Last week saw Nottingham experience an influx of designers and geeks for the eagerly awaited New Adventures in web design conference, the brainchild of Simon Collison, a day of ideas, thoughts and for me, a touch of RSI in my right hand...

A week before the conference I was contacted by ubelly.com, one of the sponsors of the conference, with a simple brief: Take notes with some illustrations. My fear of being unable to deliver almost saw me turning it down but I took a chance and agreed.

Before I start, I just want to say there are many others who've done a fantastic job summing up the presentations, which you'll find links to at the end of this article, so this is really an overview of my experience of the conference rather than the conference itself.

The day before the conference, I picked up some new pens and a new sketchbook and started to get in the swing of things by doodling a few key memories from my journey to Nottingham. Seemed pretty simple so I began to relax and prepare for the day with a few beers and some bowling.

Conference day arrived and I was felt positive, ready to face the day ahead. I hasten to add, this was while I was eating breakfast. Once I was sat in the conference hall, I started to get a bit nervous, but as Dan Rubin took to the stage and powered on into his presentation, I felt I had better do the same so on I went, taking notes in pencil, sketching ideas and trying to figure out when I was going to ink it up!

After a short break, just enough time for me to get some inking done on Dan's presentation, Mark Boulton took to the stage and the process repeated itself. Same goes for Sarah Parmenter's presentation too. I looked forward to the morning break until I saw just how much I had to ink up. At this point it's worth noting, ubelly wanted to update the site throughout the day with sketches as close to real-time as possible so inking up after the conference wasn't an option. I powered through the morning break and moved onto the mid-morning sessions.

By lunchtime, I had the first three presentations inked and the mid-morning sessions left to do. I took a short break to talk to Luisa and scoff a sandwich and try to get a bit of a rest. Working incessantly throughout the morning tired me out more than I was expecting. I shook off the tiring feeling and went to the hall to finish inking the remaining pages which I managed just in the nick of time ready for the afternoon.

Without going through every single presentation, I'll just say it was very similar to the morning. Frantic doodling breaking only to listen to what was being said by the speaker except I did manage to take the afternoon break which was welcomed by my right hand.

By the time the afternoon Q&A session came around, I was spent. My head felt fuzzy and I had an aching feeling all the way down my right arm but the feeling of relief having completed the sketches was almost as good as the beer and curry that followed.

Looking back I'm so glad I did it. One of my goals this year was to start doing more illustration work in my spare time so this was a perfect chance to kick it off and the feedback I've seen so far has been great making it worthwhile. As this was my first time doing sketchnotes, it's been a learning experience and there are a few things I'd do differently if I was asked again:

  • Review the timings of talks to try ensure regular breaks
  • If the schedule is tightly packed, insist on an extra pair of hands to cover alternate presentations
  • Use Sharpies and go straight to ink - pencilling then inking essentially means doing twice the amount of work in the same time

As I said, this wasn't going to be a detailed account of the presentations. Working pretty much solidly in a sketchbook across a 9 hour stretch has left my memory of specifics rather fuzzy so I will be revisiting the talks if/when recordings are released. I remember enough to get ideas flowing in my head, just not enough to articulate into an article that would be of any use to anyone.

Here are some great write-ups I've encountered on Twitter over the last few days including the ubelly post featuring my sketchnotes (and my Flickr set for good measure):

These are just a few of the great links cropping up on the interwebs. Go check out the @naconf twitter stream for more related links.

There's nothing left to say at this point except congratulations to Colly and the rest of the conference team. It was nothing short of fucking epic in my humble opinion.