I love the thoughtfulness that Sally put into her personal write-up of dConstruct.
Saturday, September 17th, 2022
Thursday, September 15th, 2022
Wow, what a day. A really diverse selection of talks that went all over the map. From building vast world-changing health systems, to scaling and archiving global online communities, to the beauty and joy of calligraphy. And lasers. I enjoyed the lot, which is rare for me at an event like this.
A rather lovely write-up of the final dConstruct!
Above all it was nice to see the diversity of approaches and reasons for doing ‘design’ / art / whatever. Some of us are solving the hard problems, some of us are thinking philosophically or creating new tools, and some of us are just having fun – and all approaches are valid and useful.
Tuesday, September 13th, 2022
That was dConstruct 2022
dConstruct 2022 happened last Friday, September 9th.
And what an event it was! All eight talks were superb. To have eight speakers and not a single dud is pretty great. To have eight speakers and each one be absolutely brilliant is more than I could’ve hoped for.
Hidde has written a summary of the talks. I loved each and every one. I got to sit there in the front row of the beautiful Duke of York’s cinema and watch these supersmart people blow my mind.
With six of the eight speakers having spoken at previous dConstructs, there was a lot of nostalgia in the air on Friday.
It was the last dConstruct.
A lot of people seemed surprised by this even though I kept saying it was a one-off event. Really, the last dConstruct happened in 2015. This year’s event was a one-time-only anniversary event.
Obviously because the day was so great, people expressed sadness and disappointment that there wouldn’t be another. But like I said, if a band like The Velvet Underground reforms to do one last gig, that’s pretty cool; but if a band like The Velvet Underground reforms to go on endless tours, that’s kind of sad. It’s time to move on. Have one last blow-out and go out in style.
And who knows? Maybe there’ll be some other kind of dConstructy gathering in a different format. Perhaps an evening salon event is more suited to this kind of interdisciplinary mish-mash. But as a one-day conference, dConstruct is now officially over.
To be honest, there was never any doubt that dConstruct 2022 would be an excellent day of talks. I knew that each of the speakers would deliver the goods. I played it somewhat safe with the line-up. Because this was a kind of “best of” event, I could draw upon speakers from previous years who were guaranteed to be mesmerising.
In a weird way, that also highlights the biggest problem with this year’s dConstruct. Even though every individual talk was terrific, when you pull back and look at the line-up in aggregate, you can’t help but notice its lack of diversity.
That’s on me.
I could show you the list of people I tried to get. I could talk you through the spots that fell through. But all I’d be doing is giving you excuses. I could show that my intentions were good, but intentions don’t matter as much as actions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and what we ate last Friday was wonderful but also sadly representative of dConstruct’s homogenous history. For that reason alone, it’s time to draw a line under dConstruct.
It was a bittersweet send-off. On the one hand, I got to enjoy a day of brilliant talks. On the other hand, I’m pretty disappointed in myself that the line-up wasn’t more diverse. I can make all the claims I want about valuing diversity, but they’re hollow without meaningful results.
So that’s enough looking to the past. I’m bidding farewell to dConstruct and setting my sights on the future, a future that features more and different voices.
If you came along to dConstruct 2022, thank you! If you enjoyed attending dConstruct just half as much as I enjoyed hosting it …well, then I enjoyed it twice as much as you.
Monday, September 12th, 2022
Marc very kindly took loads of pictures at dConstruct on Friday—lovely!
Sunday, September 11th, 2022
A great write-up from Hidde on dConstruct 2022 and how the speakers tackled the theme of design transformation:
They talked about turning a series of penstrokes into art, lasers into fireworks, human experiences into novels and patient data collection into a minimal effort task.
A lot of our work in web design and technology has a power to transform and that is wonderful, especially when we manage to be intentional about the how and why.
Thursday, September 8th, 2022
One day to dConstruct
Just one more sleep until dConstruct—squee!
Not that I anticipate getting much sleep. My sleepnessness will partly be like that of a child on the night before Christmas. But my sleepnessness will also inevitably be that of an adult neurotically worrying about trifling details.
