Smashingconf Oxford: make better internet

This past week I was in the UK to attend a friend’s wedding, so I talked my accounting department into sending me to Smashingconf Oxford too. It was my first European web conference and my first Smashingconf, but it wasn’t much of a risk as I’d only heard great things, plus the timing was perfect. It definitely won’t be my last! The whole event felt incredibly well-organized and carefully curated. I also just love Oxford, and my Airbnb was idyllic.

A few days before I left, DevTO hosted an evening of talks for International Women’s Day with Anita Clarke, Clarissa Peterson, and Jen Simmons. My main takeaway was the importance of asking for opportunities instead of waiting for them to come to you, even if you’re not 100% prepared when you ask. That night I emailed Cat at Smashingconf to ask if they were still looking for Jam Session speakers (lightning talks held at a pub the night before the conference). I only had a vague idea for a talk: our tendency as freelancers and developers to overcomplicate things unnecessarily. She said yes, so I had a few days to wrangle it into something that made sense. Luckily I also had a transatlantic flight ahead of me.

We oversimplify what is complicated and overcomplicate what is common sense

I took this (in the in-flight magazine) as a good omen.

My dumb jokes got laughs and people seemed to like the idea, which is all I really need. I’ll keep poking at it, maybe expanding it into a full-length talk at some point. My slides and notes are here if you want them: Why cats make better freelancers than foxes.

Related: military jets

Thanks to social media I’ve realized I like to point at slides when I talk, even if there’s nothing to point at. One more for the collection. / Photo by Cristiano Betta

During the conference, I sat next to designer and fellow Norwegian Elisabeth Irgens and got to watch her sketchnote in person. She’s posted them all on Twitter and they’ll eventually be on her website.


She even did one of my talk! / Photo (and sketchnotes) by Elisabeth Irgens

Also at the Jam Session, Espen Brunborg encouraged us to improve our client relationships by meeting in person, and avoid the worst of all communication tools: email.

Bonus: cartoon Stefan Sagmeister

Bonus cartoon Stefan Sagmeister

Christopher Murphy talked about writing as a way to clarify thought, and reminded us that the internet is vast and full of bad writing, so don’t be afraid to put your own out there. The more you read (especially outside our industry) and write, the better your own writing will become. Meagan Fisher and Rachel Ilan Simpson talked about how vital it is to actually watch humans use the things you’re building (without interference from you), instead of relying on analytics and assumptions.

Yoav Weiss and Zoe M. Gillenwater both gave incredibly informative and practical talks, about responsive images and flexbox, respectively. I’ll let their slides speak for themselves: Responsive Images Are Here! and Enhancing Responsiveness With Flexbox.

My favourite talks, though, spoke to the grumpy old developer in me. Bruce Lawson, Christian Heilmann, and the speaker panel on the last day gave us all a verbal kick in the pants to stop making the web terrible. Christian was especially quotable; here are a few (paraphrased) takeaways from his talk:

This tweet sums up the conference quite well:

Videos of the talks have been posted online. I recommend checking them out if you can (and come to a Smashingconf with me!).

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