Grouse! The Web Directions South Wrap-up

For all you non-Aussies out there, “grouse” usually means either a bird with feathered feet, or “to complain” in British army slang, but in Australian slang it means “awesome!” No one seems to know why.


Photo by the talented JJ Halans

Now that Web Directions is over, and now that I’ve had a weekend to sleep it off, I’ve got to say it was excellent! As you’d expect of a conference with three tracks and 670 attendees, it was two days of agonising over what to see, rushing from room to room and sketchnoting ’til my hand was sore. This was all well balanced by the best conference wifi I’ve experienced yet, highly drinkable free coffee, and relaxing, drinking and laughing at the great after-parties.

The information was pretty dense in almost every presentation so I didn’t manage to sketchnote everything I saw, but here are a few of my favourites. You can see all of my Web Directions sketchnotes here.

Mark Boulton

Web Directions South 09 Sketchnotes, Page 1

Having had a slightly too big night the day before, I missed Matt Webb’s keynote (which I’ve heard was pretty damned grouse) so Mark Boulton started my Web Directions. Mark’s a designer of note and author & publisher who’s worked at the BBC, recently redesigned Drupal and runs a small agency in South Wales. His talk on typography was broad, and in places deep, going from typographic basics to a structure for type thinking to the challenges of embeddable fonts. He inspired some grumbling, but echoed my thoughts, when he said:

I don’t think Comic Sans really is that bad. There are no bad tools, just bad designers.

And his take on embeddable fonts was interesting: he said working within constraints and concentrating on structure makes for good typography, and warned that “opening the flood gates” with @font-face, Typekit and the like will lead to an extremely ugly, chaotic web. I strongly agree with the former, and fear the latter may be spot on. You can see his slides here.

Suze Ingram

Suze introduced us all to service design, something I’ve been hearing murmurings about for a while, but couldn’t have really said exactly what it was. Suze has obviously been paying a little more attention than I have, and gave a clear and concise introduction to the topic. Thanks Suze! She’s also obviously keen for service design to grow and flourish in Australia and has started the Service Design Hub to encourage that growth, and is working on “Service Design Camp” in 2010. Suze is keen to collaborate and drive service design forward–let her know what you think.

The web designers and information architects of five years ago are now calling themselves user experience designers, and a cynic joked after Suze’s presentation that we’ll all be service designers next year. Considering how much most service experiences suck today, I can certainly imagine worse outcomes. Check out Suze’s slides here.

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Donna Spencer

Web Directions South 09 Sketchnotes, Page 5As always, my friend Donna was charming & smart as she presented the basic information seeking behaviours that all users exhibit.

This was a list presentation, so no mind-bending new insights, but it went a long way to shake the accepted “people either search or navigate” myth out of my head. She showed that people explore, refine & narrow, compare, discover and more, depending on how much they know, what they’re looking for and how goal oriented they are at that moment. The bit that really made me sit up and think was when Donna quoted Cheryl Gledhill, who said in her presentation:

Recently I’ve been searching less, but finding more.

I’m hoping Donna’s next presentation on information seeking behaviours will deal with exactly this “bubbling up” behaviour we’re seeing more and more of on Twitter and other social networks. Have a look at Donna’s presentation here.

Christian Crumlish

Christian gets my vote for best presentation of the conference, and not just because I got to get up on stage and introduce him. He was very clearly passionate about his subject, got quite a few laughs out of his audience, and backed it all up with rock solid information and examples.

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The self-described “Pattern Detective” of Yahoo’s Pattern Library (and ukulele virtuoso) gave us the five principles of social interface design:

  1. pave the cowpaths
  2. talk like a person
  3. play well with others
  4. learn from games
  5. respect

The rest of his talk revolved around a fascinating diagram, showing the various elements of the social ecosystem, designed by Erin Malone, the co-author with Christian of the recently published “Designing Social Interfaces“. After his high-energy, insightful talk, I’ll definitely be buying the book.

I was also pleased to get to know Christian and his charming wife during their stay here in Sydney, and look forward to visiting them in San Francisco! That’s hands down the best bit of any good conference!


Writing a wrap-up like this can’t really capture the atmosphere of exchange, sharing and inspiration, nor the jokes shared over a beer or the intense discussion at dinner. Due to these, as well as the smart & generous presenters, Web Directions was indeed grouse! Some of my other favourite moments:

Elliot Jay Stocks:

Beauty is the experience’s visual layer.

Dan Hill:

IT is too important for the IT department.

Mark Boulton:

The fundamental flaw in Jesse James Garrett’s model is that he relegates typography to the surface.

Kelly Goto:

Hybrid designer / coders are magic people.

I’m now very sorry I arrived too late for Web Directions last year, and I’m already looking forward to seeing everyone again in 2010!