Tags: creativity

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Monday, November 11th, 2019

FF Conf 2019

Friday was FF Conf day here in Brighton. This was the eleventh(!) time that Remy and Julie have put on the event. It was, as ever, excellent.

It’s a conference that ticks all the boxes for me. For starters, it’s a single-track event. The more I attend conferences, the more convinced I am that multi-track events are a terrible waste of time for attendees (and a financially bad model for organisers). I know that sounds like a sweeping broad generalisation, but ask me about it next time we meet and I’ll go into more detail. For now, I just want to talk about this mercifully single-track conference.

FF Conf has built up a rock-solid reputation over the years. I think that’s down to how Remy curates it. He thinks about what he wants to know and learn more about, and then thinks about who to invite to speak on those topics. So every year is like a snapshot of Remy’s brain. By happy coincidence, a snapshot of Remy’s brain right now looks a lot like my own.

You could tell that Remy had grouped the talks together in themes. There was a performance-themed chunk right after lunch. There was a people-themed chunk in the morning. There was a creative-coding chunk at the end of the day. Nice work, DJ.

I think it was quite telling what wasn’t on the line-up. There were no talks about specific libraries or frameworks. For me, that was a blessed relief. The only technology-specific talk was Alice’s excellent talk on Git—a tool that’s useful no matter what you’re coding.

One of the reasons why I enjoyed the framework-free nature of the day is that most talks—and conferences—that revolve around libraries and frameworks are invariably focused on the developer experience. Think about it: next time you’re watching a talk about a framework or library, ask yourself how it impacts user experience.

At FF Conf, the focus was firmly on people. In the case of Laura’s barnstorming presentation, those people are end users (I’m constantly impressed by how calm and measured Laura remains even when talking about blood-boilingly bad behaviour from the tech industry). In the case of Amina’s talk, the people are junior developers. And for Sharon’s presentation, the people are everyone.

One of the most useful talks of the day was from Anna who took us on a guided tour of dev tools to identify performance improvements. I found it inspiring in a very literal sense—if I had my laptop with me, I think I would’ve opened it up there and then and started tinkering with my websites.

Harry also talked about performance, but at Remy’s request, it was more business focused. Specifically, it was focused on Harry’s consultancy business. I think this would’ve been the perfect talk for more of an “industry” event, whereas FF Conf is very much a community event: Harry’s semi-serious jibes about keeping his performance secrets under wraps didn’t quite match the generous tone of the rest of the line-up.

The final two talks from Charlotte and Suz were a perfect double whammy.

When I saw Charlotte speak at Material in Iceland last year, I wrote this aside in my blog post summary:

(Oh, and Remy, when you start to put together the line-up for next year’s FF Conf, be sure to check out Charlotte Dann—her talk at Material was the perfect mix of code and creativity.)

I don’t think I can take credit for Charlotte being on the line-up, but I will take credit for saying she’d be the perfect fit.

And then Suz Hinton closed out the conference with this rallying cry that resonated perfectly with Laura’s talk:

Less mass-produced surveillance bullshit and more Harry Potter magic (please)!

I think that rallying cry could apply equally well to conferences, and I think FF Conf is a good example of that ethos in action.

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

Thinking vs Choosing – The Haystack

There seems to be a tendency to repurpose existing solutions to other people’s problems. I propose that this is the main cause of the design sameness that we encounter on the web (and in apps) today. In our (un)conscious attempts to reduce the effort needed to do our work, we’ve become experts in choosing rather than in thinking.

A very thoughtful piece from Stephen.

When we use existing solutions or patterns, we use a different kind of thinking. Our focus is on finding which pattern will work for us. Too quickly, we turn our attention away from closely examining the problem.

Sunday, May 12th, 2019

Into the Personal-Website-Verse · Matthias Ott – User Experience Designer

There is one alternative to social media sites and publishing platforms that has been around since the early, innocent days of the web. It is an alternative that provides immense freedom and control: The personal website. It’s a place to write, create, and share whatever you like, without the need to ask for anyone’s permission.

