26th January 2011
After six months of planning and an ever-increasing buzz, the day finally came when 650 web designers descended on Nottingham for the very first New Adventures event. I’m still exhausted and frantically evaluating it all, but now seems like a good time to sum up the highs and the lows of this bold new adventure.
This week I have already written about the New Adventures newspaper (which is available as a PDF or printed copy) and also walked through the approach to the visual identity. So, to conclude my New Adventures posts for the week, here’s a recap of what happened as I saw it, and from the viewpoint of our attendees.Figure 1: The Great Hall during Mark Boulton’s talk (photo from Robert Sedovšek)
I say a recap, but this is more of a whirlwind diary entry. I still can’t really get my head around it all, and I need to sieve it down in my noggin for a few weeks. Still, let me have a go whilst my emotions are good and true.
The event sold out months ago, and we could easily have sold another 300 tickets. Great, but I think this created a slow build-up of pressure that didn’t really hit me until the day before. Throughout Wednesday’s many hours of setup I was excited but nervous. During the speakers’ meal I couldn’t focus, and by the time I got to the Erskine Bowling warmup I was dead on my feet, drinking soft drinks, and already fearful of oversleeping the next morning. I needn’t have worried, as I was up with the larks Thursday morning, but still with plenty to do.
As we set about the final prep, volunteer briefings, and last-minute exhibitor support, it suddenly dawned on me: hundreds of you were about to descend on the venue, and there was no chance to change anything. This was it. Massive, massive gulp. Thankfully, most of it went to plan, and I even remember enjoying myself once or twice.Figure 2: Jon Tan in full flow (photo by Stefan Nitzsche)
I won’t say I underestimated just how much goes in to an ambitious event like this, and let me be clear—your head would explode if I listed all the details, requirements and legalities involved. As a speaker and serial-attendee I get to see most of the inner workings at such events. I was under no illusion about the scale of the task (having organised a couple of big art festivals in the past), and as months went by I really enjoyed it. Sure, it got stressful as the event approached, and was kind of murder on the day, but a sort of enjoyable stressful murder nonetheless. All in all I’m proud as punch.
In my opinion, the speakers really delivered. Each of them prepared something brand new, ambitious, challenging, and insightful. Although it was my responsibility to curate the programme, I let them do their thing. I never interfered with their ideas, and I always suggested they take this opportunity to try something new, to take a risk, and to enjoy themselves. I think each of them really embraced that, and the response from attendees was wonderful.
If somebody didn’t like a particular talk, another declared it their favourite. In some cases, the substance of talks flowed from one into another. Ideas joined up, outcomes became cemented, and things flowed. Sure, maybe a couple of talks backfired in some eyes, but you have to try these things. An audience of over 600 is never going to be universally satisfied, but that generally positive majority have made me very happy indeed.Figure 3: Sarah, Mark, Dan, Elliot and Jon on the morning panel (photo by Front)
I utterly love this quote from one attendee regarding the presentations that really sums up what we were trying to do:
Not once was there a piece of code on screen. Not once did any of the speakers preach about how we should be doing things, or not doing other things. ...attendees were very much treated as a hall full of fellow professionals, people on the same level as the speakers. There was an overwhelmingly gratifying feeling of assumed knowledge, and I absolutely loved that.All Grown Up by Anthony Casey
Anthony, that is brilliant. That whole review really “gets” it, and I’m considering printing it off and having it mounted and framed in every room. Or at least in the bathroom.
