Rob's trip to the New Adventures in Web Design conference

By Toward,

January 2011


Yesterday I attended New Adventures in Web Design, a conference in Nottingham that promised to deliver something new and fresh. I think they achieved this.

This was the first New Adventures conference, or naconf as it is popularly known, and I think that by and large it was a success and clearly well planned and executed by people who genuinely care about the web and the industry. There is no subsitute for passion when it comes to things like this. Here's my summary.

Let's start with the price. £80 for a conference is a steal in comparison to many other conferences and it'll be interesting to see if this has any influence on the pricing strucures of future events.

New Adventures was created and organised by Simon Collison and there is no doubt that he has worked his socks off to make it a worthwhile experience. I was particularly fond of the attention to detail such as the newspaper given to all attendees and the name badges/schedules - both beautifully designed.

The Naconf Speakers The Speakers - Andy Clarke, Brendan Dawes, Veerle Pieters, Mark Bolton, Jon Tan, Tim Van Damme, Dan Rubin, Sarah Parmenter, Greg Wood and Elliot Jay Stocks

The line up was undeniably fantastic. 10 experts that offered a broad range of topics including storytelling and inspiration to user experience and language. The issue any conference faces is finding topics that appeal to all attendees, perhaps an impossible task, so naturally some of the content was lost on me but I was still able to bring back some great food for thought. Some of my highlights are outlined below.

Dan Rubin talked about The New Language of Web Design. Whilst I felt his talk became less relevant to me as it progressed, the opening was fascinating. Dan talked about the power of language and words and indeed how powerful an absence of words can be.

Next up was Mark Boulton. Mark is a very engaging speaker and again whilst I struggled to comprehend all of the content of his talk he offered the audience plenty to think about with such statements as 'on the web there are no pages, there are no edges, we have made them up'. Mark also said that we should work 'content out' not 'canvas in'. I love his way of thinking!

Sarah Parmenter was next to take the stage and Sarah's talk was one of my favourites, not least because there was a lot of information that could easily be brought back to the studio and implemented as well as the inclusion of how colours communicate, something which I have previously written about too. Sarah's talk also touched on the psychology behind design which is a topic that I think begs for deeper exploration and discussion.

What I found especially useful in Sarah's talk was the impact that words can have on click through rates. A simple sentence change can have significant impact. One example Sarah showed included Twitter. When the text said 'I'm on Twitter' the click through rate was 4.7%. They changed this to 'You should follow me on Twitter' and the rate increased to 7.31%. The next change was just the de-capitalisation of the T as it changed to 'You should follow me on twitter'. Click through was now 10.09% and finally it changed to 'You should follow me on twitter here'. Click through increased again to 12.81%. This links nicely with Dan's talk about the power of language and words.

The other talk that I was fascinated by was delivered by Jon Tan called Language and the Lizard Brain. This part of the brain has a primary role in the processing of emotional reactions. Therefore, if we design for the lizard brain then we are creating work that evokes emotions in audiences. Again Jon's talk touched on communicating through colour and typography. He stated that language is not necessary for emotion and Jon also referenced the power of communicating via symbols and images.

My final shout-out goes to Andy Clarke. His talk was focused on storytelling and the web. This is something that I have thought about a lot lately and Andy's talk used both comics and the western film genre to tell his own story. Andy said that we should consider the notion of pacing in our designs and that we often try to get users as quickly as possible from A to B. Andy believes that we need to slow down as the parts that exist between A and B are the very places where we call tell more engaging stories and create a better user experience.

Andy also said that comic books are the bridge between pacing in movies and how we can tell stories on the web. During the question and answer session a fantastic book was mentioned and I highly recommend that everyone read it: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

The other talks were also useful but the above are examples of what really got me thinking. I did feel at the time that perhaps some of the content was too light on practical advice or more difficult to relate it to how we execute the theory on the web. However, having been discussing the conference all morning in the Toward studio, I now realise that that was a key benefit to the event. It offered inspiration and plenty of points to consider and take back with us that we can then find our own ways of implementing.

Common themes across many talks included storytelling, drawing inspiration from off-line sources, connecting with our environments to make things that are relevant and tangible and most pleasingly for me, invisible communication. This is the way in which we can communicate to audiences on a subconscious level through colour, tone of voice, branding and typefaces.

What I'd like to see more of now is talks where these storytelling strands are discussed together in relation to how we can design and deliver a coherent story on the web. All in all it was absolutely value for money and I wouldn't hesitate to attend another New Adventures conference.