Webstock 2014: Working without pants

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Webstock 2014

This year I was given the opportunity to attend Webstock 2014, so of course I jumped at the offer. This was to be my first ever Webstock and after hearing so much about it from Sam who went last year and having a quick look over who was going to be speaking at the event I was super amped to check it out. Man was I right to be excited, this year most of the topics were more higher level stuff but all very interesting as well as inspiring. The speakers focused not so much on design but working process, the future of the web, strategies for startups and that sort of thing.

There is so much that I took away from the two days of speakers that writing about it all would be a monster task in itself. So, instead I’m just going to touch on the talks I enjoyed the most and share with you all some of the drops of wisdom that I extracted from them.

The year without pants!

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Scott Berkun’s talk about his year spent working for WordPress was an excellent way of starting off the main event. As he explains from the get-go, WordPress is not set up and run like most other large companies like Facebook or Google. Wordpress has a very unique way in which it manages its stuff and the people that work for it. The short answer is that it pretty much doesn’t! How can that be? Well I’ll break it down for you like Scott did in his talk and hopefully you’ll start to see what he is talking about when he says it’s the future of the web/tech industry.

So the first thing that sets WordPress apart from other major tech companies is the fact that all of it’s employees work remotely. Obviously this has some major advantages, first it means you hiring pool is much larger now that basically you can hire anyone without having to deal with relocating and providing visas for talent overseas. Second, business expenses become less as you now no longer have to provide working space and equipment for all your employees.

What about meetings? Well let me tell you about this little invention called the internet and it’s ability to let you communicate with anyone one, anywhere, all over the world. But seriously why can’t you just use programs such as IRC, Skype or Google Hangouts to replace the face to face time you have at work? And as Scott stated, it actually comes with some advantages that you might not of thought about. One such advantage would be keeping employees engaged in what they are working on. Not having to answer every question posed to them at the time and allowing them to answer it when they come to a natural stopping point.

Another major difference that might have you double-take is that WordPress employees don’t nor will they ever use email! Basically they have just found a better means of communicating with each other. That is of course is blogging. Each employee at WordPress has their own private blog that they use to post updates for what they are currently working on and the other members of the team are all subscribed to it. Blogs make searching through and finding content much easier. On top of that, if you wanted to add someone to the conversation with a blog all you need do is grant them access to view it and they get a full history of past discussions as well as any future ones as well. To achieve the same thing with email would mean hunting down every email conversation and forwarding them all to the new person.

Beyond Measure

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Now that we have the capability to harvest huge amounts of data from the millions of users on the internet finding the answers to any question should be easy right? Just consult the data and it will tell you that the yellow button beat the green one hands down every time. But does it really? According to Erika Hall it’s all about the question you are trying to answer and I would tend to agree. Whats the point in knowing that more people click the yellow button if they may or may not be the target audience you’re after?

Designing with details

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In the introduction I stated that most of the focus was not specifically design related. This talk was the exception. Dan Saffer made it a point throughout this talk that details are not details, they are what make the design. Often the difference between a good product and a great one is all in the micro interactions that provide the users with those little moments that they grow to love.

So often are the details overlooked while developing a product that they are forgotten in the attempt to get it finished and pushed out the door. But if more time was spent focusing on these details rather than just trying to be the first, then I feel you’re sticking power would be much greater. Your users will love you for it and in turn pull in others. When people find a great product they want to share it and in time your user-base will grow.

An example of this concept would be the differences between something like WordPress and Ghost for the purposes of blogging. To me WordPress is rather clunky when it comes to actually blogging. I feel there is so much extra functionality included that it completely distracts me from writing a blog post. Whereas Ghost on the other hand strips everything back, giving you just what you need without the clutter.

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