Our day at Handheld Conf

By Toward,

December 2013


Handheld Conference 2013

A little while ago the team spent a day out of the studio to attend Handheld Conf in the Wales Millennium Centre. It was the second event of its kind and having popped along last year, we knew we had to be there this time around as well. The calibre of speakers was very special and being so close to home (and our new studio!) it was nice to have such a great web conference on our doorstep.

With over 1000 attendees, it was one of the biggest web conferences to be held in Europe. The speakers inspired and informed us, talking about all things mobile, design, content and how to work better. Being the first week in the new studio it was quite an upheaval to have the team away for a whole day but events like this are important for us to keep learning and growing.

Handheld Conference 2013 Highlight of the day for us? Seeing Ling from Lings Cars taking on the giant Zeldman in a Dalek, whilst Brendan Dawes and Andy Clarke appeal for forgiveness.

The whole team got something from the day and here are their summaries of why it was time well spent:


As a team, we attend several conferences each year. Handheld is a conference I’ve been particularly looking forward to for many reasons. It was great to have a conference that was literally a stones throw from our new studio, and I was curious to know what visitors thought of the capital of Wales.

Craig put together an event Cardiff can be proud of, in an incredible venue with an impressive line-up of speakers. I think (hope) attendees from outside of Wales would have enjoyed what we have to offer.

The Speakers — I felt inspired by Brendan Dawes. Got many useful tips and links from Jon Hicks. I had an interesting insight into Mark Boulton’s evolving process (I also loved his slides). But it was Andy Clarke and Jeffrey Zeldman who left me thinking about what I thought was the topic of the day.

Theme of the Day — I usually come away from conferences feeling super inspired, and this was no different. The theme of the day for me was clients. The speakers shared insightful techniques on working with clients, involving clients earlier in the project, and treating client relationships as partnerships. They too have their fair share of work to do in the web design precess. I liked one thing Eddie Machado said, "Give Clients Homework”.


I remember having DM conversations on Twitter with Craig over a year ago about his ideas for Handheld Conference. It’s a big investment for an agency to send the whole team to an all day conference, both in terms of time and financially. As soon as I started to hear about Craig’s plans, I knew it would be worth it.

The theme I found repeated throughout the day was about change. Changes to our processes and businesses as designers, changes to the relationships with clients and most importantly the changes that our clients themselves are facing when commissioning websites.

Many of the points raised throughout the day hit home with me. I could relate to the impact that responsive web design is having on our business as Mark Boulton discussed.

I thoroughly enjoyed most of the talks, especially Brendan Dawes who showed how he uses awesome techniques to visualise data, something I’m really interested in.

The one talk that I really connected with was by Andy Clarke. I’ve followed Andy for a while, and would be the first to say that I’ve not always agreed with him or his views, but virtually every point he made during his talk resonated with me.

Like Mark, he looked at the business and processes of working with clients on responsive design projects. I’m going to be writing up a follow up post where I’ll cover this in more detail.

For now, Orde Sanders made some good talk notes detailing the topics Andy covered.


Having never been to a conference before, I was quite excited about attending Handheld but didn't really know what to expect. Needless to say I wasn't disappointed and found it informative and often entertaining.

Highlight of the day for me was definitely Brendan Dawes talk on 'designing with data' which hit the sweet spot between art and science that makes our industry uniquely exciting. Only complaint is that, having witnessed his exploits, I subsequently want a 3D printer and I'm not sure Santa is up for it.


I enjoyed all of the talks and even the ones focused around code and more technical approaches kept me interested but the most important thing for me was the mention of content and storytelling across the day as well as how to work better with clients.

From structured content through to to how we need to work with content across multiple devices, it was incredibly helpful to hear how others are facing these same challenges. Linked to that was how we work better with clients. This included a talk by Andy Clarke that really resonated with a lot of what I have to manage on a daily basis. The big reveal of visuals was mentioned a couple of times throughout the day as not being the best way to show designs to clients. I also learnt a lot about structuring feedback sessions and working in collaboration with clients to get the best from the design team and valuable and usable feedback in return.

Some of the talks reaffirmed that we are doing a lot of stuff right as a team and that’s nice to be reminded.

Aside from good practical advice, the conference was inspiring and entertaining. From Daleks right through to 3D printers and being encouraged to make stuff and ship it, it was certainly an event that has helped me find some inspiration to write more, do more, share more.


Despite the sad news that this year was the final Handheld Conference (although hopefully it will reappear in a different guise), we all came away from the event with smiles on our faces; it’s always refreshing to listen to speakers who are enthusiastic and passionate about their craft.

Whilst many of the speakers talked about ways of dealing with everyday problems, such as difficult clients, Eddie Machado gave us some useful practical tips about structuring projects. Everyone has their own workflow so it’s always helpful to pick up tips and ideas from other developers for improving your own processes.

The stand-out speaker of the day for me was Brendan Dawes. His humorous delivery was a joy to listen to and seeing his innovative ways of displaying data was inspiring.

Comedy moment of the day: Ling doing her entire speech from inside a Dalek. Bizarre.

So, that's it. Our thoughts on the final Handheld Conference. Thanks Again to Craig and Aime for organising it! Missed it and want to see some great pictures of the day? Check out the Flickr group.

Photo credit for the above images — Ashley Baxter