Webstock 2013

Jason Scott prefers to call the cloud 'the clown'.

Jason Scott prefers to call the cloud 'the clown'.

‘Stand up if you can name more than one Kardashian.’

‘Now stand up if you know New Zealand’s child poverty rate.’

That humbling challenge posed by Clay Johnson kicked off Webstock 2013 and was followed by an excellent presentation calling for a paradigm shift in our relationship with mass media.

Essentially: we are what we eat and ignorance can actually be caused by consumption of media (i.e. not just lack of information but by wrong information). The more junky tabloid media we consume on the web, the more junky and tabloid the web becomes. We are shaping it through our actions, and we need to shape it – and ourselves – for the better. Linking to sources to allow people to make up their own minds, and using good data to allow the creation of more honest media, were a few of his suggestions.

His call to become ‘a producer rather than a consumer’ and to start each day by writing 500 words hit a note with me, and inspired me to write this, my first ever blog post.

I found the whole of Webstock thoroughly enjoyable this year, both the conference and the fantastic workshop I went to by Chris Coyier. The speakers were a great bunch and even the speaking order felt just right.

As a tech-head who is equal parts designer/coder (otherwise known as a ‘unicorn’ according to Kitt Hodsen) I genuinely found inspiration and something worthwhile to take away from every single presentation. Here are the three that I found had the most immediately applicable ideas:

Chris Coyier introduced me to SASS, Compass, CodeKit and Emmet, and showed us smart ways to use CSS variables, nested tags, breakpointed media-queries, includes, mixins and box-sizing:border-box as well as loads of other great stuff. He somehow managed to cram loads in while giving each concept enough time and examples to really sink in. All the while being really entertaining and likeable along the way.

Karen McGrane talked about COPE (create once, publish everywhere) and used some great examples of what large media companies have done. My favourite was the US TV Guide who decided well before the technology changed that, despite the fact they were still publishing printed guides, they needed to start creating three versions of everything: short, medium and full format – now of course implemented on everything from Sky guides to websites and mobile apps. She also hit on a really simple but important point – we need to stop thinking in terms of our ‘primary platform’ – it’s just as flawed whether you are thinking first of ‘print’ or ‘website’. The content is first. The platforms are ever-changing.

Mike Monteiro delivered an in-your-face wake-up call to web designers that featured a fair amount of swearing and a strong focus on responsibility. Responsibility to be of service to the world we live in and to make things that have a real and positive impact on people’s lives (as opposed to another iPad dock). Responsibility to the craft of design – to write, speak and teach, to share failures and successes for those who come after us. Responsibility to clients – to choose the right ones, to be a gatekeeper, not an order-taker, and to do good design, not just keep clients happy. And responsibility to ourselves – ‘Your portfolio is another name for your reputation.’ He definitely had the best one liners of the day: ‘Not only can designer’s change the world, they ****ing need to’ and ‘Don’t trust a designer who hasn’t been punched in his mouth.’

It seems to me lately that the internet is at an interesting crossroads, with tension between the open environment of the personal computer and the locked environment of new tethered appliances and their proprietary gatekeepers, between what Jonathan Zittrain calls ‘generative’: the freedom to adapt and interact with an operating system, and the security of a virus/malware-free environment, between open source and copyright protection, between the potential and the threat of the cloud.

I was hoping for these concepts to be addressed at Webstock and they were. I’d recommend that everyone who uses the web watch the presentations by these three Webstockers as soon as they go live:

I love that Webstock had such a conscious message this year. I think Clay Johnson put it in context by ending his presentation with a fitting acknowledgement:

‘Who do we want to look back on as the leading thinkers of this era? The Mark Zuckerbergs? Or my mate Aaron? ‘

I know my answer.

Thanks Mike, Deb, Natasha, Ben and everyone in the Webstock team for putting in all the hard work every year.

8 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Helen || February 27th, 2013

    I realised afterwards that my favourite speakers were the ones who, rather than basically preaching at us and telling us what we should be doing, were the ones who talked about what they’d been doing, about their process, about what they’d learned and showed us examples of what they’d done or built or whatever.

    My favourite was Kelli Anderson, who talked about how she likes to use disruption and surprise in her design as a way of making people see things in a new way. The projects she had worked on were amazing and beautiful, and she was a charming speaker.

