At last year’s awards, Simon Collison picked up a much deserved ‘Event of the Year’ for New Adventures in Web Design in Nottingham. Already a much admired designer and speaker in the industry, Simon cemented his status with one of the most talked about events of last year’s conference schedule. After proving that his second album is just as good as his first, Simon and Greg pulled together another chapter of #naconf this year, with an even more amazing line-up of speakers and topics, and another slick, professionally run event.
Now that the dust has settled and he’s managed to catch up a little on four months of little to no sleep, we caught up with Simon to talk events, speakers and winning a critter.
What were your highlights of the Critters last year?
The obvious highlight was New Adventures in Web Design winning Event Of The Year. That knocked my socks off. It was great that all the hard work paid off and was acknowledged. I rarely win anything. Once, a site I built for The Libertines was up for the NME site of the year award, but the NME’s own website won that category. My chance had to come some time I guess.
Other highlights included the beer, the fine people in attendance, and the ridiculous set-pieces you organised. A lowlight was spending the night in a former jail cell (cheap, but not exactly comfortable).
Where is your award currently sitting?
In my office. It’s on a shelf behind me, so whenever I do video Skypes, I get to show it off. Like all good awards, I’m sure it’ll eventually take pride of place on a shelf above the toilet.
What do you see as the key ingredients to running an award winning event?
Purpose. A good event, whether a huge conference or a small grassroots meet up, has to have purpose. The organisers must really want the dialogue, the outcomes. It has to feel important, relevant, special. Every decision needs to be made with real integrity, with the same care and attention that goes into any creation. I think it’s about finding a balance between moving the web forward, and making sure the attendees feel loved. Get that right, and you do something meaningful.
How do you strike the balance between big name speakers and lesser known, but potentially more interesting, speakers for a conference?
In the first year, we had six or seven “big names”, plus a few that have either never spoken in the UK, or ever anywhere. This year it was roughly half and half. A couple didn’t go down so well, but mostly I think the content surpassed the previous event. The feedback for our talks was fantastic. I hope that we again launched a few ideas that will resonate throughout the web as the year roles on.
I think the gambles can pay off. This year, wee Robbie Manson gave one of the best talks of the day. We took a chance on him because we enjoy talking about design with him, and he really cares. For me, he’s a great example of how anyone can find themselves invited to speak and deliver mind explosions from a stage, simply by quietly plugging away, doing great work, and taking the time to write about what they do and reach out just enough to be noticed.
Many people want to speak at events, but very few really have engaging messages to share, or go on long enough journeys inquiring into something that becomes theirs to report back on. A good speaker gets lost in something they care about for a while – gets kidnapped by a passion – and then comes out the other side with brave or interesting conclusions they can share with people. Ultimately, as an organiser you have to make the right choices. It’s a catch 22 because many want to see fresh faces, but they want the big wows that seasoned speakers always deliver. You can’t please everyone, so you just have to do what feels right in line with the themes, and the kind of event you want to curate.
Are there any other events you think deserve to be recognised for a critter this year?
Definitely. Without question, Build in Belfast knocks it out of the park year after year, and the 2011 Build was phenomenal. Also, the Clearleft gang continue to program amazing speakers around engaging themes down in Brighton. Both of those events are an inspiration for New Adventures. Beyond the UK, unique events like Brooklyn Beta and Greenville Grok are mind-blowingly good, and I think it’s worth everyone reaching out and getting to things like Beyond Tellerrand in Germany, Frontend in Oslo, and Interlink in Vancouver. They’re not eligible for a Critter, but they are all organised by real practitioners, not interested in profit, and all pushing the web forward. Let’s have even more conferences, every day of the year.
All the conferences, all the time, forever!
Make sure you nominate your picks for this year’s Critter awards by the 22nd of Feb!