When my manager at Jive told me that they had budget to send me to a web design conference this year, I was excited at the opportunity. There are many conferences that occur each year, many with different focuses, so it was difficult to choose one. I knew I wanted it to be intellectual, and not gimicky. I wanted it to be about the content, ideas, strategies and profession and not about improving speakers/authors egos. I knew I wanted to come out of it equipped with a better understanding of my craft and a new focus in my career as a web developer.
So when my manager then suggested An Event Apart I decided to look into it. I was familiar with the “A List Apart” site and articles and knew that they always produced highly intellectual, engaging and trend setting articles. It seemed like the perfect option so I registered, packed my bags, and headed to San Diego.
An Event Apart
I woke up at 4am on Sunday and drove my scooter to PDX (Portland International Airport) so I could take advantage of the free motorcycle parking there. It was 45º and I was pretty cold. My flight was quick and harmless and before I knew it I arrived in sunny San Diego. I got a rental car, checked into my hotel, and then spent the rest of the day meandering around the harbor. Later that evening I went to the San Diego Marriot to register for the event. That was also quick and harmless and I was given my custom made lunch box (equipped with thermal!) and everything I needed for the start of the conference Monday morning.
I returned to a park bench near the water and soaked up the remainder of the day’s sun beams. When it rains for 9+ months out of the year (in Portland, Oregon where I live) you take what you can get!
It was a beautiful, peaceful, reflective start to the event.
I don’t mean this to be a write-up on each of the presenters — so I won’t go into detail on each of them, but instead will offer my perspective in general of the entire conference as a first-time attendee.
From the very first presenter (Mr. Jeffrey Zeldman himself) the conference had the exact character about it that I was hoping for: intelligent but not egotistical, well thought out but not boring, popular without being pompous. The other attendees seemed nice enough and I met a few people at breakfast that first day who were super friendly and it was easy to begin talking shop right away.
The soundtrack between sessions complimented the eclecticness of the entire event. While the web community, in my experience, is pretty synominous with a lack of diversity, this event definitely was the most diverse web event I had ever been to. I met people from different states and countries. I met designers, developers, managers, and people somewhere in between. There was a strong female presence there (something you definitely don’t always get) in the audience as well as in the speaking lineup.
The sessions were the perfect length (each one running one hour with a ten minute break between) and the snacks and refreshments offered between sessions and at lunch were incredible. The little things were taken care of which goes a long way. There were rows of tables with table clothes and power under almost everyone. The room was long but half way back there were TV’s to show the slides if the front projection screens felt too far away. The sound was clear but not overly loud. The slidedecks were what you would expect from a web design conference: pristine, clear, and entertaining.
One of my favorite things about this conference was the way that Jeffrey Zeldman introduced each speaker and then proceeded to give them a heartfelt hug before they dove into their materials. It didn’t feel weird or forced or rehearsed. It felt like family.
And with the concluding session of the conference being from Mike Monteiro, who fired everyone up with a passionate call to take ownership of the decisions you make in design and in your jobs. Don’t give in to the temptations to create sh*t and make the rich richer, but instead, be respectful of your craft and be conscious in your designing. It was a rallying of the troops — and it hammered home the family feel of the conference. To be a web designer is to be a gate keeper for future generation of designers.
Like many things in my life (such as music, art, poetry, etc) I don’t usually spend my time concerned with what others have done, said, written, published, etc. I just go with what I like, with what feels right and looks/sounds good to me — and only study enough to understand the basics and then I run with it.
I realize now that this is a terrible way to become great at anything.
The greatest artisans are those who studied under a master of their craft and spent years watching them, mimicking them, listening to their stories of masters who came before them and developing a broad understanding of the skills and techniques needed for not only perfecting their craft but moving it forward. Those who took the time to be molded by their masters and the masters of the past would in turn become the masters of the present, the innovators of the future, and the gate keepers of the craft.
It has taken me a long time to understand this. Especially in web design where it is so easy to jump online and find countless tutorials which walk you through exactly how to do something. But you can only “google” things so long or search for answers on “stackoverflow” for so long before you will be found out as a fraud. To truly be great at something, you must understand all the inner workings of the craft, from the most basic bottom layer to the most complicated outer skin.
This conference was my first step at becoming a “great” web designer. Well, maybe not the “first” step — but truly a leap forward in the right direction.
Thanks to all the speakers, organizers, and conference workers. Thanks to all the other designers and developers who hold in high esteem this craft that we are just now beggining to mold and perfect. Here’s to a very bright future…