    Craig Mod’s talk on digital publishing, particularly ‘subcompact publishing’ gave me lots of ideas and things to think about.

    There are lots of others I took bits and pieces from, such as Aza Raskin talking about the usefulness of obstacles to give us boundaries and things to work against in creative problem solving. I loved especially his example of the tiny Hong Kong apartment, which had moving panels to make 24 different room configurations (check it out here: http://www.noob.us/miscellaneous/24-rooms-packed-into-one-tiny-room/). I also thought Karen McGrane’s talk was one of the best, most useful and most timely.

    While I agreed with almost everything Mike Monteiro said, I was a bit put off by his televangist way of talking at us, and by his gendered language (he wasn’t the only one who was doing that though, which had made me a little sensitive), even while telling us we needed to get rid of misogyny in tech. But only hours later he showed that he isn’t quite yet ready to practise what he preaches when on Twitter he made vicious and sexist attacks on women who had dared to suggest he might want to find an alternative to using ‘he’ as a neutral third-person pronoun.

    Despite that shadow, I think it may have been the best Webstock ever for me, and I’m looking for ways to use what I’ve learned.

  2. Comment made by Mark Derby || February 27th, 2013

    I wasn’t at this conference but your post made me realising what I was missing. I thought it was a fine, concise, well-worded summary of an important event, and that you should certainly be writing more posts for this blog.

  3. Comment made by Kristy Mayes || February 27th, 2013

    Helen – I didn’t see Kelli Anderson or Craig Mod but am really looking forward to watching the videos of their presentations. Aza Raskin indeed delivered a fantastic presentation. That house is amazing and I loved the story about the guy who offered a reward for achieving man-powered flight with the point that sometimes we need to figure out how to fail faster. Yes – I think it’s telling that Mike Monteiro’s twitter name is mike_ftw, I didn’t mind his style myself, but then I didn’t notice the gendered language and wasn’t engaged in what sounds like an awful twitter experience with him.

    Mark – thanks for the encouragement! You have no idea how hard it was for me to overcome my fear and write something! Odd I know but true!

  4. Comment made by Matthew Oliver || February 27th, 2013

    Nice post Kristy – I’m regretting not going to Webstock this year from all that I’m hearing about some of the talks. And I really like the point that the web is what we create (“The more junky tabloid media we consume on the web, the more junky and tabloid the web becomes.”). Every junky link we click on is recorded in the analytics and used to determine which topics are hot in tomorrow’s news. Just remember that y’all next time you’re picking which headline to click on Stuff’s homepage.

  5. Comment made by Kristy Mayes || February 27th, 2013

    Thanks Matthew – I totally thought of you and the Stuff homepage when that was mentioned. You’ve def been ahead of the eight ball on that one, for some time too!

  6. Comment made by Heath || February 27th, 2013

    Great post Kristy.

    I was quite disappointed by Webstock last year, so I wasn’t that sad when I found out I wouldn’t be going this year. However it sounds like Webstock had a return to form. I’ve heard similar feedback from colleagues that went. It’s interesting how polarizing Bruce can be. I think the people that didn’t like his talk, stay very quiet.

    It’s interesting to hear you mention they got the order right. Cause I think that plays a bigger part than people realise. The big aspiration future of the web talks are great, but after two in a row, the third just comes off as hyperbolic, preaching to the choir, and many an eye is rolled… probably an even number.

    I’m always left with the thought, “what did I take away, that I can apply at work tomorrow? …. Cause they paid for it”. And that’s why I’ve always recommended the workshops. It sounds like you got heaps from Chris that you could apply.

    So… what’s your next post going to be about, huh, huh?

  7. Comment made by Kristy || March 5th, 2013

    Thanks Heath!

    Feels like there is so much to apply this time – not just from the workshop but from the conference too. The biggest challenge is finding the time! Definitely have a look at the vids when they come out, I think you’d enjoy them – even Bruce’s!

    What to blog about next… hmmmm I was actually thinking maybe about Yoga of all things. Was inspired when cropping the hero image for an up and coming Te Ara entry named ‘Body work’.

  8. Comment made by Sarah Maclean || March 21st, 2013

    Excellent blog Kristy – you capture the ideas and the flavour so well of what must’ve been a fascinating event!

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