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Big ideas, and then ... no time
Every time I go to a conference, I come away with big ideas, opinions, and definitive actions for when I get home. I going to do X! I’m going to demand that X starts using Y! I’m going to change the world by doing Z etc. Once I’m home, other pressures take hold (running a business, running a family), and these big ideas never happen. They are quickly forgotten.
One example. Last year’s SXSW was my first encounter with Microformats in Tantek’s presentation. Almost scary in their simplicity, I was excited at the possibilities they presented*. When I got back, I would start looking at how I could implement this into my work.
A year went by. This year at SXSW, Gordon Montgomery on the “Design and Social Responsibility” panel urged people to start small. Even a small change was better than no change at all. These words stuck with me, and gave me hope for this years inevitable come home… then not do anything cycle.
So, its taken me a year to get around to such a chuffing simple task, but I’ve reformatted my contact details to use the hCard microformat. Its funny how a few extra class names can give you satisfaction.
Now I repeat to myself as a mantra. Small changes. Start small…
Everyone says SXSW is about the people, and they’re right. Thats my reason for going. Sure, the panels are great, and I got a lot out of them this year (especially “Traditional Design and Technology” and “Your own Design playground”).
The trouble is that this year, there were more people, more parties, and therefore more fragmentation. I had a great time (I knew I would), but more so than last year, I came away with the feeling that there were more people I missed out on meeting (Paul Nixon to name but one). There were those that I did meet, but all too briefly (Dustin Diaz to name but one). The parties were great, but not exactly easy to talk at, and often a particular person you wanted to meet was at one of the other 3 parties going on at the same time.
Did anyone else feel this?
I’m not sure what the answer is. Someone did suggest to me a “Break cheese with Hicks” session early evening, where we could easily talk and eat cheese, and I like that idea a lot…
What I'm doing at the moment
I keep being asked why I’m so busy, so I here’s a quick summary of what’s going on at the moment:
First of all, what I’m not doing…
- I’m not writing a book. I’ve been toying with the idea of self-publishing for a couple of years now, but it’s come to nothing.
- I’m not preparing to speak at any conferences (although I am on a panel at @media). It has to be said, speaking is not where my skills are.
- I’m not redesigning my branding and site, although I desperately want to. I have various ideas, but after sitting on them for a week or two, I always reject them. Then everytime I see another leaf logo, I get embarrased that I haven’t done anything about it yet.
Now, what I am doing…
What I am doing is working for Attap (which stands for ‘All things to all People’). As well as Riffs (which I worked on) and PersonalDNA (which I did a little work on), with another site to follow, as well as the biggie project LifeIO. My favourite part so far was the Attap ‘wee guy’ logo as he/she is affectionately known. It came together very quickly (once I’d turned the ‘a’ on it’s side).
I can’t say more about LifeIO than what the holding page does, except that I’m very excited to be given the chance to a project like this. It’s design is something to really get my teeth into. I know the amount of web apps being released is getting past silly, to the point where apathy is setting in. Barely a day goes by without another ‘Sign up, and we’ll tell you when we’re ready to Beta test’ goes by, or someone else drops the last vowel in their name. Its a harder market to release apps into than it was when Basecamp or Flickr started. This doesn’t put me off though, it just makes it more a challenge to do the best job I can on LifeIO.
I am also getting psyched up for another SXSW. I fly out next Thursday with other Britpackers, and I am so looking forward to it, despite my usual find-it-hard-to-leave-the-family-behind sadness. If you’re there, please come and say hi!
I’ve also been trying out Feedlounge and Wordpress (not as a replacement for this site, but as a CMS for a new site). More on those soon!
- I’m seeing a lot of photos of me on Flickr, and I’m not liking what I’m seeing at all. Time to lose weight, gain hair, maybe shave off the Veen beard, change clothes or something.