So far, the feedback has surpassed any of my expectations. I’ve waded through thirty or so thorough reviews, and countless tweets, and the overwhelmingly positive response has blown me away. It seems the details put smiles on faces; whether a baby quiche or plentiful bottled water; responding to the back channel or surprising everyone with the free newspapers. I think we got quite a few things right. Let’s forget the tweet where somebody described the event as “woeful”. I’m taking on board all constructive criticism, but that’s a tad harsh. No, I’m gonna share a few of my favourite positive quotes:
Throughout all of the talks I didn’t see one line of code. I don’t go to a conference to learn specifics and take diligent notes, I go to be influenced and inspired by industry leaders. Talks were time-boxed to just 30 minutes, meaning they were lean, focused, efficient and left me wanting more.Martin Wright
#naconf had the best community feel of any conference since [@]media 2005. @Colly just set a new standard for everyone to meet.Andy Clarke on Twitter
[New Adventures] had a profound effect on me as a designer - the topics discussed have helped me realise what I really want to specialise in.Phil Ricketts on Twitter
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire event. It was an inspiring day with some wonderful talks, great speakers and I left inspired with lots to think and ponder about. The affordable price was amazing, the availability of wifi not missed in the slightest, the lunch in the bag was great, the goodie bag - aw, so lovely - an excellent read in the paper, the cute Erskine pin (!!!), I could go on… and on… and on…Prisca Schmarsow
We absolutely loved it from start to finish. Everything about the day way exceeded any expectations that we had and we came away from this amazing event with heads full of exciting new ideas and a heap of new industry friends.Ian Harris
There was even a wonderful post from the perspective of a non-geek accompanying her geek husband, and numerous reviews of the presentations themselves, with most seeing the content as thoughtful, challenging, and unexpected — in a good way. This review from Robert Mills is one of many that explores the speakers’ messages in some detail, and this one from Phil Ricketts boils the talks down into key takeaways and outcomes.
I could link to so many great posts about the event, but I’ve already tried to do that via the @naconf Twitter stream. Perhaps once all the feedback is in I’ll provide all the links in one great big overview.
Naturally, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Numerous attendees have mentioned the uncomfortable seats in some areas, the small number of toilets, the horrible flavour of the Muller yogurts and so on. At one point we lost power on stage (did any of you notice?) and there were a couple of audio issues, plus a dark area of the stage where speakers would disappear into a black hole (as captured on the soon to be released videos). Still, how could it possibly all go to plan? I think most errors happened quietly, with the attendees unaware of the little stresses and unexpected strains.
That said, we messed up registration a little. With hindsight, we didn’t have the greatest system in place to cope with the small foyer area, and we never expected so many people to turn up after 8.45am, which caused a terrifyingly large queue that stretched right back to the island. So, we decided to start thirty minutes late, making sure nobody missed anything, and naturally this impacted on the schedule, making my life hell for a while. Still, it was refreshing that so few complained about the late start or waiting in the cold, and the smart thinking of the volunteers had a lot to do with that. Next year, registration at the warmup events, methinks.Figure 4: Tim Van Damme and Greg Wood on the afternoon panel (photo by Stefan Nitzsche)
The Q & A debates didn’t really work. The first was compromised due to the compressed schedule, and by the last debate everyone was tired. I wouldn’t even call them “debates”, as it was more a case of me frantically collating questions posed via Twitter all day and then reeling those off. If I approached someone to verbally ask their question, they refused. Whilst it was a good idea to let five speakers converse rather than facing questions alone, ultimately this idea doesn’t work in a hall full of 650 people. So, next time we may break it down into smaller groups, have breakout sessions with speakers, or try to find an alternative (online) space for subsequent debate. I do want to find a solution, as the dialogue must not stop when everyone goes home. It needs a forum (for want of a better word) to let the ideas and inspiration bubble and ultimately make a difference.
I’m pretty sure the after-party went well. I think we had almost 450 people across two floors. It would take me twenty minutes to get to the toilet, and I had the same conversation 300 times until my voice completely gave out. I know the music was loud at times; the manager who I’d liaised with was absent, and the bar staff kept turning up the music despite my protestations. I think they thought I was just some sad old drunk who couldn’t hear himself think.
Right now, my place looks like a warehouse. It’s boxes, bins, banners, more boxes, and two weeks worth of washing up. It’s tempting to spend my time evaluating all the incoming feedback, and editing the videos, but alas I must get back into real project work, catch up with client sites, and make decisions as to which special projects I’ll be taking on this year. In the background however, I’m thinking strategically about what happens next for New Adventures. It seems that many of you want me to do it all again, and even try different events and workshops. Well, I’m giving it some thought, somewhere in my tired lumpy brains.