In reality, everything is all set. Thanks to the stellar Clearleft events team, I don’t need to lose any sleep. But my stupid brain can’t help but run a conveyer belt of potential problems through my mind: what about dongles? Power? Timings? What if there’s an impromptu rail strike? A deluge? Other emergencies you can’t even imagine?
I try to ignore those pestering pointless questions and instead think about the fantastic talks we’re going to get. I’m genuinely excited about each and every speaker. I’m pretty sure that once the day begins, I’ll forget all my worries and bliss out to the mind-expanding presentations.
The day before a conference feels kind of like the build-up to a battle. All the strategic decisions have been made, everything is in place, and now there’s nothing to do but wait.
I’ve communicated (or maybe over-communicated) all the relevant details to the speakers. And one week ago I sent one final email to the attendees with details of the schedule and some suggestions for lunch.
I also included this request:
Could you do me a favour? Would you mind getting a hold of a Covid test sometime in the next week and taking a test a day or two before dConstruct? (And if you test positive, please don’t come to the event.)
If you can’t get hold of a test (I know it can be tricky), then could you please bring a mask to wear when inside the venue?
I think asking everyone to take a test is a reasonable request, and nobody has objected to it. I worry that it’s yet another form of hygiene theatre (like providing anti-bacterial handwash for an airborne virus). After all, the antigen tests are most effective when you’ve already got symptoms. Taking a test when you don’t have symptoms might well give a negative result, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have Covid. Still, it’s a little intervention that might catch an infection that otherwise would’ve spread further.
I’m assuming that everyone coming to dConstruct is vaccinated. Maybe that’s naive on my part, but I figure if you’re intelligent enough to get a dConstruct ticket, you’re intelligent enough to protect yourself and others. So we won’t be requesting proof of vaccination. I hope my naivety aligns with reality.
See, this is all one more thing for my brain to gnaw on when I should be thinking about what a fantastic day of talks I’ve got ahead of me. Roll on tomorrow!
Tuesday, August 30th, 2022
I have got one update to the line-up to report. Sadly, Léonie Watson isn’t going to be able to make it after all. That’s a shame.
But that means there’s room to squeeze in one more brilliant speaker from the vaults of the dConstruct archive.
Back then he was entertaining us with hardware hacking and programming for fun. That was before he discovered lasers. Now he’s gone laser mad.
Don’t worry though. He’s fully qualified to operate lasers so he’s not going to take anyone’s eye out at dConstruct. Probably.
Wednesday, August 17th, 2022
The schedule for dConstruct 2022
The last ever dConstruct will happen just over three weeks from now, on Friday, September 9th.
That’s right—if you don’t have your ticket for this event, you won’t get another chance. The conference with its eye on the future will become a thing of the past.
dConstruct is going to go out with a bang, a veritable fireworks display of mind bombs. A calligrapher, a writer, a musician, and a nueroscientist will be on the line-up alongside designers and technologists.
Here’s the schedule for the day:
So the first talk starts at 10am and the last talk finishes at 4:30pm—all very civilised. Then we can all go to the pub.
There isn’t an official after-party but we can collectively nominate a nearby watering hole—the Unbarred taproom perhaps, or maybe The Hare And Hounds or The Joker—they’re all within cat-swinging distance of The Duke Of York’s.
Lunch isn’t provided but there are some excellent options nearby (and you’ll have a good hour and a half for the lunch break so there’s no rush).
The aforementioned Joker has superb hot wings from Lost Boys Chicken (I recommed the Rufio sauce if you like ‘em spicy, otherwise Thuddbutt is a good all ‘rounder).
And the famous Bardsley’s fish’n’chips is just ‘round the corner too.
So there’ll be plenty of food for the soul to match the food for your brain that’ll be doled up at dConstruct 2022.
Tuesday, July 26th, 2022
The line-up for dConstruct 2022 …revealed!
Alright, I’ve kept you in suspense for long enough. It’s time to reveal the magnificent line-up for dConstruct 2022.
