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On Build

I had long wanted to attend a conference. I follow a lot of people on Twitter who would regail us with their hash tags and @ replies while on their various stints in various parts of the world. I had my envies and so, when Build Conference was announced, I decided I would go.

I had watched a number of videos from Build 2010, specifically memorable for me were those of Frank Chimero and Dan Cedarholm. I recognised that it was the type of conference that if I was going to attend, I would enjoy it. So like an excited child on Christmas morning, on the day the tickets were released, I purchased one.

When the speakers were announced, I didn’t recognise many of them as speakers. I knew the Standardistas and Simon Collison, but the rest, while I knew of their work, I had never heard speak. I suppose, at the time, I must admit to having had a slight pang of disappointment for this very reason; that I hadn’t heard these people speak. What I have learned is that the “unknown” is far more rewarding than anything I could have ever expected.

I must pause here and point out that Andy McMillan is, in my opinion, a singular individual. I do not think there is anyone in the industry making the efforts that Andy is to progress and forward the “thought process” of web design. Sure, there are excellent conferences all over the world, that focus on the craft and the methodologies of web design. But Andy seems to understand that sometimes we, as humans, really need to be challenged. That challenge makes us different people. How we rise to these challenges define us, and define our work. I should have known when I received the first issue of The Manual, that Build was going to be something different; far different from my expectations. I should have known, as I read out Frank Chimero’s essay to my wife in our garden on a sunny summers Sunday, that the nature of how we were going to be provoked in our thinking, was going to be different than any “How to” session or book. I should have known.

To say that I feel humbled today, two days after the conference, alone in my hotel room in Belfast, with all my colleagues re-dispersed, is a bit of an understatement. The conference itself, was phenomenal. It was thought provoking. It was re-affirming (because, sometimes, we can lose faith in ourselves when those around us don’t always know what it is we do). The Standardistas brought us on a voyage of craft. Josh Brewer made us strive to find delight in design. Craig Mod reminded us of the joy of books and how that will change, but remain in the future. Jason Santa Maria discussed the future of Web Typography. Jeremy Keith made us question our legacy. Simon Collison gave us a history lesson for the future. Perhaps, most importantly, Wilson Miner made us cry.

I will never be able to explain to anyone other than those who also attended the conference, exactly how I felt in that auditorium. No one watching the future videos of the talks will know what the electricity between the attendees was throughout the course of that day. But that’s not the point. It was an experience more than an event and had I missed it, I would never have known. That I didn’t, changes that for me and also makes it all the more important.

I also met some amazing people. If I were to list them all here, this page would become a Twitter trap, so I’ll refrain, but if for no other reason, the presence of so many like minded people is a gift in itself. Being able to discuss the intricacies of how and why we do things the way that we do, without having to explain our rationale, is so important to all of us. Sometimes we don’t always have this exposure, so being able to spend time with these people, make contact with these people and get to know these people was worth the trip alone. I have made so many new friends and acquaintances. I could never put a value on this.

Build conference is, in my opinion, the only conference you must attend. Save your pennies, scrape your pocket lint, beg from your family. This is not to diminish the value of other conferences, but having been a part of this one, (barring the birth of a child) I cannot imagine not attending again. It has re-ignited an ember within me that had been smouldering. It has touched my emotional core. It has made me question my process, my methods. It has made me question myself. It has made me question.

And this is wonderful.