Had a great day yesterday at the DIBI (Design It, Build it) conference in The Sage Gateshead. It’s a new conference, with – as the name may suggest –two tracks; design and development. I was in the design camp, while Phill went for the development (standing in for Jason after he had a nasty bike accident a week or so ago – get better soon Jason!).

Andy Clarke

Andy Clarke gave a great talk at DIBI

Great selection of speakers including (in reverse chronological order, for no good reason!) Andy Clarke who talked about ‘Hard boiled Web Design’: designing for the best browsers (i.e. webkit) and providing “appropriate” alternatives for lesser browsers. Some interesting points on how to avoid making your website look the same in every browser, and generally inspiring designers to do their best work and not be held back by Internet Explorer and others. I’m really looking forward to seeing Andy’s presentation again when the videos are released.

Dan Rubin gave a great talk about his usability / user interface experiences and was kind enough to expand on this for me later whilst we enjoyed the free bar at the after party. (I nearly made him miss his pizza, but thankfully more turned up. Phew!). Dan had plenty of real world examples of what works in usability testing, and how to quickly iterate during testing (hint: PNGs!). As with other speakers, I found the case studies fascinating.

Dan Rubin at DIBI 2010

Dan Rubin at DIBI 2010 (by Maykel Loomans)

Simon Collinson focused on the theoretical aspects of design, including semiotics and the basics of visual language – I hadn’t covered semiotics since university, and to be honest I’d never made the conscious connection re web design, so that was particularly interesting. He joked it was a bit “70s Open University”, which it did veer into occasionally, but with far better designed slides, and no elbow pads 😉 Interesting stuff though.

Great insight into user interface design, iPhone app development and the general Apple approach from Sarah Parmenter (btw every single design speaker mentioned Apple at some point, at least in passing – always positively. A few iPads floating about too …). Tim Van Damme is an uncompromising designer, and his presentation was themed around 2001: a space oddysey (he did the rather splendid design for Gowalla). Tim felt that within a few years we’d all have moved away from Photoshop and Fireworks (the implication being that these were suffering from bloat), and that some small software company was on the verge of revolutionising the creation of web graphics. He was no-nonsense about web designers needing to keep their skills honed.

Good presentation too from Adii Rockstar (Mr Woothemes) on design and how it should pervade everything, can be the difference between two otherwise well-engineered products/services. He was making the point that design is more than aesthetics. Dan Rubin later made a similar point – compared web design to product design; you’re not just making it look pretty, it has to work well, solve a problem and hopefully be a great experience for the user. I’m going to remember that analogy next time I’m explaining web design to a client!

Jon McLoone's speaking at the DIBI Conference

Jon McLoone's Keynote talk at the DIBI 2010 Conference

Wolfram Alpha was given an overview by Jon McLoone, and it’s potential for interpreting the world’s ever-growing mountain of data is nothing short of extraordinary. Learned that there are a number of embeddable apps for using WA, and that it can compute some complex maths, and give you the nutritional content of any recipe you make (amongst many, many other things!). Interestingly, Wolfram Alpha is entirely self-funded (100+ employees) so is unconstrained by the demands of VCs.

Lots of talk of user experience and whether older browsers should be supported. Had to smile when Andy Clarke showed us what he puts forward for IE6. Think print style sheet. I’m sure he’s inspired everyone who was there into not being held back by older browsers.

Great after party, lots of banter, chatted with most of the Woothemes guys, and everyone was very down to earth and friendly.

All round great conference, free food and beer always go down well too (or is that too well? …)! Well done to Gavin Elliot and Codeworks for putting on a first-class event.

Strangest moment: seeing 4 or 5 people in the back row sniffing their laptops (and one iPad)!

Conclusion: A+++ will go again.

Update: great write-up on minute44, and somehow I’m in the middle of the main photo!

Update 2: Lots of DIBI 2010 photos here

… already bought my ticket for DIBI 2011 🙂