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the good life in a digital age

alternatives to conferences

I’m very pleased that London has just had a conference dedicated to user experience design. UX London is a great step forward but I didn’t actually go. I love the annual IA Summit but this year I didn’t go to that either.

I’m thinking about the autumn and winter conferences and if I don’t plan them into my diary now then I certainly won’t be able to fit them in. I’ve got time but having moved into the non-profit sector has rather changed my perspective on the big events. I’m wondering if they represent real value.

Looking backing on past conferences, I’m intrigued by what I brought back from them. I don’t keep paper or CDs so any handouts are long gone. I still have my beloved UX trading cards from IA summits and a surprising number of promotional rubber ducks have been passed on to my nephew.

I’m not convinced that building up your network is enough to justify steep ticket prices, flights and hotels. Surely we need the presentations to actually teach us something? Information architecture conferences have become less specialised, covering a broader range of web design and management topics. If you are a regular attendee then you’ll have seen the big name speakers run through their spiels before.

There’s usually some intriguing presentations from less familiar speakers but you don’t actually have to attend to find out what they have to say. The presentation slides and audio are increasingly available after the event and bloggers are likely to report or twitter the highlights. You can contact speakers direct if you see a presentation that looks particularly interesting. Most will be more than happy to talk to a fellow enthusiast. Remember if they’re not giving a big presentation then they probably aren’t being paid to speak anyway.

There are other ways of staying up to date and building your network. You can get involved in local groups and professional bodies. The time spent attending conferences could instead be dedicated to commenting on blogs, participating in mailing list discussions, and attending coffee mornings and cocktail hours. You might be surprised by the rewards.

There are cheaper events out there too. Conferences like d.Construct and FOWD, academic led events like ISKO, FIND, Create and Visual Methods, and ‘unconferences’ like Bookcamp. In London we have the extremely popular London IA mini conferences. And the big conferences and trade shows often have free seminars that are sometimes as good as the main paid-for programme. I never pay to attend Online Info anymore (very disappointed last time I attended the main event) but I always pop along to the exhibition seminars if I’m free.

So don’t feel you have to pay. You might have to put a bit of leg work in but you might actually be more satisfied with the result.

Written by Karen

July 16th, 2009 at 6:17 am

Posted in events