I’ll now put names to the teasing list of descriptions I previously provided…
A technologist, product designer, and writer who defies categorisation. They’ve headed up a design studio, co-founded a start-up, and now consult on super-clever machine learning stuff. Their blog is brilliant.
An award-winning author from South Africa whose work has recently been adapted for television. Some of their work is kind of sci-fi, some of it is kind of horror, some of it is kind of magical realism, and all of it is great.
An artist and designer who has created logos and illustrations for NASA, Apple, and Intel as well as custom typefaces for British Airways and Waitrose. A lover of letterforms, they are now one of the world’s highest-profile calligraphers posting their mesmerising work on Instagram.
This is Seb Lester.
A Canadian digital designer who has previously worked in the agency world, at Silicon Valley startups, and even venture capital. But now they’re doing truly meaningful work, designing for busy healthcare workers in low-income countries.
A multi-instrumentalist musician, producer and robotic artist who composes for film, theatre and the concert stage. They play a mean theremin.
An Australian designer and entrepreneur. They work in the cultural heritage sector and they’re an expert on digital archives. Their latest challenge is working out how to make an online photography archive last for 100 years.
A tireless defender of web standards and co-author of the Inclusive Design Principles. They’re a member of the W3C Advisory Board and of the BIMA Inclusive Design Council. Expect some thoughtful takes on the intersection of accessibility and emerging technologies.
This is Léonie Watson.
A professor of neuroscience who is also a bestselling author. They conduct experiments on people’s brains and then talk about it afterwards. Their talks have been known to be mind-altering.
This is Anil Seth.
That’s quite a line-up, isn’t it?
Deducing the full line-up just from those descriptions wasn’t easy, but Hidde de Vries managed it. So Hidde gets a free ticket to dConstruct 2022 …or, at least, he would if it weren’t for the fact that he already has a ticket (because Hidde is smart; be like Hidde). So a friend of Hidde’s is getting a free ticket instead (because Hidde is generous; be like Hidde).
Tuesday, July 19th, 2022
The line-up for dConstruct 2022
The line-up for dConstruct 2022 is complete!
If you haven’t yet got your ticket, it’s not too late.
Now here’s the thing…
When I announced the event back in May, I said:
I’m currently putting the line-up together. I’m not revealing anything just yet, but trust me, you will want to be there.
I still haven’t revealed anything, and I’m kind of tempted to keep it that way. Imagine showing up at an event and not knowing who’s going to be speaking. Is this is the best idea or the worst idea?
I suspect I’m going to have to announce the line-up at some point, but today is not that day. I’m going to string it out a bit longer.
But I am going to describe the line-up. And I’m going to throw in a challenge. The first person to figure out the complete line-up gets a free ticket. Send a tweet to the @dConstruct Twitter account with your deductions.
Ready? Here’s who’s speaking at dConstruct 2022 on Friday, September 9th in The Duke Of Yorks in Brighton…
- A technologist, product designer, and writer who defies categorisation. They’ve headed up a design studio, co-founded a start-up, and now consult on super-clever machine learning stuff. Their blog is brilliant.
- An award-winning author from South Africa whose work has recently been adapted for television. Some of their work is kind of sci-fi, some of it is kind of horror, some of it is kind of magical realism, and all of it is great.
- An artist and designer who has created logos and illustrations for NASA, Apple, and Intel as well as custom typefaces for British Airways and Waitrose. A lover of letterforms, they are now one of the world’s highest-profile calligraphers posting their mesmerising work on Instagram.
- A Canadian digital designer who has previously worked in the agency world, at Silicon Valley startups, and even venture capital. But now they’re doing truly meaningful work, designing for busy healthcare workers in low-income countries.
- A multi-instrumentalist musician, producer and robotic artist who composes for film, theatre and the concert stage. They play a mean theremin.
- An Australian designer and entrepreneur. They work in the cultural heritage sector and they’re an expert on digital archives. Their latest challenge is working out how to make an online photography archive last for 100 years.
- A tireless defender of web standards and co-author of the Inclusive Design Principles. They’re a member of the W3C Advisory Board and of the BIMA Inclusive Design Council. Expect some thoughtful takes on the intersection of accessibility and emerging technologies.
