WebDevConf 2012 – Creativity, design and our internet selves

On the 19th of October this year, we headed across to Bristol for the annual Web Developer Conference. Started five years ago by Alex Older from Bluefly Digital, Web Developer Conference (Also known as WebDevConf, or simply WDC) aimed to bring great speakers from the web design and development industry to the fair city of Bristol, to cater to what is a growing local industry. What started as a project for Alex as a student, has morphed into being a great little conference, with the likes of Ben Bodien, Paul Boag, Rob Hawkes, Syd Lawrence, Mark Boulton and Robbie Manson having graced the stage over the past few years, not to mention being shortlisted for last year’s Critters Awards. We first attended in 2010, heading back last year to host the pub quiz and cover the day. This year, Ubelly’s Andrew Spooner was invited to speak on the design concepts behind Windows 8, so we tagged along to cover the day with tweets and sketches…

Creativity and the ability to inspire

One of the themes of the day was around creativity and inspiration. David Burton, Head of Innovation at Redweb, kicked the day off talking about some of the thinking behind what he does in his day job. He talked through his concept of the five creative types, and the difference between creativity (lots of ideas) and innovation (focussing the creativity) and did a bit of rallying to arms, with his “We shouldn’t make thing because we can, we should make things that matter.” However, it was his “Better to try than be boring…” attitude that really caught me. In essence, David really made the point about people needing to “f**k about” a bit more to make interesting things, which is something we’ve been hearing a lot in the past year.

This was echoed later in the day with nUbellyer Syd Lawrence‘s “Get inspired to make stuff”. In case you haven’t come across Syd, he heads up the small dev house We Make Awesome Sh, where he basically plays with technologies for some rather awesome clients including Calvin Harris, Kylie Minogue, Intel and Cannes Lion, and was also behind the Ubelly Kinect Arial vs Helvetica game that you may have seen at a few conferences. As well as heading up his own dev house, Syd is also a developer evangelist for Twilio. I’m not entirely sure when he sleeps… Syd’s whole method is very much in the style of David Burton, where he messes about with a lot of different technologies, and then manages to make them meaningful later on. What I really love about the work that Syd does is that it doesn’t try and change the world. Instead, his work is meaningful because it delights people and makes their day a little better, much like the work of one of my other favourite developers, Seb Lee-Delisle and the Creative JS team. Just seeing these guys works inspires me to get out there and make stuff, or as Seb succinctly put it, to Play, Create and Share.

The one big takeaway that should be shared from Syd’s talk? Simply, “If you manage developers, make sure you let your developers play. It’s the way they stay creative.”

Online personas and the Wild Wild Web

The middle of the day seemed to be dominated by talk of the interwebs and social media. Keir Moffatt, who spoke about some of his social media experiences at Ignite Ubelly, took us through the wild wild web in a talk packed with western analogies. Random breakdancing interlude aside, it was interesting to see someone take such a broad view of where we’re going with the internet. Similar to the points that Syd and David made, Keir talked around how we the coders are the pioneers, defining what the web is. However, Keir’s statement was tinged with the burden of a heavy responsibility to make it better, especially with the current state of the internet with regards to privacy and copyright, verbal (or written) shootouts and patent farce. The internet is evolving how we as people are interact, behave and think, and as the pioneers we should keep this in mind.

On a similar topic, Mozilla’s Shane Tomlinson took to the stage to talk through the research that they’ve done into online personas via Mozilla’s Persona project. Shane makes the point that not only are our public identities being established at an earlier age these days, thanks to the internet, but our online self and offline self are in a constant feedback loop, with one informing the other and building who we are as people. Because of this, we need to be conscious of the different personas we hold as people, as our online and offline self are rarely carbon copies of each other. One of the other alarming things about our online personas is that whilst we are amassing huge amounts of data around ourselves, our security is terrible. One only has to look at the amount of big name sites that were hacked in the past 12 months.

Conversations around design

In case you haven’t seen them yet, Andrew has been working with a team to create a series of videos talking around the design process with some rather clever design folks. It all started when he was talking to an architect friend about sacred architecture last year. A simple picture of an arch in a nondescript church got them talking about how much time, thought and effort must have gone into something that looks so effortless in the end, from the way the light hits the arch to frame the contents, to the almost out of sight staircase within the arch, hinting at something more to find beyond. This talk later became the first in a series of talks with architects, audio producers, type designers and content strategists around the concepts of good design. You can see the full series over here, with more being released over the coming months. To conclude the session, Andrew talked through some of the opportunities for designers to get onboard with Windows 8, helping the ecosystem by creating beautifully designed and crafted apps. If you want to find out more about the dev and design process for Windows 8, check out Microsoft’s upcoming camps.

Following on from Andrew, Robbie Manson took to the stage with a reprise of his talk he did earlier this year at New Adventures, talking through the creative process as a designer, and how “the more invisible the tools, the more room for creativity”. Robbie’s calming Scottish lilt took us through the afternoon by questioning our design processes – from personas, and the need to keep these constantly moving and evolving (“Our life is a patchwork quilt of stories… we constantly evolve and change”) to the importance on focussing on people instead of tools. He also talks about the happy accidents we make as designers, and how we need to process these. Because of this, he sees the concept of ‘designing as problem solving’ a problem in itself, as design doesn’t equate in a final solution, but many possible outcomes. Finally, Robbie made clear his call for designers to document their work more, both for themselves to learn more about their own process, and for others to see and appreciate all the hidden things within the design journey.


The only talk I didn’t cover off here was Jack Franklin’s polarising ‘Better Javascript’ talk, where he walked through his advice for JavaScript development and what we could be doing better as developers. However, we’ll be covering this in a more indepth guest post in the coming weeks on Ubelly.

WDC was once again an interesting, thought provoking experience that shows that you don’t need to be one of the big conference organisers to put on a day of relevant and inspirational talks from some of the best in the industry. However, what I really love about WDC is that it isn’t the usual fair, with seasoned vets on stage alongside completely new faces, providing a refreshing break from seeing the same faces at every conference. Congratulations to Alex and the team behind the event for another cracking event! Check out below for all our tweets in a Storify of the event…



Published by Luke

Luke is one of Ubelly’s resident social media guys, occasionally switching hats for a bit of design. He is the in-house meme expert, uses foursquare a little too much and gets hot under the collar when it comes to design, usability and gorgeous code.

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