Journal tags: organising



Interaction 19

Right before heading to Geneva to spend the week hacking at CERN, I was in Seattle with a sizable Clearleft contingent to attend Interaction 19, the annual conference put on by the Interaction Design Association.

Ben has rounded up the highlights from my fellow Clearlefties. There are some good talks listed there: John Maeda, Nelly Ben Hayoun, and Jon Bell were thoroughly enjoyable. Some other talks were just okay, and there was one talk, by IXDA president Alok Nandi, that was almost impressive in how rambling and incoherent it was. It was like being in a scene from Silicon Valley. I remember clapping at the end; not out of appreciation, but out of relief.

If truth be told, Interaction 19 had about a day’s worth of really great content …spread out over three days. To be fair, that’s par for the course. When we went to Interaction 17 in New York, the hit/miss ratio was about the same:

There were some really good talks at the event, but alas, the muti-track format made it difficult to see all of them. Continuous partial FOMO was the order of the day.

And as I said at the time:

To be honest, the conference was only part of the motivation for the trip. Spending a week in New York with a gaggle of Clearlefties was its own reward.

So I’m willing to cut Interaction 19 a lot of slack. Even if quite a few of the talks were just so-so, getting to hang with Clearlefties in Seattle during snowmageddon was a lot of fun (and you’ll be pleased to hear that we didn’t even resort to cannibalism to survive).

But while the content of the conference was fair to middling, the organisation of it was a shambles:

Imagine the Fyre Festival but in downtown Seattle in winter. Welcome to @ixdconf. #ixd19

They sold more tickets than there were seats. I ended up watching the first morning’s keynotes being streamed to a screen in a conference room in a different building.

Now, I’ve been at events with keynotes that have overflow rooms—South by Southwest does this. But that’s at a different scale. This is a conference with a known number of attendees, each one of them spending over a thousand dollars to attend. I’m pretty sure that a first-come, first-served policy isn’t the best way of treating those attendees.

Anyway, here’s what I submitted for that round-up of the best talks, but which, for reasons of prudence, was omitted from the final post:

I really enjoyed the keynote by Liz Jackson on inclusive design. I would’ve enjoyed it even more if I could’ve seen it in person. Instead I watched it live-streamed to a meeting room two buildings over because the conference sold more tickets than they had seats for. This was after queueing in the cold for registration. So I feel like I learned a lot from Interaction 19 …about how not to organise a conference.

Still, as Ben notes:

We all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, despite best efforts by the West Coast snow to disrupt the entire city.

I’m going to be back in Seattle in just under two weeks for An Event Apart. Now that’s a conference! It runs like a well-oiled machine, and every talk in its single track has been curated for excellence …with one exception.

Responsive Day Out

Any announcement that begins with “I’m really excited to announce…” usually doesn’t end well. It often means that some startup or product has been bought by Facebook, Twitter or Google. But with that in mind…

I’m really excited to announce… I’m putting on a new event.

It’s called Responsive Day Out and it will take place in the Corn Exchange in Brighton on Friday, March 1st, 2013.

It’s a kind of conference, I guess, but I think of it as more like a gathering of like-minded people getting together to share what they’ve learned, show some examples, swap techniques, and discuss problems. And all of it will be related to responsive web design.

A whole slew of really smart talented people will be speaking: Andy Clarke, Anna Debenham, Mark Boulton, Sarah Parmenter, Elliot Jay Stocks, Laura Kalbag, Bruce Lawson, and many more.

The format will be fun. There’ll be a block of three quickfire talks, just 15 to 20 minutes long, followed by a combined discussion hosted by yours truly, when I’ll be marshalling questions from the audience. We’ll have four of those blocks: two in the morning and two in the afternoon, with each block separated by a break.

I’m really looking forward to trying out this format. I think it’s going to be nice and zippy, with plenty of good solid practical lessons.

There are many different kinds of conferences. There are the big events like UX London with three days of talks and workshops. By the way, tickets for this year’s events went on sale this week—just check out that line-up of speakers! Grab yourself a ticket …or rather, convince your boss to grab you a ticket because, let’s face it, an intensive three-day event like UX London is the kind of thing that requires a training budget.

It’s a very different beast to dConstruct, which remains an affordable “big picture” event despite its stellar line-up of international speakers. I wish it could be cheaper, but there are certain unavoidable costs in any event: venue hire, speaker payment, travel and accommodation—it all adds up.

Then you’ve got the grassroots events like Barcamps and meetups, which ideally are free to attend, with costs covered by sponsorships.

I wish I could make Responsive Day Out a free event but putting it on in the Corn Exchange means there will be costs involving venue hire, lighting and projection. That said, I’ve done my best to keep the event as affordable as possible so…

Tickets are fifty quid plus VAT (a total of sixty quid).

I’ve had to cut a lot of corners to keep the price cheap:

  • There will be no lanyards. You’ll just get a sticker or a stamp on your hand or something similarly lo-tech.
  • There is no branding to speak of. The website is a simple one-page affair that Paul and I whipped up in a day or two. There will be no banners on stage or in the foyer. There isn’t even a logo.
  • There are no speakers from overseas. This makes quite a big differences to the travel expenses—this is one of the reasons why dConstruct and Ampersand necessarily cost more.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the speakers are very generously donating their time and considerable knowledge to this event.
  • Unless some generous company wants to step up with sponsorship, there will be no after-party or pre-party. If you know of a generous company who would enjoy the undying gratitude of 300 web designers and developers by putting on either a pre- or after-party, please, please get in touch.

So please keep your expectations in check. This will not be a polished event like Build or dConstruct and it might feel a little provincial with its entirely UK-based speaker line-up but hey, fifty quid! Not bad, right?

With that in mind, if you have any interest at all in the design and development challenges involved in building responsive websites, you should grab a ticket and come along to the Responsive Day Out.

I’m really excited!