- I must do something to eclipse the Firefox logo. Its nice to be known for it, and I’m very grateful for the profile, but it would also be good to be known for other things too! Its been a rod for my own back, and clients now expect that style in all my logos. There are those who are obvious (“I want the same thing, but with a dolphin/monkey/insert name of alternative animal here”), and those that are more subtle, and I realise later that all my talk of “keep it simple” is falling on deaf ears. Don’t get me wrong, I think it works, despite its complexity, but its not my usual style. Firefox is not what I would give clients as a good example of a logo, whereas I think The Escape Committee is.
- Now that SXSW is over, its very sad.
So finally, the most important aspect of SXSW, and my reason for going: the people. There was so much talk about how good the social side was last year, that I had to come.
I was looking forward to meeting, (although some only very briefly) Jason Santa Maria, Shaun Inman, Jeffrey Zeldman, Dave Shea, Doug Bowman, Ethan Marcotte, Dan Cederholm, Molly, Tantek Celik, Mike Davidson, John Allsopp, Maxine Sherrin, Jeremy Flint, Eric Meyer, Joe Clark, Josh and Rachel Williams, Khoi Vinh, Neil Lee, Andrei Herasimchuk (Elvis is not dead), Eris Free, Simon Willison. I really missed out on meeting Jeffrey Veen and Keith Robinson, and only got the briefest of chats with Cameron Moll and Ryan Sims.
I was very keen to meet Doug Bowman, as it was Stopdesign that turned me onto using web standards in the first place. I expected to be blurting out some sort of squeaky stammering “I …t..hink you’re grrrreat Mr Bowman” but instead I started by joining in with John Allsopp in slagging off american beer. I think it worked.
SXSW wasn’t just about meeting people I knew already from email and blogs. There were many lovely people whose unexpected company was a real bonus. I’m talking about Glenda “Good witch” Sims, Rob Weychert (the ‘brains’ behind Virtual Stan), Derek Featherstone, James Craig, Cindy Lee, Elsa Kawai, Omar (our hotel receptionist who took Malarkey and I for a tour around Austin and the surrounds) and our new group mascot Craig Cook.
In the whole conference, There was only one person I met that I didn’t like. But it turns out he wasn’t actually attending SXSW, and I think I’ll leave it at that.
Finally, a big thankyou to Leigh, who was insistent from the start that I should go and fun, despite it meaning her being left to look after the kids.
The rest is all on Flickr
Jeffrey Veen and Tantek Celik were both superb speakers who engaged me and made me think. I was also extremely impressed by John Allsopp, who led, moderated and glued together the discussions on “What will Web Design be like in 2010?” with a compelling passion of the subject. There just wasn’t enough time to cover the subject adequately in the hour, but fortunately, Dave Shea has created a minisite where discussion of the questions raised can continue.
Andy Budd and Jeremy Keith made their SXSW debut with the excellent “How to bluff your way in CSS” where the irony was (fortunately) not lost on the crowd. “I’m thinking of buying a Mac” became a useful catchphrase at the conference.
As seems to be the case with panels, there were often 3 or 4 events clashing. I missed out on panels such as “Where are the women in web design?”, “Trick out your Blog”, “Doing big things with Small Teams” and “Flash for mobile devices”. I think SXSW missed a trick by not creating podcasts of all the panels and making them available to attendees. This would’ve been a great way to at least get the flavour of the ones you had miss out on. Or are they lurking somewhere I haven’t come across yet?
My personal highlight was during the ‘Does Design Matter?’ panel with Zeldman, Jason Santa Maria, Kelly Goto and Joe Clark. While Joe Clark was trying to discuss an important point, Zeldman (like some mischevious leprechaun) loaded Virtual Stan onto the main screen. He had to put his microphone next to his laptop so that the audience could hear Roxanne. I would be very pissed off if I was Joe Clark, but he took it well, the good sport.
BTW: Did you know that pressing M activates Stan’s moustache? Looks the business with the angry face.
