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Webstock 2016: Wonderful, Wild & 100% Worth It!

This year I was lucky enough to attend the two-day Webstock conference here in Wellington for the very first time! I rocked up to the St James Theatre on Courtenay Place at 8am, registered at the main desk, picked up my beautiful swag bag, and waited eagerly for the day to begin, curious as what it would bring along with it. I found a seat in the centre of the theatre and admired the impressive projections and staging adorning the space as I waited for 9:30 to arrive and the conference to begin. As I sat there contemplating what I would hear, who I would meet and what I might learn, I had no idea what was to come or how much these next two days would change my life.

The presentations

Heather B. Armstrong - The Fraud of Authenticity

Webstock day one kicked off with Heather B. Armstrong - mummy blogger, advocate for “the dirty side of the room” and genuinely hilarious woman. Heather shared her passion for being honest and true to herself and her readers, inspiring thoughts about admitting your mistakes so that others don’t feel alone. She pointed fingers at authenticity, and reminded us all that the conversation about the dirty side of the room needs a voice!


Steve Hillenius - Designing Interfaces for Astronaut Autonomy in Space

Following Heather was Steve Hillenius - UX Manager and Designer at NASA! How cool is that! Steve took us through the design and user testing process of their latest interface design for astronauts, showing us the importance of realistic user testing and its influence on the design process. He reminded us to embrace design and to design for the moment, proving that practical software can be functional and beautiful too!


Luke Wroblewski - ScreenTime

Product Director at Google, Luke Wroblewski, was up next and his talk, “screen time” provided practical ways to understand the complexity of our many screens, and to design for experiences across them all. He shared how to understand the input, output and posture around different screens and emphasized the importance of this comprehension, stating that “the more we understand glass the better we can sculpt the experience of our software.”


Ethan Marcotte - The Map and The Territory

After this, we heard from Ethan Marcotte, A.K.A the Father of responsive web design. He came with ideas around the health of the web and its sustainability, asking “how can we promote the health of the web” as we build a new map of the web together? He suggested thoughts around the performance of websites and whether we should be asking, “does your browser cut the mustard?” in order to conditionally enhance particular sites based on browser capabilities to encourage the sustainability of the web.


Harry Roberts - CSS Wizardry

Hitting the stage next was Harry Roberts - award-winning Consultant Front-End Architect, writer at CSS Wizardry, and cocktail lover. Harry brought a selection of thoughts on several topics, such as travel, work/life balance, moths, cocktails and Chumbawumba. Among many other things, he spoke about his stance on life and work, not life vs work, reminded us that “the internet is more than just what we do”, and gave advice that we should be prepared to leave old ideas behind.


Askew One - Graffiti and the Internet

Up next was Askew One, Pacific graffiti and contemporary artist, who spoke about the relationship between graffiti and the internet. Sharing his experience as a young artist from Auckland who discovered the power of the internet, his talk showed how regional styles developed and were then projected internationally through social media and the web, along with his own individual work.


Anab Jain - Rockets of India

Following this, we heard from Anab Jain - designer, filmmaker and co-founder of Superflux - about her experiences speaking to those in her home town about India’s ventures into space. She shared a lot about the history of India’s space programme and the way its citizens felt about the progress, outlining her own journey of discovery through this process. Anab reminded us of Ghandi’s words that “The future depends on what we do today.”


Leila Adu - “A Jewelled Net”: Music, Mindfulness, People and Planet!

Next, Leila Adu graced us with her magnificent singing, and shared around her experiences with music and its relationship with the internet. Leila brought our attention to the practice of mindfulness, and taught how music can work alongside it to create a bright future as respect, practice and dedication span both. She spoke of the simple joys of music and the potential of music for social change, as we invest in the planet.


Nick Gray - Museums are F***ing Awesome

After the break, we heard from Nick Gray, founder and CEO of Museum Hack, who convinced the audience that Museums are f***ing awesome! Nick shared the history of his company, Museum Hack and explained why museums matter. He encouraged the importance of passion and enthusiasm and highlighted how controversy can reach new audiences while sharing his experiences as a museum-goer as he went from hating museums to giving renegade tours of the best museums in the world.


Debbie Millman - On Rejection, or how the worst moments of your life can turn out to be the best

To round out the day, Debbie Millman smashed it out of the park with a phenomenal discussion around rejection. Debbie shared her story, outlining the many rejections throughout her career before sharing the successes that have come from the worst moments of her life. This encouraging talk reminded us that all of the things that we go through, whether good or bad, make us who we are and have brought us to where we are today, and can end up being the best things that have ever happened to us!


Karen McGrane - Adaptive Content, Context, and Controversy

We made it back for day 2, and Karen McGrane was there to get us started. Karen created a fascinating discussion around the use of adaptive content, in contrast to responsive content or mdot sites across the web. She spoke around both the merits and disadvantages of adaptive design, stating that adaptive solutions aren’t magic, they’re complex and costly, yet they can work together with responsive solutions. We learnt that what users want is all of the content available to them no matter where they are or what they’re doing and that 87% of users want a seamless experience across all their devices.


Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino - The End of Ignorance

Interaction designer, product designer, entrepreneur & international speaker Alexandra Deschamps - Sonsino was up next to speak about the end of ignorance. She spoke about the influence of technology and the internet of things upon the environment, and how we can use these to respond to the impact we have already had on others and the environment. She posited that science and the commercial space should be able to work together hand in hand in order to achieve this, and that since “tech is not ’other’,” the way we learn to read and write should come hand in hand with learning and using new technologies.


