hugely popular and tickets sell out in a matter of hours. Tickets go on sale from 11am on Tuesday the 24th June and are a snip at £125 inc. VAT. So if you want to come along I recommend you set a reminder in your diary, cancel your meetings and get your browsers at the ready. Either that or subscribe to our events feed ☺

And if you just can’t wait to buy a ticket, there is a sneaky way to jump the queue. We’ll be opening registration for our workshops next week, and each attendee gets complimentary entrance to the conference as well. Neat huh?

So I hope you’re all as excited about the event as we are and I look forward to seeing you in Brighton in September.

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Mental Models Workshop with Indi Young | April 25, 2008

If you don’t know Indi Young, she’s one smart cookie. As one of the co-founders of Adaptive Path she spent 5 years working alongside the likes of Jeff Veen, Dan Saffer and Peter Merholtz on a variety of diverse and challenging projects. Indi left Adaptive Path in 2006 to work on her new book, Mental Models, which was recently published by Rosenfeld Media. We got a copy in the office a few months back and haven’t put it down since.

The book is about user centred design, but it takes a much more scientific approach than most. By looking at the field of cognitive psychology, Indi has developed a series of mental models which help explain typical user behaviour. By understanding these models and designing around then, it’s possible to create more effective, satisfying and meaningful experiences. Experiences that match the users goals with the goals of the site or service.

Indi dropped us a line the other week to say she was heading over to the UK in June. We couldn’t let the opportunity go to waste so we twisted her arm to come down to Brighton and run a workshop. If you’re interested in information architecture, usability and user centred design you really don’t want to miss this workshop. We’ve only got a limited number of tickets and I think they are going to go fast. So I highly recommend you grab a place while you can.

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World Tour | March 25, 2008

Somewhat unintentionally I seem to have arranged what almost amounts to a world tour over the next couple of months.

Things kick off in London with the Future of Web Apps on the 17-18th April. My half day Guerrilla Usability Testing Workshop has proved particularly popular and I was just informed this morning that the session has sold out.

I’m then flying out to New Zealand to do a series of full day usability workshops with those lovely guys from Webstock. I’ll be starting in Auckland on the 5th May, then flying down to Wellington for the 8th May, before finishing up in Christchurch on the 12th. I’ve never been to the North Island before, but absolutely love NZ, so am really looking forward to it. Incidentally Tantek will be reprising the sell out workshop he first debuted at dConstruct last year the day after my sessions, so well worth checking out.

I’m then hot-footing it over to Melbourne to speak at the newly formed Web Directions South: UX on the 15-16th. The line-up for the conference looks amazing so it’s a must for all antipodean user experience practitioners out there. I’ll be doing a session titled Designing the User Experience Curve and a full day workshop on — you guessed it — Guerrilla Usability Testing.

I was supposed to be hopping over the pacific for @media SF on the 22nd May but sadly the event has now been postponed. Instead I’ll be heading back home to feed my plants and do a spot of laundry before An Event Apart Boston.

AEA Boston is set for the 23rd-24th June and has an all star cast including Jared Spool, Jeff Veen and Doug Bowman to name but three. Jeffrey and Eric always put on a fine show so I’d highly recommend going. And to sweeten the pot a little, quote the following code when booking and you’ll get $50 off the ticket price. Now don’t say I never get you anything.


All that travelling should leave me feeling pretty jet lagged, not to mention putting a big dent in my Edenbee profile. So time to plant some trees and look into other ways to reduce the environmental impact of my flights. Now if somebody would just organise a conference that didn’t involve air travel, that would be great.

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SXSW 2008 | January 20, 2008

So time is ticking along and SXSW 2008 is almost upon us. As each week passes I learn of more friends going, and the excitement is starting to build. It seems like half of Brighton will be over in Austin this year, so I’m looking forward to introducing a whole new generation of Brits to the craziness that it SXSW.

To celebrate, Clearleft, Carsonified and Boagworld will be hosting the second annual Great British Booze-up on Monday the 10th of March. Kicking off at 7:30pm in the Shakespeare’s Pub on E 6th Street, there’ll be FREE food, FREE booze and an all British soundtrack. It’s a great opportunity for all the Brit’s at Southby to get-together with their Americans chums for a traditional British knees-up. Warm beer and pork scratchings optional.

Last year’s event was a lot of fun, and loads of people said it was their favourite party of conference. So much so, we’ve actually become an official SXSW event this year. With that in mind, if you want to come along, please make sure you get there early as places are strictly limited and the food and booze won’t last for ever. Once the beer finally runs out, we’ll all be heading over to the Iron Cactus for NXNW.

I have to admit that I was a little jaded by the quality of some of the panels last year. I think there were too many speakers running panels just to get a free ticket. Panels seem like an easy option, but are actually pretty hard to do. Just look at the work that went into something like the Design Eye sessions to see what I mean. As such I’m mostly going to concentrate on presentations this year and only go to panels that look particularly interesting. I’m also not going to worry about going to every session possible. Instead I’m going to spend a bit more time hanging out in the corridors, at lunch or over coffee with people. Half the fun of SXSW is meeting up with people you don’t get to see that often, so that’s going to be one of my priorities this year.

With so many things going on at SXSW, it can be a little intimidating for the first time attendee. The good news is that people are ridiculously friendly, so just go up and start talking to people. Before you know it you’ll be swept along on mass for lunch or to the next party. If you’re new to Southby, definitely check out SXSW Baby for all the conference gossip.

If you don’t know Austin, the cool bars are mostly located along 6th Street or 4th Street. Popular places to eat, drink and hang out include Halcyon Coffee Bar, Buffalo Billards, Iron Cactus, Las Manitas, Magnolia and Moonshine. If in doubt, either follow the crowd or check Twitter.

Lastly, the day of registration is usually a bit of a write-off, so if people are interested I’m thinking of organising a trip out to the Texas Rodeo.

If you know Austin well, and fancy sharing some of your top tips for SXSW, please feel free.

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Liveblogging the Yahoo Developer Conference - Day 1 | December 5, 2007

Yahoo! are having their second internal developer conference this week, and they have very kindly invited a few external people to attend. As well as their London front end team, myself, Simon Willison, Natalie Downe, Glenn Jones, Matthew Somerville and a few other folks are in attendance.

First up is Simon Willison talking about Comet. Comet is essentially an old idea that has gained traction recently due to somebody giving it a name. Unlike Ajax, Comet was deliberately named after a cleaning project.

Comet applications keep a connection open and the event gets pushed to the browser. This is the reverse of Ajax clients polling the server every 5 seconds for updates. Sites like Google docs and Meebo currently use Comet. The concept first appeared in Netscape 1.1 as “server push”. The functionality still remains in modern browsers, but their is no notification when the connection is severed. Because of this, most people roll their own.

The current Comet methods are very hacky and usually use 4 or 5 different techniques to cover all the various browser quirks.Use XHR to open up a connection, and then watch for the ready state to change to indicate new data. This works in good browsers but doesn’t work properly in IE.

The other main method involves opening up an iFrame. However every time an update comes through browsers will click and the loading bar will throb. So a lot of Comet hacks involve hiding the throbbing and clicking sounds. Sane developers don’t want to deal with these issues, so it’s good that a lot of the crazy hacking has been done for you.

All these techniques work on the same domain. However you probably want to have cross-domain comet. For instance, you’re only supposed to have two connections open from a domain at the same time.

The most popular method is long polling. You open the connection, wait till something happens and receive the event. Once you’ve got the event the connection is automatically closed so you re-open the connection for the next event.

Client side Comet really sucks. However the big problem is scaling the server as it requires thousands of simultaneous connections. Apache isn’t set up to do this, so it doesn’t scale. What you need is event based IO. Instead of a thread or process per connection, you have one process that loops through hundreds of connections at a time. To do this, you probably need a separate Comet server.

Bayeaux is a protocol for Comet. Any Beueaux client can talk to a Beueaux server. Data is encoded using JSON. Essentially these servers are black boxes, so are interchangeable. Servers include Meteor and Orbited. Jetty is probably the easiest toi set up.

Despite all the crazy stuff you need, Comet apps are actually really easy to build using the Dojo library. Simon spends the next 5 minutes showing us how to build a simple Comet app.

Next up is Norm talking about coding standards. This is a rerun of the talk he did at BarCamp, so I’m sat at the back of the room, plugged into the Internets.

After a catered lunch, a few of us went to stretch our legs and grab a cuppa. On the way we dropped by the Neals Yard cheese sop so Simon and Nat could put their Christmas orders in. Think I’ll pop back at the end of the day to pick up some supplies. Over lunch we have a lively debate about a range of geekey topics. These ranged from how much better Django is than Rails, the benefits of CouchDB, and some obscure programming language used in the telecoms industry.

After lunch saw a talk on event handling and the YUI. Sadly the person giving the talk was very soft spoke, so I only caught every third word. Must move closer for the next session.

The next session is Nicole Sullivan talking about high performance web sites. I’ve been really impressed with the performance stuff Yahoo have been putting out there recently, so this should be good. In fact, Nicole works for a six person Yahoo team called “Exceptional Performance”.

Nicole starts by talking about their team make-up and the fact that they want Yahoo to be seen as a centre of good performance. In fact, one of their team has just published a book on the subject.

About 95% of user response time comes from the front end, so need to start there. This is where the biggest gains can be made, and they are usually much simpler to implement.

Nicole’s team do a lot of experiments. One of the experiments revolved around caching. They looked at the percentage of people who came in with an empty cache versus a full cache, allowing them to test download speeds. Apparently 40-60% of Yahoo users come in with an empty cache.

The next experiment was to look at parallel downloads. The results showed that having two domain aliases helped speed up response times, but any more than four would slow things down.

Yahoo have 14 rules for high performance websites. Not going to cover them all. This looks very similar to the info Nate has presented in the past.

Rule 1: Make fewer http requests by using CSS sprites and combine scripts and stylesheets. Most big sites don’t do this. Using something called the combo handler, which is unfortunately Yahoo only at the moment.

Some discussion about the ideal size of sprites and the maximum pixel size before Opera suffers a buffer overflow. One suggestion is to use rounded corner boxes with a transparent centre, allowing you to use CSS borders. Sprites aren’t always a good idea on page heavy sites as you pay the price on maintenance. Some discussion on whether you should optimise on a page/module basis or a site basis. Apparently Yahoo Europe have developed a public tool for CSS Sprites.

Rule 3: Add an expires header on images, scripts etc.

Rule 4: Gzip HTML, scripts, stylesheets, XML, JSON etc.

Rule 5: Put stylesheets at the top, as per spec. CSS at bottom is actually faster, but nothing renders. Use link, not @import, as this also appears faster.

Rule 6: Put scripts that aren’t crucial to the loading of the page at the bottom of the page to prevent them from blocking the load.

Rule 7: Avoid CSS expressions as they seem to slow the page. I stupidly thought she meant filters. Doh!

Rule 10: Minify JavaScript and CSS, but don’t obsfucate.

Rule 14: Make Ajax cachable.

Discussed Akamai as a content delivery management system. Norm mentioned Amazon.

Now a talk on PHP security. Potentially interesting, but not my domain, so won’t be taking notes.

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Mixing the Perfect BarCamp Margarita | November 25, 2007

This weekend saw 100 web geeks descend on the UK offices of Google for the third ever London BarCamp. Google proved to be excellent hosts, allowing us to take over their well stocked staff canteen (those guys eat well) and much of their fourth floor office space. There was a constant supply of food, beer and sugary snacks, as well as access to their games room and rides on their Seagways. They even supplied people with indoor tents and put on a midnight buffet for everybody staying over. To say we were looked after is probably somewhat of an understatement, so thanks to Ian Forester and all the folks at Google for their hospitality.

The event itself was a lot of fun, with my favourite talks coming from Leisa Reichelt and Gavin Bell. Sadly, there were only about 70 sessions, which meant that 30 people chose not to speak. This left a lot of space in the schedule, and quite often there were two of three rooms not being used. As BarCamp is supposed to be a participatory event, I think it’s a shame that so many people decided not to get involved. I’d be tempted to bad those people from the next event, to make sure the space goes to somebody who is willing to put something back.

