So... I went to my first BarCamp at the weekend... Overall it was OK (and the folks who set it up deserve a big thank you) but I came away feeling that it was a bit too sterile and prescribed. I admit that I couldn't stay all day on Saturday (to the point that I didn't actually get to present my bit on SEO which I feel bad about as this is totally not in the spirit of BarCamp). But... by using the big Appleton Tower lecture halls the 5 presentations that I had a chance to see all felt too much like lectures and not enough like something which could open up to group discussions. Another feeling I got was that there were many more people presenting problems rather than solutions. Friday night had 20 minute slots but Saturday had 30 minute slots making it feel less pressured and concentrated - something that I imagined BarCamp as being. Paul Farnell mentioned the idea of Pecha Kucha and I have to say that this presentation format would really suit BarCamp.

On a more positive note... some of the presentations were interesting and Friday night (with it's free beer and "invent a company" game) was more what I had hoped BarCamps would be like.

Paul Farnell from Litmus was spoke well (and his slides were pretty funky). He runs an Edinburgh based website testing service so I was a bit surprised that I hadn't heard of them before! Maybe I'll get a chance to use them sometime. Paul spoke of interesting ways that Litmus had tried in order to bring visitors to their site (building a strong brand as they went). Here are his top tips (as I see them):

  • If your product costs money give something (less) away for free. Pitch it at your target market and make it useful and complimentary to your main product.
  • All emails from your company should be from a real person (even the monthly newsletters). When new users sign up send them a personal email and tell them what you think about their website etc.
  • If anyone from your company uses forums etc make sure that they are leaders rather than lurkers (they created with this in mind).
  • Have live chat on your site.

Gavin Brogan (HeavyWeightGeek) also spoke well about UXD. His main points were:

  • The UI shouldn't need instructions
  • The UI should give feedback
  • The UI should give an escape route (undo/back)
  • Designers should consider the users environment when designing

Ewan Spence provided some humour to Friday night but my personal best bit was the "invent a company" game:

  1. Get your audience to supply you with 50 different words
  2. Split the audience into 5 groups
  3. Each group has to pick two words (from the 50) and join them together to make a .com company name
  4. Each company needs a logo, a product, audience, tag line, marketing and revenue.