Nottingham is for adventures! Illustration by Howard Pyle.

New Adventures conference! Last week that was a thing that happened. For those of our lovely readers who couldn’t make it out to Nottingham, UK for a brilliant couple of days, here’s a short primer on the talks given at the final (for now) #naconf.

Jason Santa Maria

Jason’s focus was on the revision of the web design process, largely in order to make room for the responsive process. In general this a huge question for a lot of us. How do we communicate all the fluid nature of a site without running wild with logged time? For Jason, simplification requires the minimum viable product—in this case, whatever gets concepts across with the least amount of time spent. A project may start with the grey box method, showing the client a VERY general layout featuring labelled boxes instead of word-y wireframes. Big decisions should be made and content collected before fretting about grids, typography, and other detail-oriented decisions. We all love getting content before designing, but using this flow, perhaps the content could be better strategically and creatively shaped. Later in the process, the basic design should be made in a graphics program, and then responsive bits made and shown in browser (I assume one would design a mobile-ish size and a max desktop size before moving to the browser).

Tyler Mincey

Conference lectures often seem quite oriented to the woes of freelancers, but Tyler’s presentation considered the characteristics of a good team. A healthy team:

  • requires appropriate tension between members (push and pull!)
  • offers a burden of responsibility. Small team sizes and a culture of respectful push-back really helps.
  • respects the unique gifts of experience and youth
  • challenges each other respectfully
  • understands constraints and works to remove future road blocks

And a great reminder: “Seek good people to build your life around.”

Michael Heilemann

A short talk, Michael discussed how much opportunity came out of his creating a WordPress theme, for funsies. Michael’s story demonstrated how valuable it is to make things you genuinely would like to see in the world, no matter how small they are. Useful advice for a students who are often pressed to make promotional work as they leave school. Teachers: instead of assigning self-focused materials as a final project, perhaps challenge students to create something useful or entertaining? A thing that they Google for and are always disappointed not to find?

Tiago Pedras

Speaking of teaching, Portuguese designer/professor explored responsive teaching. Staying relevant in universities is extremely difficult considering the rapid rate of technological change, particularly given the demands of administrative powers. For Tiago, teaching kids how to learn (not just what to learn) is key. Hearing professionals speak and visiting design firms is great, but the most effective tool was gamification. For the second half of his web design course, Tiago split his students into teams (significantly not termed “groups”), and assigned each group a website/web app to create by the year’s end. Tasking the students with something difficult, open-ended, and demanding of responsibility was an excellent way to push them to do the research and learn new skills. And a trophy for the best team probably didn’t hurt either.

Jon Tan

Well known for championing type on the web, Jon stressed choosing type based on the “mechanics of the type family” rather than on chiefly aesthetic grounds. Fonts should be tested for any necessary language support, variants/features, optimization, clarity of letters (“I” vs “l” vs “i”), and OpenType features. The most efficient test for utility is setting the smallest text first in the “most adverse environment.” So, check out your itty-bitty captions, tags, and labels in Internet Explorer before settling on a selection. Favorite part of Jon’s presentation: a study [whose source I cannot remember] compared the time it took to read an article which was typeset nicely for one group, and typeset poorly for another. They found that the reading time was about the same between the groups. The clincher is that the group with nice type underestimated how long it took them to read the article. Typography impacts how happy people are when reading your site and deciding whether or not to buy whatever you happen to be “selling” (person, product, idea).

Seb Lee-Delisle

Seb is a self-professed “creative coder” and one hilarious dude. Championing the use of coding languages for the creation of art, Seb live-coded on a Commadore 64 and using JS and the <canvas> element on a modern computer. Each code example went like this: little detail, little detail, hey that’s sort of cool, little detail, en masse “oooooooooooooohhhhh.” To experience some live-ish coding, check out this video.

  • Words of Wisdom: “Personal projects, more than anything, need to be complete.”
  • And: Struggle is a constant, even for people who are “awesome.”
  • Relevant Links: seb.ly/training

Steph Troeth

I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone speak on digital decay as a good thing before. Steph explored the idea of wabi-sabi, a much-debated term meaning something like beauty in the flawed. Steph points out two conflicting trends: love for aged physical objects (“vintage”) and the desire to create objects that last forever, preserved in their original state. Steph wonders how we would embrace the impermanent on the web; instead of fighting digital decay (less findable/searchable sites, less relatable content, passe design), how could we create interactive content that gets better with age? And one mind blowing statement: “only things that are allowed to age are permanent.” BOOM.

Wayne Hemingway

Wayne Hemingway and his wife created the fashion label Red or Dead and the Hemingway Design firm. His presentation detailed a success story based on the merits of risk-taking. A few too many anti-American jokes for my taste (AHEM! GO USA! Eagles, freedom, etc), but Wayne has a really good grip on where success actually comes from. He posits that it’s not your work people come for, it’s you and your philosophy. Some of your ideas may be controversial, but making decisions and taking actions based on your values is magnetic, and leads you to do the kind of work you actually want to do.

  • Words of Wisdom: “If you’ve got a creative mind, you can do anything.”

Jessica Hische

So Jessica Hische gets a lot done, eh? Jessica espoused the merits of procrastiworking, aka the things you work on when you should be doing something else. She believes these personal projects that can’t keep your hands off of are extremely healthy and essential to the itchy creative’s happiness. The benefits of various projects are various: learning new skills, collaborating, helping others/giving back, enjoying looser deadlines, and creating a resource for that one question people ask you all the time. The desire to work on personal projects seems fairly universal, but Jessica gets to the heart of why people so often don’t complete them: “everyone does side projects they don’t give a shit about.”

 

The tl;dr on this year’s conference is: work smart, not hard; follow your bliss; see opportunity in that which you may typically avoid. Thanks for a great one, Simon, Greg, and the rest of the NAconf team!

Dear reader, if you loved the conference as well, consider pitching in to help out the guys.