What We Learned at New Adventures 2019

One of the great things about working on digital products is that there’s always plenty to learn. To start off this year’s curriculum we headed up to Nottingham to experience what New Adventures had to offer.

New Adventures is a brilliant conference that focuses on digital experiences, how those experiences are forming in new ways and how this requires us to think smarter, more efficiently as well as work collaboratively.

Here are our highlights from the conference this year.

Sam Lester on “Building” by Jeremy Keith

Jeremy kicked off the day with an exceptional talk about building for the web, and how we use ideas from industries like architecture and engineering to describe our work.

He introduced us to Stewart Brand’s concept of ‘pace layers’ — different parts of complex systems change and adapt at different rates, from nature which moves very slowly, through culture, governance, infrastructure and commerce, to fashion, which can move very quickly.

The idea of mapping this concept to the web stack was really interesting to me. Like any robust system, the web certainly has layers moving at different speeds, with the networking technologies at the bottom and HTML, CSS and JavaScript at the top. JavaScript is exciting partly because it can move so quickly, but by replacing all the layers with it we can end up creating products that either work perfectly or don’t work at all, without the gradual fallbacks of the systems that we’ve been building since the internet was created.

Pace layers, but mapped to how the web works

We’re big on creating a more stable and accessible web here at Inktrap so this really helped to crystallise my thinking around why and when we should use a specific tool or framework. For native and web applications it often makes sense to use something like React as the products are heavily data-driven, and run in a more controlled environment. The web, however, is inherently variable — we use layers of HTML, CSS and JavaScript to make sites that are truly responsive, and that can handle this variability.

Some of the lessons Clare shared with us

Rachel Brockbank on “Confessions of an Overnight CEO” by Clare Sutcliffe

Clare began by posing the question that has been debated for an age…

“Yeah but, like, should designers learn to code tho?”

Her angle is that yes, frankly, everyone should learn to code and it’s best to start learning early. In 2012, Clare had the idea to create a kind of after-school club that would challenge children to do something real with code, learning by applying their skills so that they really feel like they’ve achieved something.

Clare named this idea Code Club and started by testing the concept with a one-page website to tell the world all about it.

Code Club blew up, quickly building traction and soon the BBC wanted to interview her! During this interview, Clare told the biggest new’s outlet in the UK that her goal was for 5000 primary schools to have a Code Club (that’s 21% of the schools in the UK!)

Now she was committed.

Clare talked us through Code Club’s journey from year one, ending with 1000 schools in the UK having a code club to the end of year 3 where there were 4000 Code Clubs internationally!

It was an amazing journey Clare went through, with many lessons learned, from how to be a leader to what kids need to motivate them. The lesson that stuck with me above all other’s thought was about making your goals public. Once you’ve told the world, that’s a real commitment, and there’s no going back!

Ashley Baxter — Idea to Execution and Beyond

Liz Hamburger on “Idea to Execution and Beyond” by Ashley Baxter

First off, Ashley was a wonderful speaker, she had the entire audience captured as soon as she started her presentation. Not only was her talk practical and inspiring, but it was also full of excitement and confidence too!

Ashley spoke about her platform — With Jack, and what really goes into the process of building a platform.

Though Ashley was from an insurance background, she had so much creativity. At one point she had at least 6 side projects on the go! And this is something that we found we could really relate too.

By working in the creative industry, we sometimes find it too easy to turn our ideas into a reality quickly, this is when we become overwhelmed with half complete side projects and a list of registered domains as long as our arm.

And as Ashley said rightly,

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”

So perhaps it’s time to cut down on our side projects and focus on one or two that we really want to complete.

James Keal on “The World-Wide Work” by Ethan Marcotte

Using the analogy of a murmuration of starlings (basically a large flock of birds) Marcotte spoke of the power of the design industry to influence the world and steer it in the direction we as designers wish it to go. He spoke of recent examples of tech companies selling out; betraying the original optimism of freedom and democratisation for all that was promised when the web was born. Comparing contemporary examples of indirect exploitation by big tech companies with others from the industrial revolution he identified the cyclical nature of any revolutionary technology; at first, it promises increased freedom but ultimately ends up trapping people.

Starling and ‘Stalin’… get it? Workers’ unions? Forget it…

He talked of the sewing machine which promised freedom for housewives only to revolutionise the textile industry and end up trapping people in sweatshops manufacturing cheap garments. He compared this with how machine learning algorithms are programmed, using hundreds of poorly paid workers to pick out objects within photographs and feed this information into an image recognition database. The “big reveal” of the talk was the call to form a union of tech workers, citing recent successes by Google staff which forced the tech giant to clamp down on workplace harassment.

I agree with the comparisons drawn from history but remain unconvinced of his call to unionise our industry. I agree that action has to be taken but in this digital age, we need to carefully consider how this could be better informed by the lessons of the past; creating a large organisation to police other large organisations can easily exacerbate the situation. Perhaps there is a new way forward fit for the revolutionary digital age, a professional body free form the corruption of large corporations and immune to being steered by a fanatic agenda; a union 2.0 perhaps? Watch this space! ✌️

All in all, it was a really interesting day with a tonne of lessons from so many different kinds of people in the industry. We’re looking forward to returning to New Adventures and trying out some other conferences too!

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