BlendConf 2013 Follow-Up

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Something Out of the Ordinary

I would have never guessed that this was the first iteration of BlendConf. It was something truly fantastic. The intersection of three high-level groups of creative professions (UX, Design and Development) created a buzzing environment. Attendees wandered between the three different tracks of talks freely, gaining exposure to concepts outside of their specialization. The no-device policy (which I’ll discuss in more detail) encouraged face-to-face interaction and mingling between talks.

Even now, at twenty thousand feet, I’m still in awe of how well-organized the conference was - especially because it was almost exclusively planned by one person. I have a ton of respect for Bermon Painter, the lead organizer, who nearly single-handedly coordinated every aspect of the conference. No, seriously. He handled everything from contacting speakers, securing a location, arranging transportation, winning sponsors and everything else that comes along with running an event such as BlendConf.

During the after-party, I was lucky enough to grab Bermon’s attention for a few minutes. He was incredibly appreciative that I made the effort to travel from Denver to check out Charlotte and the event. You could see it in his body language that he was incredibly proud of what he pulled off - and deservedly so. During his final remarks, he hinted that he’s already working on the planning for BlendConf 2014.

I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Overall Impressions

BlendConf left me with a certain feeling of creative inertia. The breadth of topics I learned about in a few short days have inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and start focusing on learning some new skills, particularly in the realm of visual design and user experience. After Andrew Maier’s talk on “Design for Literacy”, my Kindle is about to be bursting at the seams with awesome design and UX literature.

In addition to new personal learning projects, I am heading home with new techniques to work more effectively day-to-day in my development & UX work. Garren DiPasquale’s talk “Incorporating Lean UX into Agile” left me with tools to employ when making agile UX decisions in ReadyTalk’s Kanban process. I plan on writing a whole post related to what I learned in Garren’s talk and from speaking with him during the conference, so stay tuned.

No Devices

I mentioned in an earlier post that I wasn’t sure how the whole ‘no device’ event would go over. I believe that the device-free environment made BlendConf stand out from other events I’ve attended. I frequently pull out my phone or laptop to bookmark a page, look up a concept the speaker mentioned, or tweet a memorable nugget. Being disallowed from constant Internet access allowed me to more fully engage with the content of a talk. Plus, we got awesome little moleskin notebooks to jot down notes and thoughts in.

This rule also reminded me of my perception of the usefulness of ubiquitous technology. Seeing how tech professionals could communicate with one another without being able to easily hide behind a screen was nothing short of unbelievable. Even some of the most reserved developers were interacting with people they’d never talked to, a phenomenon you don’t see very often.

Cameron Moll showed a profound photo in his talk “Creative Authenticity”, that demonstrated how quickly technology has infiltrated our lives.

2005 vs. 2013 and cameraphones during the Papal inaugration

It’s amazing that even as recently as 2005, people weren’t behind screens all the time. In 2013, we’re stuck behind screens more and more. With more and more wearable tech, this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

I heard a trick recently for when you go out with friends or family. When you arrive, everyone places their phones on the table in a stack and is not allowed to reach for it until the dinner is over. If someone can’t refrain from touching their device, they pick up the tab. Great idea, huh? I’ve tried this once and it was a really difficult task. BlendConf has inspired me to try this again when I get home. We all too quickly forget about how it’s like to have a quality, face-to-face interaction.

Overall, what an amazing experience this weekend. I’m really excited to start my new projects and see what the folks out in Charlotte come up with for BlendConf 2014!

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Ben Limmer