- A professor of neuroscience who is also a bestselling author. They conduct experiments on people’s brains and then talk about it afterwards. Their talks have been known to be mind-altering.
Sounds pretty freaking great, right?
Some further clues…
Many of these people have spoken at dConstruct in the past. After all, this year’s one-off event is going to be a kind of “best of.” So you might want to have a nose around the dConstruct archive.
Also, I’ve mentioned some nationalities like Australian, Canadian, and South African, but my self-imposed carbon footprint policy for this event forbids me from flying anyone in. So that’s a clue too.
The game is afoot! Tweet your deductions to the @dConstruct Twitter account or, even better, write a blog post and tweet the link, mentioning @dConstruct. The first correct answer gets a free ticket.
For everyone else, you can still get a ticket.
Wednesday, May 25th, 2022
I made the website for this year’s UX London by hand.
So it’s minium viable static site generation rather than actual static files. It’s still very hands-on though and I enjoy that a lot; editing HTML and CSS directly without intermediary tools.
When I update the site, it’s usually to add a new speaker to the line-up (well, not any more now that the line up is complete). That involves marking up their bio and talk description. I also create a couple of different sized versions of their headshot to use with
srcset. And of course I write an
alt attribute to accompany that image.
By the way, Jake has an excellent article on writing
alt text that uses the specific example of a conference site. It raises some very thought-provoking questions.
I enjoy writing
alt text. I recently described how I updated my posting interface here on my own site to put a
alt text front and centre for my notes with photos. Since then I’ve been enjoying the creative challenge of writing useful—but also evocative—
Some recent examples:
- Time to go play some songs with @SalterCane.
A close-up of a microphone in a practice room. In the background, a guitar player tunes up and a bass player waits to start.
- Brighton in the sun.
People sitting around in the dappled sunshine on the green grass in a park with the distinctive Indian-inspired architecture of the Brighton Pavilion in the background, all under a clear blue sky.
- Duck leg on white beans with sage, garlic, rosemary and olives.
Looking down on the crispy browned duck leg contrasting with the white beans, all with pieces of green fried herbs scattered throughout.
But when I was writing the
alt text for the headshots on the UX London site, I started to feel a little disheartened. The more speakers were added to the line-up, the more I felt like I was repeating myself with the
alt text. After a while they all seemed to be some variation on “This person looking at the camera, smiling” with maybe some detail on their hair or clothing.
- Videha Sharma
The beaming bearded face of Videha standing in front of the beautiful landscape of a riverbank.
- Candi Williams
Candi working on her laptop, looking at the camera with a smile.
- Emma Parnell
Emma smiling against a yellow background. She’s wearing glasses and has long straight hair.
- John Bevan
A monochrome portrait of John with a wry smile on his face, wearing a black turtleneck in the clichéd design tradition.
- Laura Yarrow
Laura smiling, wearing a chartreuse coloured top.
- Adekunle Oduye
A profile shot of Adekunle wearing a jacket and baseball cap standing outside.
The more speakers were added to the line-up, the harder I found it not to repeat myself. I wondered if this was all going to sound very same-y to anyone hearing them read aloud.
But then I realised, “Wait …these are kind of same-y images.”
By the very nature of the images—headshots of speakers—there wasn’t ever going to be that much visual variation. The experience of a sighted person looking at a page full of speakers is that after a while the images kind of blend together. So if the
alt text also starts to sound a bit repetitive after a while, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. A screen reader user would be getting an equivalent experience.
That doesn’t mean it’s okay to have the same
alt text for each image—they are all still different. But after I had that realisation I stopped being too hard on myself if I couldn’t come up with a completely new and original way to write the
And, I remind myself, writing
alt text is like any other kind of writing. The more you do it, the better you get.
Thursday, May 5th, 2022
Even more UX London speaker updates
I’ve added five more faces to the UX London line-up.