A wonderful and inspiring call to arms for having your own website—a place to express yourself, and a playground, all rolled into one.

Building and maintaining your personal website is an investment that is challenging and can feel laborious at times. Be prepared for that. But what you will learn along the way does easily make up for all the effort and makes the journey more than worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Limitation Breeds Creativity - Cassie Evans [Bytes Conf 2019] - YouTube

Cassie’s terrific talk from Bytes Conf, featuring some wild CSS experiments.

(Conference organisers—you want Cassie on your stage!)

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

The ‘Future Book’ Is Here, but It’s Not What We Expected | WIRED

Craig writes about reading and publishing, from the memex and the dynabook to the Kindle, the iPhone, and the iPad, all the way back around to plain ol’ email and good old-fashioned physical books.

We were looking for the Future Book in the wrong place. It’s not the form, necessarily, that needed to evolve—I think we can agree that, in an age of infinite distraction, one of the strongest assets of a “book” as a book is its singular, sustained, distraction-free, blissfully immutable voice. Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. Funding, printing, fulfillment, community-building—everything leading up to and supporting a book has shifted meaningfully, even if the containers haven’t. Perhaps the form and interactivity of what we consider a “standard book” will change in the future, as screens become as cheap and durable as paper. But the books made today, held in our hands, digital or print, are Future Books, unfuturistic and inert may they seem.

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Puzzle Montage Art by Tim Klein

Jigsaw puzzle companies tend to use the same cut patterns for multiple puzzles. This makes the pieces interchangeable, and I sometimes find that I can combine portions from two or more puzzles to make a surreal picture that the publisher never imagined. I take great pleasure in “discovering” such bizarre images lying latent, sometimes for decades, within the pieces of ordinary mass-produced puzzles.

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

The Emperor’s New Tools?: pragmatism and the idolatry of the web | words from Cole Henley, @cole007

I share many of Cole’s concerns. I think we’re in fairly similiar situations. We even share the same job title: Technical Director …whatever that even means.

I worry about our over-reliance and obsession with tools because for many these are a barrier to our discipline. I worry that they may never really make our work better, faster or easier and that our attention is increasingly focussed not on the drawing but on the pencils. But I mostly worry that our current preoccupation with the way we work (rather than necessarily what we work on) is sapping my enthusiasm for an industry I love and care about immensely.

Saturday, July 28th, 2018

A Talk with the Pioneering Internet Art Collective JODI -ARTnews

“It’s almost too easy now, and too unsatisfying that you only can put your work in a community full of advertisements and full of tracking,” she said. “I think there will be this urge, on the one hand, to have a local internet of small communities, and, on the other hand, a decentralized internet again.”

“You can still make websites nowadays,” Heemskerk said. “People think it’s complex, but it isn’t —you just register your domain and make your website and that’s about it.”

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

A better metaphor for technology - The Verge

The ideas and images that come to mind when you think of technology as an instrument are more useful than if you think of it as a tool. Instruments — I’m specifically talking about musical instruments — are a way to create culture.

You approach instruments with a set of expectations and associations that are more humane. It’s built into their very purpose. Instruments are meant to make something for other people, not making things. When you use an instrument, you have an expectation that it is going to take effort to use it well. Using an instrument takes practice. You form a relationship with that object. It becomes part of your identity that you make something with it. You tune it. You understand that there’s no such thing as a “best” guitar in the same way that there’s not necessarily a “best” phone.

Monday, July 9th, 2018

Solving Sol

Browser implementations of Sol LeWitt’s conceptual and minimal art, many of which only exist as instructions like this:

Vertical lines, not straight, not touching, covering the wall evenly.

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

Stacking the Bricks: How the Blog Broke the Web

The title is quite clickbaity, but this is a rather wonderful retelling of web history on how Content Management Systems may have stifled a lot of the web’s early creativity.

Also, there’s this provocation: we like to rail against algorithmic sorting …but what if the reverse-chronological feed was itself the first algorithm?

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Superfan! — Sacha Judd

The transcript of a talk that is fantastic in every sense.

Fans are organised, motivated, creative, technical, and frankly flat-out awe-inspiring.

