Brooklyn Beta 2014, photo by Steve McFarland

The Best Design Conference Yet — Brooklyn Beta (2014)

Succeeded Expectations. Volunteering changes lives. Influencial Designers are just people. Taking risks. Being nice.

So I went to Brooklyn Beta this year for the first time (and unfortunately the last since it was its Grand Finale). I’d never been to any of the 4 previous Brooklyn Beta’s before. I’d followed the hashtag on twitter (#brooklynbeta) and was familiar with people that have gone before. People online always spoke very highly of it. I knew I would learn something, I knew they had the people from the right companies with the right ideals that I could learn from. So I decided that this was the conference I wanted to attend.

BB First Timer

I grabbed tickets within an hour of the first early ticket access email. At the time I bought my tickets I hadn’t known it was the final Brookly Beta. I later found out I wasn’t invited to the “Reunion Days” (the two days before the Grand Finale). I tried to determine if it was really worth it to go for just one day. I sent a few tweets out to Josh Long, Chris Shiflett and Cameron Moll to just get some reassurance about the conference and there was no hesitaiton from them about how much I would get out it and how worthwhile it would be. So I told our Creative Director John Meese I was going and hoping for the best. Brooklyn Beta is one of the few conferences where they don’t tell you all the details. That being the case and John being the good man he is, he supported it and let me take the leap hoping it would be worth the time and money invested.

I’ve only been to one other conference before so my expectations for the conference were loosly based off that experience and what I’d heard from people that had previously attended. I knew people that I admired where going to be there so I just crossed my fingers I’d get a chance to meet some of them and make some meaningful friendships while there. I also knew this was the conference of “nice people” which I quickly found out was an understatement.

I also convinced Alan Dangerfield, another UX designer from Experticity, to come with me. It didn’t take much convincing and somehow he got a ticket a week or so before the conference. Its always nice to have someone familar with you at these type of events.

Looking From The Outside In

All these years not going I kinda felt like a kid outside a candy store. Looking through the window wishing I could go inside if my parents would just let me. Given that we did have tickets to the Reunion Days Alan and I decided that we’d go out a couple days before the conference and see if we could catch a few of the unofficial Brooklyn Beta events. We signed up for anything that would lets us in, checking the site daily for any new events. About two days before the event we got an email asking for volunteers on Thursday to help set up for the Grand Finale. We quickly responded that we’d be willing to help and thought it would be a good way to get to know some people and hopefully allow us to be as close to the “Reuion Days” as possible. Which it did and I’ll expound on this later.

NY Inspiration & Designer Debate Club

We arrived in Brooklyn Wednesday and didn’t have much planned till the evening. This was the first time either Alan or I had been to New York City so we spent some quailty inspiration time exploring Manhattan and Brooklyn. That night we went to an event called the Designer Debate Club. Held at the Invisible Dog with decorations similar to others I’d seen in photos of previous BB years. It was a wonderful event where two groups of three debated whether design was “self expression”. Great conversations arose, one of my favorites being whether the design of the paper clip brought up by the ever expressive Ella Luna. At that event I felt like I was finally “part of” Brooklyn Beta.

After that event we heard that people were going to go hang out and mingle not too far away. We had a little trouble finding the location that was mentioned so we debated what we wanted to do and after second guessing myself 10 times on what to do we decided to head toward what we thought was the location we heard the rest of the group would be headed.

Studiomates Party

On the way we ran into Nathan Beam from Real Thread whom Alan had talked to that was creating and selling the swag for BB. We stoped to talk with them and they invited us to tag along with them to a party at “some house”. We didn’t know where or what we were doing so we decided to just tag along. Turns out that it was the new digs for Studiomates. Which has been a group of talented people that I’ve observed for quite some time from afar. There were a bunch of people there from Brooklyn Beta with food and plenty of people to get to know.

Alan and I grabbed some food and went down to the first floor where it was a little less noisy. We sat at a table where Able Parris was sitting alone just checking stuff out on his phone. I took a “risk” and introduced myself to him. Despite his reputation online and in New York I didn’t really know who he was so I asked him about what he did and got to know him a little. He gave us the opportunity to tell him what we did and we explained that we worked for Experticity and that we’re building the worlds largest community of product experts. He seemed intrigued and so we discussed it for a while but after a bit Dan Mall and Michael Johnson came and joined us. The same conversation began again (which is a common thing when getting to know people at a conference/party). Instead of going through my spiel again I ask Able if he understood it enough to tell them. This was a good test to see if I explained it well enough to Able. Right as he started explaining Experticity to Dan and Michael, they heard it wrong somehow and heard Expert Magicians and we had a good laugh and tangent around creating an app that supported and promoted the Magician sector. Otherwise Able did a pretty good job explaining who we were.

Overall the party was fun. I got to meet a lot of people that I didn’t think I’d ever get to meet in person.

Volunteering for Brooklyn Beta

One of the best things I did on this trip was volunteer to help set up the day before the Grand Finale. I was able to meet people that I would most likely have never gotten to meet. I was able to take part in helping create the experience that is Brooklyn Beta (as little as it may have been). I was privelged to some time with these great people

Jessi Arrington @jessiarrington
WORKSHOP co-founder, graphic designer, passionate about conserving our planet and about color. I’m a pretty lucky so and so.

