Kel and I returned late last Sunday night from our whirlwind trip to the Pacific Northwest. The trip was a blast despite a few days of agony we each spent with the flu.
The Northwest terminal in Detroit was pretty nutty. I hadnt been there before and I was amazed at how long it was. They had an indoor monorail system just to get you from one end to the other quickly. I was initially bemused by the number of signs in English and Japanese, but once I remembered that Detroit is Motor City, it all made sense.
We arrived in Seattle in the early afternoon on Thursday and went to our hotel (which I highly recommend) to relax a bit before heading out to dinner. We had just about 48 hours in the city before we had to make our way up to Vancouver, and we made the most of it, seeing as much of the downtown sites as we could. We mostly walked around, shopped, and enjoyed all the fresh seafood. We didnt get a chance to do the Space Needle or EMP or any of the usual touristy stuff, but I think we got a better sense of Seattle as a city.
I was hoping to hook up with Mike, Keith or Nick while I was there, but our time there was so short it just wasnt in the cards. Im sure well be back for more soon though.
Welcome to Canada
Unfortunately, I woke up Saturday and was feeling like complete ass. I thought it was food poisoning and began cursing Elliotts in my mind. Needless to say, I made Kel drive our taxicab yellow Focus all the way to Vancouver while I mainlined the Pepto and tried to sleep. I did wake up for the border crossing though and was amazed at how easy it is to get through (at least when youre white).
We arrived late Saturday night and checked into the Lord Stanley Suites just off of Stanley Park. The view was great, but the flat was cramped (poor layout) and the windows (which were perpendicular to West Georgia St) were not sound proof in the least, so we had a bit of a hard time sleeping with the car noise from the wet road.
I woke up on Sunday and was feeling a bit better, so we went out to spend a little time over on 4th street. It had been about a decade since I was last in Van, and I was really stoked to see how Zulu Records had grown in the intervening years. We ate lunch at Sophies Cosmic Cafe and ran into some friends who were doing the same. Pleasantly stuffed, we made our way down to Zulu and picked up some new tunes. We also ducked into a vintage bookstore, but didnt find anything that tickled our fancy.
Dave text-ed me to alert me to an informal gathering to watch the Super Bowl, but I was starting to feel a little worse again, so we bowed out and headed back to the hotel to rest up. To tell the truth, I was getting a little nervous about being ill and having to put on a full-day session with Andy on Tuesday.
I was right to be a little nervous too Monday was awful. Between bouts of being violently ill, I came to the realization that this was not food poisoning and had to be the flu (many apologies to Elliotts your food was fantastic). I talked to Andy around 10AM and despite feeling like curling up and dying, made arrangements for him to come over and put the finishing touches on our sessions.
About an hour later, Andy came over and we got to work. It was nice to have some distraction from not feeling well, but I wasnt operating on all cylinders, if you know what I mean. I probably wasnt good company at all, but he and Kel worked hard to keep the mood light, enjoying tea (Andy unfortunately without his usual drop of milk) and choccy biscuits while I subsisted on diluted Pedialyte (yuk) and graham crackers. We did end up pulling it all together and were able to wrap things up before it got too late. Then it was off to bed for me in hopes of being able to make it through the next day without collapsing.
Tuesday was a bit of a whirlwind for me. The bug was still working its way out of my system, but I was able to stave it off for the whole day through a regimen of alternating the aforementioned Pedialyte-graham cracker combo and Pepto Bismol. I even managed to stand for most of the day which was a real breakthrough considering the previous days experience.
We touched on a few topics introduced in Andys book (which I had the great pleasure of tech editing) and introduced a lot of new material. From the feedback we received immediately following the workshop and over the next few days, it seems people really enjoyed it. Im glad; I know I had a blast giving it. Andy and I have even toyed with the idea of taking it on the road, so if youre interested in us presenting in your town, drop one of us a line.
By the end of the day, I was running on pure adrenaline and felt well enough to go out for the speakers dinner Dave, Derek, John and Maxine had put together. A few of us piled into the car and headed over to Chinatown for some drinks and an outrageous amount of food. I probably overdid it a bit, but I had a good time with everyone who camespecial thanks to Adobe for picking up the check 😉
WDN, Day 1
Wednesday started out a bit rough, so I missed Mollys opening keynote (which I heard was incredible). During the night Kel came down with the bug I had and, after tending to her and trying to get myself in order, I ended up making it over to the conference just as they were breaking for tea before the next session began. I made my way over to the Speakers Lounge and met up with Andy to put the finishing touches on our afternoon session. Pretty soon it was lunchtime and then off to present again.
Our session went really well too. Andy and I borrowed a bit of material from the workshop, but also introduced some new stuff we held back especially for this session. We saw a lot of people in the session who had come to the workshop too, so we were glad we had added the new material.
After our session, Andy, Geert, Craig and I helped Cindy and Pat dress the stage for Joes closing keynote. We had this idea of creating A fireside chat with Joe Clark and I think we pulled it off. In fact, the set design was so successful that it ended up being employed by several other sessions the next day.
