Future Insights are the people who bring the internet community top class web events Future of Web Apps, Future of Mobile and Future of Web Design, attracting in-demand speakers and keen audiences every time. Davin Wilfrid is their Product Director, responsible for content and "digital caretaking", yet still finds time to make ukeleles on the side. With the outstanding Future of Web Apps New York fast approaching, we caught up with Davin to get some insight into what goes into planning and running a major event like this.
Here's what he told us
- 1. Awwwards: Can you tell us a bit about Future of Web Design?
Future of Web Design is a conference that brings together visionaries, rising stars, design professionals, developers, and students to share and learn from each other. The purpose of the event is to prepare web professionals to meet the next generation of web design challenges. Some of the content is very forward-looking, but there are also a ton of sessions aimed at giving designers practical guidance for solving their current challenges.
- 2. Awwwards: How do you go about organizing an event like this? What does your day-to-day work involve? Our conference producers begin by identifying the critical content areas we need to cover. For the Future of Web Design, that might be CSS3, responsive web design, typography, etc. Once we have all the subject areas determined, we find the best possible speakers to deliver sessions on them. Our conference producers read tons of websites and get referrals from past speakers or attendees to lock down the best and brightest. Once we have the important content holes filled, the conference producers look for really engaging, inspirational keynote speakers to deliver those high-impact sessions at the opening and close of each day. Of course we have logistics coordinators as well, who spend all day every day booking the conference space, catering, party venues, hotel blocks, and everything else.
The web is fairly democratic, so you never know who will have the next great idea.
- 3. Awwwards: What made you decide to organize this event?
Future of Web Design is one of our larger events, and we've been doing it for years. The web design community is as passionate and engaged as any professional community on earth, so it was a natural fit to bring them together in person. One of the joys of running web design conferences is how quickly the attendees seek each other out and get right to sharing stories, comparing notes, and collaborating on new things.
- 4. Awwwards: How do you decide on the content? Do current topics (responsive, progressive enhancement, rapid prototyping, UX design) lead you to the speakers or is it the other way round?
We are content-first, which means we identify those "must have" topics, decide how much coverage (how many sessions) we'll need, and then find the right speakers. Obviously we work with some speakers year after year, but by and large they are presenting new material each time to fit our needs. It's much more time consuming to do it this way, but the content is much better.
- 5. Awwwards: How accessible are some of the "Rockstars" of the web? How do you contact and sell the event to them?
They are remarkably accessible. If we've identified a "rockstar" we'd like to speak, it's typically not difficult to figure out how to contact them. The beauty of tech rockstars -- as opposed to "real" rockstars -- is that they usually post their email address or twitter handle pretty readily. Fortunately we've got a good reputation in the industry, so selling the event to them isn't too difficult. If we miss out on someone, it's usually because they have a prior commitment or are bogged down with a project.
- 6. Awwwards: In your opinion, who are the most influential figures in the field right now?
There are obvious choices like Jeffrey Zeldman, Ethan Marcotte, Dan Cederholm, Chris Coyier, Jason Santa Maria, Doug Bowman, Vitaly Friedman, Karen McGrane... However there are some new faces that are drawing some (well-deserved) attention and changing the landscape for web designers. I'm thinking of Jessica Hische, whose wedding website was so awesome it sparked a backlash blog post on Gawker. Talk about knowing when you've made it... Brad Frost is another amazing designer who everyone should pay attention to.
- 7. Awwwards: We guess you know you set trends just by choosing the program. But are you influenced more by what the big names think or do you pay a lot of attention to comments from web designers on social networks, or the attendees at your conferences?
The web is fairly democratic, so you never know who will have the next great idea. Big trends like responsive web design or mobile UX are pretty easy to spot, and typically flow from leaders in the field. We try to balance that with micro trends (or just plain old good ideas) we may spot elsewhere. We've staked our reputation on finding the next big thing pretty early, and as a result have had the opportunity to showcase some amazing speakers before they blew up. For example, we had Kevin Systrom of Instagram at last year's Future of Web Design, New York conference, just a few months before Facebook acquired his company. We are improving our ability to capture audience feedback and ideas, too. Earlier this year we started getting more scientific about measuring our success, starting with collecting real actionable feedback from our attendees. We've already seen that pay off as we have a better idea of what people are looking for at upcoming events.
