2016 in Review

Let’s face it. For many, 2016 hasn’t been the best year ever: the loss of several beloved cultural icons, currents of political decision-making that didn’t feel like steps forward, pessimistic news on the climate change front …

But it’s well known that cultivating a mindset of gratitude is overwhelmingly positive and healthy. And so, at the end of this seemingly endless and at least personally exhausting year (one in which I turned 50), I wanted to reflect on some really positive things that we managed to achieve at Web Directions in 2016, some of them long standing ambitions.

A brand new conference – Transform

Since the beginning, many of our audience have come from the government sector, and over the years we’ve run workshops, and even entire conferences focused on Government and the Web. But with the significant changes happening around the World in Government service delivery, kick-started in many ways by the UK’s GDS, and more recently taken up with gusto here in Australia with the establishment of the DTO (now DTA), we decided it was time for a conference focusing on this area.

So in May (timed originally to avoid the election season planned later in the year, but which ended up being held over the period of the conference) we brought together pioneers in government service deliver from the US, UK, NZ and around Australia for Transform. A great success, we’re back again at the end of March, again as a single day, single track conference, plus a day of optional workshops.

Not one but two new publications – Scroll and Wrap

When you go to a conference, you’re almost invariably handed a program. Well designed, printed at quite some expense, and largely useless except as a memento. So this year we decided to do something about that. For each of our major events, we produced an edition of Scroll, a beautifully designed magazine that features in depth interviews and profiles of speakers, as well as articles of relevance to our industry. You can only get a physical copy by coming to our events, but you can download all three editions from 2016 now.

But that’s not all. I’ve long wanted to ensure that attendees obtained the most possible benefit from coming to our events, benefit that lasted far longer than the experience of being there. To this end, we’ve for several years made videos of presentations available to attendees, but this year we started Wrap, a detailed writeup for each session from each conference, once again beautifully designed by the folks at Handle. Even if you missed the conferences, there’s real value in Ricky Onsman’s detailed write-up of every session from every conference this year. Grab your copies today!

Expanding Respond to two days (and two cities)

In 2013, Web Directions was two conferences: Web Directions in Sydney, and Code in Melbourne. In 2017, we’ll run four major conferences, two of which (Respond and Code) will take place in three cities.

The growth began in 2014, when we ran Respond as a “popup” conference–a single day in Sydney focusing on the specific challenges around front end design. This year we not only extended it to two days, it also travelled to Melbourne, where its audience was even a little bit bigger than the Sydney audience!

Expanding Code to two cities

Hand in hand with this, we took Code on the road, to Sydney as well as the city where it started in 2012, Melbourne. And as I mentioned, we’ll be also heading to Brisbane with Code in 2017.

Reframing, refocusing and rebranding our major conference, Direction

Part of all this was a really significant rethink about Web Directions, the conference that started it all for us way back in 2006. For many years, this was essentially our entire business. At one point in 2012, it grew to four tracks, a genuine behemoth. But in time we came to realise that focus is the key to great events. So, by 2015 we’d pared Web Directions back to two tracks, one focused on design and big ideas, and one focused on engineering–a combination of the sort of thins we cover in Respond and Code.

But programming multiple developer conferences in Australia (Code, then three months or so later, the Web Directions engineering track) was really hard. So this year our goal with all our events was to integrate and coordinate them better, to allow each event to specifically focus on an area of practice, and to allow experts in specific areas of that field to dive deeply into their area of expertise. Which left us with something of a challenge for the the rebranded Direction (I wrote about the choice of name, and how direction is quite different from directions, earlier in the year).

Many events of similar nature around the world might best be characterised as a “celebration” of the Web. But celebrations of their nature look backwards, rather than forwards. And there’s only so much celebrating one can do. So we definitely wanted Direction to maintain significant professional relevance. What we felt was that for really established professionals, particularly with more of a design focus, or with an overall strategic focus within a team or organisation, the people shaping the direction (geddit?) their product, or company or organisation is taking, there isn’t always a lot on offer.

