There’s no need to tell you we enjoyed the inaugural Build conference in 2009, we wrote a round up of it - Built - days after the event drew to a close last year.
Given the generous and well-desrved praise the conference generated in its first year, creating a Version 2.0 was always going to be a challenge and it’s no surprise that Andy McMillan - the one man, human dynamo behind the brand - rose to this challenge admirably. Delivering a conference that matched and exceeded expectations, and that truly ranked alongside any of the world’s leading web design conferences, was a challenge; one that Andy embarked upon the moment the excitement around the first event had died down.
A Year in the Making
Over the course of the last year, we’ve been fortunate to share many’s an evening ‘working’ with Andy in The Duke of York, our local of choice. Needless to say we were delighted when he invited us to become more heavily involved in Build 2010. We enjoyed delivering our workshop at the first Build conference and we were happy to provide all-round-assistance and moral support where possible, so to be invited to become more substantially involved this year was both an honour and a privilege.
Andy had a vision for Build 2.0. He had a clear picture of where he was heading, and it’s fair to say that every evening we met, we were entertained by his stories of all, “the awesome stuff he was going to pull off,” to ensure the follow-up would be even better. (Given how much of a widely praised success the first conference had been, this was no tall order….)
It’s fair to say Andy met, and far exceeded our expectations. In the countdown to this year’s conference our ‘working’ meetings in The Duke increased in number, as did our incredulity around what he hoped to pull off.
Ask yourself, what other web design conference provides: free pic’n’mix on arrival; branded cupcakes (thanks to the generosity of Typekit); beautifully branded pencils, notebooks and badges, free for all delegates; infographic maps of the city’s bars complete with the availability of beer (bottled and draught), all visualised by information visualisation maestro Nicholas Felton; a dedicated Caffeine Monitor application to track delegates’ caffeine intake; plus, as if that wasn’t enough, a week’s worth of fringe events, including the inaugural Fr00tball tournament and a screening of Jurassic Park).
Does that sound like any other conference you’ve ever attended? In a word: No.
Fedoras off to Mr McMillan for what proved to be, by all accounts, one of the best conferences anyone had ever attended. The event was an all-round success and we have no doubt that many of the new friends we made this year, many of whom were making their first trip to Belfast, will be back in 2011 for more of the same; only, no doubt, better.
One of the elements of Build that distinguishes it from other, competing conferences is the nature of the week-long series of fringe events that Andy organises around the main event itself. Build 2010 took this idea to an extreme with content scheduled on either side of the conference day that would, in many other conferences, be of the calibre required to be scheduled as a part of the main event itself. The result of this was a conference that built a community, centred around the shared experience of a week of inspiring events, that drew in both visiting delegates and local practitioners.
Build 2010 kicked off on the Monday evening with an opening of Jessica Hische’s eagerly anticipated Illustrated Initials, a series of lovingly crafted letterpress prints drawn from her ongoing Daily Drop Caps series, exhibiting alongside our very own ‘Inspired Interfaces’ exhibition, inspired by the groundbreaking work of celebrated designer Dieter Rams. (We promise a link to a web-based version of ‘Inspired Interfaces’ shortly). It was inspiring to see how many people had decided to make a week of the conference and fly in early to attend the week’s worth of events, kicking off their participation at an opening that attracted a sizable number of passionate delegates.
On Tuesday, workshops from a host of internationally respected thinkers - including Liz Danzico, Frank Chimero and Tim Brown (in addition to yours truly) - got delegates not just thinking, but making things. The day was by all accounts a huge success, hosted in style at The Merchant, home of the celebrated £800 cocktail.
Hot on the heels of the workshops it was a quick pitstop for food, followed by ‘An Evening with Jessica Hische’, an entertaining and inspiring lecture in which Ms Hische mapped out the journey her career had taken. Told in a down-to-earth manner, it was a journey that captured everyone’s imagination, proving that reward, indeed, follows hard work and endeavour.
