Webstock 2015: The highlights

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This year was my first year going to Webstock. Being fairly new to the industry I was excited to watch such talented speakers share their passion and knowledge.

There was a lot of hype around it and anyone who I had spoken to told me what to expect, how fantastic it would be, and how much I would learn. I was not disappointed.

I could sit here and list all the amazing things that I took away from the 2 packed days of presentations. I loved the broad range of topics that were discussed. And even though there was a vast difference in some of the subjects, I really felt as there was something to take away from every speaker. So here are my top 3 favourite speakers from Webstock 2015.

Context is key

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One of the most relevant talks for me was from Derek Featherstone. A Canadian Web Designer and devoted family man, Derek talked about the importance of context in relation to content, and how we can use this to our advantage to create a greater experience for our users.

A simple yet oh-so-effective way to achieve this is through conditional statements. Small conditions that have the ability to change the layout and/or information that is shown on a page, or to direct a user to a different page altogether.

Derek went on to give us a great example about a website he worked on for a UX conference event. He went through all the small changes that were made, and how as a user it would make for a smoother, easier, and overall better experience.

If it was the day of the event, they were using a tablet and were within a certain proximity of the venue, there would be different instructions on how to get there. However, if they were at the venue for the event, instead of showing them how to get there, the first page they land on would be the schedule for the conference.

Just using these subtle differences can make all the changes in how the user engages with the site, instead of trying to navigate to find what they are looking for. Sometimes as a designer and/or developer, we can expect what the user is going to want and forget that their needs may change depending on the current circumstance. Being aware of what they are and how we can accommodate for that, can allow our users a great browsing experience.

A shitty first draft

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Another presentation that I really connected with was Kate Kiefer Lee’s talk on Writing in the real world. She discussed the importance of writing as though you are having a face to face conversation with someone, and how the tone and language can effectively get the right message across.

When starting any kind of writing, think about what is that you are writing about, and what kind of emotion you want to portray. From there follow Kate’s advice – “make a shitty first draft”.

Write down all your thoughts, everything you want to say and let it flow on the page without going back and re-reading or editing until you’re finished. Alternatively record yourself, whatever works best for you.

I wrote myself a shitty first draft for this blog post, and found it great to just empty out my brain with all of my thoughts and ideas, and then to come back and really mould the writing with better structure, and still retaining all I wanted to talk about.

Kate also talks about the structure of our writing and what we have been taught growing up. What can really work well, no matter what kind of writing you are doing, is to cut out the needless words, and especially the jargon. Make sure your work still sounds human, with personality and realness.

Kate finished with a great quote by Maya Angleou –

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Work hard, don’t be an asshole, share what you know.

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A fantastic talk from Brad Frost discussed the importance of open source and sharing information, and how the benefits can create a united world of the web.

Brad showed an example of how he and his wife decided to update the Pittsburgh Food Bank website whilst blogging about the whole process and keeping everything open source. It was interesting to see that there was a lot of talk about it. People would help him fix code when it wasn’t working, and would also offer suggestions on the way things would work better, or even look better.

We currently live in a time where information can be so easily distributed with ease, and that the ability to share should reflect on what we do. That people in the web industry are so quick to keep things to themselves, and worry that sharing with others may lead to someone stealing, copying or duplicating their idea. Brad’s point – who cares?

Open source enables crowdsourcing of code, help and fresh ideas. He made a case that open-source could still be profitable and that writing proprietary private code was stifling the progress of the web.

His closing advice:

  • Share something
  • Design open
  • Write Medium posts
  • See WTF Mobile web for what not to do (example: Oakley website – Airbrake MX)

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