Lessons Learned at Wordcamp Kent

I spent this weekend at Wordcamp in beautiful Kent, Ohio. I really enjoy Wordcamps: the lessons learned, the cheery demeanors, and the motivation to keep growing the blog.

After each Wordcamp I like to share a few notes from some of the sessions. It helps me solidify some thoughts from the weekend. It’s also my way to say thanks to the wonderful speakers and organizers of Wordcamp — all of whom are volunteers.

Your Green Apron is a shield, too

This machine neutralizes trolls

Saturday opened with a keynote from Carrie Dils, a renowned WordPress developer and trainer. (Turns out I had taken one of her courses on Lynda.com without even making the connection.) 

Carrie opened with a story not unfamiliar to many young people: she worked at a job at she hated, and needed to get out. One thing led to the next, and she found herself at Starbucks, where she found “her people.”

Of the many opportunities presented at Starbucks, Carrie shared one in particular: the Green Apron (i.e., the Starbucks uniform). That apron gave Carrie the license to be more outgoing and positive than she otherwise would be. 

The apron also allowed her to distance herself from customers who took their negativity out on the staff. She just had to listen and take it and know it was not about her. The green apron, while a license to be outgoing, is also a shield from destructive negativity.

I love that my blog has put me in touch with such wonderful readers and co-bloggers that I would never had contacted myself. But the dozens of shares and likes can feel like nothing to the one nasty comment. But my blog is my apron. 

Make your client a scientist 

Science is fun. It can also help you manage clients.

Mike Demopoulos offered an outstanding last-minute presentation on A/B testing.

Mike offered some great ideas for designing A/B tests while also providing pointers on actually applying it with clients. A/B testing is a fun, inexpensive way to yield big results. But what is “big”, anyway?

The only way to know is to get specific with the client. “In a year from now, what do we have to do to make this a success?” Identify, define, and quantify the outcome variable. 

While I am inclined to think of myself as a scientist, I would never have considered thinking of clients as scientists. You want to work with them to frame a null hypothesis that can be observed and tested, i.e. “A successful project is defined as X (quantified result, etc). Agree to it, then fail to reject that sucker. 

Escape theme tyranny

Tracy Apps (yes, that is her real last name!) offered a fantastic session entitled “Design is Dead–Long Live Design! (Why does every website look the same?)”

Showing us the typical website with the headset hottie stock art and three large icons at the middle of the page, I agreed. “Yeah, every website does kind of look the same. What’s up with that?”

Opening with the memorable line, “Remember the days when you had to call the Internet?” Tracy provided an answer, beginning with a history of web design, highlighting the good, the bad, and the (mostly) ugly (dancing babies, anyone?)

Microsoft.com, ca. 1994

While the early web was a design free-for-all, resulting in some real gems (like Microsoft’s first website, above), there was a certain frontier creativity. Designers were more likely to experiment.

What happened? Why do all websites look the same now? Part of it is structural. Many far-out designs of the past would simply not work on mobile devices. But some of it is the widespread use of themes and frameworks. They are excellent tools (I use them, too!). Do they stifle creativity? Tracy offered some fantastic suggestions for stimulating new ideas for building websites: it was design thinking at work. 

Happy camping

Busy weekend, right? This is just a sample of the sessions and thoughts I take from Wordcamp. If you’ve got any interest in design, digital marketing, or web development, find one in your area and enjoy.

Thanks so much again to the organizers and speakers of Wordcamp Kent. Looking forward to next year already. 

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