Immediately following Ms Hische’s presentation it was off to what was promised to be, “one of the most exciting events in this year’s geek calendar,” The Standardistas’ Open Book Exam. With over £5,000 of prizes from a host of celebrated supporteers, it was no surprise to find the exam filled to capacity and - though we say it ourselves - the difficulty of the questions notwithstanding, a great night was had by all. All eyes were on the final, sudden death round which saw Pete Kerr of Belfast based design firm Atto take the coveted title of ‘Last Geek Standing’ (not to mention a complimentary iPad).
This wasn’t all the fringe had to offer, however - far from it - with a number of other events rounding out the schedule. These included a fascinating presentation by Brock Rumer, of noted T Shirt purveyor Threadless who talked about the challenges and rewards of building a global community; and the much anticipated launch of Onotate, an excellent web application, which we have had the pleasure to beta test, that enables designers and developers to present and discuss mockups with clients and team members, courtesy of Belfast’s very own Rumblers.
The Main Event
Wednesday saw the start of the main conference day with a stellar line up of speakers from all over the globe (though primarily drawn from the United States of America).
Like making a mix-tape, programming a day’s worth of presentations is a task not to be undertaken lightly. The trick is to get a variety of topics and themes that segue nicely into each other, whilst retaining the attention and, hopefully, adoration of the intended audience. Andy’s playlist did not disappoint.
The day was admirably kicked off by Tim Van Damme and Keegan Jones of Gowalla, reminding us that the mobile web is at a tipping point and offering the audience some practical advice on designing for this rapidly emerging landscape. Following this hands-on double-act, the morning continued with a predominately theoretical theme….
An excellent talk by Tim Brown, recently appointed Type Manager for Typekit (and noted for his work at Nice Web Type) followed. Focusing on the often overlooked craft of typography, Mr Brown introduced us to, amongst many other things, The Modular Scale, a very useful tool for defining ratios and proportion within a typographic context. (Thank you again, Mr Brown, we appreciate your generosity in sharing the tools you create.)
Hot on his heels, everyone’s favourite Krelboyne, Frank Chimero delighted us with a presentation on ‘The Shape of Design’, stressing that, to really think about design, you need to learn and think about everything other than it. His talk, which encompassed a gamut of characters from Aristotle to Woody Allen, was a rare delight and one we’re still returning to.
After a pause for refreshments at St. George’s Market, Liz Danzico continued the journey towards the philosophical upper hemispheres with her meditation on ‘The Power of the Pause’. Danzico’s writings at Bobulate have long been a favourite of ours and her insightful and meticulously researched presentation - complete with a performance of John Cage’s 4’33” (not to mention John Williams’ soundtrack to ‘Jaws’) - left us speechless.
Turning the tape to Side B, the day was rounded out with presentations by former stablemates Meagan Fisher and Dan Cederholm. Talking on ‘The Blank Canvas’ and ‘Handcrafted CSS’ respectively, both covered topics more firmly grounded in the practical aspects of our industry.
After speaking to a wide range of attendees at the after party - all at various ages and stages of their careers - it was evident that some were hugely impressed by the hands-on, practical presentations, whilst others (ourselves included) were left reverberating by the bigger-picture, cogitative aspects of the day.
So, What’s Next for Build?
So, what’s next? It should come as no surprise by now, to discover that Build 2011 is already well and truly in the making. As the main event drew to a close, Andy - just like someone else we know - announced, “Just one more thing…” and proceeded to announce the line up for next year, complete with an early bird offer for those that had attended this year’s event.
We’re delighted to finally be able to reveal that we’ll be speaking next year. We’re honoured and not a little humbled to be joining the stage alongside a number of speakers who we very much respect and admire, not least Simon Collison, Ethan Marcotte and Jason Santa Maria (plus a few other speakers we can’t reveal just yet), for what we’re sure will prove an entertaining and informative event.
We look forward to seeing you all next year for what will, we’re sure, prove one of next year’s must attend conferences. Congratulations Mr McMillan, you did it again. Bravo.