Talking of putting something back, I decided not to do the usual web related stuff and tried something a little different instead. So I went out and bought a load of tequila and treated everybody to a Margarita mixing workshop. Each session was supposed to be half a hour long. However I cunningly positioned my session at the end of the day, allowing us to spend two hours sampling tequila, mixing margaritas and generally hanging out.

If you’re interested in mixing the perfect margarita, here is the recipe:

For the workshop we used two types of tequila; Jose Cuervo Traditional and Patron Reposado. The proportions used really depend on personal taste. If you like your margaritas with a bit of a kick, I recommend 3 parts of tequila, two parts orange liqueur, and one part lemon and lime. However if you prefer a more citrus note, I’d use 2 parts tequila, one part orange liqueur and one part lemon and lime. Incidentally, most recipes only use lime, but I find the addition of half a lemon makes for a sweeter, less bitter taste. For even more sweetness, you can add a dash or two of homemade simple syrup.

Pour the resulting mixture into a Boston shaker with around 7 ice cubes and shake for a good thirty seconds, until the outside starts to get very cold and ice crystals form. At the same time, rub some lime round half the rim of a tumbler, and dip it in a plate of salt. Fill the tumbler with fresh ice, and strain in the resulting mixture. Top with a slice of lime and a straw, and you should be all set.

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CSS Mastery and Bulletproof Ajax Training Courses | November 13, 2007

We know it’s been a while, but we’ve been rushed off our feet the past year organising conferences and helping our clients. However we’ve been getting a lot of emails asking when we were going to re-run the public training courses based on our CSS Mastery and Bulletproof Ajax books. Well I’m pleased to announce that we’ve decided to run new versions of these courses at the end of January.

I’ll be running a completely revised version of my CSS Mastery course on January the 24th at our training facilities in Brighton. This course will cover all the core concepts covered in the book, along with a lot of new material such as which CSS3 properties you can start using today. In fact, a lot of this new material will be included in the second edition of CSS Mastery which we’re scheduled to start work on next year.

Jeremy will also be presenting a revised version of his Bulletproof Ajax course, which draws on elements from both that book, and also his DOM Scripting book.

Each course costs £395+VAT to attend, and included in the price are coffee breaks, lunch and a copy of the relevant book. However if you register before the end of the year, we’ll give you an early bird discount that brings it down to £345+VAT. Places are fairly limited which means you’ll have a lot of opportunity to ask questions and interact with us and your fellow attendees. It also means that spaces are likely to fill up early, so if you’re interested in attending, please register soon to avoid disappointment.

Hope to see some of you in Brighton on the new year.

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Bye-bye Boston | November 11, 2007

I’ve been in Boston the past week, attending User Experience 12. I arrived late on Friday night and was greeted by the tail end of a hurricane. Pouring rain and 60 mile an hour winds weren’t go to stop me from sightseeing, so after purchasing a brolly I hit the Freedom Trail the following day. It turns out that wandering round Boston in the rain isn’t much fun, so I ended up wandering around the Museum of Fine Art instead. If you find yourself in Boston on a blustery day, I can highly recommend the collection at this fine museum. On my travels I came across a discount theatre tickets stands and and bought a ticket for the stage version of Donnie Darko. I wasn’t not quite sure what to make of the play, but it was definitely interesting. At the very least it made me want to watch the movie again.

Thankfully the rains passed quickly, and Sunday was a beautifully crisp Autumn day. Grabbing myself a 7 day travel pass on the “T”, I checked out some of the cooler neighbourhoods like Beacon Hill and Newbury Street, before heading over to Harvard. Sunday is obviously exercise day in Boston as the parks were packed with joggers and lithe young ladies walking oversized dogs. In fact I wasn’t sure if it was the dogs being walked or their owners.

The conference started on Monday with a series of full day workshops. I’m a big fan of Luke Wroblewski’s blog, and have seen him on a couple of panels at SXSW. However I was keen to see how he performed on his own, so went along to his session. Luke ran a very solid workshop on the theory of design. While a lot of the information was familiar to me, it was presented in a very engaging way. By the end of the day, I’d jotted down a lot of ideas about how to better communicate design to end clients. That evening, Jared very graciously invited me to join the speakers dinner, and I had an excellent evening of beer, conversation and tapas.

While the majority of UI12 is comprised of full day workshops, Tuesday was a more typical conference day. Cameron Moll gave a typically strong presentation on mobile web design, while Kevin Cheng showed everybody how to communicate ideas through comics. After lunch, Jarred gave his talk on the magic of design, using a couple of the tricks he tried out at dConstruct. I was very impressed how Jarred managed to weave the two concepts together, and the talk was both entertaining and informative.

However the two presentations I got the most out of came from speakers I’d had little knowledge of prior to the conference. Larry Constantine gave a very articulate and detailed talk on design ethnography while Rolf Molich discussed research on the subject of expert usability reviews. It turns out that expert reviews that take around 20 hours to complete (excluding reporting) and are carried out by a single reviewer, capture very similar results to a full blown usability test. Furthermore, adding more time or reviewers doesn’t significantly improve the results. This matches our experience at Clearleft, so it was nice to have our approach validated.

It turns out that the W3C were having their annual plenary in Boston at the same, and it was just up the street from UI12. So after a few drinks at the official conference mixer, myself, Cameron, Luke, Kevin and Joshua Porter went out for dinner with a few of the W3C people. In the end there were about a dozen of us including Aaron Gustafson, Chris Wilson, Matt May, Cameron Moll and Patrick “one-trick” Haney. The beer and conversation flowed, and it turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining night.

On Wednesday I attended a workshop by Scott Berkun on the subject of Innovation. However while the delivery was very good, I thought the content had little to do with actual innovation. It was much more focused on the internal politics of large companies, which made sense considering the audience he was addressing.

On the last day I was supposed to be in Christine Perfetti’s workshop on paper prototyping, but missed the first hour and half as I wanted to catch Joshua Porter talking about social networks. Josh is also one of my favourite bloggers at the moment, and I really enjoyed his session. By the time I got into Christine’s workshop I’d missed most of the talking. However I did get to participate in a fun wireframing exercise that lasted the rest of the day. I’m not convinced that the low-fi approach that Christine advocated would work for us at Clearleft, as we tend to prefer a much higher fidelity approach. However I did think that the paper prototyping game itself could easily be adapted into a technique for eliciting client requirements and building consensus.

With the conference wrapped up, there was time for one last drink at the bar before everybody went their separate ways. I thoroughly enjoyed UI12 and was impressed by how smoothly the event ran. Jarred was a delightful host and I’d like to extend my thanks to him and the rest of the UIE team for extending their hospitality during the event.

Up early the next morning, I jumped in a rental car and headed off for a quick road trip. My first stop was Salem, where I had a lovely lunch with Dan Cederholm. I then carried on to Newburyport, after a quick side trip to the chocolate box town of Rockport. By the time I got there it was getting dark, so I checked into the Essex Street Hotel and met up with Joshua Porter and his sister for dinner and drinks. The following morning I took the coast road North, for a delightful drive to Portland, Maine. The fall leaves had already peaked, but there was still an explosion of colour to be had. Driving round the winding country lanes, it was obvious why the original settles put down their roots in this area and named it New England. Rather annoyingly the GPS unit I hired from Avis died on me, so I decided to head back while it was still light or risk getting hopelessly lost. Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I’m now ensconced in an airport hotel killing time and waiting for an early flight back to Blightly in the morning.

Right, time to get some food!

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User Interface 12 | October 31, 2007

On Friday I’m lucky enough to be flying to Boston to attend Jared Spool’s excellent User Experience 12 Conference. I’ve seen Jared speak on several occasions, and have always found him both entertaining and educational. This was one of the main reasons we were so excited when Jared agreed to speak at dConstruct this year. If you weren’t able to attend this session, I highly listening to the podcast.

Anyway, UI12 is one of the paramount conferences on the user experience calendar. There are some fantastic people speaking and I’m really looking forward to the full day workshops.

I’m also looking forward to visiting Boston as I’ve never been there before. I’ve managed to arrange two free days before the conference where I plan to go and explore the city. If you’re from Boston or have spent time there, I’d love to get any tips of recommendations you have. And if you fancy meeting up for a beer one evening, give me a shout.

After the conference I’m planning to hire a car for a couple of days and shoot up (or down) the coast. I’m not sure where is a good place to go, but I’m keen to catch the tail end of the fall, and check out some quintal, “Truman Show” style villages. If anybody has recommendations for somewhere nice that’s a days drive away from Boston, please let me know.

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deconstructing dConstruct 2007 | September 10, 2007

So dConstruct 2007 is in the bag, and I’ve finally managed to catch up on my sleep. I know I’m biased, being the person behind the event, but I think it went fantastically well this year. Registration was extremely smooth, and there was no queuing around the block like last year. The venue was excellent, and the seats were much more comfortable than the previous venue. The WiFi was a bit up-and-down, but that’s conference WiFi for you.

All the speakers did a great job, and I felt that we got the tempo and narrative just right. Everybody I spoke to had a different favourite or least favourite talk, so it really came down to personal taste and interest. A few people said they would have liked some more practical sessions, but it’s always difficult to fit something tangible into such a short space of time. In fact, this is why we set up the pre event workshops, which were full of hands-on goodness.

The best conferences I find are always the ones that try to inspire rather than educate. Despite having been to a lot of these events, I know myself and the rest of Clearleft walked into the office this morning with a renewed interest in our field and a desire to try out some new techniques and ideas. I hope you felt the same way.

A few people mentioned that lack of time for questions, much like last year. I would have liked to have seen more time for questions as well, but with so much good material, a lot of the speakers overran. I wonder if people would prefer to lose one speaker next year, in order to free up space for questions, or if an extra speaker is a reasonable trade-off?

We were a little worried that there could be too many people this year, and a few attendees did say they would have preferred a few less people. However most of the people I spoke to said the numbers were fine, and a few people said that we should have let even more people in as we had the space. I’m going to reserve judgement on all this until we get the feedback forms in and see what the general consensus was, but I thought the size felt OK to me.

MediaTemple put on a good pre-event party, and the post conference bash by Yahoo and the BBC was a lot of fun. The food and drink did run out a little earlier than expected, but it still went pretty far considering the number of people and the price at the bar. Especially when you remember back to last year.

On the whole I though dCosntruct 2007 went very well, and we’ve already started planning dConstruct 2008. Well, we’ve booked the venue for next year already, anyway. To help make next year an even better event, I’d love to hear what you guys thought.

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Picking Southby apart | August 24, 2007

I’ve been going to SXSW for the last couple of years, and have been lucky enough to speak at each one. I enjoy speaking at Southby because I have the freedom to choose my own topic and present to a room full of my peers. However I’m more nervous about Southby than any other conference, largely due to the calibre of the audience. With people like Veen and Zeldman in the audience, you need to up your game.

I tend to start planning my talk a couple of months in advance; working out the structure, designing the slides, and finally practising my delivery. So I’m always a little dismayed when I see smart, experienced speakers phone their presentations in. With a lot of people you can tell that the only reason they’re on a panel is to get a free ticket and add Southby to their list of speaking engagements. I’m also amazed at the childish bravado some speakers display, bragging about how little preparation they have done or the fact that they were up to 4am the night before their talk, finishing their slides. This isn’t high school folks.

So I’ve decided not to speak at this year’s event. Instead I’m going to enjoy being an attendee and not worry about staying up late because I’ve got a session tomorrow. Instead, I’m going to be spending a lot more time chatting to people in the hallways, and drinking in the bars and coffee shops of Austin. Bars mostly.

For the last couple of years I’ve been guilty of picking sessions based on the profile of the speaker rather than the content of the talk, and in most cases I’ve been disappointed. When I’ve been listening to an A-list bloggers in one room, I should have been listening to the wild card in the other. There is more risk involved in seeing somebody you don’t know, but the rewards can be much greater.

SXSW have just released their panel picker, and with 689 possible sessions, the choice is daunting. It would be easy to vote for your favourite speaker, but this is a bit of a copout. Instead, I urge you to pick the panels that sound the most interesting, and forgo the cult of personality.

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BarCamp Brighton | August 7, 2007

If you couldn’t get tickets for dConstruct, or if you’re planning to stick around Brighton, you may be interested in the BarCamp we’re running that weekend.

