Year round learning for product, design and engineering professionals

How and why we rebooted Web Directions Summit

Before we start, this post was prompted by the design reboot we’ve just done of the site for our upcoming Web Directions Summit–and the launch of the full, and frankly amazing, 7 track conference program, with brand new track covering product and growth marketing and design systems, alongside product design, front end engineering (two tracks there!), product management , and content strategy. In short it’s a unique event for the whole modern product team.

Oh, and do check out the new site design–it’s really nice!

Super early bird pricing ends Sept 1st (two weeks today)–so get the best possible price when you register by then.

Header section of the redesigned page for Web Directions Summit. Showed abstract Bauhaus inspired pattern of curved lines and circles in muted color tones, and the text "WEB

for the whole digital team–product, design, developers, content: everyone!"

Not just skin deep

With our return to in person events in 2022 (seems so long ago, but less than a year) we felt we needed to do things differently from the previous nearly 20 years.

A key lesson we learned when we moved our conferences online in 2020, and over the next couple of years is that the content needed to be focussed and deep. It was the content that drove the event (social and networking aspects, while supported online just were not like being in the room). We needed to give people a very good reason to spend yet another few hours on screen when their lives were now almost entirely onscreen.

To this end we started a number of very specialised conferences online–going more deeply into topics from CSS to front end performance than few if any events had done before.

With online events, the world is your audience (within reason, there’s still time zones, but we addressed that challenge with the format and approach we took). And so you can seek out an audience for very specific content from around the world.

And since online events have relatively high fixed costs, but essentially zero marginal costs, we could price in such a way as to be as equitable and inclusive as possible–adapting the price based on average developer salaries where the attendee lived (and scholarships for students and others aren’t an issue, since the cost of one more attendee is essentially zero).

In-person conferences are very different–they draw from a relatively limited geographic area (a particular challenge in Australia). It involves not just a relatively high ticket cost, but for attendees to be out of the ‘office’ (not an issue with online conferences) for a couple of days, and for around half the attendees to invest time and money in travelling as well. In-person conferences have both high fixed costs and high marginal costs (everyone who attends is catered for). In essence they have terrible business economics.

So the content you’ll see at most conferences tends to be ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’–the economics make it very difficult to go deeply into specific topic areas, because you need a breadth of interest to get enough people from that limited geographic market to make the investment of time, money and effort to make it a viable proposition.

We felt strongly when returning to in person that we needed to bring that depth of content to our in-person events as well.

Back in the day, conferences like ours were typically single track. Which reflected the way in which people in our industry worked back then. Folks who worked on the web typically did a bit of everything–they often wrote the code and the copy and did the design and even what we call operations now too. Of course these were simpler times. And so events for this audience tended to reflect this breadth of roles by having a breadth of content, but with limited scope to dive very deeply into any one area

To this day you hear (usually folks who were around back then) lament the loss of such single track conferences, where everyone is in every session. But it simply doesn’t reflect the way most of the industry works now (unless, like we did with our online conferences, you focus specifically on a relatively narrow area of practice–see above about the business economics of that).

Now, we’d long had multiple track conferences. Sometimes 2 (development and design) sometimes 3 (we added a specific product management track to Summit a few years back), but even within these areas of practice, we’ve seen ever increasing specialisation.

So for 2022 we decided to add more tracks, focussed on more areas of practice, which particularly in Australia, are underserved. So we added a React Ecosystem track, to reflect the reality that this is the space that a significant proportion of developers live in, in addition to our more traditional front end developer focussed track (CSS, browser APIs, JavaScript, performance, accessibility…) and a content design and strategy track, for an important but very often under-appreciated area of practice–afterall the interface of the web and apps is overwhelmingly text!

Both these tracks were really well attended, while our traditional tracks continued to be as well.

So for 2023 we’ve really gone all in on this approach.

We’ve added two additional tracks–a design systems track, for those who work in design systems and designops. And a product and growth marketing track. These are critical aspects of many, indeed most digital products, and we felt that was an area that was really underserved in Australia (and to be honest beyond).

But “John”, I hear you say, “you can’t be an expert in all these areas”.

And indeed you are correct. I know enough to be useful in many areas, and to be dangerous in a few, but we know great people, real experts in these areas, mostly past speakers, and others we have connected with over the years who we’ve called upon to help shape these program–and what amazing programs they are!

So take a look at what they have helped us line up! And we’d love to see you there–I’ll write more about why I think this is the most important year in technology, and will impact your role as a developer, designer, content professional, product person like nothing since the foundation of the web. Not the iPhone, not Cloud–nothing.

At Summit this year we really want to help you recognise and explore the professional opportunities this represents–across each single track, whatever you role.

Oh, and Super early bird closes September 15th. We’d love to see you there.

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[Web Directions] is a delicious mix of things educational, social and mind-blowing. It’s time out from the hurly-burly to step back, get some perspective, and develop new ways forward, fortified with a whole lot of new stuff in your head.

Chris Stephens Technology Director, Mozo