- 8. Awwwards: Can you tell us about the learning experience for attendees at a conference like Future of Web Design?
We design these conferences to be valuable whether you're sitting in a session or having a beer at the post-event party. Our standard sessions are meant to inform but in a relaxed, conversational way. We work hard with our speakers to ensure they're delivering a session that will inspire, but also offer practical value that attendees can put to use right away. We also build in networking and design clinics so attendees can freely interact with each other and industry experts in a relaxed environment. If you have a CSS question, there's nothing quite like asking Chris Coyier in person. And you should. He's wicked nice.
- 9. Awwwards: Have you ever thought about trying an online format to reach a bigger audience?
Funny you should mention that. We're currently developing some web-based offerings through our new community site. We're going to do a lot of live online events in the near future, though I can't share the details just yet. I would encourage your readers to register for a free account at futureinsights.com so we can keep them updated when we're ready to roll these things out.
- 10. Awwwards: What do you think about the proliferation of disciplines such as UX Design, usability, accessibility, content strategy, analytics research etc., which make tackling a website more challenging than nuclear fission? Is the conference content designed for big companies who work in all these areas, or for the millions of freelancers too?
If the fission don't get you, the fusion sure will! Our core audience comes from the ranks of professional designers and developers, though not necessarily at large companies. We try to balance our content so specialists can get enough out of deep dives into content strategy or UX, for example, without excluding the much higher percentage of people who do it all. What's really interesting to me, as someone who worked for years in the enterprise technology space, is that web technology at large companies is moving toward what freelancers and small design shops have been doing for years. Things like content strategy and UX, in particular, are highly valuable to big companies, so we expect to see more of them sending teams to our events.
- 11. Awwwards: What are your predictions for 2013 and the coming years in web design and mobile and web development?
Convergence. Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research gave an amazing talk at Future of Web Design London this spring about the "social network of things," in which the web is a pervasive connection beyond computers and smartphones. When the web is in your car and on your eyeglasses, we're no longer talking about resizing windows for iPhone or Android devices -- we're talking about the need for true flexibility and responsiveness. But that's many years away. I think the next few years, we'll see a far more usable web as companies like Simple push larger competitors to confront their own onerous web sites and focus more on UX.
- 12. Awwwards: Everyone now knows the famous article by Ethan Marcotte that started the Responsive movement. Are there any other instances like this that you think could start a trend?
I'm sure there are, but if I could identify them now I'd start my own firm:) The critical thing about responsive web design is that it's not just nifty design tricks -- it's necessarily the way of the future if we don't want to have to develop separate versions of everything for every device. I think Ethan (among others) has done an amazing job of elucidating that point.
- 13. Awwwards: Let's talk about companies like Apple, Adobe, Mozilla or organizations like W3C. Who stands out as heading in the right direction for the future of the web? What involvement do you have with them?
I'm reminded of Tim Berners-Lee's famous tweet from the Olympics opening ceremony: "This is for everyone." It's going to take all of these organizations (and more) to keep the web strong, open, and safe. And it's up to the design community to live up to that promise by creating sites that meet standards for accessibility and open access. Of course, that's easier said than done and we're now saddled with vendor prefixes in our CSS and lots of tug and pull about what to do with responsive images. But I'm optimistic that the web is strong enough to survive these things. We work with all of those organizations and more (Google, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft) in one capacity or another. Sometimes they suggest a speaker for a certain topic. Sometimes they sponsor an event or a party at the event. I've been astounded at the goodwill I've seen from just about every speaker or sponsor at our events. In a very real way, it's clear that people who care passionately about the web only want what's best for it.
- 14. Awwwards: If you had to choose, would you be a designer, developer, content strategist, UX designer, or musician and ukelele luthier?
My background is in content -- first as a newspaper reporter, then as a tech reporter and software industry analyst -- so I'd have to say content strategist. It's tempting to say ukulele luthier, because I love building things, but at the pace I work I'd have to sell them for top dollar to make ends meet. And trust me, they're not that good.
We work hard with our speakers to ensure they’re delivering a session that will inspire, but also offer practical value that attendees can put to use right away.
A peek into Davin's workshop