On the importance of attending a web conference

Author: Joke De Winter

New Adventures in Web Design, Nottingham, 2011

Last week I attended the first ever New Adventures in Web Design conference, organised by Simon Collison and held in Nottingham. It was excellent, both in organisation (well done Simon and thank you) and inspiring talks.

But for me it underlined again the importance of attending web conferences:

  • it inspires you,
  • it spurs you on,
  • it teaches you something you might not have known before,
  • it underlines things you already figured out,
  • it gets you away from your computer screen and gives you the chance to meet some real life flesh and blood people (Oooh! There are people out there?)

After I attended my very first conference I came away feeling inspired, with improved knowledge and overall better equipped to be a web designer. I had learned more in one day than I had all year reading blogs and books. I don’t want to knock the importance of blogs and books, but hearing someone talk about their views, motivations, techniques in and on the web, has a bigger impact than reading about it. The words come alive and it puts a face to a name, it makes it more personal, it makes you read blogs and books by that speaker differently, because you now know what makes them tick and what they regard as important.

At the end of that day I decided there and then that attending web design conferences are an investment into my (never ending) web education and an important addition to any books I might buy.

Because of the well known lack of a proper web design course/degree most web designers are self taught, and I have come to see web design books and blogs as the syllabus and web conferences as the lectures in my quest to learn everything there is to know about web design.  And in my opinion the lecturers are ace – experts in their field, better than any university or college could provide, and probably, all things considered, at a fraction of the price.

New Adventures in Web Design, Nottingham, 2011
Picture courtesy of Magrolino (Flickr)

When I heard about the New Adventures in Web Design conference, delight and novelty aside that the conference was in Nottingham rather than in a far away (and expensive) place like London, I was also delighted that the ticket price was unbelievably reasonable (£80) without compromising on the quality of the speakers, something which was moaned about when the conference was announced because the speakers were the same old faces again.

I agree that most of the speakers at New Adventures are very seasoned at what they do and speak all over the world, and yes, apart from two I have heard them all speak before. But that’s because I am lucky enough to be able to go to the odd conference, and that is not the case for every web designer, as proven by the fact that New Adventures attracted quite a few “conference virgins” (Colly’s words). Whatever the reasons are that they never attended a web conference before, that doesn’t mean they should miss out on the good speakers.

I think by now most web designers will have bought a copy of Hardboiled Web Design (and if anybody hasn’t: what are you waiting for? A written invitation?), so it’s nice to see and hear Mr Andy Clarke in person. He has spoken in numerous high profile places on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years, so why should he not speak in Nottingham too?

You can argue that new speakers should be given a chance to break into the speaking circuit. Well, Greg Wood is a relatively new speaker on the scene, and he was speaking at New Adventures. That said, there are other (bigger) conferences that cater for new speakers by having a B-track. And with New Adventures being a brand new conference it is probably fair to assume that such a thing would have been a bit much for a first time – but watch their space, you never know.

Anyway, New Adventures in Web Design was a great conference, one I look forward to to attend again.

The last speaker of the day, Brendan Dawes, had a quote from a stranger on the train to Nottingham: “It’s always good to sit by the window.” I want to change that into: “It’s always good to sit in the audience of good speakers (old or new)”.