20th April, 2007

Sadly, nobody managed to see into the future, but we had fun trying…

Some week. A family bereavement, four London meetings, one client workshop, speaking in front of 800 people, and catching a heavy cold (off either Andy Clarke or Jeff Croft I believe) have left me feeling quite drained as this week draws to a close. Still, I’m back in the office drawstringing things together, and I’d like to post a few of my feelings about the Future Of Web Design conference hosted by the Carson Systems gang in London on 18th April.

Future of Web Design panelFigure 1: Above (L-R): Joshua Hirsch, Jeff Croft, Jason Arber, Noam Sohachevsky, my good self and Andy Clarke. Picture courtesy of Simon.

Some went mad, some ran away…

There has been a little criticism that the actual “future of web design” itself wasn’t really covered, and I do agree to some extent. I’m not sure a single one of us came away with a clear idea of the future. I think this is mainly due to the fact that the future hasn’t happened yet, and it is therefore hard to accurately define it.

Our industry is developing at an alarming rate. What mattered last week has been superceded by something else. Next week a new technology called CILLIT BANGJAX will completely change the way we think about building websites, and in 2012 Jeffrey Zeldman will be president of the Unites States, but only possibly - we don’t know this for sure.

Think laterally, and every presentation is useful

Facetiousness aside, it is true that a few speakers got a bit carried away talking about their own work and achievements, although it was evident where some of these presentations were very much forward thinking, and as an audience it wasn’t too great a leap to read between the lines and begin to form our own conclusions about the future. I think attendees at any conference need to work as hard as the speakers, by processing what they see and hear and working out what is applicable to them as individuals, each attendee finding their own inspiration where others do not. Sit and stare and you’ll come away with much less than those who can think laterally about the presentations. That’s not to dismiss those who were genuinely disappointed, but I do think there is a certain way of processing the information that flies out from the stage.

It is worth noting that the Carson team were certainly aware of the challenging goals defined by the name of the conference, and they were quizzing plenty of us to get our views on what worked and what didn’t.

Sure, the presentations from Microsoft and Adobe were classic sales pitches (especially the former), although personally I thought Adobe’s Apollo looked excellent, and as web designers and developers we need to know about these tools.

The social & business benefits

A lot of people I spoke to could see no reason to complain. The Microsoft Lounge was undeniably comfy and welcoming (although we weren’t sure if the Microsoft Expression bottled water contained brainwashing poisons) and allowing these two giants of the industry to sponsor the whole thing meant that tickets were incredibly great value. Lets face it, even if you don’t like the presentations, you get to have a day out of the office, interacting with like-minded humans and making new friends and contacts.

The business value of these events is what you make it, and I for one found FOWD to be a catalyst for new friendships, new work, and an opportunity to build upon previous brief introductions. If you are on your own and shy, come talk to me - I’ll talk to anyone.

In general, I came away with a renewed excitement about what I do, and an eagerness to face the challenges head on - the same feeling I get post @media.

Question Time

I think the panel discussion went some way to exploring the future of web design directly. Certainly we were keen to throw out our ideas about how our industry will develop, and what our roles will be, but 45 minutes would never be enough to explore it fully.

I really enjoyed being part of the panel discussion. It’s the first time I’ve taken the stage before a crowd of web professionals, and I greatly enjoyed the experience, even though it felt like we were up there for about five minutes. Time flies when you’re having fun I guess. I’d like to actually present my thoughts about the future of web design as a more coherent presentation at some point, as I’ve rather a lot to say on the subject. Stick me on a panel and I’ll just waffle on as though I’m in the pub.

To conclude

Anyway, large congratulations to the Carson Systems gang for organising a slick and pacy conference. All of the Carsonites were friendly, on the ball and only too happy to help people with questions or problems. Whatever your thoughts about the content of the presentations, you have to admit that they know how to throw a party, with a particularly obsessive eye for detail.

Shouts to those I met for the first time, and if I told you to email me I did mean it, so do. Great to meet a few more designers I’ve always admired and to discover that they are as friendly and grounded as one would expect/hope. Hugs to my colleagues, Arber, Simon Clayson and the boys from CascianiEvansWood for the inspiring company and occasional patience whilst I swanned about.

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