Day two is all about creation. My co-worker Chris How will be speaking. “Nepotism!” you cry! But no, Chris is speaking because I had the chance to his talk—called “Unexpectedly obvious”—and I thought “that’s perfect for UX London!”:
Let him take you on a journey through time and across the globe sharing stories of designs that solve problems in elegant if unusual ways.
Also on day two, you’ve got two additional workshops. Lou Downe will be running a workshop on designing good services, and Giles Turnbull will be running a workshop called “Writing for people who hate writing.”
I love that title! Usually when I contact speakers I don’t necessarily have a specific talk or workshop in mind, but I knew that I wanted that particular workshop from Giles.
When I wrote to Giles to ask come and speak, I began by telling how much I enjoy his blog—I’m a long-time suscriber to his RSS feed. He responded and said that he also reads my blog—we’re blog buddies! (That’s a terrible term but there should be a word for people who “know” each other only through reading each other’s websites.)
Anyway, that’s another little treasure trove of speakers added to the UX London roster:
That’s nineteen speakers already and we’re not done yet—expect further speaker announcements soon. But don’t wait on those announcements before getting your ticket. Get yours now!
Wednesday, April 20th, 2022
More UX London speaker updates
It wasn’t that long ago that I told you about some of the speakers that have been added to the line-up for UX London in June: Steph Troeth, Heldiney Pereira, Lauren Pope, Laura Yarrow, and Inayaili León. Well, now I’ve got another five speakers to tell you about!
Aleks Melnikova will be giving a workshop on day one, June 28th—that’s the day with a focus on research.
Before those workshops though, you’ll get to hear a talk from the one and only Kat Zhou, the creator of Design Ethically. By the way, you can hear Kat talking about deceptive design in a BBC radio documentary.
Finally, on day three—with its focus on design systems—I’m thrilled to announce that Adekunle Oduye will be giving a talk. He too is an author. He co-wrote the Design Engineering Handbook. I also had the pleasure of talking to Adekunle for an episode of the Clearleft podcast on design engineering.
So that’s another five excellent speakers added to the line-up:
That’s a total of fifteen speakers so far with more on the way. And I’ll be updating the site with more in-depth descriptions of the talks and workshops soon.
Tuesday, April 5th, 2022
UX London speaker updates
If you’ve signed up to the UX London newsletter then this won’t be news to you, but more speakers have been added to the line-up.
Steph Troeth will be giving a workshop on day one. That’s the day with a strong focus on research, and when it comes to design research, Steph is unbeatable. You can hear some of her words of wisdom in an episode of the Clearleft podcast all about design research.
Heldiney Pereira will be speaking on day two. That’s the day with a focus on content design. Heldiney previously spoke at our Content By Design event and it was terrific—his perspective on content design as a product designer is invaluable.
Day three is going to have a focus on design systems (and associated disciplines like design engineering and design ops). Both Laura Yarrow and Inayaili León will be giving talks on that day. You can expect some exciting war stories from the design system trenches of HM Land Registry and GitHub.
I’ve got some more speakers confirmed but I’m going to be a tease and make you wait a little longer for those names. But check out the line-up so far! This going to be such an excellent event (I know I’m biased, but really, look at that line-up!).
Wednesday, November 27th, 2019
The opening of this blog post warned the cockles of my heart:
I have a rule about conferences: go once.
Like all rules, it can be broken — usually when Jeremy Keith is involved — but not often.
Awww! That’s so nice!
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
Thursday, October 3rd, 2019
It’s been a busy two weeks of travelling and speaking. Last week I spoke at Finch Conf in Edinburgh, Code Motion in Madrid, and Generate CSS in London. This week I was at Indie Web Camp, View Source, and Fronteers, all in Amsterdam.
The Edinburgh-Madrid-London whirlwind wasn’t ideal. I gave the opening talk at Finch Conf, then immediately jumped in a taxi to get to the airport to fly to Madrid, so I missed all the excellent talks. I had FOMO for a conference I actually spoke at.
I did get to spend some time at Code Motion in Madrid, but that was a waste of time. It was one of those multi-track events where the trade show floor is prioritised over the talks (and the speakers don’t get paid). I gave my talk to a mostly empty room—the classic multi-track experience. On the plus side, I had a wonderful time with Jessica exploring Madrid’s many tapas delights. The food and drink made up for the sub-par conference.