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Ampersand: Interview with Mandy Michael – Clear(left) Thinking – Medium

I’m soooo excited that Mandy is speaking at Ampersand here in Brighton in June!

Be there or be square.

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

Bitcoin Is Ridiculous. Blockchain Is Dangerous: Paul Ford - Bloomberg

An astoundingly great piece of writing from Paul Ford, comparing the dot-com bubble and the current blockchain bubble. This resonates so hard:

I knew I was supposed to have an opinion on how the web and the capital markets interacted, but I just wanted to write stuff and put it online. Or to talk about web standards—those documents, crafted by committees at the World Wide Web consortium, that defined the contract between a web browser and a web server, outlining how HTML would work. These standards didn’t define just software, but also culture; this was the raw material of human interaction.

And, damn, if this isn’t the best description the post-bubble web:

Heat and light returned. And bit by bit, the software industry insinuated itself into every aspect of global enterprise. Mobile happened, social networks exploded, jobs returned, and coding schools popped up to convert humans into programmers and feed them to the champing maw of commerce. The abstractions I loved became industries.

Oof! That isn’t even the final gut punch. This is:

Here’s what I finally figured out, 25 years in: What Silicon Valley loves most isn’t the products, or the platforms underneath them, but markets.

Friday, February 2nd, 2018

In support of MakerClub | Clearleft

Declan from MakerClub came by the office week and told us all about this great initiative for kids in Brighton that we’re supporting through the BrightSparks programme.

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Back to the Cave – Frank Chimero

Frank has published the (beautifully designed) text of his closing XOXO keynote.

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens on Vimeo

The newest Kirby Ferguson video looks at remixing through the lens of the newest Star Wars film.

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Cameron’s World

A wonderful collection of treasures excavated from GeoCities. Explore, enjoy, and remember what a crime it is that Yahoo wiped out so much creativity and expression.

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

Steve Albini on the surprisingly sturdy state of the music industry

Steve Albini’s barnstorming keynote address at Melbourne’s Face the Music conference.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

Foreword to JavaScript Creativity by Shane Hudson

The foreword to the Apress book.

It seems like the world wide web is forever playing catch-up. Back in the ’90s, the web was competing with CD-ROMs and coming up short …at least in terms of what could be technically accomplished. CD-ROMs offered richer interactivity, better visuals, and the possibility of using audio. But in the long run, that didn’t matter. CD-ROMs just couldn’t compete with the sheer vastness of the world wide web.

Later on, Macromedia (and later, Adobe) Flash went toe-to-toe with the web. Once again, it seemed like the web couldn’t match its competitor for animation, audio, and video. And yet, once again, the web outlasted its flashier counterpart.

More recently, we’ve seen a re-run of this same story in the world of mobile. Compared to native apps, the web just doesn’t appear to offer the same level of rich interactivity. But even here, I suspect that the web will still be stronger than ever long after the craze for native apps has faded away.

Each one of these proprietary technologies—CD-ROMs, Flash, native apps—could be interpreted as a threat to the open web, but I prefer to see them as the web’s R’n’D department. There’ll always be some competing technology that superficially appears to be gunning for the web’s dominance. In reality, these technologies demonstrate what kind of features web developers are looking for from browsers and standards bodies. If it weren’t for Flash, would we even have CSS animations? If it weren’t for native apps, would there be so much work put into providing access to device APIs?

The web will always be lagging behind some other technology …and that’s okay. Over time, the web’s feature set grows and grows, all the while maintaining backward-compatibility (something sorely missing from those competing technologies). The growth of the web’s feature-set might sometimes appear to be painfully slow, but it’s worth taking a step back every now and then to see how far we’ve come.

This book is like a snapshot of the cutting edge of what’s possible in web browsers today. The progress we’ve made might surprise you. It certainly surprised me. I’m somewhat flabbergasted by how much we can accomplish now with audio, video, and animations. And there’s no better person than Shane to do the flabbergasting. He’s like the Doogie Howser of web development. (Ask your parents.)

So settle in for a wild ride. Shane Hudson is going to take you to the edge.