The week long design event known simply as Build is a series of events that build up towards a main set of talks that has attracted the attention of some of the best people in the business, not only with regards to speakers but also with the calibre of attendees and has really helped to put Belfast on the map as the creative hub of Northern Ireland and puts us on par with the rest of the UK in regard to places currently breeding lots of creativity.
This year three people from Pierce Communications were able to attend the main Build Conference held in Belfast on Thursday 15th August at the Waterfront hall. I have already wrote my thoughts on the Shopify workshop myself and Colm attended earlier in the week and soon there will be a blog post up from Colm who had managed to attend all the evening fringe events.
Bar a couple of small technical hitches (what would a conference be without them) everything went off like clockwork. The level of detail and planning put into the event by Andy McMillan and his team was phenomenal.
The Waterfront makes for an excellent venue; enough space that everyone isn’t too squashed together during the breaks but small enough to encourage networking. The seats in the conference hall weren’t the most comfortable I have ever sat on but the talks were split up with plenty of breaks. Finally I wanted to call out the fact we had free pic-n-mix sweets supplied to us — it is little talking points like this that can really add to the overall good impression of an event.
Now, onto the actual talks!
First up we had Robin Sloan, a writer and Media Inventor who gave a rather inspiring talk around inventing media that boiled down to the fact that when people like Thomas Edison were playing with video for the first time they didn’t know what would work and what wouldn’t so they just tried a whole bunch of stuff.
The reason this is important is because right now with our mobile devices we are trying to find ways of placing existing media onto the small screen when perhaps we should be inventing media for the small screen and using features unique to it. As an example he mentioned http://tapestry.is/ which is a way of creating tappable stories that allow for a sense of rhythm and pace much more than standard text would.
My take away from this opening talk was that content and technologies need to work closer together and that neither should be created independent of the other.
Next up we had Kirby Ferguson who is a writer, filmmaker, and speaker — he is known to a lot of people as the person behind the Everything Is A Remix video series and this is what his talk was on.
He began his talk by stipulating that everything was indeed a remix and gave some pretty convincing examples of this — including works by Picasso borrowing ideas and styles from various other artists/mediums and songs by Led Zeppelin and how they borrowed riffs and lyrics from artists from other genres and then how they themselves were later remixed in the same way by their contemporaries and musicians in other genres.
He then went on to explain how this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and how in general audiences like the same stuff, which is why the majority of movies are either a derivative of something that came before it or new versions of old concepts.
The main take away points for me were the stages of learning a craft that Kirby had talked about;
- You learn by copying.
- You then get better by transforming.
- You master by combining.
After a short break we settled back into our seats to listen to Rob Giampietro who is both a teacher and design principal, his talk was called the Art of Unbuilding.
In the talk he argued that a complement to the build process is the unbuild process, which is were you take something that is already built and perform the antithesis of building so for example instead of looking towards the goal as you would when building, you look back towards the idea that started the goal when unbuilding.
My main take away from this talk was one of the things he had mentioned fairly early on in his talk and that is that “the internet places us in an economy of attention”.
The talk before the lunch break (always a tough slot!) was given by Mandy Brown. Mandy is an editor and co-founder of A Book Apart and has contributed as an editor to A List Apart. Her talk was called The Cut.
Her talk focused around the editing process and argued the case that being able to edit is a foundational skill that we should all be able to call upon when needed and how secondly it isn’t just about the cut it is also about the join.
As someone who dabbles in writing I found this talk incredibly useful and interesting, especially when she mentioned that cutting during an edit isn’t necessarily removing bad stuff, it is removing stuff that doesn’t fit.
Another take away was that editors should always be trying to make the best out of what they have as opposed to trying to change what they were given.
On the day I thought this talk was good, on reflection it was a great talk.
Jeff Veen is the VP of Products at Adobe which happened when Adobe acquired Typekit which is a company he co-founded, his talk was called Design for Disaster.
Jeff didn’t give a talk as much as he told a story, these usually make the best talks by a long shot and this was no exception.
The story he told was of one incident that occurred with Typekit deploying packages to their CDN. (side note: as a developer at a design conference hearing things like ‘deploy’ and ‘CDN’ was just music to my ears!)
The details of the story don’t matter so much as the point of it which is that you need to plan for disaster and you need to make sure when something does happen that the people involved in fixing the issue feel under as little pressure as possible.
To keep the team under as little pressure the team needs to:
- Feel Safe
- Feel Trusted
- Have a purpose
In order to ensure these things are met you need an emergency response protocol that defines clear and immediate roles. Jeff’s suggestion was to have three clear roles:
- Repair Team — To identify and fix the problem.
- Note Taker — To maintain communication between the repair team and the communications manager.
- Communications Manager — To talk to customers.
Depending on the problem these roles could be interchangeable between team members, and indeed depending on circumstance it could be one person doing all three roles.
Honestly, my main take away from this was just generally feeling inspired to code awesome stuff, but the practical take away was to try and use the 5 Whys to identify problems — which is for any problem ask Why five times, until you get to the root of the problem.
Tiffani Jones Brown gave the penultimate talk of the day; her talk was entitled True Story. Tiffani works at Pinterest as a writer/editor/content person.
Tiffani started the talk by lamenting on the fact that there is an ‘endless cycle of bullshit’ happening where nobody is getting to the point or saying what they actually mean and then tried to provide a solution for cutting out that type of behaviour in your content.
The solution put forth by Tiffani was a five-point plan:
- Remember that you are telling stories.
- Tell your story.
- Journey inward.
- Call on your muses.
- Follow your story.
If you can do this you will get to the core of what you really want to convey.
My take away point from this talk (apart from the general good advice above) was that perfection is your arch nemesis and you shouldn’t let perfection get in the way of doing something great which she summed up with the Japanese phrase “Hara Hachi Bu“.
The final talk of the day was by Ethan Marcotte, a man who will need no introduction to web developers/designers but for those of you unlucky enough to be in other professions Ethan is a designer who coined the term “responsive web design”. His talk was entitled The Map Is Not The Territory.
The first note I made during this talk was “Mobile broke everything” and in a way it did but it opened up our industry and made us free from making websites solely for computer screens.
In his talk Ethan mentions that we are seeing a rise in what he called digital omnivores, people who consume information on whatever device is most handy to them at any given time.
He also mentioned that lower end networks dominate the landscape, these are generally mobile networks without massive bandwidth — with this in mind it is more important than it has ever been that design isn’t just how something looks but how it works for the user.
One really interesting snippet from the talk was that the web is about 8000 days old, this intrigued me so I looked into this a bit more and made a website about it.
I had two take away points from this talk, the first is it is all about the user and their experience. The second is that art is messy so don’t be afraid to make a mess as you build.
The entire Build experience was just so motivational and inspirational, and with next year being the last Build I would recommend everyone try and get a ticket, this is something that everyone should experience.