I flew back from Madrid to the UK, and immediately went straight to London to deliver the closing talk of Generate CSS. So once again, I didn’t get to see any of the other talks. That’s a real shame—it sounds like they were all excellent.
The day after Generate though, I took the Eurostar to Amsterdam. That’s where I’ve been ever since. There were just as many events as in the previous week, but because they were all in Amsterdam, I could savour them properly, instead of spending half my time travelling.
Indie Web Camp Amsterdam was excellent, although I missed out on the afternoon discussions on the first day because I popped over to the Mozilla Tech Speakers event happening at the same time. I was there to offer feedback on lightning talks. I really, really enjoyed it.
I’d really like to do more of this kind of thing. There aren’t many activities I feel qualified to give advice on, but public speaking is an exception. I’ve got plenty of experience that I’m eager to share with up-and-coming speakers. Also, I got to see some really great lightning talks!
Then it was time for View Source. There was a mix of talks, panels, and breakout conversation corners. I saw some fantastic talks by people I hadn’t seen speak before: Melanie Richards, Ali Spittal, Sharell Bryant, and Tejas Kumar. I gave the closing keynote, which was warmly received—that’s always very gratifying.
Neither of us is under any illusions about the nature of a joint talk. It’s not half as much work; it’s more like twice the work. We’ve both seen enough uneven joint presentations to know what we want to avoid.
I’m happy to say that it went off without a hitch. Remy definitely had the tougher task—he did a live demo. Needless to say, he did it flawlessly. It’s been a real treat working with Remy on this. Don’t tell him I said this, but he’s kind of a web hero of mine, so this was a real honour and a privilege for me.
I’ve got some more speaking engagements ahead of me. Most of them are in Europe so I’m going to do my utmost to travel to them by train. Flying is usually more convenient but it’s terrible for my carbon footprint. I’m feeling pretty guilty about that Madrid trip; I need to make ammends.
I’ll be travelling to France next week for Paris Web. Taking the Eurostar is a no-brainer for that one. Straight after that Jessica and I will be going to Frankfurt for the book fair. Taking the train from Paris to Frankfurt will be nice and straightforward.
I’ll be back in Brighton for Indie Web Camp on the weekend of October 19th and 20th—you should come!—and then I’ll be heading off to Antwerp for Full Stack Fest. Anywhere in Belgium is easily reachable by train so that’ll be another Eurostar journey.
After that, it gets a little trickier. I’ll be going to Berlin for Beyond Tellerrand but I’m not sure I can make it work by train. Same goes for Web Clerks in Vienna. Cities that far east are tough to get to by train in a reasonable amount of time (although I realise that, compared to many others, I have the luxury of spending time travelling by train).
Then there are the places that I can only get to by plane. There’s the United States. I’ll be speaking at An Event Apart in San Francisco in December. A flight is unavoidable. Last time we went to the States, Jessica and I travelled by ocean liner. But that isn’t any better for the environment, given the low-grade fuel burned by ships.
And then there’s Ireland. I make trips back there to see my mother, but there’s no alternative to flying or taking a ferry—neither are ideal for the environment. At least I can offset the carbon from my flights; the travel equivalent to putting coins in the swear jar.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not moaning about the amount of travel involved in going to conferences and workshops. It’s fantastic that I get to go to new and interesting places. That’s something I hope I never take for granted. But I can’t ignore the environmental damage I’m doing. I’ll be making more of an effort to travel by train to Europe’s many excellent web events. While I’m at it, I can ask Paul for his trainspotter expertise.
Monday, July 24th, 2017
Putting on a conference
It’s been a few weeks now since Patterns Day and I’m still buzzing from it. I might be biased, but I think it was a great success all ‘round—for attendees, for speakers, and for us at Clearleft organising the event.
I first had the idea for Patterns Day quite a while back. To turn the idea into reality meant running some numbers. Patterns Day wouldn’t have been possible without Alis. She did all the logistical work—the hard stuff—which freed me up to concentrate on the line-up. I started to think about who I could invite to speak, and at the same time, started looking for a venue.