So, we developed Direction as precisely this–a way of keeping track of developing technologies (like this year VR and AR), ideas, and practices. It’s more for the sort of person who might call themselves a designer but, to be honest, design sensibility and – dare I say it – “design thinking” are central to successful products, companies, organisations, and so in a way Direction is for a much wider audience.

Judging by the responses (including via anonymous survey), this rather large leap into the unknown went a long way to achieving what we’d hoped, and we’re already lining up some extraordinary speakers for 2017.

Speaker development

One day, I’ll try to write up our vision for what it is we actually do, or at least strive to do here at Web Directions. But in essence it is to help people within our industry develop their skills and capabilities. One area we’ve focused on recently is helping people develop their presentation and public speaking skills. As part of this, we’ve worked with local groups like Women Who Code to hold workshops specifically for women to help develop these skills.

Developing an insurance offering

As if we didn’t have enough to do with all we’d bitten off, we’re also developing an idea I’ve been working on for quite some time: great value, fully featured insurance for freelance/contract workers as well as smaller agencies offering Web design and development services in Australia. That might seem significantly different from much that we do here, but it definitely aligns with our mission to help build the industry and, most importantly, its professionals. Starting at $39 a month, paid monthly, and with no lock-in, it will be available in early 2017. If you’re keen, sign up to our mailing list to be the first to know, or drop us a line with any questions.

Refining our visual identity

In mid 2015 we started on a major overhaul of our visual identity, our Web sites, and more or less all our communications. While it’s yet to have hit our main web site (that’s coming), the sites for each of our “products” have been significantly overhauled. This is all part of a transition for us toward a focus on professional and industry development, as our industry transitions from peripheral, an adjunct to marketing or – in some ways even worse – IT, to an integral part of the organisations we work in or with.

2017

I’ve already foreshadowed much of what we’ll be doing in 2017, something of a consolidation year for us, after the year of hectic innovation that was 2016. We’ll be:

  • * holding Transform, our government service delivery focused conference in March in Canberra
  • * holding Respond, our front end design conference in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in May
  • * holding Code, our front end development conference in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in late July and early August
  • * holding Direction, our product/experience/design and big ideas conference in November

As mentioned, we’ll also be launching our Public & Product Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance offering early in the year, we’ll be producing Scroll and Wrap to go with each event, and maybe we even have one or two other things up our sleeve.

Thank You

As we wrap up a huge, and at times challenging year, there’s a few folks we’d really like to thank.

Ricky Onsman has come to almost every conference, workshop, and event we’ve ever run, including traipsing all the way to Vancouver for Web Directions North. This year, he’s come on board as Managing Editor for all our content, and allowed us to achieve some of these things we’d been planning for many years.

Michael and Georgina Schepis at Handle Branding, whom we found almost by accident last year, and who’ve helped deliver amazing experiences with Scroll and Wrap, the signage at our events, and much more. If you’re looking for folks to do brand design, signage, print or any sort of communications design, you really should get in touch with them.

Simon Wright has been coming along to our events since the early days, and has been our Art Director for the last couple of years as we’ve transitioned from a couple of folks doing almost everything themselves (including at times making people coffee at our events), to the sort of company we aspire to become. A huge part of this has been to develop the visual identity of the company, something Simon has done with great aplomb.

Public Speaking for Life is two fantastic people, Sarah Ewen and Tarek Said, who run workshops, training and a community meetup in Sydney around developing public speaking skills. They’ve helped us deliver some fantastic training for speakers, and you should really look at what they have to offer.

We also want to thank our dozens of conference speakers, writers for Scroll and Wrap, our event volunteers and, above all, you – the folks who’ve attended our conferences, workshops and events.

One response to “2016 in Review”:

    • By: Bob Foster
    • January 22nd, 2017

    good news…