Interlink Conference: peer-to-peer web design event kicks off

Mark Busse – No Comments

The Interlink Conference started with designers dodging balls

The following article was published on on June 2, 2011:

Web design veteran Shawn Johnston was frustrated by a lack of local forums for progressive conversation and collaboration aimed at propelling the web from a new industry into a mature and self aware craft. His response to this angst was the Interlink Conference, which launched this week with a dodgeball game. That’s right, dozens of the best and brightest in the field of web design and development from around the world kicked off what Johnston calls “an adult conference for serious adults” by throwing rubber balls at each other’s heads.

Taking place June 2 through 4 at Capilano University  in North Vancouver, the Interlink Conference website promised “discussions to inspire the web we imagine”. But aren’t there already a bunch of conferences with a similar mandate?

“SXSW was a disaster for me,” said Steve Megitt, a web designer from Toronto. “To me most conferences like SXSW or HOW feel more like hero worship with designers on stage showing off portfolio work more than a real learning or dialogue and debate opportunity.” This sentiment was echoed by others at the conference who felt that many large conferences have evolved into big parties better suited to industry juniors than anything suitable for a seasoned professionals seeking new connections and paradigms.

“My body is sore all over from dodgeball last night,” said designer Dan Rubin who kicked off the workshops on a rainy Thursday morning with a presentation about hands-on prototyping and user testing. The primary takeaway of this case study-based presentation seemed to be a focus on designing for user goals before company goals as an approach. In another popular workshop, Washington DC-based designer Samantha Warren lead a group through her approach to working successfully (and efficiently) with web clients. “She presented really well and gave awesome advice & tools” said recent interactive design grad Stephan Rosger. One notable example of this was Warren’s “style tile” approach of rapidly creating multiple examples of colour options, patterns, button styles, navigation treatments, and typographic possibilities on a single browser page. Inspired by swatch boards commonly used by architectural and interior designers, these early conceptual style tiles allow a client to consider and approve early expressions of mood, tone and style for their website design before much time has been invested in a particular interface design, essentially eliminating the need for multiple design mockups.

In another classroom across the beautiful Capilano University campus among the trees, a packed room of eager webbys hung on every word from Brooklyn-based designer Meagan Fisher. Attendees to Fisher’s workshop were treated to a peek into a master’s CSS toolkit, showing the power and capabilities of CSS beyond common simple effects. Fisher, who famously argues that web designers should literally ditch Photoshop (gasp), demonstrated in real time how to design rapid prototypes directly inside a web browser, where changes can happen quickly and evolve to better suit user needs or project parameters as they come into focus. Her argument is that not only is it faster with some practice, but leaves your developer with a solid framework for production without needing to slice and dice pixels.

As the gloomy rain gave way to a beautiful Vancouver sunset, webfont expert Ethan Dunham  closed the day with a workshop called Web Font Revolution. Dunham, who is the man behind and, presented a three-hour crash course on the history of webfonts and demonstrated that web designers have essentially run out of excuses for bad type online, with nearly 100% support for webfonts and the technology to deliver and create them. Even so, he explained why it is continues to be a challenge to render fonts well in Windows, and encouraged attendees to join him in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and demanding greater simplification of the current fractured licensing landscape. Shocking to many in the audience was Dunham’s disdain for fonts-as-service providers such as and Typekit. “Users should be trusted and offered webfonts the way desktop fonts have always been sold” argues Dunham. Dunham concluded with a challenge to the audience to take the time to learn the art and rules of beautiful typesetting and apply them to the web better than has been the recent norm.

“My goal with Interlink was to connect peers to peers rather than teachers sharing their wisdom with a room full of students.” says Shawn Johnston, “No craft is ever mastered.
We are all students.” Perhaps this youthful perspective is what motivated Johnston to kick off the conference with a game of dodgeball. Will the main conference day of presentations truly break down this teacher/student paradigm? We’ll see in the coming days. But the theme seems to have been embodied in the first day of this new conference with ideas and techniques delivered like a dodgeball thump to the head. Only in this game, everyone goes home a winner.

For more on the Interlink Conference.