New Adventures Indeed

Marcus Lillington

Marcus shares his thoughts on the New Adventures conference and why he is feeling just ever so slightly irked.

I’m just back from attending the last ever New Adventures conference (my first one, incidentally) and have to say that I really enjoyed it. That said, something is irking me that I can’t quite put my finger on, so I’m going to try and use this post to find out what it is.

I have two favourite conference subjects: 1) other people’s processes and 2) “let’s all find everlasting, shining peace of mind through our ‘work’”. New Adventures covered these topics in abundance – particularly point 2 – so I am/should be feeling suitably knowledged up and inspired.

Useful stuff

Other people’s processes are guaranteed takeaways from conferences. “Ooh, I hadn’t thought of doing that” or “I’ve been leaning towards that way of thinking for a while”.

I remember going to @media back in 2005 and seeing Doug Bowman talk through his redesign of Blogger. The other talks didn’t really spark anything with me (I can’t remember any of them) but Doug’s was great. It was a simple and straightforward walkthrough of how he carried out his research, came up with initial ideas and worked them up to final, polished designs. I remember picking up some really useful tips and feeling quite chuffed that we did a lot of the stuff that this famous (certainly compared to us) American was doing (remember, this was 2005).

This has happened many times since and it’s always good to take away actual, useful tips from a conference. It’s like you’ll have something to write about should teacher ask for an essay on your day out.

Jason Santa Maria’s talk at New Adventures fitted this bill perfectly. For example, he presented a process called “grey box wireframing” that he uses to help design visual hierarchies without cluttering up the design with anything other than the boxes. It’s almost a kind of pre-wireframe wireframe.

An example of Jason Santa Marias approach to wireframing.
Jason Santa Maria presented a process called grey box wireframing.

He also made the statement “prototypes are documentation” which I was nodding vigorously at. Why write a 50-page functional specification when you’ve just spent weeks effectively documenting (in more than words) the functionality of what you’re about to build? You only need to describe the stuff that you can’t build in the prototype, surely.

Follow your f*ing bliss

Or, in other words, do stuff you like doing for a living and a) you’ll be happier and b) you’ll be better at it which should mean you’ll be wealthier and more fulfilled as a human being.

This was the main theme of the conference and, as I’ve said, one of my favourite subjects. For example, I have tried to encourage my kids to study the subjects they like studying because, I think, they would do better. And, though a “studies” degree from an ex-poly doesn’t have the weight of a “proper” degree from a Russell Group uni, my argument was always based on my own experience of dropping out. That is, a qualification in something (particularly something that interests you) is better than nothing at all.

For the nosy amongst you:

-Kid number one left education completely and is now a very happy assistant manager of a shop in a famous retail chain.
-Kid number two is expecting to study Physics at Southampton in September.
-I dropped out mid-term whilst taking Double Maths, Physics and Geology A Levels.

So, what do I know? :)

Showing off

One of the reasons – I think – why I’m feeling a bit bothered by all this is that all the speakers are shining successes. You never hear about when it goes wrong: “I left my job and now I’m destitute…”. There is a kind of false optimism. People leaving their jobs to forge great, new careers are, I think, pretty rare. However, I still think it’s a subject that demands scrutiny as, if it only helps people a little, then it’s well worth it.

The most well-known and mainstream speaker at the conference was Wayne Hemingway of Red or Dead fame. He was very entertaining and it genuinely was interesting to hear about how he and his wife started out and turned their market stall into world-wide fashion brand.

Wayne Hemingway of Red or Dead
Wayne Hemingway of Red or Dead fame presented an entertaining and genuinely interesting talk about talent, luck and determination.

The message was, as is always the case from these types of speaker – talent, luck, determination: with these things the world is your oyster.

Well, yes. Maybe.

Talent, of course. No-one will take you seriously if you can’t back up your lucky break with at least some skill or flare.
-But, how much luck exactly? I would argue, a great deal. I’ve had personal experience in this back in the eighties when I managed to be a pop star for a bit (but that’s another post).
-And, finally, determination. Determined to the point of being unpleasant? Determination often, I think, translates as myopia, the refusal to accept when you’re wrong and selfishly ignoring your responsibilities… not somewhere the majority of us are prepared to go?

Now, I’m not suggesting WH was, in any way, unpleasant. But, I do think he is/was extremely focussed. He mentioned that it’s very important to know what you stand for (I agree wholeheartedly) and his passions are certainly of a left-leaning, almost militant, nature.

It was refreshing to hear someone talk about running a really successful company while unerringly sticking to their political guns. The example of refusing to allow French fashion journalists into their show at London Fashion Week in response to France’s nuclear testing programme was case in point.

However, he did seem overly impressed with the fact that he was a multi-millionaire. I’m not suggesting that anyone who leans to the left can’t be a successful businessman and make a lot of money (that would be absurd), but it did strike me as odd that he would mention it (twice). Especially odd seeing as he was talking to a young (mostly!), designer crowd.

Putting some meat on the bone

The final speaker of the day was Jessica Hische. She continued the day’s theme but provided quite a lot of useful advice as to how one might find one’s elusive bliss.

She has coined the term “procrastiworking” which refers to the work you tend to do in between the main tasks you’re carrying out. Your preferred tasks, I suppose. It’s very important to note that she is referring to work here… stuff you can pay the bills with (not walking the dogs or drinking tea!). Of course, some tasks earn more money than others so this is, very much, a factor you need to consider.

She says that we should recognise what these “in between” tasks are and list them along with the “pay the bills” tasks. Our goal is to try to end up doing more of our favoured tasks while still earning a living. It’s basically a prioritisation exercise but, it’s something that you need to continually review and update as you get to do more – and hopefully earn more from – your favourite jobs.

Jessica said one thing that really hit home with me – and I’ve realised, is the real reason why I’m left feeling a bit frustrated. Something that I’m guessing most people didn’t really register…. it was this:

I spend most of my days making tiny adjustments to Bezier curves.

I used to do this. Not Bezier curves (obviously!), but the equivalent. Days on end, on my own, in my studio, fiddling endlessly with harmonies, panned double tracks, the volume of one note in a chord, the extent of a pitch bend on a synth bass track, listening to a hundred snare drums to find the right one. And so on.

This was my bliss. And, it’s why I’m feeling rankled. Nothing to do with perceived over-optimism or rich men showing off. Everything to do with a reminder of hassle-free days doing something I loved.

Didn’t pay the bills though. So, now I’m a grown-up running an agency and, for the most part, really enjoying it. Though it won’t replace creating music, I’m particularly enjoying writing this sort of article so, if I’m to take JH’s advice, please look out for more of this sort of thing from me.

So, after all this soul-searching, who was my favourite speaker of the day? Simple, Seb Lee-Delisle because he made me laugh (a lot) :)