If you’ve worked in an industry long enough, and your business or employer reaches a certain size, you eventually find yourself initiated into the world of conferences. At first, these are fantastically novel experiences. Your company pays for you (or you do, if you’re self-employed — sorry) to fly off to another city and do nothing but sit and listen to other people talk. The idea is that you get inspired, learn things, and come back to work energized and ready to direct new found knowledge into your work, with colleagues and clients alike.

The first two conferences I ever attended were separated by only a few months: An Event Apart in Philadelphia in December, 2005, and South by Southwest in Austin the following March. You could not ask for two more diametrically opposed experiences. If you’ve been to either of these, you know that AEA offers a focused, single track of sessions, while SXSW schedules an often overwhelming number of options every hour of the day. As different as they are, they were both great experiences, and if you haven’t been to either, I recommend them both (though some feel SXSW has grown so large — and commercial — that it’s lost some of it’s original spirit).

From both of these I was inspired, and I did put into practice things I learned. We were a smaller team at the time, and each of us tended to have our hands in more than one part of the process of creating the work we do, sometimes switching our role from one project to the next, so more of what I had learned was immediately applicable in my workflow.

Getting (too) Comfortable

But over the years, Plank has grown, and while we maintain a certain level of knowledge in each other’s respective fields, our individual roles have naturally become more specialized. Our overall workflow, as well, has evolved into a more and more refined, reliable system, to the point that we’re not inclined to change any part of it, afraid we might compromise some finely-tuned efficiency that took a long time to get right.

These two factors — more specialized roles and challenging an established workflow — have come into sharp focus for me in the last month. I made the *mistake* of suggesting to Warren that I’d like to shift my role at the company to one that included a more concentrated focus on user experience. The truth is, UX considerations have always been a part of our work, even if it’s not a formal stage in our process, but I thought it was time to up our game in that area. “I love it,” he said, “let ‘s do it.”

Nothing like unbridled enthusiasm and support to scare the crap out of you. “Oh, I guess I have to make a plan now,” I thought to myself. Fortunately, I was already set to attend my latest conference, the seventh edition of FOWD (Future of Web Design), which took place two weeks ago in NYC. It was the right conference at the right time for me, as UX is an increasingly important issue to address as we adapt our projects content to the ever-expanding universe of devices, as well as to the contexts in which they’re used. As with other conferences, I can definitely recommend FOWD (next event is in London in April). It was a small, thoughtfully curated two-track event, and I got something from every talk I attended. The insights and inspiration events provide though, need to be built upon when you get back to work. Quite often, the topics discussed on a conference stage are things that have come up in conversation with and among my colleagues, but in the day-to-day production flow, we hesitate to adopt changes too quickly. So, how do you address that?

Slip Into Something Less Comfortable

Well, assigning yourself a new role and having your boss immediately sign off on it is one way to go. If that’s not realistic for you, do what you can to adopt changes incrementally. We all know when we’re doing something a certain way, simply out of habit. Stop that. Yes, getting something done quickly feels good, and lets you move on to your next task. But sooner or later, your old (bad) habit is going to cost you. If you’ve had an insight into a new approach to something, and genuinely see the value in it, then take on the learning curve and the initial slow-down it causes. Conferences are (almost always) great. Take the time to review the talks and speaker bios, pick one that feels right for you, and go. They can be a great break from the
daily grind, and when you get back, ideally, they will have provided you with the motivation and mindset to make the changes you know you need to make. Change can turn out to be good or bad, it can go smoothly or be a rough ride, but sometimes, you know one thing for sure: it’s necessary.

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