For the uninitiated, BarCamps are self organised unconferences where everybody gets a chance to present a session or chair a discussion. This may sound daunting, but everybody’s in the same boat and you’ll be presenting to a small group of people who are really interested in what you’ve got to say. So if you’re really passionate about a particular topic, or fancy yourself as a bit of a speaker, BarCamp could be the perfect opportunity for you.

BarCamp isn’t just a web design event, so you can talk about anything remotely relating to geek culture. At previous events people have spoken about everything from hardware hacking to improvisational comedy, from astronomy to owl noises. As long as it’s interesting and you don’t just pimp your own kool-aid, you should be good.

Registration for BarCamp opens on Wednesday 8th August at 11am and tickets are going to fly off the shelves. Because numbers are limited, please only register if you’re happy to do a talk and plan to stay for both days. Otherwise you’ll be preventing somebody else from attending, which isn’t cool. Oh, and remember that it’s the dConstruct party the night before, so if you’re planing on cultivating a serious hang-over, you may want to let somebody else have your place.

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dConstruct tickets, workshops and podcasts. Oh Boy! | July 10, 2007

dConstruct tickets went on sale this morning at 11am BST and literally flew off the shelves. 200 tickets were sold in the first 10 minutes, and an hour later, there were only about 100 tickets left out of 600. Sales have now slowed to a steady pace, but we estimate they will all be gone by lunchtime tomorrow. So if you want to come along, you’d better get your skates on.

If you don’t know about dConstruct, it’s a little conference we run down in Brighton each year. Unlike most conferences that have roughly the same theme each year, we try to mix things up a little and focus on current industry trends. So for dConstruct 2005 we were discussing web apps, while dConstruct 2006 focused on APIs and Mash-ups. This year, we’ve taken a slightly less technical focus, and will be discussing how to design the user experience.

We’ve got some amazing speakers lined up including the likes of Jared Spool, Tom Coates and Peter Merholz. MediaTemple will be getting everybody in the mood at the warm-up party, while the BBC and Yahoo are arranging a great post-event bash. We’ve got Jon Hicks designing the tickets/programs, and the obligatory conference bags will be sporting a custom design by Kevin Cornell of Bearskinrug fame. The ever popular Backnetwork will also be making a reappearance this year.

New this year are a series of pre-event workshops. Three of the workshops have already sold out, and the microformats workshop won’t be far behind.

To get you all in the mood for the event, our roving reporter, Jeremy Keith, has been recording a series of podcasts with speakers, sponsors and attendees from dConstruct past, present and future. The latest edition is an interview with the lovely folks at LastFM, who will be heading down to dConstruct this September to say hi. And lastly, all the sessions from previous events are still online, if you’d like to relive the dConstruct experience.

I’m stoked by the response we’ve had around dConstruct so far, and am really looking forward to the 7th of September. Let the good times roll.

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dConstruct Workshops | June 14, 2007

Just a quick heads-up to let everybody know that dConstruct workshop tickets are now on sale. We’ve got some great sessions planned, all with a user experience or information architecture theme. And the best news is, if you book a seat at any one of these workshops, you’ll automatically get free entrance to the dConstruct conference. As this event usually sells out in a couple of days, this is the very best way to be guaranteed a place.

On Wednesday we have Leisa Reichelt doing a workshop on, er workshops. More specifically, Leisa will be looking at various hands on techniques IA and UX professionals can use to capture ideas and communicate with clients. I had a lot of fun during Leisa’s “Design Consequences” session at BarCamp London, so expect lots of scribbling on sticky notes, sketching interfaces and generally getting your hands dirty.

For the more developer minded, we have a full day workshop with Mr Microformats himself, Tantek Celik. Along with his trusty sidekick, Jeremy Keith, this dynamic due will be taking you on a whirlwind tour of the most exciting thing to happen with semantic mark-up since death of the <font> tag. So get your text editors at the ready, and be prepared for a day of geeky fun.

Thursday sees Thomas Vander Wal, tagmeister extraordinaire, run a session on how to build the social web through tagging. The man who put the “folk” in folksonomy will look at the social and managerial issues behind tagging, and help you design your own tagging strategy. This session will be perfect for anybody dealing with large collections of data, like museums, galleries or even online pet stores. Just don’t mention dogging.

Lastly, we have Peter Merholz, one of the “big guns” from Adaptive Path, running a workshop on experience design. Peter will be drawing from his years of experience as a consultant to explain how to analyse problems and develop solutions. This is already looking like a very popular workshop and one we recommend doing in conjunction with Leisa’s workshop.

Place on these workshops is limited, and already selling out fast. So if you want to learn from some of the best people in the industry, I recommend you go check them out.

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@media07 | June 9, 2007

I’ve just come back from another incredibly enjoyable @media conference. This year had a very design oriented feel and my highlights included talks by Jason Santa Maria, Mark Bolton and Jon Hicks. However the best part of @media for me is always the social angle. It’s an opportunity to hang out with friends from around the world that I only get to see on occasion. People like Dan Cederholm and Joe Clark. It’s also a chance to hang out with London locals like the lovely Hannah Gordon and Mike “The Dude” Stenhouse. Mike was incidentally sporting the best porno moustache I’ve seen in quite some time. Move over Stewart Colville, a new sheriff is in town.

Other people I enjoyed hanging out with included the elusive Simon Collison, the enigmatic Mark Bolton, the animated Simon Willison, and the Internets Drew Mclellan. I also got to meet few new faces including Peter from the CSS3 website, and Laura, who set up the amazingly successful Bristol SkillSwap. Respect.

I was pleased to see that the idea of CSS2.2 is gaining some traction. Hakon Lie mentioned it in his talk again, and it also came up in the Q&A. It’s a shame I didn’t have chance to speak about it at the conference, but I hope there will be other speaking opportunities in the future. In the meantime, I’ll be talking about the idea in more depth on this site soon.

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Rebooted | June 3, 2007

Ever since hearing about Reboot three years ago, I’ve wanted to attend this Scandinavian conference. I was supposed to speak last year, but fate conspired against me. However Jeremy went, and by all accounts knocked their socks off with a love letter in praise of the hyperlink. Jeremy came back all enthused, so I set a reminder iCal as well as a mental note to attend.

I’ve been doing a lot of conference travelling recently, so when Reboot cropped up, I was faced with a dilemma. Rich was off on holiday that week and I felt obliged to hold fort and do a spot of work for a change. I was all settled on missing the event this year, when a potential client contacted me to discuss a couple of projects they were planning. It turned out they were also going to Reboot, and it would be one of the few opportunities I’d have to meet them. That was all the excuse I needed. I got hold of a ticket, booked my flights and desperately scoured trip advisor for a hotel.

Reboot is a different type of conference to the ones I normally attend. If XTech is one end of the spectrum, then Reboot is most definitely the other. The first thing I should mention is that Reboot isn’t a web design conference, it’s a conference on digital culture. As such the sessions were largely blue sky presentations, with speakers philosophising about the nature of the web and what it means to be part of an always on, digital society. Consequently the talks were full of discussion about continuous partial attention, ambient intimacy, portable social networks and the concept of flow.

I largely enjoyed the sessions, but despite all the philosophising, I couldn’t help feel that the talks lacked substance. A lot of the sessions were little more than a series of loosely joined concepts with nothing in the way of narrative or conclusion. Like separate blog posts rather than a single, well thought out argument. It was as thought the speakers spent so much time trying to sound clever, they forgot the point they were trying to make. Now I enjoy a pretentious talk as much as the next man. After all, I work with Jeremy Keith. However even when Jeremy turns the pretension level up to eleven, you still come away from the session feeling smarter than you did when you went in. I felt many of the reboot talks were like eating at a fancy French restaurant. You know the chef is probably a genius by the delicate nature of the food, but you’re left feeling hungry and slightly unsatisfied.

My stand out favourite session was a talk by Tom Armitage called the uncanny valet. Tom gave a great presentation about manners on the web, and how web applications can and should be treating their users better. He gave a couple of excellent examples of rude behaviour by Facebook, something I’ve been struggling with of late. Conversely he highlighted the exceptionally good manners of, something I’ll be stealing for my next presentation.

Jeremy gave a good, although somewhat disjointed pretension, that was at once the most pretentious and also the most practical talk of Reboot. Not a mean feat by any stretch of the imagination. Other favourites included Leisa Reichelt on ambient intimacy and Matt Webb on the personality of products. I gave Anne van Kesteren an undeservedly hard time after his excellent presentation on HTML5, although I still maintain that re-introducing the font tag is a VERY BAD IDEA, and sends out all the wrong signals.

Like most conferences, the highlight for me was hanging out with the other attendees. There were some extremely smart people in attendance, and it was great shooting the breeze with everybody. I was somewhat surprised by the number of Brits around, and rather shamefully spent most of my time hanging out with my fellow countrymen. The event had a reasonable number of female attendees, and even had a crèche which I thought was a nice idea. Sadly, there were far fewer women speakers that you would have expected of a conference that size, which was a shame. On the whole, the event had a nice, slightly disorganised feel about it, reminiscent of the first d.Construct. As such it felt much closer to a community driven un-conference than a big, commercial event.

One of the big factors for me was location. I’ve wanted to visit Copenhagen ever since a romantic interlude with a lovely young Danish girl while travelling. The city she described sounded amazing, and I have to say it didn’t disappoint. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, very reminiscent of Amsterdam. The city is clean, characterful and extremely efficient. The architecture is a lovely blend of traditional and modern, and the legendary Danish design culture is very much in evidence. I loved the fact that city provides free bike rental for just a £2 deposit, and the fact that they don’t all get stolen, which I’m sure would happen in the UK. The subway also works on the honour system, with no ticket barriers to check that you’ve paid for your fare. The people were extremely warm and hospitable, and possibly some of the most liberal minded people around. You only have to look at the hippy heaven of Christiania to see that for yourself. I really enjoyed my time in Copenhagen and look forward to going back next year.

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d.Construct 2007 is go! | May 21, 2007

If you haven’t already heard, we quietly launched the d.Construct 2007 website last week. Because this year’s theme is “Designing the User Experience”, we thought it would be fun to mimic the user experience process and evolve the site over time. The site is currently in its wireframe stage, and will slowly progress as the event approaches.

screenshot of the d.construct 2007 homepage

I’m really excited about this year’s event as we’ve got an amazing line-up of speakers from the world of usability, information architecture and design. These include the likes of Cameron Moll, Tom Coates, Peter Merholz and Jared Spool.

Sessions will range from practical talks dealing with agile design methodologies, and UX techniques, through to philosophical musings on the personality of tech products. We’re also planing to run two days of workshops at the start of the event, so you can learn Microformats from Tantek Celik, or Interaction design from Peter Merholz. What’s more, booking any of these workshops will guarantee your place at d.Construct, before the conference tickets have even gone on sale.

Because d.Construct is a community event, I hope you’ll help us build up buzz and get the word out there. To help, we’ve created a series of snazzy buttons you can put on your site. You can even mod them yourself if you’d like.

I’m really looking forward to seeing you all at d.Construct this year, so keep an eye on this site and the event RSS feed for more announcements soon.

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XTech 2007 | May 20, 2007

Last week I had the pleasure of attending XTech 2007 in gay Paris. I’ve not been to XTech before, but Jeremy spoke there last year and really enjoyed it, so I wanted to check it out.

The conference has been around for many years, and recently changed it’s name from XML Europe, in order to demonstrate a widening of focus. However vestiges of it’s previous incarnation were evident, as the conference had a strong technical theme. The sessions that made up the applications track and core technologies track were way over my head, whereas the open data track was very academic. As such, I spent the majority of my time in the browsers track, occasionally dipping out to watch Simon talk about JavaScript libraries and OpenID, or learn about WiFi rabbits (and before you ask, no, it’s not the kind of rabbit your wife or girlfriend has tucked away in her underwear draw).

The theme of this year’s event was “The Ubiquitous Web”, and there were some fantastic sessions on this subject from Matt Biddulph, Adam Greenfield and Matt Webb. Matt Biddulph talked about the prototyping opportunities of second life, and how it was a great environment to test out spimes and other location aware devices. Matt demonstrated the flickr photo frame he created for himself, as well as a complicated visualisation he created for Nature magazine. He also talked about IBM using ball location data from Wimbledon to replay the matches in second life. However the thing that really got the geek audience excited was the Arduino hardware hacks he’d been doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the audience went out and bought kits in time for the next hack day in London.