Bekka Palmer @bekkapalmer
Photographer. Adventurer. Ice cream. Oceans.

Rueben Ingber @ReubenIngber
Interactive Developer at @ExpandTheRoom | Host of @HoldaPencil | Founder of @OneReadCo | @UAlbanyAlum | Blogger | Runner

Sarah Anderson @saranderson
Loud talker, employee at @bigcartel, maker at @cityindustry. Semi-professional aunt. Pretty psyched about all of it.

Rhonda Anderson @ruegrl
Pretty Darn Simple.

Laura Cochran @cochranism
UX lead at Conde Nast focused on copilot, former @DFMThunderdome @gannett @washingtonpost

After a full day of set up and prepping for the conference Jessi was heading back to the Invisible Dog to try and catch the final talk to the “Reunion Days” group. She invited a few of us along Alan and I included and we were extactic. I’d felt like we scored a backstage pass. Silly me. Anyways the talk was amazing and the attendee vibe was very different from the other conference I had attended. Felt like a bunch of old friends.

Town Hall On Stage Moment

Right after the last talk Chris and Cameron had this idea where they’d do a town hall thing. Where attendees would get up and talk about the ideas that they’d been working on over the years that they’d previously shared with other attendees in the past. It was a great idea, during the break though someone mentioned that people might not be brave enough to get up and talk so they suggested that whoever is up on stage invites the next person up. Anyway after a few people had gotten up Able ended up on stage and somehow came up with the crazy idea of inviting the uninvited “wedding crasher” aka Me to come up on stage. He had forgotten my name (understandable) so he called me up as the crazy deigner guy that had 4 kids working for Expert Magicians or something he’d met the night before. I felt very embarrassed and rambled on about how I was not worthy be on the stage and that I was stealing their time. I proceeded to do my spiel on Experticity and explained how we were introduced. I then called up Cameron Moll to the stage since that’s the first person that came to mind and one of the people I look up to in the industry. I left the stage feeling very embarrased and felt as though I’d just made a fool of myself in front my entire industry.

The amazing part of this all was the overwhelming feeling of acceptance I received into this group of extremely talented designers and developers. The complete opposite of what I expected to happen.

After the Town Hall meeting we chatted for a while at the invisible dog where many people came up to me and introduced themselves. This is common for anyone at Brooklyn Beta. People were very welcoming and kind. Going to this conference I had no expectation that I’d have any connection to anyone there but soon realized the world is much smaller than I had imagined. I mean, I knew it was small but not this small.

Royal Palms Shuffleboard

Later that evening we went over to the Royal Palms Shuffleboard which was a blast. It was something to do but also was a great place to keep the conversation going. I was hesitant to go to this event since I expected this to be a flashback of a junior high dance. Me sitting on the bleachers wishing I had the courage to ask someone to dance and only mustering up the needed courage right when people are ready to leave.

It turned out to be the complete opposite. Everyone was talking and nobody let anyone hide on the sidelines. I had people that I’d never thought I’d meet come up to me and just introduce themselves. Some of them being Doug Bowman, Mig Reyes, Jamin Jantz, Jeremy Keith, Ismael Burciaga, Josh Crowder, etc. People that I consider “celebrities” wanted to talk to me. They wanted to talk to lots of people and I just thought that was great. I felt like I was part of a group that I never thought would think twice about allowing me to feel included let alone watch from the outside. They ushered me in as if they were expecting me. They spoke to me like I’d been coming to Brooklyn Beta for years and they expected me to carry that level of acceptance to others the next day at the larger event. Honestly I didn’t know how to react to this unexpected behavior. When people came up to me to talk I did stupid things like pretending I didn’t know who they were and felt stupid in hindsight but had huge respect for them for the way they acted given my awkward behavior. Being online friends vs real life friends will never be the same no matter how hard we try. Sure technology can bridge some gaps but its never the same.

Now this might sounds like I’m making Brooklyn Beta out to be an exclusive club. Which is what I thought it was before I went and soon realized it was the polar opposite.

The Grand Finale

Going into the next day for the Grand Finale I felt an obligation to represent Brooklyn Beta. To be as friendly to everyone as they were being to me. That smaller group of BB’ers were advocates for what Chris and Cameron wanted out of the conference that they started. They were nice people, encouraging everone to build thoughtful products that they loved. I also felt responsability as a voluteer to make sure things went as smoothly as they could.

The Dougal Greenhouse was amazingly cool. It felt designer’ly, especailly after Jessi and her crew put all their finishing touches on it. There were so many people there that I wanted to talk to but there was no way I could talk to them all in one day.

One of the unique things about Brooklyn Beta is that they never annouced their speakers plus computers were discouraged so as everyone sat down to get ready for the speakers everyone was very attentive. The speakers were welcomed with cheering as if they were at a football game watching their favorite team run onto the field. They were people that I wouldn’t have expected and would have thought twice about wanting to hear from had they posted who and what they were going to speak about. Yet after hearing from them they had a perspective that I would have never thought would have been applicable to me especially that pertained to web applications.

The whole day was packed full of friendly people and inspirational stories that left me wanting more. Everything from the creative stations to after parties was something to admire.

Thank you Brooklyn Beta

To Chris and Cameron for putting the time and love into an amazing conference that I truely believe will inspire existing conferences to be better and spark new amazing conferences from its legacy.

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