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Report: DotYork Conference 2015

The Grand Opera House, situated by the River Ouse, provided a charming location for the second DotYork conference. After the success of the first event, Joe and I were happy to make the trip up to North Yorkshire to take part in this year’s conversation. Having arrived with plenty of time, we got our bearings and pastries then strolled around the historic city before heading to the Opera House for registration.

Friendly faces met us at the door to hand us lanyards and direct us to refreshments amongst attendees and sponsors (who provided some epic swag). The Opera House itself is grand inside with stunning decor the stage was set and we were looking forward to the event to begin.

09:50 – Introduction

Scott Hartop did a great job of presenting the conference, with a natural patter and flow during the audience Q&A sessions. He noted that the day’s attendees were a mix of developers, designers and hybrids — plus 11% from management, writing and so on — ensuring a cross section of our industries skill sets were represented on the day.

10:00 – Joe Leech: How to Design with Science

Joe addressed the approach to problem solving. Firstly problems need understanding and clearly defining before they can be solved, he said, this way a solution can be designed while being backed up with scientific evidence. Facts, not feelings, matter when presenting to clients, pushing subjectivity out of the equation as much as possible. Joe showed eye tracking data from one of his projects, this had dispelled the myth that cramming everything important ‘above the fold’ isn’t necessary. This scientific approach to design is an excellent way to present to clients, rather than getting into a subjective battle of wills. He also mentioned other methods such as observational and analytics. This topic struck a chord with me and it’s something I will definitely take away from the day.

10:45 – Josh Emerson: One Interface to Rule them All

Josh was the second talk of the day. He looked back at the history of the web from where we’ve come, to where we’re going and beyond. He focused on the screen’s size, shape, location and how we interface with it: mouse, voice, touch and trackpad. We believe we can predict the future, but we never really know until it happens, especially in the often revolutionary world of technology. For example, consider how wearables are already changing how and where we consume the web and will continue to do so. He urged us all to think about the content and promoted the future friendly manifesto, so we are prepared for a web that is accessed anywhere and through any interface. The talk was entertaining and Josh is an instantly likeable guy, however the talk got a little lost at times.

11:45 – Michael Gould

Michael began by explaining the technical challenges faced by an enterprise SaaS provider dealing with FTSE500 companies and their massive data sets. A differentiator for his company is to step beyond purely functional solutions, to develop software with great design that workers want to work with.

He described their small feature teams which have dedicated members handling UI and UX respectively, to tackle enterprise ugliness. It was an interesting talk hearing about a side of the industry that I’m not familiar with and the challenges that other companies face working with the web.


12:10 – Bonny Colville-Hyde: Learning from Comics

Bonny’s talk was refreshing and genius in it’s simplicity. She reinforced the power of storytelling: how we love to retell stories; how they simplify complex things and create empathy. Then she demonstrated how to use comic strips to communicate stories about use cases, user testing, and flow design. We saw examples of low and high fidelity strips that she had created, and others by artists like Charles Schulz and Scott McCloud that she admires.

Using comic strips are a great way of getting a clients buy in with a concept without getting hung up on design details. Creating personas can help gain empathy within a story which adds extra depth to narrative. She also added that this exercise is perfect for getting her own team to engage and discuss a problem. On my reading list is Understanding Comics the Invisible Art, a book Bonny referenced as a place to start.

12:45 – Seb Lee-Delisle: IRL – Bring Computing into the Real World

Seb talked about how his work has developed and recently dealt with big spaces inside and out, facing many challenges including weather and sheer scale. However, when it comes together, the effects he can achieve with lasers are amazing. He showed videos of PixelPyros, his 18 meter screen for laser fireworks that are controlled by the audience — visually incredible!

The message Seb got across was we mainly work inside and breaking out of that space with different equipment, a crew of people, and the elements is challenging however the results stunning and rewarding the pain is worth the payoff.

14:40 – Phil Hawksworth: Wanting the Web to #Win

Phil spoke about the web and the anatomy of the humble link. He discussed why he is still so excited by this tag and how it’s one of the if not the most important building blocks of the internet. He also pointed out that ‘In every URL there is a double meh. ://’ which made everyone in the audience burst out laughing, me included! He talked about how trends can often follow native platform design however this isn’t sustainable because platform design trends change quickly.

15:15 – Charles Cecil

First, Charles talked about his many years working in the computer games industry; his company Revolution Games, based in York, is most famous for the Broken Sword games. Charles discussed how his latest title was crowd successfully funded on Kickstarter. This combined with the advent of app stores has enabled independent developers to cut out the big publishers. Despite embracing these new models, he still believes in selling high quality work at full price rather than using IAP. He discussed how his latest title was funded on Kickstarter and the success they had with the site. This promo video they produced to gain traction for the project is well produced and well worth a watch. It was really interesting to hear about the way gaming and games platforms have evolved over his career.

