AEA Boston 2011

Just a week ago, I was sitting at a chair at a Hotel in Boston listening to the words of Jeffrey Zeldman, Whitney Hess, Veerle Pieters, Luke Wroblewski, Ethan Marcotte, Jared Spool, Eric Meyer, Jeremy Keith, Aarron Walter, Andy Clarke, Mark Boulton, and Jeff Veen. Each one of them amazing in their own right, covering exactly what was needed to inspire me back into a frenzy of design possibilities.

Rather than go over the sessions, I thought it might be interesting to cover my general reactions to a few of the speakers, the mood of the event, and what I have taken away from this conference. Besides, you can already find some fantastic posts linked up from Jeffrey Zeldman on his website already. I would merely be echoing that which has already been said.

Friends, Old and New

I arrived at AEA as part of a virtual group… a pre-planned collection of people I have never met before in real life, so this was a fresh experience for me. We used apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Beluga to keep in touch. We then gathered when arriving in Boston as if we had known each other for years. I believe that Candi Ligutan can be blamed as the founder of our crew, with Petra Gregorová at a close second (or perhaps it was the two of them together who banded us together). Also attending our party were great people such as Brad Colbow & Brad Dielman (a.k.a. “The Two Brads”), Bridget Stewart, Landon Miller, Jesse Gardner, Isil Flynn, Gerardo Diaz, Chloe Weil, Geri Coady, and Jared Marcotte, along with a few other kind individuals who joined us quickly over time. It was also my intent to reunite with friends that I haven’t seen in years (Matthew, Jeremy, Veerle & Geert). Yes, this was something that I was looking forward to greatly.

This group… I don’t even know if we had a name. Anyway, this group was the best way to experience AEA as far as I’m concerned. To be with friends; smart, good people. To connect with hard-working individuals completely without bias. And every single person I talked to during my four days in Boston seemed to have some sort of amazing talent or story that they were willing to share.

Sobriety

On a side note, this was my first conference ever attended completely sober, without any beer or liquor drinking whatsoever. In the past, when I would drink at conferences, I never really held back. I would start as soon as I arrived, and keep going until it was time to board the flight home. I have damaged a few friendships because of this. Which is unfortunate. I cannot repair what has been done, but rather just keep moving forward and be as strong and honest a person as possible. “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

The hardest part this past week was to actually walk into a bar, that was open, and simply ask for a water. But I did just that, and it felt incredible. I now know that I have defeated one of my worst demons, and am free of the crutch of liquor forever.

This sort of information may or may not have a place in a blog post of this type, but it’s an important and personal detail to me, and was a critical component of making my experience at AEA that much more enjoyable and memorable.

Inspiration

When Mr. Zeldman took the stage, it felt comfortable and relaxed. For all of the times I had seen him speak. In fact, the first time I had ever seen him (and Jeff Veen) was at Web Design World 2000 in Denver, Colorado. I mentioned this detail to Jeff the previous night at the Typekit party and his reaction was an epic “Get the f*ck out of here. That’s 11 years! You haven’t changed a bit!” I couldn’t help but smile at that last part.

With Whitney, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never seen her speak before, and I don’t fully consider myself a UX type of designer (though I do consider UX in my designs). She surprised me by explaining things in a way that had me wanting to work harder and improve the experience people get with my work. Very nicely done.

When Veerle took the stage, there was a lot of love in the room for her. She was clearly nervous, yet I do believe that each of us was rooting for her, knowing that she had the talent and expertise to take us somewhere impressive. Indeed, she found her ground quickly and took off into a world of experimentation and inspiration. Way to go, Veerle!

Jeremy Keith, your talk needs to be on TED. Pure passion. I fell in love with you (again) during this hour (platonically, of course).

The impact of how powerful a device of inspiration the week was really hit me on day 2, after watching Ethan talk about “The Responsive Designer’s Workflow”. I even expressed mock anger at him afterwards of how frustrated I was, because of all the sleep that I will lose, and the amount of work I will gain. An amusing moment, that. I think he smiled for me, but I can’t be certain.

Summary

With Zeldman, I began thinking about my content more. Ethan was the catalyst that has me wanting to create something fresh right now. Luke had me pondering the possibility of a mobile version of my stuff. Veerle always inspires me to experiment more, and Jeremy got me thinking very hard about long-term archives. Overall, every speaker that I listened to had something to contribute, like pieces of a grand puzzle that pushed me just a little more further into that realm of passion that only creators know. The place where you lock yourself up for a bit, reach an almost euphoric state of mind, and create something brand new for the world to see.