The benefits and challenges of web conferences

21/06/2016 by Phil Shackleton

The ever-changing direction of our industry requires us to continually update and expand our skills so they do not become outdated. Trust me, I know! Having worked in this industry for a little over 16 years, I constantly find myself playing catch-up. Things move quick and whilst it’s easy to focus on the now, we have to take time to look around and see what’s going on. Some of the best ideas to come out of Mixd over the past 10 years have evolved when we have allowed time to be creative.

During the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to attend a number of conferences, workshops and professional events. One of the first conferences I ever attended was Flashforward and the International Flash Film Festival, which first took place in 1999. I still remember meeting Joshua Davis, the New York-based artist, who, at the time was leading the field in terms of Flash development and was perhaps best known as the creator of Josh was undoubtedly my hero. I followed his work with great anticipation and longed for a client that would give me the same creative freedom. He was also one of the first Flash developers to offer open source files for download which not only opened my mind to what was possible but also gave me the confidence to experiment.

I’m still holding out for that elusive ticket to South by Southwest, but until that day, it’s fair to say we have literally tons of conferences to choose from right here in the UK. An important part of the role of a front-end developer is keeping up to date and staying close to new tools, trends and workflows. Mixd first ventured into the world of Responsive Web Design back in 2011 on the back of a conference that one of our employees had attended.

The point being, conferences are good!

That said, I feel it’s all too easy these days to just randomly select a conference because everyone’s talking about it on Twitter only to later walk away a little disappointed. There’s just too much choice. And this got me thinking. What is it about conferences that I like and what do I expect to get out of them?

Those of you that know me or have attended conferences with me will know that I don’t pretend to like everyone and everything. I’ll be the first to pull out my phone and start responding to a client email if I become unengaged. I know! I have to admit that’s not right. New Adventures was one such conference that heavily encouraged attendees to put away the laptop and just listen. They opted to not provide wifi for this very reason. Which I think is great! In today’s digital world it’s just too hard to switch off but in order to flourish as a design or creative thinker this is something we must all do.

beyond tellerrand Düsseldorf 2016

So with all this in mind, last month Luke and I had the opportunity to escape the office in pursuit of creativity at beyond tellerrand. beyond tellerrand is without doubt, one of the most inspirational conferences I’ve ever been too which this year featured the infamous Mr Bingo! I’d not heard of his Hate Mail campaign – wow!

Having time away from the office, often in a new location with other like minded creatives is just as much a part of the experience as the talks. I often find some of my best thinking happens when I give myself time to do it. So with this in mind, here are my top 3 things to do at your next conference;

  1. Randomly, go say hi to someone – ever tried speed dating? Saying “hi” can often be one of the hardest things to say in a room of unfamiliar faces. But do it!
  2. Give yourself time and don’t be influenced by others around you – this is something I’ve come to acknowledge is as much a part of the event as the speakers themselves and often involves exploring the city or local area. Enjoy it!
  3. Plan something new – I never get time to plan or think about new ideas or personal projects so why not make the most of the time you have and start work on that project you keep putting off.