The second half of his talk was about how UNESCO has designated York a City of Media Arts. This impressive award is incredibly important for the City’s digital economy including computer games designers, web and app developer, film producers, online publishers and many others that play a supporting role in these sectors. This prestigious achievement makes York one of only sixty-nine UNESCO City of Media Arts around the world including Edinburgh, Lyon, Dakar and Tel Aviv. It was very interesting hearing about the city its self as well as the work that’s being produced within in.

14:40 – Anna Debenham: Style Guides, Pattern libraries and Code Standards

Anna really promoted the use of style guides in her talk. She’s been using them for some time and has produced a website called and a series of podcasts with Brad Frost on this topic. Here at JH we already create style guides for our projects, so there was a lot of nodding along from us. She focused on the benefits of using them and how they can even work as a recruitment tool:

  • A tool for conversations with clients
  • It ensures consistency across your site
  • A performance evaluation tool – evaluate element performance during load
  • Highlights the assets needed that you weren’t aware of
  • Helps new team members get up to speed quickly
  • Showcases approach and skills while acting as a recruiting tool
  • Helps rapid prototyping

Anna stressed the importance of creating a style guide early, even as initial designs are explored, and maintaining it throughout the project. It doesn’t have to be pretty, utility is key, however messy is not good. She made the analogy of having a messy tool box at home: it needs to be tidy and ordered or you’ll be put off from using it.

16:50 – Allison House: MAKE IT HAPPEN

I’ve been to a number of conferences and every now and again I’m blown away with the amount of work and experience that some people achieve at an early age. Allison is one of those people. She’s super bubbly and nothing is a problem with her, she just gets on and, like her talk promotes, makes it happen. She’s worked for a number of the top web companies, including Dropbox and Codecademy.

More recently she has produced a 3D music video for a friend of hers. She had no 3D experience before she started the project or cinematography knowledge, however with talent and hard work she has produced a stunning piece of work within a month. You could hear the audience go ‘wow!’ as she played the video Summer Noon. She’s spends quite a lot of her time now teaching and explained her three-step approach for achieving goals:

  1. Go wide – try and cover as much scope as possible.
  2. Prioritise – work out what of this is important.
  3. Go deep – focus on the important items.

Allison explained she’s a big believer in done is better than perfect. To demonstrate this, she showed some speed painted portraits: where she sets a time limit; tackles key areas, then down tools. These portraits were very impressive and demonstrated the effectiveness of having a focused approach.

Allison spends a lot of her time teaching and she’s interested in how to spot students that could become successful. She talked about the people that produce; high volumes of work this can often be a key indicator to there potential. Allison is definitely one of those people that produces a huge amount of quality work.

17:25 – Brendan Dawes: Paper, Plastic & Pixels

One thing that always comes through when I hear Brendan talk about his work is passion. He said he thrives on other peoples enthusiasm and welcomes feedback from clients to really push his quest for perfection.

I saw him at MKGN all dayer, at the beginning of last year, and I was totally fascinated by his work. He’s incredibly modest when talking about his projects and shared some amusing stories about the situations he’s got himself into. Brendan has worked with some massive companies like EE, Twitter and MailChimp and always delivers very well received work. He’s already got a fantastic reputation, often when collaborating with companies they give him open briefs, this creative freedom enables him to approach each project how wants. He sounds like he’s always working on new ideas in his studio and then can develop some of these ideas further for these bespoke projects.

What’s interesting to me is how Brendan combines design, art and technology to create these interesting and thought provoking pieces. He told a funny story about how his Mum asked him what he does and he drew her a picture. The pieces, installations and graphics he makes all have the web in common and aesthetically they are all beautiful. Some of them have a bit of humour which I really like. This was definitely my highlight and a big draw for me to attend this conference a fitting way to finish a great day!

Takeaways from the day

My feelings about the day are positive thanks to a great mix of speakers with interesting and amusing stories. Overall I was inspired and can carry some of the themes talked about into my own work. York itself is a thriving city with a positive future in the digital industry, there’s a lot of talented and hard working people behind the scenes that are determined to make this happen.

I would have liked to see more of a thread running  throughout the days talks like some of the other conferences attended. I think more questions could have been explored and debated rather that mostly personal accounts of individuals journeys.

  • Backup your designs with science and facts I think and I feel are out
  • Content is king as we no longer have full control over our interface size and location
  • Lasers will always be cool!
  • Think yourself lucky if you don’t have to work with computers outside
  • If trends have enough merit they will become standards
  • York has a promising digital future
  • Use style guides if you’re not already – see Lonely Planet  style guide for a great example
  • Side projects / second shifts are a must to learn and push your career
  • Done is better than perfect
  • Be prolific and make sure you produce a good volume of work
  • Collect the things you love because they’ll always come in useful one day
  • “Design is about finding answers, art is about asking questions” – Brendan Dawes

Thank you to the event organisers and all the speakers for a great day.