My warmest memory of this whole experience will be of incredible generosity. At every turn, people went beyond the call of duty. Suppliers threw stuff in for free or went out of their way to make things better. My oldest friends pulled out the stops to do what they could, week after week. People I don’t know bought domains, built aggregators, offered to do whatever we needed. Amazingly, when Paypal refused to give my £20,000 of my own money, I had offers of treble that via Twitter to make sure things went ahead. The speakers had a whip-round and paid to replace my car keys which went missing at the venue. My Mam even spent days cutting up stickers and bagging up goodies until her arthritic fingers ached and her back hurt so much she couldn’t carry on. Honestly, some days I lose faith in human nature, but most days throughout this project I’ve nearly cried with thanks at how incredible and selfless people can be.Figure 5: Jon Hicks amidst the crowd (photo by Fabian)
So, I’d like to thank numerous people who made this thing possible. Our incredibly generous speakers, contributors, sponsors, and volunteers. The Albert Hall staff and the caterers, Nottingham Audio Visual, Lanyrd, Gowalla, Erskine Design, Second Wednesday, and Front. Individuals such as James Lindeman, Anthony Killeen, Joff + Ollie, Relly Annett-Baker, James Willock, Greg Wood, Nate Croft, and Emma Crosby. Venues such as Escucha, Saltwater Restaurant, and AMF Bowling. Inspiring friends at Brooklyn Beta, DIBI, EECI, HD Live, Interlink & Build. I’ve probably forgotten someone and now they’re crying. Oh, and the Australia-based Englishman I’ve never met who lent me twenty grand. Last but not least, every single attendee.
Thank you so, so much for your support, and the embarrassing ovation. I’ve a lot to evaluate, and I’m taking my time, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see you all again in around twelve months or so. I just hope you want to do it all over again…
Really enjoyed reading this, sadly I didn’t make it to this one.
Bring on naconf 2011?!
Not that I ever doubted that the first one would be incredible, but hearing all the feedback over the past week has made me seriously consider attending the next one, if there’ll be one. You’ve done an absolutely fantastic job and I can’t wait to see the recorded talks!
Loved the day, loved the talks and loved having a day away from work ;)
You guys should be proud of yourselves. Speakers were awesome, staff were great and we were well and truly catered for (except toilets ;)
Look forward to the next one, if work doesn’t send me again then i’ll buy a ticket and come in my own time (!)
p.s. Thanks also go to Simon and Sarah for donating to my charity walk for Teenage Cancer Trust, you didn’t have to so i really appreciate it! :) - http://www.justgiving.com/sheltandmatt
It was great to be a (very small) part of the whole event, and everyone I spoke to had an amazing time. In every way, New Adventures in web design was an unbridled success (against the odds, thanks to PayPal), and everyone involved should be proud of what you achieved.
There’s been endless praise for the speakers, the events and the attention to detail put in, but the part with the most permanence—for me—is post-conference. I am never more inspired than after a gathering and shared-learning experience with a group of like minded individuals. What will be most interesting to see is the creativity and connections that come out of that one event (some of which has been seen in eloquently written summaries). What beautiful things will happen because so many people decided to turn up in Nottingham on that day?
The most comforting part is that you’ll never know the true extent of it. I think that’s quite cool.
# Emma Crosby responded on 27th January 2011 with...
Great review Si.
But credit due - you did do an effing superb job on this whole event from start to finish. Whoever described the event as woeful probably needs a good hard slap around the head to bring them back to reality. I’ll do the honours on request. I don’t work anywhere within the realms of web-world and haven’t really got a bench to mark against, but as a fashionista (ha-ha), I thought it was great.
I’m really proud of you (at the risk of sounding like your mum), and very flattered at the mention.
Well done you.
Colly, my friend, I could say a thousand beautiful words in my own language about how much I loved seeing this event grow from a debate in warm San Francisco to a well executed gathering of 650 like-minded people in cold Nottingham. It was a real pleasure to be part of it. Thanks for the wonderful time and a highly valued inspiration.
See you in Austin!
You really write a great story Colly. I wish I could have traversed the Atlantic and joined you all. Seems like everything was fantastic and helps step up the quality of the events for our industry.
It was a pleasure to attend and to shoot. High level thinking and people all around.
Colly, well done.
This was the first web design conference I’ve atended, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The speakers where great, topics interesting, venue & organisation was tremendous and I came away feeling inspired to find new ways of working.
All this for a solid £80.00… including lunch! Brilliant value for money, which was very welcome, as I had a 1000 mile roundtrip to pay for too - but I’d do it again next year gladly, it was great.
Thanks for all your hard work.
From all accounts it sounds like it really was a fabulous event and more than worthy of all the praise. It’s refreshing to hear you be up-front and honest about things that didn’t go entirely to plan and to hear the stories of folks who stepped up to help in one way or another to right what must have at times felt like a ship that could turn at any moment. I would have loved to have been there and am certainly keeping the possibility of another next year on my radar.
