26th July, 2010

New Adventures

Last week, I announced New Adventures in Web Design, a unique and affordable web event that will take place in Nottingham, England. A few days on and it seems like the right moment to provide a little background, and quickly address a few things.

New Adventures website

A little background

I’ve long dreamed of organising a meaningful event like this in my hometown. Several years ago I instigated, organised, and directed two city-wide visual art festivals in Nottingham, which were a huge success. Working with a small team of volunteers, we managed to get just about every art gallery to work together, as well as commandeering unused and unloved vacant spaces, exhibiting homegrown artists alongside those with international reputations. It was a real buzz, and gained a solid, enthusiastic audience. I also learned a hell of a lot about event management.

Those events were a reaction to what was already happening in the city. Established, bloated art festivals with super-budgets and big staff teams were happening annually, but didn’t seem to involve the grass-roots artists or venues. As young rebellious upstarts, we thought we could do it, and do it better, and without much money. To a certain extent, we were right.

Genuine motives

Fast-forward to 2010, and I’m now throwing my resources and reputation on the line for a new web conference. I’m fortunate to be asked to speak at lots of events, so I get to see how things work not just for the audience, but also behind the scenes. I have to admit I find the whole thing fascinating, but often think “I’d do that bit differently”.

New Adventures in Web Design carries the spirit of those old art events into the web industry, and has clear aims and objectives. With New Adventures, the goal is to work with a faster format (more speakers, single-track, fresh and complimentary content) covering genuinely hot design topics, and bring all of this together to excite, enthuse, ask questions, and seek real outcomes.

Why the debates?

New Adventures has been in incubation for a long time, but it really gained momentum after my trip to San Francisco a couple of months ago. The EECI conference was beautifully organised, and a real inspiration. What really excited me was the freestyle workshop discussion that immediately followed Greg’s presentation. In a room full of smart people, a debate kicked off, with brilliant perspectives on editorial design (some call it “art direction”) from designers, developers, directors, representatives from media and newspaper sites and so on. It was fascinating, lively, and I just wanted the whole industry to hear the salient points and chatter we were enjoying in that room. It felt like we were organically finding answers and outcomes.

So, with New Adventures the aim is to involve the audience through a structured Q&A process (more on that another time) and two debates, with me and a couple of others roaming the fantastic open venue with microphones to keep the dialogue constant between stage and attendees. Some of the topics will be pre-prepared, some will be born out of the Q&A, and some will be directly instigated by attendees. Will it work? Hope so. No harm in trying, right?

Genuinely affordable

It’s worth mentioning the price. £80 early bird for all of this, and £60 for students. The motivation is not to make much money. This event is gonna cost thousands and thousands, yet it is one of the most affordable conferences anywhere. Let’s face it; Nottingham is a provincial city, and this is a new kind of event. We’ll do everything possible to make sure it’s professional, slick, engaging, and rewarding.

So far, the feedback and sales have surpassed expectations, and I’ve gone past being confident and have now hit “full-on excitement” mode. I’m gauging the desire for events the night before, and I’m talking to a couple of people about adding something special into the mix. As for the after-party, we can’t confirm anything just yet.

Rumblings of disquiet

There have been a few rumblings of disquiet, mostly centred around the choice of speakers. “The same old faces”. “New Adventures… with the same old designers” and so on.

All I’ll say for now is that I am carefully curating this event, and that I invited speakers who I know can deliver, engage and excite, have burning issues and opinions, and can get to the heart of what we all really care about. I trust them, and the event needs them. Once this first event is done and dusted, we can take stock, and begin to consider a greater number of fresh faces. That said, Tim, Veerle and Jon hardly ever present in the UK, and Greg has never presented anywhere except San Francisco. All ten speakers are new to most of the Nottingham-based attendees.

Now, I’m too upbeat to get stuck into this right now, and this post is not the right place to start defending or attacking. I would however ask that everyone takes stock of the location, the marginalised audience, the ticket price, the fact that this is our inaugural event—and show a bit of common sense.

To lazily fire shots at New Adventures off the back of your general conference anger is unhelpful, and all I ask is that the haters read the website, understand that we’ll be trying to do things a little differently, and give us a chance. If we fuck up, then by all means have a party on our ashes. Until then, shut up, or start your own conference.

It is also worth noting that I have special powers and manage to trace all spiteful tweets either myself or via my spies. The authors usually get one of my angry replies. I usually then get a twenty-paragraph explanation and/or apology by return. So, if you’re gonna lazily criticise the event before it happens, be prepared to invest some time in your reasoning.

Tickets are selling fast!

Yep, we sold over a third of the tickets within the first 24 hours, and we’re just short of 50% as I write. This is wonderful, and based on tweets and emails, it looks like we can expect a surge on payday and just before the early bird deadline. So, if you don’t want to miss out, I advise you get your skates on.

Thank you

Finally, I’d like to personally thank everyone who has already bought a ticket, and everyone who has sent kind words, support, thank-you messages and generally backed New Adventures. You are showing real faith in me and the tiny team and we will not let you down.

Thanks also to our incredible sponsors: Campaign Monitor, Fontdeck, Five Simple Steps, Typekit, Holiday Inn Express, Tenfold, Joff + Ollie, and Dribbble. More in the pipeline.

New Adventures in Web Design takes place on Thursday 20th January 2011, in Nottingham, England. Follow @naconf on Twitter for news and updates.

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