I knew from the start that I wanted it to be one-day single-track conference in Brighton, much like Responsive Day Out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to use the Corn Exchange again—there’s extensive rebuilding going on there this year. I put together a shortlist of Brighton venues and Alis investigated their capacities and costs, but to be honest, I knew that I wanted to have it in the Duke Of York’s. I love that place, and I knew from attending FFconf that it makes for an excellent conference venue.
The seating capacity of the Duke Of York’s is quite a bit less than the Corn Exchange, so I knew the ticket price would have to be higher than that of Responsive Day Out. The Duke Of York’s isn’t cheap to rent for the day either (but worth every penny).
To calculate the ticket price, I had to figure out the overall costs:
- Venue hire,
- A/V hire,
- Printing costs (for name badges, or in this case, stickers),
- Payment provider commission—we use Stripe through the excellent Ti.to,
- Speaker’s travel,
- Speaker’s accommodation,
- Speaker’s dinner the evening before the event,
- Speaker’s payment.
Some conference organisers think they can skimp on that last part. Those conference organisers are wrong. A conference is nothing without its speakers. They are literally the reason why people buy tickets.
Because the speakers make or break a conference, there’s a real temptation to play it safe and only book people who are veterans. But then you’re missing out on a chance to boost someone when they’re just starting out with public speaking. I remember taking a chance on Alla a few years back for Responsive Day Out 3—she had never given a conference talk before. She, of course, gave a superb talk. Now she’s speaking at events all over the world, and I have to admit, it gives me a warm glow inside. When it came time for Patterns Day, Alla had migrated into the “safe bet” category—I knew she’d deliver the perfect closing keynote.
I understand why conference organisers feel like they need to play it safe. From their perspective, they’re already taking on a lot of risk in putting on a conference in the first place. It’s easy to think of yourself as being in a position of vulnerability—”If I don’t sell enough tickets, I’m screwed!” But I think it’s important to realise that you’re also in a position of power, whether you like it or not. If you’re in charge of putting together the line-up of a conference, that’s a big responsibility, not just to the attendees on the day, but to the community as a whole. It’s like that quote by Eliel Saarinen:
Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context. A chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.
Part of that responsibility to the wider community is representation. That’s why I fundamentally disagree with ppk when he says:
The other view would be that there should be 50% woman speakers. Although that sounds great I personally never believed in this argument. It’s based on the general population instead of the population of web developers, and if we’d extend that argument to its logical conclusion then 99.9% of the web development conference speakers should know nothing about web development, since that’s the rough ratio in the general population.
That makes it sound like a conference’s job is to represent the status quo. By that logic, the line-up should include plenty of bad speakers—after all, the majority of web developers aren’t necessarily good speakers. But of course that’s not how conferences work. They don’t represent typical ideas—quite the opposite. What’s the point of having an event that simply reinforces the general consensus? This isn’t Harrison Bergeron. You want a line-up that’s exceptional.
I don’t think conference organisers can shirk this issue and say “It’s out of my hands; I’m just reflecting the way things are.” The whole point of having a conference in the first place is to trigger some kind of change. If you’re not happy with the current make-up of the web community (and I most definitely am not), then a conference is the perfect opportunity to try to demonstrate an alternative. We do it with the subject matter of the talks—”Our code/process/tooling doesn’t have to be this way!”—and I think we should also apply that to the wider context: “Our culture doesn’t have to be this way!”
Passing up that chance isn’t just a missed opportunity, I think it’s also an abdication of responsibility. Believe me, I know that organising a conference is a lot of work, but that’s not a reason to cop out. On the contrary, it’s all the more reason to step up to the plate and try your damnedest to make a difference. Otherwise, why even have a conference?
Whenever the issue of diversity at conferences comes up, there is inevitably someone who says “All I care about is having the best speakers.” But if that were true, shouldn’t your conference (and every other conference) have exactly the same line-up every year?