SXSW: Trying to get my bags back
One thing worse than arriving in Austin, smelly and tired from a long crappy flight from Heathrow, is doing it without my luggage.
(Dials the American airlines airport baggage line to check on progress)
“This service is voice operated. Please speak clearly when instructed.”
(OK, here we go)
“Please state your destination”
“I think you said Austin, Texas. Is this correct, please state yes or no.”
“Please state your last name after the tone I’msorryIdidn’thearthat.”
“Please state your last name.”
“I think you said Hickson. H-i-c-k-s-o-n. Is this correct, please state yes or no”
“You said no. Lets try again. Please state your last name”
“I think you said Heaters. H-e-a-t-e-r-s. Is this correct, please state yes or no”
“Thankyou, accesssing your records now. (bidee-bidee-bidup-bidee-bidee-bidee). Thankyou for waiting Mr Heaters, your baggage arrived yesterday…”
Quite a few people seem to have found time to do a daily blog from SXSW, but not I. My SXSW Flickr photoset was getting updated regularly however, and now I’ve got a chance to blog some of my experiences. I’m going to break the posts up into topics, and this one is about the not so nice journey to Austin.
After the 8 hour flight from Heathrow to Chicago, I have a 4 hour delay, with no coverage on the mobile or wi-fi networks for me to hop on, in a lounge that has a very nasty meat smell. I try to block out the smell with my first ever Cinnabon™, but I get covered in hot spicy ooze instead. It’s snowing outside and -5 degrees, nice.
For some reason, I had to change at Dallas, and end I up missing the last flight of the day. So I’m sent off to a Days Inn for the night, in a minibus from Kenny G hell.
I get a few hours sleep, and then its up again to catch the ‘G’ bus back to Dallas airport. This time its smooth and I arrive in Austin on the Friday morning – sans luggage. It still in Chicago apparently, and my need for clean clothes can’t be sated. It will be sent later they promise (thats the next story).
I catch up with Andy Clarke at the hotel, and we decide that in order to not miss out on the fun already happening, I borrow some clothes off him to tide me over. Andy has the lean, rock star physique, while I sadly have a more portly real ale build. I find the least nipple protuding t-shirt that Andy has, and off we go…
Not just a 'off to SXSW' post
So, this is me, sitting at Heathrow, waiting for my flight to Chicago (and then Dallas, and finally Austin). In about 15 hours I’ll finally be at the hotel, ready to crash.
While I’m excited to be going ‘on a jolly’ to SXSW, and meeting all those people I’ve only communicated via email with, nothing prepared me for the huge emotional wrench of saying goodbye to the family. Call me a 10 tonne wuss if you like, but I felt like crying bucketloads at thought of not seeing them again for another week. I’ve probably been away from Samanatha and Daniel for 3 days at the most since they were born, and this feels like a whole new challenge.
So I think it might be hard for me this week. If you see a lost-looking Englishman, wearing a bead bracelet (present from Samantha who made it for me at breakfast this morning), come and say hello, but please don’t mention the family. Unless your someone who enjoys seeing a grown man blub….
Oh, _that_ Hampton Inn...
So, 2 weeks to go before I get to SXSW its suddenly dawns on me that I may have booked the wrong hotel. You see, being ‘a hicks from the sticks’ it didn’t occur to me that Austin, Texas may have more than one ‘Hampton Inn’. In fact I’ve found three. So instead of being 5 blocks away in Hampton Inn Downtown, I’m 5 miles away at Hampton Inn ‘North’. Doh. Arse.
Mind you that’s the least of my worries. I’m appearing on a panel with Doug, Dave, John and Eris. Talk about sharing a stage with people that can only be described as ‘your guru’s’. The pressure is well and truly on. There’s a Gary Larson cartoon where a large cockroach is lying in an alleyway with a tramp. He’s explaining to him what a successful business he once had, until “one day in a board meeting, someone stands up and says “Hey! That guys just a big cockroach!!”“. Thats how it feels sometimes…