23rd November, 2010

To Belfast and back

A couple of weeks ago I went to Belfast and back for Build. It was a tale of trains, planes, boats and automobiles, terrible weather, and one of the most inspiring conferences I’ve ever attended.

What follows is a typically unstructured ramble. It’s speedily-sketched waffle. Hell, I’m just trapping a memory. I know you’re OK with that.

Before I mention Build itself, it would be wrong of me not to mention the journey to Belfast, and mark the end of a significant relationship in my life.

I’ve sold the Datsun

I finally decided to sell my 1977 Black Datsun 120Y as it needs more love and attention than I can give. A car that special and that old needs real love, and I’m not the sort of chap who loves cars enough to spend afternoons sanding, spraying, tinkering, or treating rusting chrome bumpers.

Figure 1: My lovely Datsun 120Y. Well, not mine anymore (sob)

So, I found a buyer, someone who pledged to give that love she now needs. As I have never made life easy for myself, it was no surprise that my buyer was overseas. Sort of. Well, in Belfast. Regardless, that’s a long way and there is some water in the way.

Therefore, I opted to make that last drive special. So I drove up to Dumfries (Scotland) in the most appalling squally weather; high winds and horizontal rain are never welcome in a very old car that steams up and leaks. My right side was frozen by the end of the day as I had to keep the window open for most of the journey.

Next day, our final drive from Dumfries to the port of Stranraer was sun-soaked and splendid, with the Scottish coast on one side, and the Galloway mountains on the other. That final trip on the ferry was relatively smooth, and as I drove the Datsun off the boat to the meeting point in Belfast, I actually shed a tear.

Anyway, my good friend Nicklas Persson of the internets Standardistas is the new owner, and I couldn’t be happier that she’s now in the hands of someone I know. Even so, it was sad to say “goodbye”; a little like parting with a girlfriend. She’s gone. With someone else now. Story of my life.

…and so to Build

Anyway, yes. Build. I’d been looking forward to this for ages, partly because it’s rare that I go to a conference and don’t have to do a presentation, and also because of the great things I’d heard about the inaugural event last year. I have to say, Build didn’t live up to my expectations. No, it surpassed them. By miles. By light years.

Figure 2: Build nuts. Photo: Andy McMillan.

The magnificently excitable and energised Andy McMillan puts on one hell of a show. This man understands audiences. He understands context. He understands delight. He revels in detail. He kills it.

Fringe drinking

On that first night, various fringe events gave everyone options. Despite constantly bumping into old friends and new geeks, I was somewhat down in the dumps having immediately sold my car upon arrival, so I hit a load of Guinness and missed the Jessica Hische lecture. Thankfully we made it to the Open Book Exam, where our team (Greg Wood, James Willock, Jason Cale, me, and our iPhones) didn’t do very well really. A score of 74/100 might sound OK, but it wasn’t. Anyway, we drank more and more, and hit the hotel bar, retiring around 3am I think.

The conference day

Others have written about the talks in detail, so I wont. To be honest, I was brutally hungover until around 11am. You can however watch the videos of the talks to get a feel for the brilliance of the day.

Two presentations did however stand out for me. The always thoughtful, always inspiring Frank Chimero discussed The Shape of Design and his ways of thinking really resonated with my own current explorations and interests. The role of delight in design has featured at conferences throughout 2010, and I loved it when Frank explained that “To delight someone is to give them a small lesson in seeing the world as something good”. Perfect.

The other talk I loved was from Liz Danzico who explored The Power of the Pause. Liz comfortably shared examples and ideas from popular culture and design around the idea of stopping for a period of time, or creating a tension, and questioning how we fill that pause and the information we convey within it. This is my kind of message. It makes the audience work a bit harder to find parallels with their own ideas and ways of thinking, and aspects of the narrative hit you a week later, or even a year later. This kind of journey stays with you.

Aside from the talks, let us not forget the Typekit cupcakes, the Caffeine Monitor, the pick ‘n mix, the food market, the giveaways and other goodies. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a dissatisfied customer anywhere at the Waterfront that day.

The after-party

Yes, of course there was an after-party, down at McHugh’s. Yes, of course I was the last to leave the party. I think I left the Malmaison bar at 4.40am, which is pretty good going when a rabble of Irishmen are trying to out-drink you. They had no idea what they were messing with. Especially the boy Munroe. Still, great bunch of lads, nonetheless. I do worry that I will need to start falling back on my reputation soon though. A man of my age can’t be expected to see these parties through at every event, surely?

The journey home

Whilst I was delighted I wouldn’t have to drive home from Belfast, I was a little worried when I got to the airport to discover a wall of flight delays and cancellations. You see, it was windy. When I say windy, I mean gale force. When I say gale force, I mean Katrina.

I sat at the departure gate as friends arrived and left on their flights to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Heathrow and so on. When my flight to Manchester finally boarded around two hours late, I almost expected to be blown to my death as I walked across the runway. Shit the bed; that was some wind.

Take off was horrible. We were being shaken around the skies in a tin can and I actually felt sick. I was so relieved when we levelled out and despite a slightly bumpy landing at Manchester airport, I have to say that the flight ended up reasonably smooth. Still, I’ll never forget that take-off, and it was interesting to see similar tweets of woe from friends flying to London, Cardiff, and Amsterdam.

Belfast, you really do extreme weather very well. No messing. Weather turned up to eleven. With bells on.

More on Build…

For more eloquent, thoughtful overviews of Build, look no further than the write-ups of my good friends Sam Brown, James Willock, The Standardistas, and Jason Cale

Finally, the brave amongst you can listen to me, Andy, and assorted other misfits on the fifth Build podcast, which we recorded outside McHugh’s, at midnight, in the rain, drunk. It’s classic.

Oh, and finally…

I’ll be speaking at Build 2011. With Jason Santa Maria, Ethan Marcotte, and The Standardistas. More to be announced soon. Gulp!

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