The truth is that there are all sorts of factors that play into the choice of speakers. I think representation should be a factor, but that’s all it is—one factor of many. Is the subject matter relevant? That’s a factor. Do we already have someone on the line-up covering similar subject matter? That’s a factor. How much will it cost to get this speaker? That’s a factor. Is the speaker travelling from very far away? That’s a factor.
In the case of Patterns Day, I had to factor in the range of topics. I wanted a mixture of big-picture talks as well as hands-on nitty-gritty case studies. I also didn’t want it to be too developer-focused or too design-focused. I was aiming for a good mix of both.
In the end, I must admit that I am guilty of doing exactly what I’ve been railing against. I played it safe. I put together a line-up of speakers that I wanted to see, and that I knew with absolute certainty would deliver great presentations. There were plenty of potential issues for me to get stressed about in the run-up to the event, but the quality of the talks wasn’t one of them. On the one hand, I wish I had taken more chances with the line-up, but honestly, if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Because I was trying to keep the ticket price as low as possible—and the venue hire was already a significant cost—I set myself the constraint of only having speakers from within the UK (Jina was the exception—she was going to come anyway as an attendee, so of course I asked her to speak). Knowing that the speaker’s travel costs would be low, I could plug the numbers into an algebraic formula for figuring out the ticket price:
costs ÷ seats = price
Add up all the costs and divide that total by the number of available seats to get the minimum ticket price.
In practice, you probably don’t want to have to sell absolutely every single ticket just to break even, so you set the price for a sales figure lower than 100%—maybe 80%, or 50% if you’re out to make a tidy profit (although if you’re out to make a tidy profit, I don’t think conferences are the right business to be in—ask any conference organiser).
Some conferences factor in money for sponsorship to make the event happen. I prefer to have sponsors literally sponsoring additions to the conference. In the case of Patterns Day, the coffee and pastries were sponsored by Deliveroo, and the videos were sponsored by Amazon. But sponsorship didn’t affect the pricing formula.
The Duke Of York’s has around 280 seats. I factored in about 30 seats for speakers, Clearlefties, and other staff. That left 250 seats available for attendees. But that’s not the number I plugged into the pricing formula. Instead, I chose to put 210 tickets on sale and figured out the ticket price accordingly.
What happened to the remaining 40 seats? The majority of them went to Codebar students and organisers. So if you bought a ticket for Patterns Day, you directly subsidised the opportunity for people under-represented in technology to attend. Thank you.
Speaking personally, I found that having the Codebar crew in attendance really made my day. They’re my heroes, and it meant the world to me that they were able to be there.
Friday, May 5th, 2017
Patterns Day speakers
Ticket sales for Patterns Day are going quite, quite briskly. If you’d like to come along, but you don’t yet have a ticket, you might want to remedy that. Especially when you hear about who else is going to be speaking…
Sareh Heidari works at the BBC building websites for a global audience, in as many as twenty different languages. If you want to know about strategies for using CSS at scale, you definitely want to hear this talk. She just stepped off stage at the excellent CSSconf EU in Berlin, and I’m so happy that Sareh’s coming to Brighton!
Patterns Day isn’t the first conference about design systems and pattern libraries on the web. That honour goes to the Clarity conference, organised by the brilliant Jina Anne. I was gutted I couldn’t make it to Clarity last year. By all accounts, it was excellent. When I started to form the vague idea of putting on an event here in the UK, I immediately contacted Jina to make sure she was okay with it—I didn’t want to step on her toes. Not only was she okay with it, but she really wanted to come along to attend. Well, never mind attending, I said, how about speaking?
I couldn’t be happier that Jina agreed to speak. She has had such a huge impact on the world of pattern libraries through her work with the Lightning design system, Clarity, and the Design Systems Slack channel.
The line-up is now complete. Looking at the speakers, I find myself grinning from ear to ear—it’s going to be an honour to introduce each and every one of them.
This is going to be such an excellent day of fun and knowledge. I can’t wait for June 30th!
Saturday, April 25th, 2015
As a speaker and a conference organiser, I heartily concur with just about every item in this list.