Take a Seat - It's About to go Down
Music off, lights out, show on. The opening titles by Sebastian Lange are something to watch and right after there is Marc Thiele entering the stage. Smiling, greeting everyone and introducing the first speaker of the day: Christian Heilmann.
A short note on the pace at Beyond Tellerrand: talks are seperated by 15 or 30 minute breaks and there's a lunch-break for 2 hours. Before and after each talk, Marc takes the stage for a few words on what's next, who's next, or what to watch out for in the foyer.
Breaking Out of the Tetris Mindset
Although being heavily jet-lagged coming in from Seattle the day before the conference, Christian opened it with a wonderful talk. He told us how all the different building blocks of the web combined to make it what it is: a diverse medium built by diverse people. A medium which, after more than 20 years of ongoing development, still has fundamental problems. And yet, both ends of the spectrum of developers working with and on the web contribute to make things better.
"If Tetris has taught me anything, it's that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear"
In the end it all comes down to a single phrase written into the W3C HTML Design Principles specification:
"In case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementors over specifiers over theoretical purity."
See the transcript of his talk on his own blog or at the end of the wrap up post for this edition of BTConf (all videos, transcripts available can be found there, so I'll spare you of posting links to each talk or speaker from now on).
After this great opener, Sharon Steed entered the stage in order to talk about how we communicate. On one hand, how we, as people in general or as a community (be it inside a company or as web developers or designers or social-media peer-group) communicate; and on the other hand, how this communication can be improved, how it can be used to make us better contributers on our teams.
"The foundation of all great communities is empathy!"
Sharon, an empathy consultant, has a speech impediment: she stutters. The points she drove home were how and why empathy is such an important subject, how good communication makes a community inclusive and what it means to be a positive communicator. All very important points and I hope that everyone in the audience listened closely.
As I've seen Jina giving this kind of talk twice already, it wasn't particularly exciting for me personally, but I heard a lot of "Uuuhs" and "Aaaahs" during the session. Jina worked for some of the largest companies in the industry, such as Apple or GitHub, and sure is knowledgeable when it comes to this subject.
First, she took a look back at how Design Systems have existed for a long time already. She told us how pattern libraries, style guides and toolkits evolve and become more and more a deliverable when working on the web.
Pointing out where challenges lie and showing how to work around those were the main takeaways for me. I've already found out the hard way how maintenance can become quite a challenge when a design becomes a grown-up system living next to the website it should mirror.
Comedy and Microservices
Phil Hawksworth. Well, Phil. I really like him. I met him for the first time two years ago while sitting on a beer-bike in Freiburg after the Smashing Conference. (The ride we had that time will luckily never be told in public.) After finding out he will present at BTConf I sent him a note via Twitter.
Phil talked about Microservices and how web developers can use tested working solutions to existing problems to reduce the workload it would take to build all by themselves.
Feeling this syndrome of "not in-house" myself from time to time, this talk really helped me understand when it makes sense to diverge from the standard track and go for prebuilt solutions. The best example I can think of (and Phil also mentioned it in his presentation) is IFTTT.
"There is great power in avoiding responsibility."
"If This, Then That" is a conglomerate of microservices, where one can create recipes or use existing ones. A recipe can look like:"If I post something on my blog, send a message on Twitter, post something on Facebook and forward the whole thing to Medium." Since I last looked around there, it sure got more capable than that.
He also talked about static site generators and how they are the perfect example where Microservices help out in making a static site more dynamic.
One of the main points that stuck with me was:
"Complexity can be a barrier while simplicity can be an enabler."
Keeping it simple and avoiding complexity, can make your, and the life of your co-workers, that much easier.
Hacking the Visual Norm
Data Visualization is really not my cup of tea. I always imagined it to be about endless meetings, where people show pie-charts and bars get thrown around and how on the x-axis there's humor and on the y-axis there's the time the meeting will take - and we all know what the graph on that chart will look like.
And here's Nadieh Bremer showing how Data Visualization with d3.js is something unimaginably creative and awe-inspiring. You really should go to Visual Cinnamon, Nadieh's homepage, and see for yourself as I'm completely unable to explain the concepts she presented in my own words.
From my perspective, she turned one of the driest subjects every company has to deal with into art.
Peace, Hellfire and Outer Space
Talking about art, meet Seb Lester (creator of typefaces, artist, calligrapher), showing the audience how the typefaces he created have been (mis)used around the world - and beyond.
NASA chose his typeface Neo Sans for one of its projects; the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for all their branding; and then he finds it used on a menu in an Indian snack bar.
Yet, while everyone and their mother used his letters, noone knew the person behind them. Seb showed us a picture of his desk at home, followed by a short video of him doing a calligraphy. This video (fancy a compilation?), among others, propelled him first into the world of social-media and later on international TV.
I love fonts and typesetting, although I'm not very good at it. I tried some calligraphy but failed miserably - to be honest, I'm hardly able to recreate my signature since my last name changed after getting married! Meh. However, I almost shed a tear over how beautiful his calligraphies are.
Some found the talk to be cheesy, or thought it to be mostly about himself, marketing his own brand. I found it inspring and also very interesting, as you got to see a different angle on your own work. You may create the most beautiful of fonts, which will be used in space and during the Olympics - and then it's the menu of that snack bar around the corner.
The Final Talk of Day One
Award-winning illustrator Yoku Shimizu, who created the design for the BTConf T-Shirts for this year, took the stage and brought a witty and inspirational presentation with her. As she learned speaking English in New York, she also brought a lot of four-letter words with her, which, mind you, did not have a negative impact on the quality of her speaking.
Yet, no matter how well she spoke, the slides were what really mattered to me here. Wonderful illustrations, so unique and yet still identifiable as hers. True pieces of art for each and every image.
I really laughed when she stated (this is not a quote but how I kept it in mind):
"I once did a cover of a Batman Comic. audience cheering and clapping I know, I know. Thanks. It's not my favorite type of work, looking back, but it's always great for street credibility when teaching young students how illustration works."
A client project from her early work as an illustrator showed us how creating illustrations for a newspaper, on demand, the night before the paper goes into print, can be a challenge of epic proportions. As Yuko pointed out, it was either working night shifts and taking in whatever feedback was thrown at her from clients, or you're out of business because the will tell everyone in their network about how you failed to meet their requests. Talking about demanding clients is something not everyone does on stage from what I know.
Hotel? What Hotel?
Right after the conference, we went to eat and decided, as Jan and Mario hadn't been there before, to head to the old city centre of Düsseldorf.
"The longest bar in the world" consists of over 300 bars, restaurants, discotheques, breweries and pubs all on a spot of half a square kilometer. If you can name the drink, you can get it. While nothing for the faint-hearted, it sure is a sight you'll remember.
We didn't take it to the end of the night, though, as we knew we'd have to get up in the morning for day two of BTConf.