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Milton Keynes Geek Night All-dayer

In January, the JH design team attended the first MKGN All-dayer. The conference offered a top-drawer lineup and good conversation. Lead designer, Joseph Russell, shares his experience.

Since mid-2012, MK Geek Night (MKGN) has been showcasing new and noted speakers to sell-out audiences. In the 18 months since, the quarterly event has established itself as a leading example of grassroots web conferences. Following the success of their evenings, organisers David Hughes and Richard Wiggins upped the ante with an All-dayer. Timed to fill the vacuum in January left by New Adventures, it also capitalised on the reflection and resolutions a New Year brings.

The day drew attendees to Milton Keynes, famed for it’s modernist urban design where a network of roads and roundabouts create a grid of glass-clad buildings. The town has it’s critics, but it seemed like an apt destination for design geeks who cherish sleek aluminium devices and advocate that ‘less is more’. The aesthetic was in full effect at the MKGN venue, a former bus station now converted to an arts centre.

Conversation in the spotlight

The modest setting hosted around 200 attendees, creating an intimate and honest atmosphere. This was complimented by a stripped-back schedule that, free from fringe-overload, allowed content and conversation to take centre stage. As someone who has attended conferences for several years, the whole day felt refreshing and focussed.

David and Rich are conference regulars themselves, and that experience has undoubtably informed MKGN’s successful recipe. Their signature ingredient? Clearly a top-drawer line-up. On this occasion, the opportunity to see pedigree speakers including Mark Boulton and Brendan Dawes easily warranted a ticket. Not one was disappointing; each offered an engaging talk with some thoughtful points.

Pursuing our passions

A topic that stood out for me was self-exploration, particularly through side-projects. Chris Murphy, John Hicks and Brendan encouraged us to pursue our passions, whether simply tinkering in a ‘shed’ with small experiments or turning our ‘sparks’ into a fully-fledged product.

By spending time beyond daily client pressures, we can relax and explore the opportunities we most care about, pouring ourselves into an idea. Some might turn a profit, a lot will be abandoned, but all will help us grow. The ideas echoed Jessica Hische’s brilliant NAConf talk Procrastiworking — a connection also made by Chris. When we think about maximising creative potential, we tend to focus on process and technology, but being happier and better people matters too.

One to watch

The whole design team departed with that nagging ‘itch’ to make something; a telltale sign of a good day out. The MKGN All-dayer achieved a lot by getting the basics right and I look forward to seeing how David and Richard build on the format. With the end of NAConf and Build, there is a big opportunity for their conference to become an important forum for the web industry.

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