Adam Greenfield gave a predictably excellent talk based on the themes from his book, Everyware. In it he discussed everything from the unnecessarily complicated digital locks in Korea (who do you call if you forget your passcode?), through to the fantastic usability of the Hong Kong underground Octopus cards, beloved by so many user experience people. Finally, Matt Webb closed the event off with an inspiring keynote on his vision of interaction design.

One of the great things about XTech is the fact that it’s co-hosted by the W3C. As such, there were lots of important W3C people in attendance, and some very interesting discussions to be had. The session I was most looking forward to, and the one I was most disappointed by, was the session on HTML5. As we all know, HTML5 is a pretty hot topic at the moment, and one I’m going to deal with in a later post.

While the panellists introduced themselves I worked up a series of questions about doctypes, presentational elements, timeframes and the lessons we could learn from other interface languages like MXML and ZUL. However I thought I’d open with a quick question about the divergence between XHTML2 and HTML5. I was expecting a short discussion about the different aims of each language, and their various feature sets. What I ended up with was a 20 minute discussion about namespacing and error handling that completely missed the point of the question. If I hadn’t know it already, I came to the realisation in that the W3C is all about creating specifications for browser manufacturers, and not about providing tools for us web developers. But like I said, more on that later.

Thankfully, Molly brought things back down to earth with an excellent talk on the issues both developers and browser manufacturers were facing. In language the average developer (i.e. me) could understand, she demonstrated how different browsers handle something as simple as mixing rgb colour property units. The letter of the spec says that this is illegal, and so the rules should be ignored. Some browsers follow this draconian error handling and fail to display the rules, even though they could. Other, more pragmatic browsers attempt to display what the developer was intending, even if they break the spec. The difference in implementation makes it difficult for developers to obtain predictable results, and difficult for new browsers to decide how to handle these errors. One argument is that the browser manufacturers should stick t the spec, even if it’s wrong. A more sensible approach would be to change the spec. But that’s another story. I hope Molly posts her slides up soon, as it was a very interesting session.

On a more social note, I had a great time hanging out in Paris. I managed to catch up with old friends as well as making some new ones. Being a vegetarian in Paris was pretty hard work, so I ate a lot of bread and salad while I was there. One day it dawned on me that I hadn’t visited Paris for 7 years. It’s so easy getting over to Paris from London on Eurostar these days, there really is no excuse. So I’ve vowed to go back for a weekend this summer, and explore some of the great museums and galleries the city has to offer. Can’t wait.

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Hack Day | April 23, 2007

Inspired by JotSpot, Yahoo! have been running internal “Hack Days” for some time now. The idea is simple. You come up with an idea for a great app, hack or mash-up, get together in a small team, and then on the appointed day you build or prototype the app.

It’s a really nice idea as it allows people to be creative and come up with ideas that would never get built otherwise. So it could be anything from a serious business changing app, through to something more fun like mashing up news and astrology data. “Hack Days” are a great way of promoting team work and communication as the best apps are likely to come from a diverse team of designers, developers and user experience people.

The fact that the app needs to be built during a single day helps focus peoples attention. As such, the apps tend to be simple ideas free of the usual feature bloat. And if one of the apps is particularly good, it may eventually end up as a live project.

Yahoo! took the decision last year to open up hack day to the public, and the feedback was phenomenal. Now, in conjunction with, Hackday is coming to the UK.

Scheduled for the 17th of June, 500 developers will descend on Alexandra Palace in London for a day of hacking. There will be food, drinks and prizes for the best hacks. And if that’s not enough, rumour has it a big band (and I don’t mean of the brass variety) will be playing at the after party.

Registration has only been open a couple of days, but 300 people have already registered their interest. Clearleft will be representing, and I hope some of you will make it along as well.

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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.

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Another year, another Southby | March 15, 2007

So SXSWi 2007 is officially over, and I’m sat in the departure lounge of LAX waiting for my connecting flight to San Francisco and collecting my thoughts. I’ve had an excellent time again this year, catching up with old friends and making new ones.

I always feel a little sad once the conference is over as there never seems to be enough time. The event almost doubled in size this year, which only helped exacerbate the problem. There were lots of snatched conversations on the run between sessions or parties, and quite a few people I never got chance to see. Hopefully I’ll get chance to catch up with some of them at one of the many conferences I’ll be attending over the next couple of months.

I find the sessions at SXSW usually take a back seat to the socialising. This is in part because the choice is overwhelming, but also because I’m not sure the quality is as high as it could be. The sessions with one or two speakers are usually the best, as they tend to have a much more structured narrative and have been prepared and practised in advance. I’m always a little disappointed by the panel sessions as they often end up being unstructured conversations with little or no resolution at the end. I sometimes wonder if the majority of panel discussions are there purely so the speakers can get a free ticket.

In 2005, the unofficial theme of the event was web standards. Last year it felt that DOM scripting was the hot topic. This year there was a definite move away from the technical and towards user experience design. Like usual I managed to miss out on some of the surprise hits of the conference, but luckily mp3s of the sessions have already started to appear. Of the sessions that I did see, the ones I enjoyed most were Peter Merholtz on the end of product design and Dan Saffer on what Las Vegas can teach interaction designers.

The Brits had an even bigger showing this year, and the quality of their presentations was very high. My favourite was the session with Brendan Dawes and Jim Coudal on the subject of creativity and short attention spans. The panel that Jeremy and myself gave seemed to go down well, as did the typography session with Mark Boulton and Richard Rutter. Jeremy did a second session on Ajax accessibility and universal design with Derek Featherstone that was also well received, as well as making a guest apperence on the microformats panel with fellow Brits, Glenn Jones and Francis Berriman.

Andy Clarke managed to pack out the room and had people sitting in the aisles–a testament to his abilities as a speaker. His talk was predictably funny and the slides were well designed, but I couldn’t help feel that the concept could have been fleshed out a bit more. As with our talk the previous year, the audience threw themselves into the theme and ask lots of funny questions about getaways, patsies and dealing with moles inside the organisation.

On the social side of things, I think the best event was the Avalonstar bowling extravaganza. Not being a bowler, I almost didn’t go. I’m glad I did. Our team scraped through to the second round, and was then paired up with one of the stronger teams. We thought we’d be out for sure, but ended up putting on a really strong show, bowling a respectable 786. This was actually one of the higher scores in the second round and we would have gone through on points. However it was actually a knock-out round and when the average score was take, we lost by a paltry 2 points. Despite being robbed entry into the final, we had a great time, and will no doubt field a team next year.

Due to the number of Brits over this year, Clearleft, @media America and Boagworld decided to throw a party, entitled The Great British Booze-up. This turned out to be a fantastic idea as the party rocked. The venue was great, the food was amazing, and the free bar lasted most f the event. One of the most successful aspects of the party was the music volume. Unlike most events where you had to scream to be heard, people could actually talk to each other, promoting a very social event. The event was busy but not packed, and all the right people were there. Even the Yahoo! crowed showed up despite hosting their own party at the same time. The event was a huge success and we all look forward to running the event again next year. This time with less light beer and more pork scratchings.

Anyway, that’s it for another year. I’m heading to San Francisco for a weeks holiday before the IA Summit and Web Design World.

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How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0 | March 11, 2007

SXSW has been lots of fun so far, and it’s only the second day. It’s much, much bigger than previous years, although I say that every year. This year there are eight tracks spread across two levels of the convention centre, so the is a lot of running around between rooms and bumping into people on the fly. There are so many cool people here, fleeting conversations are the norm, and quality time is in short supply.

Jeremy and Myself did our talk yesterday morning. I always like doing talks on the first day as it gets things out of the way and frees up your time for the important job of drinking and socialising. Our talk this year was entitled “How to Bluff your Way in Web 2.0” and if you’ve seen any of our previous SXSW sessions, you’ll know that it was vaguely tongue-in-cheek. The talk went extremely well, and Jeremy had the crowd eating out of his hand. I’ll post a link to the mp3 when it comes on line in a few months, but in the meantime, feel free to download our slides.

Oh, and if you happen to be in Austin Monday evening, I hope to see you at The Great British Booze-up which starts at 7:30pm at the Lava Lounge on 7th Street, just round the corner from the Iron Cactus. There will be food, free drinks and great music, so hope to see you all there.

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Veggie AustinVeggie Heaven in Austin | March 6, 2007

Any vegetarian, vegan or just plain healthy folks fancy checking out one of the many veggie restaurants in Austin during SXSW? Could be a nice alternative to all that Texas BBQ going around.

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World Tour | February 27, 2007

Starting with SXSW in just over a weeks time, I’ve got a pretty hectic conference schedule planned for the next couple of months. I’m going to be speaking at Web Design World in San Francisco on the 26th March, so rather than come back in between, I’ve decided to stay over in the states. I’m going to try and get to the IA Summit while I’m there as it looks like a fantastic line-up of speakers, and I’m a big fan of Vegas. The only sad thing is that I’l have to miss the last day, but all the best stuff seems to be at the start anyway.

Between these events I’m planing to hang out in San Fran for a while and get some writing done. I’m not a big fan of sitting in hotel rooms, so I’ll probably check out the whole Coworking thing. If you have any other suggestions for cool places to work, like a nice wifi cafe or something, please let me know. On a similar note, I don’t know San Francisco that well, so any recommendations on places to stay would be most welcome.

I’ve got a few friends and contacts in SF, so I’m looking forward to meeting up with them and getting an insiders tour of the city. I’m also hoping I can blag a visit to the Apple, Google and Yahoo! campuses while I’m there, so if you have any connections, please let me know. Hopefully I won’t be working the whole time, so it would be great to hire a car for a couple of days and get out of the city. Where would you recommend going for a couple of days break?

When I get back to the UK I’ll be heading up to Edinburgh for the Highland Fling conference. I really like Edinburgh so that should be a lot of fun. Thankfully the rest of April is looking pretty open, so I should have a couple of weeks where I can get some proper work done. MIX 07 is at the end of the month, and while I don’t have tickets yet, I’m hoping I can sort something out.

Next up is @media Asia which I’m really excited about. I love Hong Kong so really hope the event is a success. After that is @media Europe which I’ll be attending but won’t be speaking at this year.

A couple of weeks ago Jeffrey asked if I wanted to speak at An Event Apart Seattle on the 21st-22nd June and I literally jumped at the chance. I really love what Jeffrey and Eric are doing with these events, and have been trying to get them to come over to the UK for some time. In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to the event, and speaking with the likes of Jeff Veen, Khoi Vinh, Shaun Inman, Mike Davidson and Jason Santa Maria, not to mention Jeffrey and Eric.

The following week I’ll be speaking at a new event in Spain which has yet to be announced, after which I think I’ll need a good long rest before d.Construct 2007 at the beginning of September.

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The Great British Booze-up | January 23, 2007

UPDATE: The Venue has now changed to the Lava Lounge, 405 E 7th St, so please update your records!

Clearleft, Boagworld and @media 2007 are pleased to announce the first annual “Great British Booze-up” at SXSWi this year.

With so many of our fellow countrymen heading over to Austin, we thought it only fitting to throw a party. We’ve hired out a traditional <cough/> British pub and will be delighting you with an evening of drinking and merriment. This is your opportunity to meet some of your favourite British designers and marvel at their funny accents and eccentric ways.

We’ve put some money behind the bar, and thanks to the beneficial exchange rate, this should last for a while at least. We’re also organising food, so you won’t be limited to warm beer and pork scratchings. In fact, it should be the perfect destination for all you hungry and thirsty conference goers. However you’ll want to get there early as numbers are limited.

The event kicks off at 7:30pm in the Lava Lounge on Seventh Street. Last orders will be at 10:30pm, just in time for a final drink before heading round the corner to SXNW.

To set a reminder, why not head over to the upcoming page for the event. Hope to see you there.

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Conference Tastic | January 18, 2007

In the space of a few days, three new conference websites have launched. First up is @media 2007. If you’ve been to @media in London the last few years, you’ll know what a fabulous conference this is. Well, Partick has been locked away in his underground dungeon for the last couple of months planning world domination. There are now three, not one, @media events in 2007. One in London, one in San Francisco and one in Hong Kong. So if you’ve always wanted too attend but couldn’t justify the transatlantic flight, now you can.

