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— Jan 29, 2013 —

Second Wednesday - Wot I Learned

For the third and final(?) year of the New Adventures in Web Design conference, Second Wednesday had been bought on board as a fringe event alongside Erskine Bowling and Fr00tball.

For me this was a great decision. I've been lucky enough to attend all 3 of the New Adventures conferences, and the first year I took on the bowling, the second I decided to turn up on the day (which turned out with me being late). So for me it only made sense to take in a couple of extra talks and make sure I didn't miss the start of the main event.

Second Wednesday was held at Antenna, a great little space which felt a lot more relaxed than a big conference does when held over a day or more. The atmosphere reminded me a lot of the quarterly MK Geek Night, with beer readily available, but with a few more comfy chairs.

The speakers for the night where Robert Mills (@robertmills), author of 'Designing the Invisible' published by Five Simple Steps, and Rachel Shillcock (@missrachilli), freelance web designer and superhero obsessed Northerner.

The Second Wednesday guys also did a great interview with the speakers, so here's a couple of links to Robert Mills' interview and Rachel Shillcock's interview.

Robert Mills - Designing the Invisible

First up was Robert to talk on the same subject as his book, 'Designing the Invisible', and this is where you can view the slides for his talk.

After a great introduction, which included a nod to Monster Munch, Robert moved on to an overview of invisible communication. A lot of information is passed subconsciously  through branding, tone of voice, colours and use of symbols.

"Good communication is the foundation of successful relationships"

The old adage of "a picture paints a thousand words" still rings true, and Robert also touched on how we use conventions to be effective in communication. This was something I especially noted.

The immediate thoughts that ran through my head went something like this:

"How long ago did the now-generic home page slider get those little circular markers below to tell you what slide you were on out of how many? There must have been a point where someone did that for the first time and people took a moment to figure out what it was. It's gradually evolved into a convention that we see almost everywhere we see a large banner slider on a website."

I can think of a lot more examples, and I'm sure you can too, but I think I've painted the picture with just that one and how that small statement about conventions struck me.

Anyway, there followed some great points on how colour and symbols can be employed effectively, and how easy it is to break conventions and become confusing. Red check marks, green crosses, they seem like obvious things to avoid, but there are real world examples of this kind of thing.

"Blue for a boy, pink for a girl, yellow for not sure."

The final thing that really struck me from Robert's talk was this: "Great storytelling doesn't come from dialogue", which came with the great example of Wall·E. That little robot is able to convey his personality, thoughts and wonder of the things he finds on a deserted planet through only movement and expressions and the occasional robotic murmur.

Rachel Shillcock - Everybody is a Superhero

I had the pleasure of seeing an earlier version of this talk a few months back at the MK Geek Night in September 2012, albeit a much curtailed 5 minute version.

So for a version spanning ~30 minutes I was expecting the talk to have evolved and to include a lot more, and I'm pleased to say I wasn't at all disappointed.

This talk touches upon some of Rachel's own personal experience, and the one thing I find when people do these kind of honest talks, almost bearing their soul as it were, is that I can relate to the vast majority of what's covered.

That, and there were superheroes in this one.

It quickly became quite apparent that Rachel's favourite hero is Iron Man, possibly for the excuse of popping picture of Robert Downey Jr. on screen, but I'm sure it was mainly for  the character under the suit of Iron Man. For the many flaws of Tony Stark, and there are many, he's still able to bring out the qualities of a superhero when it's most needed.

And, as Rachel went on to cover, we all have flaws. It's how we overcome these flaws and use our skill-sets, or our superpowers, to rise above the situation and come out on top.

"Set out to change the world"

Belief in yourself is key to this. To ask yourself "who am I?", to be practical. What do you do and what good do you do? You must never think that you've finished learning.

You should never be afraid to make mistakes, or ever be afraid to ask for help.

Rachel went on to talk about some of the mistakes she had made in the past, the majority of which I could relate to from some of my own past experiences mistakes.

To conclude, Rachel left us with some great points to focus on:

  1. Appreciate
  2. Understand
  3. Learn
  4. Teach

And a great quote from Michael Jordan:

"I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying."