Insites is a mini tour of four cities in the UK where Keir Whitaker and Elliot Jay Stocks present discussions with well-known people from the web/tech industry. I was lucky enough to go to the first evening in Brighton on Monday where Aral Balkan, Sarah Parmenter and Jeremy Keith were the guests.
The format of the evening was something unfamiliar to most of us. Each guest was interviewed by either Keir or Elliot and then there were questions from the audience. Except it was much less formal than that. There were breaks in between and a comfortably small amount of people (I’m rubbish at estimating amounts of people so I’ll save you the pain) so there was a really relaxed and casual environment where everybody seemed happy to chat about anything.
The genius was really in the way it was run. Keir and Elliot asked really interesting and leading questions and Aral, Sarah and Jeremy were all open and honest so they genuinely did provide insight into their lives in the web/tech industry. I don’t think it would have worked had the interviewers been unfamiliar with the guests, and with Keir and Elliot both working in the industry doing similar jobs to most people in the audience, their questions always felt appropriate and had something of the that’s-just-what-I-wanted-to-ask about them.
The Actual Insights
The first thing that struck me about each of the guests (and a lot of people I spoke to) was that everybody was self-taught in some way. That’s really inspiring for anybody wanting to work with the web or iOS. Each of the guests hadn’t studied design or development formally yet they’re helping lead the way and set the standards in user experience, iOS design and development.
Funnily enough, despite not having formal education, Aral, Sarah and Jeremy each teach workshops. It goes to show how well they know their subject matter in order to host successful workshops, but also how the semi-formalisation of education can work and enough people seem to enjoy learning that way (rather than self-teaching through books or the web.) And a lot of people must prefer this way of learning as the amount of workshops seem to be on the up.
One of the directions that a lot of web industry professionals seem to be taking lately is moving away from client work and towards making their own products. Aral was incredibly passionate about how much more he enjoyed working for himself in every sense, rather than having ever-changing clients for bosses.
Sarah provided some great advice on the warning signs when starting work with potential clients, as she’s had her fair share of painful client relationships, and relayed that she thinks she’s just* too* nice and so clients take advantage. As someone who completely identifies with the niceness approach, it was heartening to see that Sarah has found such great clients that she’s considering working for two exclusively. This is also interesting as it shows more of that same direction of moving away from working with different clients and towards maintaining products as a career.
Jeremy was honest in saying he preferred to just get on with the development, and is very fortunate to work as part of an agency where Andy Budd enjoys handling the clients and accounts sides of a project. I think many freelancers find the sales and admin are the worst part of the job so it made sense that forming an agency with like-minded people would be a good idea, but Jeremy pointed out that this does only really work if there is one individual who is happy to work on the ‘business’ side whilst the others work on the project itself.
What I took away in summary to these talks was really one big point, everybody there was following a career path based around what makes them happy and fulfilled over what might make them rich. And this really emphasises what I love so much about the industry. People are there because they enjoy it, people want to make a difference and make the web a really cool place.
And The Rest
Due to the nature of the Insites tour, people came with a willingness to discuss work, process and dealing with clients rather than focusing on the techniques and technologies that we go on about during the working day. This lead to a few good discussions outside of the talks with the guests where I felt my brain buzzing from finally starting to understand a bit more about how we work.
I am endlessly lucky with the clients I have
I assumed that most people had good clients. From the various discussions it does look like I am very lucky in having ended up with predominantly lovely, responsive, paying-on-time clients. After talking to the Croydon Creatives bunch (and also something Sarah mentioned,) we really seemed to conclude that having a top contract is one of the most important aspects of client work. Not necessarily a boring law-speak contract, but something that appealed to the client and showed that you’re a human who deserves to be paid for your hard work, as well as laying out some just-in-case terms.
Labels and Titles
And the final fascinating conversation that was really ongoing throughout the evening outside of the talks was about labelling. It stemmed from Aral and Andy Budd‘s disagreement on what makes a UX Designer, but lead to discussing how we describe ourselves to clients and each other.
I finally learnt the different between ‘indie‘ and ‘freelance‘ (indie means you produce work for yourself or customers, freelance means you work for clients) and that Jeremy Keith works somewhere between a rotating job title and none whatsoever because it’s the work that do that speaks for you, rather than what you call yourself.
The conclusion that I came to was that labels are a pain. Everybody is judged on what they call themselves and, within the industry, it doesn’t really matter as soon as you’re familiar with somebody’s work. What we do need labels and job titles for is accurately communicating what we do to potential clients. This means we should forget about the acronyms and jargon and sometimes the most appropriate description is ‘I make websites.’
So if you’re in Manchester or Bristol this week, go!
I took a day to write this post, so I’m a bit late in telling people to go to the London leg of the Insites tour, but Manchester is tonight and Bristol is tomorrow night.
It was definitely one of the best events I’ve attended in a while, and one that just gave me faith in how the industry and community is just brilliant (and probably the best ever.)
Note: please forgive my enthusiasm in this post, I hope it’s not too annoying, but I had a really good time!