I have the honour of speaking at the Hong Kong event, while it looks like fellow Clearleftie, Jeremy Keith is going for the hat-trick. Hong Kong is a fantastic place and @media is a fantastic event, so I can’t wait.

On the subject of world domination, the Carsons keep churning out new events faster than you can say, “blimey, not another web design conference!”. The latest event is entitled The Future of Web Design and looks set to be a winner. I for one will be at the front of the queue for tickets.

Lastly, the new kid on the block is Scotland’s very own Highland Fling. Focussing around the concept of web standards and progressive enhancement, this new event aims to move the focus out of London and the South East. So if you’re a web developer working in Scotland or the North of England, I hope you’ll lend your support to this worthy event.

With so many web design events already scheduled this year, it won’t be long before we see a “Future of Web Conferences” event somewhere in the world.

On the subject of conferences, SXSW is fast approaching so I hope everybody has their flights and accommodation sorted. With so many Brits flying to Austin this year, we’ve decided to organise a bit of a treat. Clearleft, Boagworld and @media are organising a party and you’re all invited. It will be your opportunity to hang with the BritPack and enjoy a good old fashioned knees-up. More details soon.

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The Lions Den | December 8, 2006

The last couple of days have been very quiet in Clearleft towers. However It’s not through a lack of work, as we’re currently booked up till March. It’s because we’ve all been nipping round the corner to catch the odd session at Flash on the Beach. If you’re not familiar with FOTB, it’s a new Brighton based Flash conference organised by our friend, John Davey. The event is a big multi-day, multi-track affair that has seen over 45 of the world’s hottest Flash stars present on subjects from abstract design to hardcore development.

Now considering Clearleft is very much a standards based shop, you’d be excused for finding it odd that we’d be attending a Flash event. However we decided to set up a cultural exchange program with the Flash world when we invited Aral Balkan to speak about Flex at d.Cosntruct 2005. It was now our chance to return the favour, so we sent Jeremy into the lions den with the provocatively titled talk, Ajax: Flash Killer?.

Jeremy was initially nervous at the thought of addressing a conference full of die hard Flashers. He needn’t have worried though, as true to form, he gave an excellent presentation to a packed audience. The crux of his talk was that Ajax is the perfect technology for small UX enhancements. For more complicated apps, the benefits start to dwindle to a point beyond which it makes more sense to build the app using Flash. Jeremy hypothesised that the tipping point was the point at which it becomes too complicated or time consuming to make the app degrade nicely. At this point, you lose one of the major benefits of the standards based approach, so if it’s easier to build the app in Flash, then why not use the best technology for the job?

I wasn’t sure how people would take this approach, as many Flash developers (like standardistas) have an all or nothing attitude. However the reaction seemed very positive and I was impressed with the audiences pragmatic approach. This was re-iterated the following day in a talk by Geoff Stearns on the subject of Flash and web 2.0. In this talk, Geoff discussed where Flash fitted into the current web app landscape and how developers needed to be open minded and chose the right tool for the job.

In the web standards world, many of us have a view of Flash that is somewhat out of date. I know that I stopped using Flash back around Flash MX when it had become synonymous with bad usability and designer excess. However things have definitely moved on, and and it’s a much more mature community that we give it credit for.

A great example of this was Niqui Merret’s talk on Flash accessibility –two words I never thought would be mentioned in the same sentence. It was amazing how many people in the audience had an understanding of accessibility and had began to integrate it into their daily workflow.

Another great example of the communities maturity was the number of times people talked about the user experience and the importance of user testing. This was exemplified by Aral Balkan who gave my favourite talk of the conference. Despite coming from completely different world, it was amazing how similar Aral’s development process was to our own, using a mixture of user-centered design and agile methodologies.

The Flash community has matured massively over the years, and so has the technology. While I’m sure a lot of the audience were still programming in the timeline, FLEX 2.0 has opened up a new world of possibilities. The thing that excites me the most about FLEX 2.0 is how similar it is to standards based development. You have an declarative XML-based mark-up language to build the UI. You can then add style in the form of CSS and behaviour using the ECMAScript based Actionscript language. Cool huh?

However the thing that really excited me at FOTB was a demo of Adobe’s new Apollo technology. Apollo is essentially a runtime that allows you to create Flash and XHTML/CSS based apps that run on the desktop. These apps can interact with the desktop like any native applications, but also have the ability to communicate via the Internet like a regular web app. So you have all the benefits of web deployment and update and live date, with the ability to save state and interact with your local machine. All very cool.

This looks very similar to what Microsoft are trying to achieve with WPF, WTF, XAML, Sparkle, Shnizzle Ma Nizzle or whatever the hell it’s called at the moment. The main difference is that Adobe are taking existing web technologies and trying to move them onto the desktop, whereas Microsoft have created a new desktop technology that has a web component. So basically both camps are coming at the problem from different ends.

The battle lines are currently being drawn and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out. MS have the upper hand when it comes to marketing spend and desktop developer buy-in. However Adobe are trying to capitalise and the ubiquity of the tools and the shear volume of web developers out there. They also have the cross platform advantage which could be a deciding factor. We shall see.

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The Last Superhero | November 29, 2006

This is just a quick note to thank everybody who came along to my How to be a Web Design Superhero presentation at Refresh 06 a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately the session didn’t end up being recorded, but you can grab a copy of the slides if you’d like. I’ve given the talk a few times now, so if you’re interested you could always listen to the podcasts from SXSW06 or Web Master Jam.

The talk was originally written by myself and Andy Clarke as a light-hearted introduction to SXSW06. It was intended as a one-off talk but both myself and Malarkey have ended up giving it at several other events around the globe. However with the year nearing an end and SXSW07 around the corner, I think it’s time to put my superhero costume back in the closet and start working on next years presentation. Entitled, How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0, Jeremy Keith and myself will be teaching you everything you need to know in order to flip your latest hair brained idea for a ridiculous sum of money.

I know it’s a long way off, but if you haven’t already got your SXSW accommodation sorted, you’d better hurry. All the cool hotels have already sold out, and you don’t want to end up in the Hilton, now do you?

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Refresh 06 | November 22, 2006

The conference itself was an interesting one. One the first day myself and Jeremy ran cut down versions of our CSS Mastery and Introduction to Ajax workshops to a group of about 25 people. Thinking that a lot of the attendees would have already read the book, I added in some new material, mostly dealing with new CSS3 techniques. Jeremy was on his usual good form and everybody seemed to enjoy the day.

I really like running workshops the day before a conference as it gives the attendees and speakers a chance to get to know each other in a more informal setting. On this occasion we all went out for food afterwards, followed by copious amounts of alcohol.

The conference was smaller than most, with about 75 people in attendance. This turned out to be one of the best things about the event as it was possible to meet and chat to everybody involved. As such it was a very social event. I got the opportunity to catch up with old friends as well as making some new ones. One of the most enduring memories has to be Jeremy being set up by Jina Bolton at a Japanese restaurant. I have to admit that I laughed so hard it hurt. Talk about schadenfreude.

The speakers were all great and I particularly enjoyed Cameron Moll on UI design and Brian Fling on mobile design. After chatting to Brian at some length over dinner, it seems like the mobile web design industry in the US is very different from the UK. Here we have several well established mobile agencies including our friends over at Future Platforms. However Brian was saying that in the US, most of the content is developed inhouse and there aren’t any dedicated agencies. If this is true, I see a huge gap in the market opening up very soon.

I think the biggest surprise for me was Paul Boag who delivered two very eloquent, although somewhat contentious presentations. In stark contrast to his weekly podcast and despite our constant ribbing, Paul’s presentations were extremely well organised and for the most part, factually correct. Imagine that! As such, I look forward to seeing Paul speak at future events.

I wasn’t aware of this, but apparently the organisers got some flack for using the Refresh name. I think some of the other refreshing cities were concerned about the concept getting too commercialised. I can understand these concerns but the actual event managed to maintain that self organised feel and was more of a big Refresh event than a small conference. With the Refresh concept proving a testing ground for new speakers, a yearly Refresh conference could give novice speakers the exposure they need, and create a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

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Geeks in the (Theme) Park | November 22, 2006

Last week I had the pleasure of travelling out to Orlando to speak at the Refresh06 Conference. Despite being a classic British holiday destination, I never went as a child. My summer holidays mostly consisted of trips to Cornwall in my parents Caravan. Think rainy holidays sat inside a cramped space playing solitaire and wishing I was somewhere else. So to put right the injustices of my childhood, I decided to go out a day early and sample some of the theme parks that attract overweight British families like moths to a flame.

Accompanied by Paul Boag and Jeremy Keith, we headed over to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure first thing. We were so keen in fact, that the majority of the rides hadn’t even opened by the time we got there. Because we were visiting midweek and out of season, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We walked right on the first couple of rides and we rarely had to wait more than five minutes for a seat.

I tried to convince Paul and Jeremy to try one of the bigger rides, but they were having none of it. Admittedly the idea of being blasted out of the Incredible Hulk Coaster at 60 miles an hour straight into a corkscrew terrified the hell out of me, but I could have been convinced if other people were up for it. What I really wanted was the opportunity to try out an intermediate coaster first. However it was all or nothing at Universal I’m afraid.

As it was we went on some cool rides including the Jurassic Park River Adventure and Spider Man 3D. We also went on a couple of water rides, and managed to get absolutely soaked. If you’re interested, here is a small flickr set of the day.

After lunch at the worlds largest Hard Rock Cafe (ironic w00t) we headed over to Universal Studios which was a much more sedate although somewhat dated affair. Still, the Terminator 2 show was interesting and the Back to the Future Ride helped put Spider Man 3D in perspective.

Running around the theme parks was a lot of fun, and defiantly an entertaining place for kids (and geeks).

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A Refreshing Change from Big Web Conferences | November 12, 2006

Tomorrow morning I’ll be jetting off to Orlando with Jeremy Keith and Paul Boag to speak at Refresh 06. In contrast to a lot of conferences, Refresh 06 will be a small, intimate affair. More like a big workshop than a conference. I’m really looking forward to this as it means we’ll be able to spend a lot more time talking with the audience. So if you’re planning to come along, start thinking about your questions now.

Talking about workshops, both myself and Jeremy will be running workshops on the day before the conference. I’ll be doing a cut-down version of my CSS Mastery workshop while Jeremy will be presenting the highlights of his Ajax workshop.

I’ve never been to Florida before, let alone Orlando, so I’m looking forward to experiencing a new city. One of the things I love about public speaking is the ability to visit places you normally wouldn’t get chance to see. So while we’re there, I’m hoping to check out Universal Studios Island of Adventure. I’m not a huge theme park fan, although I did enjoy Universal Studios in LA when I was there a few years back. I’ll probably have a crack at one of the bigger rides, although I’m not sure I have the nerve to try Duelling Dragons or The Incredible Hulk after checking out some of the videos on YouTube.

If you’re in and around the Orlando area, I’d love to get some recommendations for good bars, cafes and restaurants. Better yet, why not come along to the event and let us know in person. I think there are still some tickets left and it should be a lot of fun.

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20x2 London | October 5, 2006

The 20×2 sessions during SXSW in Austin are always a blast, so I was really pleased to hear they are finally coming to the UK. 20×2 will hold their first UK event on the 19th November at 6:30pm in Madam Jojo’s on Brewer Street, Soho.

If you’ve not come across 20×2 before the concept is pretty simple. 20 people stand up for two minutes each and give a presentation or performance around a specific phrase. During SXSW 2005 the phrase was “What’s the Word” and it saw a wide variety of poets, singer-songwriters and performance artists give a wide and diverse series of performances. Some were funny, some were sad and some were downright weird. One of my highlights was Shaun Inman’s song which you can download from his site.

The phase for the London event is “Where Am I” and I can’t begin to imagine what people will do. As usual there is an eclectic mix of performers, artists and web geeks including Jon Roobottom, Ann McMeekin and the infamous Brothercake.

I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to make it as I’ll be flying back from Orlando that day. However if you fancy an entertaining night out, I’d recommend putting it in your diary.

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d.Construct Podcasts | September 28, 2006

If you couldn’t make it to d.Construct06, there is no need to panic. We podcast the whole event and will be releasing each session over the coming weeks. Jeff Barr’s podcast on Amazon web services is already online, and I just published Simon Willison and Paul Hammond’s podcast on web services for fun and profit.


