Thoughts on blendconf

23 September 2013

A New Conference Experiment

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Charlotte, NC. I was attending the first iteration of a conference that combined UX, design, and development into 3 days and 51 speakers. The event was titled, BlendConf and it’s creator, Bermon Painter, did a fabulous job in the logistics, organization, venue and content of the conference.

I was somewhat skeptical of this fledgling conference, not because of the speakers, but because of it’s untested nature. I have been fortunate over the past 5 or so years to attend larger conferences. I have had great experiences, and mediocre ones and have since been wary of where I choose to attend and at what cost. As i reviewed the speaker lineup, however, I was quickly persuaded. There were more than a few people I had long admired and many of whom I was unaware of. I also really enjoy a multi-track conference to gain insight into different areas of interest. It also helped already knowing one of the ( [speakers] and wanted to hear him speak and get to hang out, which doesn’t happen very often due to distance. From the start, I knew I had made a good choice in attending.

The Recap

The choice of venue was excellent. Charlotte isn’t very far from me, and most tech-related conferences tend to hover on the coasts and out west. Getting to see and explore Charlotte was a nice change. The hotel was a good choice too. Well designed, excepting the elevators, and nicely furnished, it had everything needed for a good event. It was a bit far from good restaurants and night-life, but the quality of the hotel made up for it. Well, that and the well-stocked bottled water/pop fridge in the lobby free and available day or night.

The first day of the conference was a workshop day with 2 to choose from - morning and afternoon. I went to Shay Howe’sFront-End Legos: Reusable  HTML and CSS in the morning. It was one of the best hands-on workshops I’ve ever attended. Shay had it dialed in. His presentation went over the concepts of OOCSS and modular styling to separate style from markup. He then got us diving in and writing code paired with someone next to us to share the coding experience. He then walked through the worksheet examples and answered questions. His pacing, amount covered, and real, working experience were excellent.

What can I say, I’m a fan

There were two other highlights for me at the conference; meeting and talking with Cameron Moll and James White. I have long admired Cameron’s design work. Back in my early days, I loved reading his explanations of technique and his sense of detail and style. His influence, which he was never aware of, shaped they way I designed. James, on the other hand, is a fabulous artist and designer, whose work I knew and loved, but didn’t know him. It always nice to be able to put a name and personality with the work.

The other highlights of the conference were experienced throughout the entire time spent there. Bermon had some really insightful and inspiration key note speakers who challenged the audience to think broadly and deeply about the purpose of their work and meaning in their lives. I have never been to a conference with such focus on the intrinsic motivations that drive us as professionals and as human beings. These keynotes and the small size of the conference opened the door to much more meaningful conversations.

No Devices. Nope. Not even that one.

The last part that has to be mentioned is the device restrictions that all attendees agreed to. During the registration process each attendee accepted to turn off, or go without device interaction during the conference sessions. The result was completely obvious! Before and after sessions, the many conversations flowing in the room were a welcome change to the usual silent isolation of checking in on devices instead of meeting and networking with those around you. To add to the fun, Garth brought big bags of lego to be enjoyed at meals and during keynotes.