Anna Pickard - Bug Fixes & Minor Improvements, Writ Large (aka Humorous Self-Flagellation and the Multiple Benefits of Being Old On The Internet

Not only did the next speaker, Anna Pickard, have an amazingly adorable outfit on for her talk, but she also provided countless amounts of knowledge around content and how she uses app updates to communicate with her users as the Editorial Director at Slack. She spoke about the use of courtesy, empathy, honesty and playfulness, along with being open, inviting, receptive and creative to create a human connection with users and be yourself on the web.


Annie Machon - The Panopticon: Resistance is Not Futile

Annie Machon, former intelligence officer for MI5, was up next to terrify us all with her knowledge of global security surveillance. She shared her experiences as an intelligence officer-turned-whistleblower and how surveillance impacted her across both of these situations. She emphasized the value of privacy and put out a call to the tech industry as she declared that “the tech community is our last line of defence” against global security surveillance.


Tom Coates - The Shape of Things

We heard from Tom Coates next, another lover of “things” who came to share his thoughts on how the development of computers will change the things around us and the way in which we will interact with them and the world in the future. Embodied interactions between services and physical objects are the future and Tom suggests that “we’re on the brink of a new service layer for the world.” He posited that the ideal service layer will “give you control (from a distance), support you from initial setup to the day you recycle it, understands that it’ll be used by multiple people, be able to work easily with other things that you have, won’t expect you to be a programmer and will communicate clearly & politely in ways that are timely & familiar.”


Keavy McMinn - How to mend a broken identity

Next to the stage was Keavy McMinn, a software engineer and athlete with an emotional but encouraging story to tell. Keavy’s identity was taken away from her twice, and she shared her journey as she mended and rebuilt herself as the person she is today. She reminded us that while there may be challenges to your identity, and others may see you through their own view of your identity, you don’t need to be tough to get through a tough situation and with others by your side, you can respond to yourself with curiosity and discover your true self.


Michael Lopp - Fear is a Liar

A personal favourite of mine, Michael Lopp, was up next and as a writer of his popular blog, Rands in Repose, he shared some of his wisdom around writing with the people of Webstock. Acknowledging the fear in writing, and the difficulties surrounding it, Michael shared some practical tips towards conquering this fear and becoming a confident writer. He encouraged us to tackle the nemesis that is the irrational voice of fear in our head, and to take the blank slate head on. He assured us that “there is no right way to write” but that we all have something to say, therefore we should “clearly explain what [we] know, build an opinion, and rant.”


Cindy Gallop - Why The Next Big Thing In Tech Is Disrupting Sex

Cindy Gallop was the speaker I’m pretty sure most people were waiting to hear from and it was understandable why. This strong, confident woman declared the importance of sextech and its potential to bring about world peace. As founder & CEO of makelovenotporn, Cindy shared her experiences in the sextech industry and encouraged New Zealand to become its new global hub. She also encouraged us to think big in general, as “the best problems are often the ones that no one even tries to solve” and reminded us that “you will never own the future if you care what people think.”


Casey Gerald - The Gospel of Doubt

Casey Gerald beautifully closed out Webstock 2016 with a poetic storytelling of his journey from a child to an entrepreneur in America. He shared of his realisation that as a generation, in order to make a difference, we should be more doubtful of the world around us.

The place

The St James Theatre is a beautiful venue, adorned with extraordinary vintage features and filled with incredible people. It was great to sit in the theatre and admire its existing decorations as well as the Webstock branded pieces integrated into the space. The theatre was also surprisingly spacious; I managed to sit in basically the same seat each session, and there was room for all of my stuff at my feet. The seats were quite comfortable too, which is always good! It was only towards the end of day two where I started getting uncomfortable after essentially sitting in the same position for two days!

Unfortunately for me, Webstock did remind me of my hatred of crowds during the breaks as there were almost 1000 people packed in the social areas, all trying to get food, drinks and find the bathroom at the same time as everyone else. It was slightly chaotic, but once I made it outside into the fresh air with some delicious ice cream in hand, all was well and I could breathe again! I suppose that’s to be expected at these sorts of events, I just happen to really not like crowds so I was happy to escape outside and if you’re anything like me, I would recommend heading straight for the doors to escape both the heat and the crowds! Speaking of the heat, definitely dress for summer because those aforementioned 1000 people are all in very close proximity, and it gets hot!

The people

I stepped out of my comfort zone entirely at Webstock 2016. If you read my New Year’s Design Resolutions, you’ll remember that one of them was to network more and another was to just go for it! I did both of these during the course of Webstock and while I was absolutely terrified, probably made a complete fool of myself, and may have needed a glass of wine just to help me get there, it was worth it! I met so many new people, and even spoke to my two favourite speakers of the conference, Debbie Millman and Michael Lopps. As an introvert, this was extremely difficult, but I was reminded of my goals, and I figured that I never knew if I’d see these people again, so I should step out while I had the chance, otherwise I might never again!


I was so excited to go to Webstock for the first time, and I’m oh so glad that I got to go! Not only did I learn so much from the speakers about each of their topics, but I also learnt a lot about myself as I turned their knowledge into thoughts of my own for the future, and also as I challenged myself to go out of my comfort zone. I’m already holding out for Webstock 2017 and I hope to see you there! If you have any questions about anything else to do with my experience, don’t hesitate to ask!

Much love, Hollie! :


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