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Webmaster Jam Sessions | September 27, 2006

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the very first Webmaster Jam Session in Dallas, Texas. Organised by the guys at CoffeeCup Software the event was primarily targeted towards their user base. Best known for their easy to use HTML editor, you would be excused for thinking the conference was a more entry level affair. However I was actually very impressed by the level of the presentations and the knowledge of the audience. When quizzed on standards usage by Derek Featherstone and Eathan Marcotte, the vast majority of the audience said they used standards. This is a testament to the standards based approach advocated by CoffeeCup and exactly how far web standards have penetrated.

The event was very well subscribed, with around 400 attendees spread across two tracks. The event was well run and everybody I spoke to enjoyed the event. The organisers went to great lengths to ensure all the speakers were comfortable, including sorting out airport transfers, evening meals and a generous bar tab. Nick and J went out of their way to make us welcome and even turned down the aircon so I’d feel at home. OK, so that last comment was a lie, but the aircon was pretty cold and it made the people in my session laugh.

All the sessions I attended were of a very high quality, but a few stood out in my mind. Cameron Moll delivered an excellent presentation entitled Essential Web Skills. A mixture of slick visuals, beautiful storytelling and even a musical interlude, Cameron held the audience captive for the whole sixty minutes. With such a well executed presentation, I think Cameron is going to find his speaking services increasingly in demand.

Another highlight for me was seeing Jared Spool discuss why good content must suck. Jared is one of the webs pre-eminent usability speakers and now I can see why. His presentation was engaging, insightful and very entertaining. Who knew usability could be so much fun? I had a bit of a chat with Jared after the event and hopefully we’ll be able to get him over to the UK for next years d.Construct.

Last, but most definitely not least was John Moore’s session entitled Starbucks Tribal Knowledge. I’ve come across the Brand Autopsy blog before, but have never seen John speak. However I’d heard he was a great speaker and I wasn’t disappointed. John gave a fascinating presentation on the brand and marketing strategy of Starbucks Coffee. Despite having little to do with the web, the presentation touched on a number of interesting issues such as building your business, not your brand, and how to make the ordinary extraordinary. However dressed as a coroner replete with to-tag business cards, it was the high energy delivery that sealed the deal for me. I’d definitely recommend seeing him speak, and will be buying a copy of his book for my marketing girlfriend when I get a chance.

As well as the presentations, I met some great people in and around the event including Andy Rutledge, Mark Newhouse, Jared Christensen and Rob Jones of Frog Design. It was also lots of fun hanging out with the speakers and CoffeeCup crew, and I look forward to seeing everybody at SXSW next year, if not sooner.

If you want to check out the event, I believe podcasts and vidiocasts are already online as well as a mass of fantastic pictures from the event. If you are in or around the Dallas area, I definitely recommend you check the conference out next year.

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d.Construct debrief | September 15, 2006

So a week has passed since d.Construct06 and I’ve finally found time to jot down my impression of the event. I’m not going to linger on the speakers and presentations too much–suffice to say they were all in top form. Furthermore, each presentation has been blogged about so much, I doubt there is anything I could add. Instead, I’m going to talk about the event in more general terms and then focus in on some specific elements.

dconstruct06 audience

As a side note, If you want to see what people have been saying about the session, I suggest you check out the excellent backnetwork. I’m going to talk about the backnetwork a little later in this post but lets start with the big picture.

In my impression d.Construct 2006 rocked, and I’m not just saying that because I helped organised it. The great location, amazing line-up of speakers and eager attendees made it one of the best conferences I’ve been to in a long time. Thankfully a lot of the attendees agreed, and here are a few of my favourite comments.

I attend a LOT of conferences, and this was one of the best run events I’ve been to.
Jeff Veen
Probably the Best Web Conference in the World
Stuart Gray
I absolutely loved dconstruct 2006. Well organised, engaging and informative speakers, goodie-bags, booze and of course all of the fun of the sea side.
David Singleton
I’d definetly recomend going next year simply because of value for money for the quality of presentation.
Ben Holliday

Jeremy Keith presenting at d.Construct06

The event obviously wasn’t without it’s hiccups, but I’ll come onto those in a bit.

As far as locations go, Brighton has a lot going for it. Situated on the Sussex coat, it’s 60 miles from London, and a short, 25 minute train ride from Gatwick airport. Brighton is one of the UKs best loved seaside resorts and is an extremely popular weekend destination for Londoners wanting to escape the big smoke. Brighton is a very young and relaxed city with two large universities and a prominent gay community. It is also a creative city, where everybody you meet is either a designer, artist, DJ or musician and sometimes all of them.

As you would expect from this type of environment, Brighton has a strong web development community. Combine that with its proximity to London and Gatwick and you have a great location for a web design conference. Brighton is also a great place to visit, and we saw this as a big selling points for the conference. By holding the conference on a Friday, we wanted to encourage people to stay for the weekend and enjoy our home town. I’m glad so many people took us up on the offer, and I spoke to a lot of people who liked Brighton so much they’d consider living here.

The one problem with Brighton is it’s lack of good conference facilities. There are lots of hotels, but they tend to be sterile and uninviting. There is also a dedicated conference centre on the seafront, but the 70s style architecture and local council ambience is enough to put anyone off. I believe there are plans to tear the place down and build a new venue, so maybe it’ll be ready for d.Construct 2014? We briefly toyed with the idea of moving the event to London as there is a wider choice of venues. Thankfully we dismissed that idea fairly quickly. The conference venues in London are overpriced, and we really didn’t want to lose the Brighton connection.

In the end we decided to hold the event at the Brighton Corn Exchange, which forms part of the historic Royal Pavilion Estate. Built in 1805 to act as the Prince Regent’s riding stables, it is now a popular theatre and conference venue. Its beautiful setting and quirky nature made is a good choice for a grassroots event. The central location also meant it was really close to the station and surrounded by good bars and eateries for lunch. The weather was on our side this year, so lots of people grabbed lunch and either sat in the pavilion gardens or headed down to the seafront.

Empty venue taken by Drew Mclellan

Because the venue isn’t a dedicated conference centre, we did face one or two issues. One problem was the lack of power strips in the seating area. We would have loved to have wired up the whole area, but sadly this wasn’t possible. Instead we set up a laptop charging station in the tea and coffee area so people could work and charge their batteries during breaks. I realise some of delegates didn’t know this area existed, so we’ll do a better job of highlighting the area next year. The main problem however was the lack of legroom.

dconstruct06 audience

The tiered seats were just a little too close for comfort, and meant people had to get up and stretch their legs between presentations. Sadly the seat pitch is fixed, so there is little we can do to improve the situation. We could decide not to use the tiered searing and have flat seating instead. Unfortunately this has its own issues such as restricting the view. Another option would be to use the Dome theatre next year. The Dome is more like a traditional theatre with an imposing stage and plush, comfortable seating. However its a huge venue and consequently costs a lot more. If we did use the Dome next year we’d either have to increase numbers, up the ticket price, or possibly both.

Norm and Steve in the audience of dconstruct06

I really liked the size of this years event. It was significantly bigger than last year, but still managed to retain that friendly, grassroots feel. I think there is a point beyond which a conference stops being a small, community affair and starts being a large, impersonal event. I think 400 people is probably the sweet spot, so I wouldn’t want d.Construct to grow much larger than that.

The other issue is price. The aim of d.Cosntruct is to be a low cost event that any developer can attend without needing deep pockets or a fat training budget. In that regard we want d.Construct to be the antithesis of these large, money making events. However conferences aren’t cheap things to run as we’re quickly discovering, and choices need to be made in order to keep costs down. As such, I’d be interested to know if people would be willing to pay a bit more for a slightly more comfortable venue, or if you’re happy keeping things as they are.

One way of offsetting the ticket price is through sponsorship. This year we were very lucky to have some great sponsors, and without their support the event wouldn’t have been possible. We’ll be looking for sponsors next year, so if you work for a company that would like to support our event and the larger developer community, please get in touch. Sponsorship can be a tricky proposition for a grassroots event as you need to make sure people don’t feel you’re selling out. One way to do this is have a good mix of sponsors, from small local companies to big corporations. Another is to make sure that the sponsors get a good deal without influencing the nature of the event.

This year our sponsors got a variety of benefits including stands at the event, inclusion in all our marketing material and goodies in the goodie bag. The goodie bags in particular were a big hit and contained things like Yahoo! branded water, t-shirts and a copy of .Net magazine. If you came to d.Construct I’d be interested to hear what you thought about the goodie bags and the sponsorship in general.

Pictures of schwag from d.COnstruct06

However one thing the sponsors didn’t get was the ability to influence the schedule. We had a couple of big companies offer us piles of cash in unmarked bills in return for a speaking slot. A few people even suggested that a couple of our speakers may have paid to be at the event. However all of our speakers were chosen on merit and we would never ever accept sponsorship in return for a speaking slot. I find the whole idea a little seedy and isn’t something we’d want to be associated with.

Yahoo branded water

One of the big successes of the event was the social side of things. Like most conferences half the value is in the hallway conversations and d.Construct was no exception. We arranged a pre event party on the Thursday night so people could meet up and get to know each other. During the day we made sure the breaks were long enough and there was plenty of time for lunch. Jeremy even organised an impromptu microformat picnic which was hugely popular. Set in the pavilion gardens to the sound of sitar music, passers by were stopping to see Jeremy evangelising microformats like the charismatic leader of some bizarre cult. I didn’t see any coolaid being passed out, but Jeremy did perform a small miracle with a platter of Pret sandwiches.

Jeremy Keith preaching about micdroformats. Photo by Neil Crosby

After the event, everybody headed down to the Snippperoo after party for drinks and cans of peas. Sadly the guys underestimated demand so the bar ran dry pretty quickly and the canapes failed to arrive is significant quantities to sate everybody’s hunger. I blame the venue for bad advice and will suggest all the money goes behind the bar next year. Despite the hiccup, Snipperoo put on a great bash and everybody had a fantastic time. One of highlights of the event was the crazy golf tournament to win a branded skateboard deck.

The other big hit of the event was the d.Construct backnetwork. Created by our friends over at Madgex, the backnetwork acted as a focal point for the conference. In the run-up to the event, people used the system to highlight their connections with other attendees using XFN. Once the event was over, the system aggregated all the blogs posts and flickr images from the event as well as giving people an opportunity to review the sessions. This has been an invaluable resource for gauging the buzz around the event and seeing what everybody thought. So much so that I hope Madgex will let us use the system for all our future events.

I’m sure there is a stack of stuff I’ve missed, but this has already turned into an epic post. Suffice to say that the event was a huge success and everybody I’ve spoken to had a great time. If you came to d.Construct I’d love to hear your comments, and if you couldn’t make it this year, I trust we’ll see you at d.Construct 2007.

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BarCamp London 2006 | September 3, 2006

I just got back from the very first UK BarCamp, held at the Yahoo! offices in London. I’ve been following the BarCamp phenomenon since its inception last year and have wanted to see one happen in the UK ever since.

If you are unfamiliar with BarCamp, the idea began as the antithesis of Tim O’Riley’s invite only FooCamp. Billed as an unconference, the events are completely unscheduled, and sessions are organised on the day by attendees.

Upon arriving at the venue and picking up our FREE t-shirts, we were greeted by a brief orientation by Ben Metcalfe. Everybody was then asked to schedule events by writing down a brief title and description on a sheet of paper and then sticking them to the glass meeting room walls. I was impressed at how eager people were in suggesting talks, many of whole had never presented in public before. Not having had time to prepare a talk, I opted for a Sunday slot.

After a quick lunch of crisps and subway sandwiches (all provided by the sponsors) the sessions began. Each session lasted 30 minutes and the day moved at a lightening pace. With 5 rooms to choose from, there was almost always something on worth seeing. The sessions ended at 7:30pm and the FREE pizza and beer arrived.

A collaborative mashpit (where people group together to create mash-ups) had been organised for 9pm. However a sizeable splinter group formed–led by Simon Willison– to play a game called werewolf(game). Apparently popular at events like FooCamp, I was a bit dubious about the game at first. However everybody quickly got into the game and we found ourselves playing it until the small hours.

One unique aspect of BarCamp is the camping over. Rather than everybody leaving in the evening and not bothering to come back the next day, attendees are encouraged to bring sleeping bags and sleep on the floor. Out of the 100 or so people who attended, this was probably done by about 40 people including myself.

