The stage going up for New Adventures conference.

My thoughts

I remember learning about NAConf in 2013, thinking "I'll go next year" and feeling I'd missed out when I heard it was to be the last. I had to go when Simon and Geri decided to run another; the line up looked great and there were workshops I really wanted to attend.

Jeremy Keith was first and, frankly, his words made my head and heart listen intently. Jeremy compared the web to architecture and showed us the elements we use in our web-world. Architecture is a metaphor I use too, but he took it to a new but relatable level, introducing pace layers (instantly making me want to be a member of The Long Now Foundation). These show how the components in any system are different sizes and change differently, at different speeds. Working with the layers means we make a better product, one that importantly, fails well. If you ask my feelings on Javascript, you'll find they are the same as that on fast fashion, so this part resonated with me.

Jeremy went back to the architect metaphor with consideration to pace layers and how we should look at how well things fail, the Principle of Least Power. Consider software; most of it works well, but what's important is how well it fails. It's uncommon for anyone other than a sysadmin to consider how well things fail. It's about selecting things that don't just work well, but also fail well.

Jeremy told a harrowing story about how seventy-five construction workers died because of an engineer's decision, so now, when graduated from an accredited engineering program, engineers take an oath and wear a special iron ring as a reminder of their responsibilities to the world, and this makes the word engineer too precious for us, we who tinker and enjoy playing in the faster layers of the web. Maybe this makes us the construction worker, the builder, the one who gets down and dirty with the materials of the web. As the girlfriend of a builder, I've often considered our work similar. We both build resilient, performant, accessible and beautiful structures. I'm proud to be a builder of the web; someone who rolls their sleeves up and gets stuck into the fundamentals, the slower pace layers.

I knew Clare Sutcliffe co-founded Code Club, but I didn't know how it became successful. The hard work and determination to get it running is so motivating. I joined Code Enigma to mature their design team and at times I feel I'm out of my depth and the wrong person for the job. When I was listening to Clare I realised I can do it - I am doing it - I just hadn't noticed. Clare became a CEO by believing in a cause. I know I'm helping steer our design team in the right direction by believing in the value of design. Believe in what you are doing, and just do it.

Next was Josh Brewer his talk on demystifying design covered that the misconceptions of design - making things look pretty - is still alive, even though many designers now have a seat at the table. "Good design is good business" and this supported what Aaron and I learned at Design Leaders conf when we discovered the Mackinsey report on the business value of design. Josh reminded me that a design mind works differently to an analytical mind and designers need to over-communicate that magical time between receiving a brief and coming up with a design, even if that might be hard for designers to do, because for them the process isn't linear.

Jessica White reinforced everything Josh said about communication; how we should force ourselves into development teams, to understand their pain-points, their happy moments, their life. If we want to do this for our users, we should be doing it with our developers. I found this talk confirming my beliefs; I've gone full circle from design to frontend dev and Drupal site building and back to design again. I get it, I get the pain devs feel and I don't think it's much different to the pain designers feel. Constrained creativity and inconsistent processes or core values are key pain points for both of us. My favourite phrase from this talk was "tiny acts of rebellion", designers sitting with the devs, asking questions about all the things, shaking it up. A lesson for all.

Ashley Baxter may just be my new woman crush. She hadn't been in my bubble until the conference, I knew of With Jack, the freelancer insurance people, but not how it started and much like Clare's talk, this woman knows what she wants and is going to get it. Ashley's tact is different to Clare's because she's going it alone and happy to do so. She'd rather take it all on herself than pick the wrong people. She's clearly an ideas person, having many good ongoing side projects. It was only trying to simultaneously do them all that made her realise she wasn't going to progress any of them, so she focussed on With Jack.

Being focussed on her customers, responding to their needs, purposely being a small business, a real person at the end of the email, Ashley built With Jack into a business that does more than provide insurance to freelancers but helps them grow their businesses.

I thought at lunchtime the inspiration would end at the bottom of my brown paper bag but no, Women in Notts did a lunchtime takeover and there were some insights from dealing with imposter syndrome, feeling different because you look different, to building organic websites - using just the slower pace layers of HTML and CSS and the benefits of eating porridge at lunchtime. The people who dared stand up and speak were great and it was comforting to see everyone welcome and applaud them.

After this it was time for Brendan Dawes. Let me be clear here, I love Brendan Dawes. He was on my radar at university when I was learning about Paul Rand, David Carson, Erik Spiekermann, Neville Brody and Hillman Curtis. Brendan is an inspiration for me, he makes me feel bad for not playing enough and not embracing my creativity more.

Brendan Dawes diagram illustrating how design, art and technology interact for him.

Honestly, this is the best bit of Brendan's talk for me: "'You can't do this like that' 'sod off'" Create to criticise, embrace your creativity, try the untried and don't let anyone stop you.

Sometimes the process is messy, don't get hung up on that. I've got lots of ideas for creative projects I can do within my labs time at Code Enigma. I've even pulled out my eggbot and finally got it working, after 8 years, because of this talk.

Brendan Dawes talking about his creative process on stage

Helen's talk reminded me to test my assumptions, and understand the technical privilege we have as people who work with the web every. single. day. 1337 H4x0r sp33k might be a second language to us, but to the people we build websites for, they can struggle with a plethora of obstacles we take for granted. We're becoming more inclusive with our design and development decisions at Code Enigma, but it's an area we can continually improve on. There are a lot of helpful resources, but nothing beats meeting the user face-to-face.

Naz Hamid again spoke about building bridges into other people's bubbles; anticipating the room and understanding the needs of others. He used the terms "Design by inclusion" and "design for inclusion". Including people in the design process and ensuring that process designs for all. This talk on diversity and inclusion turned the table round as to why designers need a seat at the table, not to be heard but to listen (and this backed up other talks of the day).

Ethan Marcotte ended the conference following the theme of responsibility and inclusion. Making all my senses tingle. I still don't really know how to sum up the talk, but I'm very grateful I was able to hear it, for the first time. To me, it feels that when the rest of the world wide web gets to hear Ethan's talk, it will change the way we all work. I know I've started to consider my actions more. The feeling of how his words hit my stomach and made my eyes tear up and take my breath away hasn't left me, and I hope you get to feel it too.

The Era of Engagement needs to end, and the Era of Responsibility needs to start. Just like how Ethan's responsive web design article changed the web 9 years ago, I see responsible web design doing the same.

The whole conference was thought-provoking and asked bigger questions about the digital world that I hadn't considered. It was great to break out of my normal self for a day and listen to other people's perspectives on the future of design and tech.

I really hope that New Adventures comes back next year.


Written by

Justine Pocock

Head of Design