web directions

Web Directions South Phew!

Another Web Directions conference over and once again my brain feels stuffed to the gills (Do brains have gills? They ought to).

This year I’m going to try to separate some threads of discussion and points of interest by posting about them separately, but I want to also give a bit of an overview. Having attended the five Sydney conferences (and one in Vancouver), I reckon I have a bit of insight to offer.

First, my impression is that Web Directions has successfully expanded beyond considering “bread-and-butter” design and development skills to embrace everything about the web.

It has successfully moved from focusing on the ‘Web Essentials’ of coding and designing to standards to the broader explorations of ‘Web Directions’ – where all this is taking us, without sacrificing due attention to explaining technical developments and enhancing everyone’s skill base.

To me, that is a very satisfactory development – context is everything.

Second, this has allowed (or forced) the WD team to explore issues such as search engine optimisation, where five years ago this was not at all on the conference agenda, and in fact was talked down as a factor in web design.

Again, I’m personally pleased to see this, as it recognises one of the realities of designing websites for business.

Third, the proportion of women and mature attendees of both sexes seems to me to be steadily increasing. At my first conference, I definitely felt like an old “IT” bloke in amongst a bunch of “web” boys (actually I felt like a hippy in a room full of geeks, but that’s another story).

I see this development as both a reflection of the broader appeal of the conference, and also that more women and older people are having their talents in this area recognised. A lot of web design is about the expression of points of views, conscious or unconscious, and I’m glad to see the industry become more reflective of society as a whole, with female and older input providing some much-needed perspective.

Fourth, one thing that thankfully hasn’t changed is the commitment to standards. This is not about setting a bunch of rules and following them blindly, it’s about making your designs available to the widest possible audience, and about giving yourself the best chance to adapt and move forward.

Every sport ever invented has evolved and codified rules about how to play the game for the greatest enjoyment of all the stakeholders. That’s not to say that things can’t evolve (he said with Twenty20 hindsight), but it does mean that there is a base from which to evolve.

And for business purposes, web standards work – they provide a foundation for creating a web presence that is more likely to make money, now and into the future. That’s been my experience, anyway.

Fifth, one other thing that hasn’t changed is the conference organisers’ continuing determination to place web design and development into a social and historical context, challenging attendees to wrestle with psychology, politics and philosophy as well as technology and aesthetics.

I love that.

This approach in no way inhibits consideration of business issues – in fact it provides a platform for how to make a living on the web.

I congratulate John and Maxine on what they’ve done with Web Directions so far and I look forward to what they come up with into the future.


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