Having gone to bed late, I work up on Sunday morning after only five hours sleep. Tired and exhausted we all had breakfast before embarking on a second day of events. My talk was the second talk of the day, and my lack of sleep meant I wasn’t on top form. However I enjoyed giving my talk on user experience design and I hope the audience did too. At the very least it sparked some interesting discussion on how ease of use is not the only metric when evaluating the user experience of a design.

I really enjoyed the talks on the second day, and in particular the sessions on user-centered design and microformats. However by 4:30pm everybody was exhausted and after a quick clean-up, it was time to go home. I had a great time as BarCamp London and met some excellent people, and look forward to seeing many of them in Brighton for d.Construct on Friday.

Thank you to Ian Forrester, Ben Metcalfe, Paul Hammond and everybody else involved in the event. Can’t wait till the next one.

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Before, During and After d.Construct | September 1, 2006

(Cross-posted for your pleasure)

d.Construct is only a week away, so I hope you’ve managed to get your accommodation sorted. If not, there are plenty of cheap hotels and B&Bs in Brighton to choose from. Alternatively you could try Lewes or Shoreham, which are a just short train or bus ride away.

If you are staying in Brighton on Thursday night, you’ll probably want to share a drink or two with your fellow attendees. People have already been discussing possible venues, but to make things simpler we’ve done the organising for you. Clearleft have reserved a private room at Heist on Western Road for a pre-event social. So we hope to see you there from 7pm onwards.

Registration for d.Construct opens at 9am on the Friday, so make sure you arrive nice and early. We are expecting queues so please be patient. There are no tickets for d.Construct so simply bring some ID and you’ll be able to collect your conference pass on the door. Once inside we’ll be serving tea, coffee and snacks to make sure you’re wide awake for the days festivities.

There will be FREE wifi at the event, so you can check your emails, live blog the event or hang out on the backnetwork. However please don’t hog the bandwidth by downloading the latest torrents. That’s just naughty!

There will be tea and coffee breaks throughout the day, but lunch is down to you. There are loads of restaurants and eateries near the venue, so go wild. Just make sure you’re back in time for Aral Balkan mashing his Flex up!. Suw Charmin has suggested organising an informal Open Rights Group meet-up during lunch. If you fancy doing something similar, feel free.

After the conference is over I hope you’ll all be sticking around for the after party. There will be FREE (as in beer) food (as in nibbles) and drinks (as in beer and wine) at the Terraces, courtesy of snipperoo. Space is limited, so get there early to avoid disappointment.

If you’re planning on staying in Brighton for the weekend, OpenStreetMap are organising a Brighton Mapping Workshop on Saturday which should be lots of fun. There isn’t anything planned for Saturday evening yet, but feel free to post suggestions on your blogs and use the fantastic backnetwork to sort something out.

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Conferences and Events for 2006 | August 7, 2006

This year looks set to be a busy one for me conference wise. The year began in full force at SXSWi 2006 and was quickly followed by @media. Patrick has just released the podcast of my @media talk, so if you’re interested, go check it out.

I really wanted to go to reboot 8.0 but sadly couldn’t make it as I was moving into my new flat the weekend before. However Jeremy went and had a fantastic time, so it’s already in my diary for next year. Luckily I was able to speak at the very first WSG London meeting which turned out to be an excellent event.

d.Contruct 2006 is just around the corner and while I’m not speaking at the event, I will be running around frantically taking photos and making sure everything runs smoothly.

A couple of weeks later I’ll be jetting over to Dallas to speak at the Webmaster Jam Session. This is a brand new event from the folks at CoffeeCup software, and with a fantastic line-up of speakers, it looks set to be an excellent event. So if you’re in and around the Dallas area, I hope to see you there.

I’ve been asked to speak at the ShiFT conference in Lisbon on the 28th Sep. I’d love to go but am still debating whether I’ll be able to make it so soon after Dallas. On at the same time is Web Directions in Sydney. I absolutely love Australia and have been bugging the organisers for an invite for years. Sadly I haven’t manage to wear them down yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for next year. In the meantime you’ll have to put up with of Jeremy Keith, Andy Clarke and a host of other great speakers.

In Oct I’m scheduled to speak at XTech WebDev London with the likes of Jeremy Keith, Tom Coates and Matt Biddulph. The event is billed as “essential web developer training” and I’ll be running a session on building standards compliant user interfaces. This conference will be more training focused than most, so it should be a very useful event. I also have another event provisionally booked in Oct, and I’ll let you know more when details have been announced.

Last, but by no means least, I’m going to be speaking at Refresh06 in Orlando on the 17th Nov. Born out of the refresh events springing up all over the world, Refresh 06 is the first organised conference. With an eclectic line-up of speakers and a family friendly location, it should be a fun event. I’ve never been to Florida before, let alone Orlando, so am really looking forward to it. Hopefully I’ll have a couple of days free to see some of the attractions like Disney World and the Cape Kennedy Space Centre.

If that’s not enough, the late breaking news is that BarCamp London is finally going ahead. After lots of false starts, Yahoo! stepped up to the plate and offered their London office as the venue. Space is limited and there were only 30 places left at the time of writing. So if you want to come along, you’d better get over there straight away.

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Latest d.Construct News | July 13, 2006

If you haven’t already gathered, d.Construct is a one day web app conference organised by myself and the other Clearleftites in Brighton, England. I always feel a little awkward posting promotional stuff on my blog as it’s really supposed to be a personal site. However until we get round to setting up our company blog–something that’s been planned for over a year, but always gets pushed back to the queue–I hope you’ll humour me.

Preparations for the conference are moving apace, and the event looks set to be bigger and better than last year. We recently announced the schedule, so if you haven’t had a look yet, go check it out. We’ve got a great series of talks planned, all loosely based around the theme of mash-ups and APIs. We’d call it a web 2.0 conference, but we couldn’t afford the legal fees.

Jeff Barr from Amazon will open the show with a talk about the power of web services. Next up are Paul Hammond and Simon Willison with a high energy presentation about the Yahoo! Developer Network and life behind the Yahoo! firewall. Following that we have Jeremy Keith’s cheekily titled “The Joy of API”. Expect lots of drawings of bearded developers doing things your grandmother wouldn’t approve of.

After lunch, we’ll be starting strong with Aral Balkan, the surprise hit of last year. I say surprise because he was talking about Flash and Flex, something you don’t usually expect to see at a standards savvy conference. In this session, Aral will be mashing his flex up and showing you how to web 2.0 with flex 2.0. Next up we have Derek Featherstone discussing accessible Ajax, two terms not often heard in the same sentence. We then have tagging guru, and inventor of the term folksonomies, Thomas Vander Wal, explain what tagging is all about, and how to use tagging in your web apps.

Last, but most definitely not least, we have the big guy himself, Mr Jeffrey Veen closing the show with an inspirational talk on designing the complete user experience. If you’ve ever seen Jeff speak at a conference before, you know his sessions are not to be missed.

Jeff may be closing the conference, but the night most definitely won’t be over. Our friends at snipperoo are organising a big after conference party, so there should be food, drink and entertainment aplenty, well into the small hours.

Being the geeks that we are, the schedule has been marked-up in hCal format, so you can subscribe to the schedule in your calendar app thanks to a cool little tool from technorati.

Registration for d.Construct opens in a few days time, and with a modest ticket price of only £75+Vat, places will probably go quickly. If all this stuff isn’t enough to convince you to sign up, we’ll be giving away some prizes on the day, including free tickets to next years SXSW, book bundles from Apress and software from Adobe.

To help get you in the spirit of d.Construct, we’ve also launched a pre-event podcast. The first show is a retrospective, with Jeremy Keith going over some of last years talks and giving you a sense of what the conference was like. Future shows will see Jeremy talking to some of the speakers to see what makes them tick, as well as interviewing past and future attendees to find out what makes d.Construct so special. We already have a couple of great interviews in the bag, and will be releasing them over the coming weeks, in the run up to the event.

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d.Construct 2006 Launches! | June 21, 2006

Further to my hints a couple of weeks ago, I’m pleased to announce the official launch of d.Construct 2006.

d.Construct 2006 promotional button

If you’ve not heard of d.Construct, it’s a low-cost grassroots web development conference we run in Brighton. The conference is all about web applications and web 2.0, and this year’s theme is mash-ups and APIs.

We’ve got a fantastic list of international speakers this year, including the likes of Jeffrey Veen, Derek Featherstone, Thomas Vander Wal and Jeff Barr. We also have a great line-up of local talent including Simon Willison, Paul Hammond, Aral Balkan and our very own Jeremy Keith.

Last year’s event was so successful it actually sold out within half an hour. To make sure people don’t miss out this year, we’ve found a larger venue and have increased ticket numbers to 350. We could have gone higher, but we wanted to keep the event small and personal. I’ve been to a lot of big events recently and it becomes impossible to catch up with all the people you want to see.

We haven’t yet announced when ticket sales go live, but despite the increased numbers, I expect they will still go pretty quickly. As such, you may want to subscribe to our events feed. As well as letting you know when tickets will go on sale, the feed will keep you up to date with all the conference news and gossip.

And lastly, if you’d like to show your support for the event, you can add one of our many buttons to your site. If you don’t see one that fits the bill, feel free to grab the source files and make your own.

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@media 2006 Presentation | June 18, 2006

Coming up with a presentation topic is tough, as it’s difficult to know exactly what level to pitch for. I prefer doing entertaining or thought provoking talks as they are the ones that usually stand out. However I’ve heard quite a few people complain that they never really learn anything from conferences, so I wanted to do something a little more useful this time. As such, this years talk was on bug hunting.

Bugs are something we all have to deal with on a daily basis, so I hoped it would provoke a modicum of interest. Still, it’s not exactly the sexiest subject in the world, which is probably why my session was only three quarters full. The talk itself went OK, and I had a lot of people come up to me afterwards with questions or comments. However I didn’t get the impression it was a raving success. It could have been the subject matter, the delivery or even the speaker, but despite what people say, I wonder if people really want to hear practical presentations? I know out of all the presentations I saw, it was the inspirational ones enjoyed the most.

Either way, if you came to my session I hope you found it somewhat useful. I promised to post the URL for my notes at the end of the talk, but got so carried away with questions that I forgot. So if you’d like a copy of my presentation notes, you can grab them from

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The obligatory @media slides preview post | June 14, 2006

I’m going to be speaking at @media this week on the subject of bugs and bug fixing. To whet your appetite, here are a couple of screenshots from my hastily put together slides.

screenshots from my @media slides featuring macro photographs of butterflies and other bugs

If you’re going to be at the conference, I look forward to seeing you there.

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d.Contruct 2006 Coming Soon! | June 6, 2006

d.Construct 2006 coming soon

Sign up to the Clearleft events feed, and be the first to know about this year's exciting event.

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Ajax Training in Manchester | May 15, 2006

If you happen to be in the North of England on the 26th May, and are interested in learning about Ajax, why not come along to our workshop? We still have a couple of places left so would love to see you there. The workshop will be led by our very own Jeremy Keith and there will be a special guest appearance from the infamous Brothercake.

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Manchester Ajax Workshop | April 3, 2006

Following the success of our recent Ajax Workshop we’ve decided to take the show on the road. While everybody who attended the London workshop had a fantastic time, the majority of attendees were from the south of England. This was a shame as there is a fantastic web community in the North of England, especially in cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. The few people who did make it down had a bit of a journey on their hands, not to mention an overnight stay in the big smoke. To make it easier for all the web developers in the North of the country, we’ve decided to hold another Ajax training workshop in Manchester on the 26th May.

The details of this workshop are pretty much the same as before. Ajax and DOM scripting expert Jeremy Keith will explain the fundamentals of these techniques before detailing their application through a series of practical examples. Unlike other workshops, this one will focus on core techniques rather than the use of script libraries, ensuring your Ajax applications are as accessible and degradable as possible.

The workshop is aimed at all experience levels. However you’ll probably get the most out of this workshop if you’re a CSS’er interested in learning what this Ajax stuff is really all about. On that subject, don’t worry if you’re not a JavaScript expert as we’ll be giving a free copy of Jeremy’s book, DOM Scripting – Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model to everybody who attends.

