My BlendConf 2013 Experience

Blend Conference 2013 happened on September 5th-7th, 2013 in Charlotte, NC. The website describes it as:

A generalist conference featuring 50 diverse speakers sharing ideas and conversations about user experience, design, and web development.

I was not sure I would get a lot of out BlendConf when I first heard about it. It seemed to be heavy design oriented, but as I learned more about it, I realized it is really about getting designers, UX folks, and developers together in one place to share, learn, and grow.

Below is a bit about my experience at the conference; Keynotes, sessions, and hallway-talks. Note: I did not attend the workshops, just the two conference days.

Conference Day 1

Keynote - "Your Money & Your Life" - Carl Smith / ngen Works

  • Carl talked about his experiences with wanting to create organizations which are not the usual top down pyramid of managers at the top and worker-bees at the bottom.
  • Carl has worked to great an organization where there are core groups who collaborate and no one is very far from removed from the core group. Everyone is a decision maker for their area.
  • Check out nGen Work's process at http://process.ngenworks.com
  • nGen Works has a cool QA service, QCat
  • There was so much in this keynote. I can't wait to see it again on video.

"One Size Fits None: Creating Flexible Design Processes" - Yesenia Perez-Cruz / Happy Cog

  • Yesenia discussed the design/development process she uses at Happy Cog. It was very useful to me as I think I can apply this where I work.
  • Needs for designs:
    • Sustanability
    • Flexibility
    • Business goals and user needs oriented
    • Efficiency
  • Optional methods for working through the design process. Note that not all have to be used, but you will want to use a number of these depending on the needs.
    • Style tiles/mood boards (http://styletil.es)
    • Element collages
    • Style protoypes
    • Full page comps
  • Have conversations, not presentations (with clients)
  • Communicate always!
  • Design, UX, content, and development teams should meet together
  • Checkout http://foundation.zurb.com

"Modular Development with RequireJS" - Vernon Kesner / Ally

  • Slide deck
  • Vernon outlined the current problems, modular principals, and how to use RequireJS.

"Craft your own IDE in the shell" - Wynn Netherland / Github

  • This presentation blew my mind. Wynn showed off how he has replaced GUI IDEs with a highly customized VIM and tmux setup.
  • He uses sessions for workspaces
  • Use @mislav's seamless tmux vim split setup
  • Some useful tools to checkout: ag and grc. Both can be installed with home-brew.
  • Checkout http://dotfiles.github.io
  • Checkout Boxen for Mac app management. This is what they use at the githubs.

Conference Day 2

Keynote - "Unicornucopia: Learn the Skills Needed to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Unicorn" - Leslie Jensen-InmanThe Unicorn Institute

  • Leslie gave a great keynote talking about how we should be moving to become generalists
  • Three types of works in our industry:
    • Specialists
    • Compartmentalists
    • Generalists
  • Companies needs and want generalists (Both hard and soft skills)
  • Generalist doesn't mean you have to be an expert at everything, all the time.
  • What hiring managers want:
    • Leadership
    • Storytelling
    • Sketching
    • Presentation skills
  • Leslie said to read up on the brain's vagus nerve
  • "Not all who wander are lost"
  • "Be the Unicorn" - The Unicorn is the mythical generalists who can do it all!

"Putting Flexbox into practice" - Zoe Gillenwater

  • Zoe did a great job of showing off Flexbox (Here demo is here: http://www.smoresday.us)
  • I believe that we will be able to start with Flexbox and then only use media queries for things we need to tweak at different breakpoints. Flexbox can make web sites responsive without media queries. Pretty neat!
  • There isn't full Flexbox support with all modern browsers at this point. I need to research this more. Looking at Zoe's demo is probably a good start.
  • Flexbox is the future!

"Defensive Sass - modular styles for the modern web" - John Long / UserVoice

  • John started the @TheSassWay blog
  • Slide deck
  • Examples of modular methods:
    • SMACSS
    • BEM
    • OOCSS
  • John has taken bits from different sources and created his own module sass method
  • Module Sass Exmples

"HTTP 101" - Larry Staton / Hendrick Automotive

  • This presentation should be required for all designers, UX, and developers, regardless of how much they think they know about HTTP.
  • Larry went through how HTTP works and then showed some examples with cURL
  • He also talked about how browsers don't always work like the HTTP spec requires (no big surprise)
  • Nice tip: The Chrome web-inspector has a "Copy as cURL" option in the network pane
  • HTTP 2.0 is being worked in and will release in the future

"JavaScript for Designers" - Rachel Nabors / RachelNabors.com

  • Rachel did a great job of teaching designers and non-developers about JavaScript. I hung out in the session to see if there were some nice tips to pickup and to learn effective ways to teach JS to others.
  • VanillaJS is just plain JS without the benefit of tools like jQuery
  • Why learn JS?
    • It's empowering
    • Understanding what can be done w/designs
    • Vocabulary when talking to developers
    • Respect from developers

"Remote Pairing for Designers and Developers" - Michael Parenteau / Think Relevance

  • What a great session. Michael talked about pros and cons of remote working. He remotes from Portland
  • Remote disadvantages
    • Give up some opportunities
    • People forget you
    • Miss people
  • Ways to connect
    • Virtual lunches
    • Ping people for conversations (non-work) on Skype, IRC, etc.
  • Remote advantages
    • Control your environment
    • Commute = time
    • Mute meetings
    • Time shifting
  • Remote pairing
    • Use a VM with tmux

Keep your eye out on the BlendConf website for videos and session slide decks.

Outside of the conference keynote and sessions, I had a great time talking to Wynn Netherlend and Larry Staton. Those guys are gold and the talks I had with them were worth the price of admission. You can learn so much by just listening to others.

So, there were some nice features of BlendConf which enhanced the experience.

  • The no-devices policy in sessions was really great too. I recommend other conference adopt this so the draw to work and Tweet is eliminated. You can really focus on the conference.
  • The food was really good too. There was a continuously supply of coffee and drinks. The lunches were buffet and tasted great. Much better than box lunches.
  • I love that all of the rooms were physically close together. This made it easy to get around to the conference and to cross between design, UX, and development tracks.

BlendConf was amazing. I can't believe a waffled on going. I learned a bit about design, UX, and development. I have plans to use what I have learned in my daily work and to bring it back to my colleagues at Classic. I will definitely go next year. If you are a maker, I recommend you check it out too.

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