Generate conference review 


By Will Carson

Freestyler Will Carson shares his highlights from Generate 2016, the go-to conference for developers and front-end designers. 

Technology moves at such a startling pace that it can be quite overwhelming. Working in a digital agency, it’s common to feel an inward pressure to be on trend and progressing in the right direction, not just for the good of the agency, but for your own skillset.

Front-end web development has exploded in the last few years – long gone are the early days of CSS/XHTML with a bit of JavaScript for kicks. We’re deep in the HTML5/CSS3/SASS/Node.js era, and it can be quite daunting.

So how can you keep up to speed? Sure, trawling the web for tutorials and industry-leading social media accounts is a start. From my experience though, the best way has always been to attend conferences, engaging with fellow developers and having your eyes opened to new ideas by specialist speakers.

I was delighted when Freestyle suggested Alex (our UX/UI developer) and I attend this year’s Generate Conference at the Royal Institution in London.

A couple of days out the office? Yeah, why not.

In this post, I’ll be talking through my personal highlights from the conference, and here’s a bonus for you, I won’t even mention Episerver.


A royal setting

The first thing that struck me was the splendour of the Royal Institution, a marvellous venue once graced by the likes of Michael Faraday, Humphry Davy, and now William Carson of Freestyle Interactive.

In the lobby we were handed a rather impressive goody bag complete with this month’s edition of .net magazine. I was relieved to find it also contained a notepad and pen, as I was hopelessly underprepared.

Following a cup of tea and a chance to mingle with some of the sponsors (who gave us more free stuff), we took a seat in the lecture theatre, awaiting our first speaker: Bruce Lawson, deputy CTO at Opera and Web Standards guru.


Connectivity in developing countries

Bruce’s keynote, “WWW: world wide web not wealthy westerners’ web”, drew our attention to the next four billion users in the emerging economies in South East Asia. We looked at connectivity in developing countries (as well as the relative data costs) and the sort of devices they would typically use.

It was quite an eye-opener and really drummed home the importance of catering for users with limited data and very basic handsets, something that Lawson argued was not being done enough.

He also briefly covered Progressive Web Apps, how responsive images can limit data costs, and how Opera Mini can save money and battery power in areas of limited connectivity.

Overall it served as a reminder that in this day and age, we shouldn’t make assumptions about our audience, their connectivity or their mobile devices.

Watch Bruce Lawson present this keynote from a conference in Isreal earlier this year


Running a profitable agency

My next highlight was a talk by Brad Weaver, chief experience officer for Atlanta-based agency Nine Labs and author of Creative Truth.

To be blunt, I didn’t expect this to be a highlight, but both Alex and I thoroughly enjoyed his talk. He spoke about the challenges of running a successful and profitable agency, not something either of us have had to deal with (not yet, anyway), but it did make you appreciate the challenges faced by agency owners.

Having ran his first agency into the ground, Weaver was talking from experience, both good and bad. After going back to the drawing board and changing his approach to profitability, he consolidated his own idea of how to calculate one’s shop rate, which he talked us through.


Though fairly crude, it gives a minimum operational flat rate. If a business operates at anything less than its shop rate, it will likely run into trouble.

On the topic of pricing, Brad also revealed a list of nine models that he uses when quoting for work, so that rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, his agency can fluidly create estimates for clients.

I’ll spare any excess detail, but his book is well worth a read.


The weird and whacky

My final highlight was a thoroughly entertaining talk by Brendan Dawes.

Brendan’s talk showcased some of the weird and whacky projects he’s worked on over the years – some digital, some electronic, some 3D, all pretty cool.

Though a designer by trade, it was pretty clear that Brendan could lend his hand to anything, and his more striking projects were the ones that made unique use of data. One project involved creating digital creatures based on Twitter profiles. The shape of each creature was defined by an algorithm which studied user behaviour, and various other social analytics. Then, using 3D printers, he fabricated some of the creatures to display in an exhibit.

Utterly bonkers, but impressive.

While there was nothing directly transferrable to me as a front-end developer here, the overarching message to deviate from the norm was certainly food for thought.

Overall, a great conference which Alex and I both left with plenty of bedtime reading ideas. It’s always nice to be reminded that your career field is not only shaping the future, but also pretty cool.


Want to know more?

Keep an eye on the Generate website as dates for 2017 are soon to be announced, and if this one was anything to go by, it’s not one to be missed.

Want to learn more about our tech and development services? Drop us a line. 


See you all at Generate Conference next year!

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