Space on this event is very limited, so if you’d like to come along, start bugging your boss or training department now. We hope to see you there.

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Superhero Presentation Notes | March 14, 2006

This is just a quick post to let people know the location of our How to Be a Web Design Superhero slides from SXSWi. You can download the notes in pdf format at (5.9MB). The slides are resonably informative, but for more info, check out the presentation notes over at Muffin Research.


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Have a Super Time at SXSWi 2006 | March 7, 2006

As some of you may know, I’m going to be speaking at SXSWi again this year. Last year I was lucky enough to team up with fellow Clearlefter Jeremy Keith for a tongue-in-cheek talk entitled How to Bluff Your Way in CSS.

This year I have the pleasure of joining forces with fellow Britpacker Andy Clarke, for a talk entitled How to be a Web Design Superhero. This years presentation takes place on Saturday at 11:30am in room 18ABC so feel free to drop by if the Ajax talk is full.

As a bit of fun. I’m going to be giving away a couple of copies of CSS Mastery and Blog Design Solutions for the best supehero themed outfit of the day. This could be as simple as you turning up in your favourite superman t-shirt or as involved as a full superhero costume. I doubt anybody will actually have the nerve to come in costume, but it would be funny to look out into an audience full of superheroes.

After the talk I’m going to be doing a book signing at the SXSW book store so if you want me to deface your copy of CSS Mastery with my illegible handwriting, please drop by.

Like the previous years presentation, this is a bit of fun to get the conference rolling. You won’t learn any cool new CSS tricks, or come out of our session with X-ray vision, but at the very least we hope you’ll enjoy the slides.

Slide showing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman

Slide showing the Fantastic Four

Slide showing the Hulk

Slide showing the Justice League of America

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SXSWi2006 | February 2, 2006

SXSW interactive –the biggest event on the web geeks calendar– is only 6 weeks away, and I’m seriously looking forward to it. If you’ve not been to southby before, it’s four days of inspirational talks, hanging out with cool people, eating, drinking and partying.

Last year saw a bit of a British invasion, with many of the BritPack heading out for the first time. This year looks to be even bigger and better, with the British contingent easily doubling in size. If you happen to live in Austin, I suggest letting the local bars know they need to stock up on beer. Despite drinking far too much last year, it was impossible to get even mildly drunk on their 3% larger, giving us a fairly undeserved reputation as hardened drinkers (if you’ve ever been out drinking with me in the UK you’ll know I’m a bit of a lightweight).

However it’s not all drink, drink, drink. There are some fantastic speakers there this year and some great sounding panels and presentations. Invariably panels will clash, but theses are the ones I’m most looking forward to:

You may have noticed amongst the book plugs and underpants icons in my right hand column a “See Me Speak at SXSW 10-14” button. That’s right, I’m going to be speaking at southby again this year, which is something I’m looking forward to. I’ve teamed up teamed up with the talented Mr Clarke and will be giving a presentation entitled “How to be a Web Design Superhero”. I’m not quite sure what it will entail just yet, but I’m sure it will be fun. Feel free to come up afterwards and say hi, or grab me in the corridors for a quick chat.

If you happen to be on a panel, I strongly recommend reading Seven Steps to Better Presentations by Jeff Veen. How to Kick Butt On a Panel also has some good, sensible advice. Whatever you do, just make sure you have your morning coffee first.

The official evening events look as good as ever, but it’s worth keeping your eyes on for a list of all the unofficial ones as well. Last year I painstakingly transfered all the events into iCal only to realise that I could subscribe to their shared iCal calendar. One big event that may have slipped under the RADAR is BarCampAustin on March 11th. With so many geeks in town, it could be good. Although it’s a real shame they didn’t put it on the day before the conference when more people were free.

If you are looking to keep track of all the latest southby news, or want advice on eating and accommodation, head over to the official SXSWi Community Blog or check out SXSWBaby. If you are stuck for accommodation I’d recommend finding a couple of people to share a hotel room with, or you could try couch surfing if you’re really desperate.

If you are planning to go to SXSW interactive this year lets start to get to know each other. Where are you from, what’s your website address, how many times have you been, where are you staying and what are you most looking forward to?

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Places Still Left on Our Ajax Training Workshop | December 29, 2005

I just wanted to let you all know that we still have some places left on our Ajax Training Workshop on the 10th Feb. The early bird discount runs out on the 31st, so if you are interested in coming and would like to save £50, make sure you register or send your purchase orders before the end of the year.

I was lucky enough to get a preview of one of Jeremy’s Ajax sessions at the recent Yahoo! developers conference in London and was very impressed. So if you come along you definitely won’t be disappointed.

Rather than focussing on a particular framework or set of tools, Jeremy takes you back to basics, explaining exactly how XMLHttpRequest works and how it can be deployed in a lightweight and accessible manner. Jeremy will then work through a series of practical examples to show you how Ajax can be used to enhance your web site or application. If you have dabbled with JavaScript before, this workshop will have you adding Ajax functionality to your sites in no time at all.

Oh, and did I mention that everybody who attends gets a FREE copy of Jeremy’s fantastic new book, DOM Scripting – Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model.

Hope to see you there.

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Ajax training workshop | November 24, 2005

Hot on the success of d.Construct 2005, I’m pleased to announce Clearleft’s first Ajax training workshop.

Love it or hate it, the word Ajax is here to stay. Derided by some as unnecessary buzzword, praised by others as a revolutionary technology, the truth about Ajax lies somewhere in-between. This one-day workshop will explain the benefits and the pitfalls of the hippest methodology on the Web today.

The workshop is aimed at designers and developers with some JavaScript experience, who are interested in dipping their toes into the world of Ajax and Web 2.0.

This workshop will explain the hows and whys of Ajax, illustrated with straightforward examples. Don’t let the code put you off: the most important lessons to be learned are about concepts, not syntax.

Clearleft Director, author and WASP member, Jeremy Keith, will take you through the basics of modern DOM scripting, before showing you the ins-and-outs of the XMLHttpRequest Object. Then, using a concept dubbed Hijax, Jeremy will show you how to build Ajax applications that remain usable and accessible while degrading gracefully.

Just as with accessibility and usability, a little planning can go a long way when it comes to graceful degradation. Instead of creating a fully-fledged Ajax application and then attempting to retrofit it, it makes more sense to create a traditional series of page refreshes and then intercept, or hijack, those requests using Ajax.

The event takes place in London on the 10th of February and you can register now for an early bird price of just £345 (that’s a £50 discount). Tickets are likely to book up very quickly, so if you are interested in coming, it would be a good idea to register early.

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d.Construct 2005 Podcasts | November 18, 2005

We have started releasing the d.Construct podcasts. You can:

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d.Construct 2005 Rundown | November 12, 2005

d.Construct turned out to be an excellent event and went off without a hitch. It was great to see so many friendly and familiar faces all assembled under one roof.

d.Construct 2005 audience

Stuart Langridge in the audience of d.Construct 2005

Just a shame that we couldn’t squeeze more people into the venue. Next year we definitely plan to find a slightly larger venue.

I spent most of the day running around with our new company digital SLR camera, snapping pictures of the speakers and attendees.

Tom Hume speaking

d.Construct 2005 audience

You can see the results in my d.Construct 2005 photoset and the larger, d.Construct 2005 flickr group. If you are featured in any of these photos, feel free to add a note or comment to let everybody know who you were.

We had a fantastic line up of speakers who gave some great presentations.

Aral Balkan giving his presentation

Simon Willison giving his presentation

Here is a list of all the presentations and I’ll link to the presentation notes (where available) as soon as they become availible.

A lot of people live blogged the event as well as taking collaborative notes using SubEthaEdit.

Powerbooks at d.Construct 2005

Blogging at d.Construct 2005

And here is a list of links to some of the more comprehensive posts.

For a wider overview have a look at technorati or Gareth Rushgroves excellent d.Construct feed agregator.

If you attended d.Construct 2005, I’d love to hear your feedback, both good and bad.

[Updated: New slides and notes added ]

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d.Construct | November 11, 2005

So it’s the morning of d.Construct and I’m both excited and a little nervous. We still have quite a bit of preparation to do this morning and not much time to do it in. Also while I’ve spoken at a few big conferences before, I’ve never spoken on my home ground, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m planning to post updates here throughout the day, assuming I have the time. In the meantime, why not keep an eye on Technorati or the flickr pool we’ve set up for the event.

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d.Construct – the UK's First Grassroots Web 2.0 Conference | October 9, 2005

I have wanted to put on a cool, grassroots conference in the UK for a while now. However, what with setting up a new company and writing my first web development book, I’ve just not had the time. Then two weeks ago, the organisers of the Brighton Digital Festival approached me to ask if I wanted to be involved. They had a great space available with a big digital projector, AV and free Wi-Fi, for a reasonably modest fee.

Initially I thought about putting on a large-scale SkillSwap, but as I chatted to contacts in the Industry I realised we could do something much better. I started sending off emails to everybody I knew, asking if they would be interested in talking at an event, and quickly an idea started to form.

The buzzword Web 2.0 is all around us at the moment. Nearly every blog I read and poscast I listen to has made some reference to the term. There are huge conferences going in on in the US as well as smaller, grassroots affairs. Everywhere you look a new Rich Internet Application is being launched, and tech companies are snapping up every DOM script and Ajax savvy developer they can find.

There is a renewed buzz in the web development industry and 2005 could really be the year of the web app. I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to bring together some of the pioneers in the field to talk about what is happening today and how things are likely to develop over the next few years.

d.Construct 2005 was born.


(Thanks to Denis Radenkovic for the great logo)

d.Construct is a grassroots conference focussing on the future of the web as an application platform rather than a document sharing platform. We have organised an amazing line-up of speakers from organisations like Yahoo, the BBC and the EFF to talk about Ajax, API’s and the Remix economy. We also have some fantastic international speakers and tech authors talking about DOM scripting, Flash application development and the mobile web.

As the name suggests, d.Construct is a grassroots digital conference aimed at those constructing the next generation of web apps. During the course of the day we aim to deconstruct (do you see what I did there) what web 2.0 really means and what goes into making a really great web application.

Because d.Construct is a last-minute grassroots event, don’t expect any flashy brochures, bulging goodie bags (although offers of schwag, prizes and sponsorship are always welcome) and slick organisation. Also don’t expect a fancy website as we just didn’t have the time. Instead, expect to see world-class speakers talking about the stuff that really matters.

d.Construct will take place in Brighton, on the 11th of November between 9:30am and 4:00pm. The venue has a capacity of 100 people so we expect the conference to book up early. Registration opens on Tue 11th Oct at 12pm, so if you would like to attend, please book early.

If you are as excited about this conference as we are, please tell your friends, blog about the event and generally help spread the word. Feel free to link directly to the page on the Clearleft site, or use the more convenient, domain name.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Comments (24)

Web Design Conferences | September 30, 2005

I have been to a several conferences this year and have enjoyed every one of them. It is so much fun meeting like minded people who share the same interests and passions as I do. I have been to some great, eye-opening sessions and have been enthused by speakers I’ve admired for years. However it is the snatched conversations over lunch or between sessions that have provided me with the most inspiration.

I will be attending SXSW again next year, and am already looking forward to it. I’m planning to give a presentation with Andy Clarke which should be a lot of fun.

I’m keen to attend more conferences so would love to find out what your favourite conferences are and what conferences or events you are planning to attend in the next 18 months.

Comments (15)

Advanced CSS Training Course | July 13, 2005

Like Jeremy, I’m really looking forward to the training course I’ll be running in London next week. If you haven’t noticed the big banner in the sidebar of this site [maybe you read the full RSS feed instead], I’ll be running an Advanced CSS Training Course at the Leathermarket on the 19th Jul. The course is run in association with Vivabit and is intended to be a follow-up to @media 2005.

I’ve been informed by Patrick that somebody has unfortunately had to drop out at the last minute, so there is one space available if you’re interested. However you’ll have to be quick as it’s likely to go in a snap. Places are extremely limited to make sure attendees get that individual service. If you’ve not managed to secure a place, don’t worry as there are plans for more later in the year.

If you are lucky enough to be attending, I’d love to hear from you. How would you describe your current skill level, what things in CSS are you confident with and what are you hoping to learn? Even if you’re not attending, I’d love to know what stage you’re at and what you’re currently struggling with.

Comments (10)