Converge was so much fun!
I, along with eight other students — Dioni Wise, Audra Macri, Will Neff, Cory Watson, Marshall Beringer, Rachel Brent, Benjamin Robinson and Katie Nolan — were selected by our professors in the fall to attend ConvergeSE, a web development conference in Columbia, SC, this past weekend.
Along with Brad Berkner, we mingled with designers, front-end developers and coders. Unlike most other conferences, the speakers here generally gave an overview of their career and their work. But it didn’t seem completely self-serving — the vibe was more inspirational, pushing us to learn and take chances.
Converge SE had panels on development, design, front end, mobile and business, and we all scattered among those. One drawback was that neither the brochure nor the website had descriptions for any of the panels, so everything was a crapshoot. I lucked out on a “TBD” design talk by Mig Reyes, a designer at 37Signals who reiterated that design was a process and that we shouldn’t be afraid of the ugly — ugly is what gets us to the good stuff — but some of us ended up stuck in panels that weren’t as riveting, reiterating old concepts or just plain not being useful.
But in the end that didn’t matter. Most of us agreed that even if we didn’t learn a lot, we certainly had fun. The highlight was definitely “Tall Tales From a Large Man,” a traveling talk by Aaron Draplin, who’s done design work for the Obama administration and for Field Notes, among many others. His story illustrated exactly what hard work and luck and risk take you — around the country, doing great, interesting, fulfilling work and doing it your way.
There was another Obama employee — Josh Higgins, who was the reelection campaign’s design director. He underscored a lot of the principles we learned in iMedia — not just usability and design, but research, understanding your publics, and test test test. There’s a reason why Obama’s campaign was seen as the cutting edge: it used data to inform every decision, and everything was tested. Even just kerning the letters in the “Forward” logo took two days to do.
Both Higgins and Draplin were big names with an impressive body of work, but none of us knew that until they spoke. Just seeing their work and hearing their experience was something in itself — an opportunity, exposure to something we didn’t realize was out there. This reinforces another strength of the iMedia program, the opportunities we get to mingle with others across all different facets of interactive media and learn about things we never would have encountered on our own.
The conference was so much fun that I began to think about attending next year, even hitting up other conferences — an idea shared by some of my fellow iMedia attendees. This is the first year that iMedia students attended, and it’s definitely something that future students, if they get the opportunity, should do.