The personal brain-dump of Garrett Coakley

The Return of New Adventures

I was lucky enough to travel to Nottingham last week for the return of New Adventures.

New Adventures holds a very special place in my heart. Along with dConstruct it exposed me to a community of practitioners who cared as much as I did about the possibilities of the web, and through both, I met people who are friends to this day.

So I was hugely excited when I found out that New Adventures was coming back. So much so, I asked my new boss for the time off, while I was on holiday in Berlin, before I’d even started my new gig (thanks John!).

Why now? As Geri and Simon said on the New Adventures site:

Digital experiences are forming in new ways, requiring us to think smarter, be more efficient and collaborative. In the face of uncertainty, we must ask tough questions about labour and ethics, education and inclusivity, and rediscover ambition through weirdness and fun. Let's reconvene, recalibrate, and re-energise digital design.

Entering the Albert Hall on Thursday morning brought back a flood of memories. The gorgeous setting (it really is a stunning room), seeing familiar faces milling around, the excellent coffee. Sense memory is a powerful thing. So much so I found myself drawn to the same seat I occupied back during the original run (I know, I’m odd).

I won’t recap every talk as they were videoed, and the recordings will be released in the future, but I did want to share some of my highlights.

Jeremy Keith opened the day with yet another excellent talk, putting the architecture of the Web, the materials we work with, into the wider context of time and rates of change. Pace layers. Showing that if we work with the different layers, our creations are by their very nature more resilient.

This is something I’ve always believed and practised, but Jeremy’s ability to clearly articulate the reasoning why always gives me new ways of talking to others. And as usual, my reading list has grown because of his talk.

Clare Sutcliffe talked about her journey of becoming an overnight CEO for Code Club, going from its inception to eventual merger with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Clare also talked more personally about what New Adventures meant to her, and how she met her husband there.

I loved Jessica White’s talk on creating multi-disciplined teams by understanding the strengths and weaknesses in ourselves and others, and what we all have to bring to the conversation. Her request to create tiny bits of rebellion wherever we go is still scratching away in the back of my head.

Both Ashley Baxter and Brendan Dawes made me realise that I was spreading myself too thin and as a consequence I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. Time to cut back on some personal projects, and focus on others.

Helen Joy encouraged us to show compassion in our work. Through a series of examples from her own user research she demonstrated that empathy and understanding of social exclusion and situational disability is as important as permanent disabilities. A staggering statistic that I hadn’t heard before is that 11.3m adults in the UK are below point 5 of the Gov.Uk Digital Inclusion Scale. Basic digital skills, at point 7, is the minimum capability that people need to have in order to use the internet effectively.

She also drew attention to The Copenhagen letter. A Hippocratic oath for builders of technology:

To everyone who shapes technology today

We live in a world where technology is consuming society, ethics, and our core existence.

It is time to take responsibility for the world we are creating. Time to put humans before business. Time to replace the empty rhetoric of “building a better world” with a commitment to real action. It is time to organize, and to hold each other accountable.

Ethan Marcotte wrapped up the day talking about the inherent power in design, power that is increasingly being wielded by companies and governments who do not have our best interests at heart. Touching on Robert Moses’ racist architecture and examples of the freedoms promised but never delivered by technology of the past, it was a sobering look at the state of our industry today.

But, Ethan continued, there is hope, in us. There are challenges for sure, but together we can effect a change. It’s time for us to step up and take responsibility. I have no doubt this will go down as one of the most important talks I’ll see in my career.

Helen's excellent round up of the day beautifully articulates the feelings that I took away from Nottingham, and that continue to resonate with me.

It seems we have finally started looking outwards: identifying our responsibility and the associated consequences of our actions. We’re pushing past our early egocentric selves and are moving towards maturity. We’re still making our way along this path, learning from each other as we continue to grow. Ethan, rightly, encouraged us to approach this with hope. The talks at New Adventures showed a significant shift in our thinking and from the feedback, this year’s themes seem to have struck a chord.

My hope is that we see New Adventures return next year so we can see what direction these messages have taken us in. The call to action from the opening of the conference was “Now is the time.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s up to us to shape and build our industry, to help it develop and to make the web a better place. Let’s get to it!

I am so happy that New Adventures decided to come back now. It couldn’t be more timely.

Heartfelt thanks to Geri, Simon, Relly, and the entire New Adventures team.