Future of Web Design London 2010: My thoughts two months on...

Technology conferences are fun, an enormous amount of extremely geeky fun. Most folks can't wait to get home and blog about all the wonderful things they've seen, heard and learnt over the duration of the conference. Those reviews are great insights into what works and what doesn't, but are they an accurate reflection of the long-term benefits web industry professionals can gain from attending conferences?

Two months on and I'm still reeling from my single day experience of the Future of Web Design Conference. I shared a ticket with colleague and so attended the party & second day of the conference, having the chance to meet some awesome people and learn a great deal. I highly recommend attending the FOWD conference and these are my reasons why.

The benefits of attending FOWD

When I left University and started working full time as a web developer a little less than 2 years ago, I had a strong academic background in computer science and business. The first 15 months of work were spent learning how all my know-how applied in the real world where great theory and best practice often get sidelined to make the realities work in practice (and in budget). Back in May, when the conference was held, I had just started working with my colleagues to develop better working practices and improve the services we offer.

I spent my day at the Future of Web Design London 2010 listening to top class individuals share their experiences of how to make things work in the real world, how to be more efficient and more importantly improve the services and end product that clients receive. Whilst I listened, I reflected on my own experiences and was also reminded of the theories and best practices I'd learnt at University before the real world kicked in. I was also given the opportunity to talk to highly experience professionals about their experiences and share my own ideas of how to better manage and improve relationships with clients.

In essence I was able to review all that I had learned and come up with better ways to do what we do. I realised that my job is NOT about just delivering what's possible for the client's budget but about selling the bigger and better ideas to clients. This may be another theoretical idealism but there are two key points to achieving this goal.

Firstly, iterate. Break a project down in to manageable steps (for development and for budget) and continuously iterate and improve a project as budget, time, and technology constraints allow. Secondly, be data driven. Be proactive, source out new ways to develop & improve, and use analytical data as evidence to support new ideas. By breaking down projects into bite-sized, evidenced steps, clients are more likely to buy-in to your ideas and as the ROI builds hopefully so will their willingness to try new things.

So here I am, two months after the conference and still feeling completely re-inspired. I've found a direction and a clear picture of what I want to be doing in 5 years. I've found a new passion in Analytics and I've fallen back in love with my job. I'm pretty sure all of these things are worth far more than the cost of a one day FOWD pass.

Top tips for conference attending

If you are thinking about attending an event like FOWD, or sending some of your staff to a conference I do recommend the following:
  • It's only worth attending with an open mind and a willingness to learn.
  • Don't bother taking notes. Everything is available online afterwards so spend your time absorbing and reflecting. You'll come away with far more insights.
  • Take the opportunity to talk to your peers and your heroes. Don't waste time being shy, you will learn far more by engaging with the people you respect.
  • If you are sending staff, make them aware they will have an opportunity to feedback their findings afterwards - this will give them more purpose.
  • Go with the intention to have a lot of fun, and don't feel guilty for it!

My top 3 FOWD London 2010 talks

  1. Brett Welch - Rethink Your Job (and Earn More Money)
  2. Dan Rubin - Blending Usability Testing with Interface Design, Prototyping and Rapid Iteration
  3. Niamh Phelan - Google Analytics Masterclass

UPDATE: You can still get the FOWD London 2010 video pass to watch these talks.