The fireside chat went really well. Joe is just a fun guy to listen to, whether hes presenting or not. Joe talked at length about designing for accessibility, using the TTC as a case study. He showed how accessibility concerns should be pervasive throughout an organization, in every public touchpoint. He also called for the destruction of WCAG2, but thats another can of worms entirely.
Following the close of the conference day, I returned to check on Kelly and make up for the fact that I had left her in the flat all day, alone and sick. We decided to skip the speakers dinner Microsoft was throwing (which I heard was amazing), and call it an early night.
WDN, day 2
I woke feeling a bit better on Thursday and made it over to the conference in time to see Kelly Gotos opening keynote. I hadnt seen Kelly speak before, so it was great to get the opportunity to hear her talk about designing for lifestyle.
Next on my agenda was attending the session Craig Saila and Adrian Holovaty were doing on the newspaper industry. Coming from a journalism background, I was interested to hear their opinions of how newspapers are using (or not using) the web and how things are changing. It was a really good session and gives me hope that such an old industry is finally starting to understand this new medium.
After lunch up in the rotating restaurant on top of the hotel, it was back down to see Dave and Veerle talk about the design process for them. It was nice to get a little insight into how they each work, how they relate to clients, and the sort of things they look to for inspiration.
Finally, Jared Spool took the stage (after a brief lie-down) and closed the conference with an incredible talk on the importance of experience design. I was blown away by a lot of the material he presented, especially the fact that a nameless big box store had spent $100 million (yes, you read that right) on a redesign of their website and their revenue dropped by 20% when it launched. Thats a big fuck-up and it apparently took them something like 3 years to recover.
With Kel still a bit under the weather and me still pretty exhausted, we called it an early night and headed back to the flat to conserve our energy for the trek up to Whistler the next day.
Into the mountains
Still a bit drained from that nasty bug, Kel and I decided to ease into our day instead of getting up early to catch the 7AM bus up to Whistler. We picked up Craig at the hotel and took him out to breakfast (the least I could do for a good friend who spent his own money to come to my full-day workshop) before he had to catch his flight home and then began the long drive into the mountains.
The drive up to Whistler is gorgeous. I had to keep my eyes on the road most of the time, but what I saw was really breathtaking. We nearly ran out of gas on the way there (I was anticipating a few more gas stations along the way than there proved to be), but we made it up to Whistler in one piece and settled into a table at the Garibaldi Lift Company for the remainder of the day. The food was good and we had a lot of fun hanging out with Veerle (who discovered how much tea with honey can soothe a sore throat), Geert, Cindy, Maxine, Molly, Jeremy, Pat, Steph, and an assortment of other folks.
Veerle and Geert decided to join us for the ride back to Vancouver, which was awfully nice of them. I suppose I shouldnt be surprised though, they are two of the nicest people Ive met and make for great company. The journey home was a bit precarious. It was dark and snowing, the roads were slick, and, honestly, I was a little terrified. It was nice to have a conversation going in the car though as it helped settle my mind a bit as I navigated the zigs and zags of a mountain road under major construction (prep for the 2010 Winter Olympics).
We made it home safely and dropped Veerle and Geert back at the hotel before returning to our flat for a much-needed rest.
Home again, home again
We woke on Saturday feeling better and, after taking a few more hours to explore Vancouver, we set off back to America. Crossing the border in that direction was a little more involved, though still less so than I would have expected. In fact the customs agent was quite chipper, humorous, and talked like a Garden Stater on speed.
Back in Seattle, we settled into our hotel next to the airport and grabbed a bit to eat before crashing. The next morning we caught an uneventful flight (US Air this time) back to Connecticut. Being sick for most of the trip put somewhat of a damper on things, but I really had a great time at Web Directions North. It was an amazing conference. As I mentioned to several folks while we were there, I felt a bit like we were a big family putting on a show for people (my Partridge Family reference was lost on Veerle). It was all very professional, but also very comfortable. The organizers did an amazing job and I was thrilled to have been asked to be a part of it; I hope I have the opportunity to do so again.
Next stop: Austin
I have a bit of downtime here in CT before the annual migration to Austin for SXSW and then a trip into The City for AjaxWorld. Ive got a cold now (whats with me and all the illness lately?), but I think Im on the mend. I just want to say thanks to everyone who attended our sessions (or who couldnt attend, but was there in spirit) and thanks again to Dave, Derek, John and Maxine for putting on such a great show. I hope you make it an annual thing.
One more thing
At Web Directions North I unveilied a protoype of something Ive been working on intermittently for the last year and a half. It is a new technique for embedding presentational Flash into your pages using only CSS. It is going by the tentative name gFSS, standing for Gustafson Flash and Style Sheets (Molly said I should name it after myself Im still not sold on the idea) and it apparently thrilled a lot of people, including the folks from Adobe. Needless to say, I think the interest will definitely drive me to complete the project within the next few months and then I will release it to the world. Once thats done, I plan to work with Mark Wubben to set it up to support sIFR. I cant wait!