A very good write-up Simon and an absolutely amazing event. I could hardly fault a single thing and everyone I spoke to said it was their best (or one of) conference ever.
It was incredible value, I would have happily paid double, if not more to attend. You’re a top guy and I’m so very pleased that it all turned out great.
Thank you and please do it again. I’ll be waiting in anticipation to buy my next ticket.
P.S. Sorry I never managed to give you one of my cards after our dribble conversation. Yours are lovely and I’ve had a bit of feedback about mine, so I’ll make some tweaks before going with letterpress.
Good to read a review from your perspective. I thought the conference was a fantastic day(s) and there was a friendly, enthusiastic and inspiring feel to the whole event. Not seen this in a conference before; I’ve obviously not been the the ‘right’ conferences. Hope you decide to repeat it. Great job, sir!
New Adventures sat me down, made me listen, and forced me to think - really think - about what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it. For that reason it was worth every penny.
Wow. What an event. It was brilliant. Worth the early start and late night. Your effort really shone through. Well done Colly.
I go to my fair share of conferences and as a wheelchair user i’m always wondering how I’m going to manage, but even before the event you managed to put me at rest, emailing me personally with instructions, the welcome you gave me when I saw you just before the confence. Then the conference itself was fantastic. Colly, it was by far the friendliest conference i’ve attended and its obvious its because of the hard work you and your team put in beforehand.
Well done to you all!
Thanks for the link Colly, I feel very honoured and accepted into The Geekdom now.
I found a bit of a tear roll down my cheek to this comment… “some days I lose faith in human nature, but most days throughout this project I’ve nearly cried with thanks at how incredible and selfless people can be”.
The event was a huge success, one of the contributing factors is because people brought into you as a person. This support and total respect from The Geekdom only comes from what you have built. You have shared and given so much, and I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be with everyone telling you how awesome you are!
So on that note, I’m not gonna tell you how awesome you are I’m just going to a ‘give a shout out’ to your awesome Mam
The comments above have pretty much summed up my feelings.
As a conference newbie I couldn’t have asked for a better “first time”. The amount of effort and passion that went into the event is plain to see - the praise and congratulations are very much deserved.
Well done and thank you, Simon and team!
Awesome work Colly. Same again next year please!!!
Great post and even greater event. It really did have a fantastic buzz and raised the bar for conferences in this country.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Colly. Not just for putting on the event (goes without saying), but for providing tickets for me and my two friends.
It seemed that we had missed the boat when the event sold out, I thought that I would chance my arm and see if there was any chance of a few tickets being made available, I chanced my arm further by asking for them to be student tickets. To my great relief and gratitude, tickets were made available and we were able to attend.
It’s amazing that this happened, as many would have told us to “jog on”. Not only did Colly provide the tickets but at a reduced price. A genuinely nice bloke and an inspiration to students who are about to embark on a professional career. It’s heartening to know that some leading figures in the industry are both accessible and generous.
See you next year, hopefully (and I may even pay full price!)
Simon, just wanted to say that I enjoyed New Adventures greatly, and you must have handled any glitches so well that I didn’t even notice them. Well done!
I’m practically blushing, and all I did was write a little review!
I’m just glad I could do the event justice, and it’s great that I’ve managed to give a tiny little bit back for all your hard work.
Appearing in the Collison bathroom would be an honour… a slightly bizzare honour, but an honour all the same ;)
It’s interesting to hear from behind the scenes. I didn’t notice any of the power, black spots or sound or mind the late start.
It’s the first Web conference I’ve been to and I can’t wait until next year.
Thanks so much for putting on New Adventures. Although the speakers were great and inspiring, the great attention to detail and loving care was just as inspiring too.
Simon, fantastic write up of a fantastic conference.
Thank you for going through all that effort to make New Adventures happen! It was my first conference, and what a fantastic conference to start with!
Glad you liked the aggregator!
Please please consider breakout sessions with the speakers, I think that’s a great idea, although next year I probably won’t be able to get a ticket with all this great publicity
Sounds like a fantastic turn out and something wonderful to attend. Wish I could have gone. We don’t get such events too often here in Nashville but slowly but surely it seems to be growing. Anyway, congrats on the success in pulling off the event. Must be proud.
Simon - thanks for all your hard work in putting on such a thought provoking event. Antendees names in the free paper was a nice little touch too. Hoping next year you’ll think about making it a Friday though - had to leave the after party way too early… Once again many congratulations.
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