netmagInterview

Dan Donald and Jack Sheppard on Speak the Web

Dan Donald and Jack Sheppard tell us about two projects: Speak the Web and Break the Page. Speak the Web is a series of web talks taking place in the north of England that mimics the style of a band tour. Break the Page is a 'playground for ideas' relating to web design

.net: What is Speak the Web?
Dan: They're stripped-down gig-style conferences. So they're very casual, they take place in one evening and loosely follow the format of an opening act followed by a headliner.

.net: How did it get started?
Dan: Rich Clark and I did the first run of these in early 2010. At that time there were mainly two types of web event: big conferences and small meet-ups, so over a pint at Northern Digitals here in Manchester we found a way to do something very simple that might be fun. We knew very few people in the industry and had no idea what we were doing, but the four gigs we did over a fortnight in four different cities sold out and had a great response from the people that attended.

.net: What kind of speakers are you looking to attract?
Dan: A complete mix of web types. It's great to see some of the more established speakers in a different environment, perhaps trying out a new talk or a different subject, and it's good to encourage people that have never spoken in public to step up and give it a try.

Jack: The mix of established and new speakers is important for us. It gives newcomers the opportunity to weigh in on an industry they're passionate about alongside some well known faces, and for the attendees it provides an opportunity to to hear stories and ideas from the coal face of the web.

.net: What topics do you cover?
Dan: We think the balance wasn't too bad last time around so we're aiming to do something similar this time. This event isn't specific to designers or developers, it's for anyone who creates for the web. Last time we covered all sorts of things including design, mobile and SEO. Every gig had a mix. I think that helped to keep them from being too niche and also to expose attendees to stuff they might not normally hear about.

.net: Who should attend?
Jack: If you create for the web then Speak the Web is for you, whether you're a designer, developer, in SEO or any other role. It isn't just about the talks - it's as much about being there and meeting loads of new people from all parts of the industry.

.net: How would you describe the web scene in the north of England?
Dan: We don't get that many conferences, but we have had brilliant events like New Adventures, Industry and DIBI. There are loads of meet-ups that come and go; certainly in Manchester the BLAB talks are great for the design crowd. There are a lot of people making stuff happen, but maybe it's not as discoverable as it could be.

Jack: The web community up here is amazing, I don't think anyone can disagree with that. However, as Dan says, we don't get many conferences. Some of the web-meetups are great, but they tend to be for designers or developers but not both, so they don't provide an opportunity for mixing. So at Speak the Web we want to say "OK, if you do anything on the web, then come here".

In recent years the north has proven itself to be a viable hub for the design and development world and we'd really like to bolster that feeling. Maybe we can help show the rest of the country that it's not all that grim up north!

.net: Jack, how did you come to be involved in the project?
Jack: Dan and I were introduced after both being booked to speak at Future of Web Design in London. We had similar subjects for our talks so we sat down over a beer to make sure there wasn't too much crossover. In the end I think we ended up having pretty different views, but we did share the same kind of passion for what we do. So when Dan mentioned he wanted a bit of help with getting Speak the Web back on the road I jumped at the chance.

.net: Dan, you've recently launched Break the Page. Tell us what inspired you to create it.
Dan: I had a stack of ideas that didn't seem to have a place, and it didn't feel right just putting them out under my own name. I'm as interested in hearing what other people have to say on similar topics as I am in expressing my own ideas. There are loads of websites that deal fantastically with the practical aspects of what we do, and quite a few that go beyond that, but I felt there was a place for the 'other stuff'; some of the different ways of looking at what we do. Talking with Anthony Casey, I realised there might be other people that would think on a similar wavelength.

.net: You've described it as "a playground for ideas". What does that mean?
Dan: I used that in want of a better definition! I'm keen that Break the Page can be a place where we can explore what we think the web is, what it could be, the impact it's had...all that great stuff. I hope over time contributors will be able to express their views not just via written articles but also using audio, video or just imagery. It'll hopefully become a space where we can encourage 'threads' of thinking to mature over time with input from lots of people.

.net: All of your articles are available as audio - why did you decide to do that?
Dan: The basic site is really simple: it's entirely about the content. There's nothing wrong with having a purely text-based site, but from the beginning we wanted to explore what our content was and how people might digest it. The audio is an experiment with that idea. The site in its current form is very much about broadcasting, for the time being, so we wanted it to be available in ways that work for our audience. That's something we'll continue to play with as new content tells us what the site needs to be. Alongside a future batch of content we'll try an informal podcast to balance out the more formal nature of the rest of the site.

.net: Each post is presented on a 'cut-out-and-keep' paper design - what does this signify?
Dan: Anthony Casey came up with the scissors-style logo (from the 'B' and the 'P' in the name) and that kind of works thematically for our starting point, which is looking at the relationship and disconnect between digital 'pages' and those in the physical world.

Speak the Web will take place in Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leeds and Liverpool respectively, during July. Manchester is on the 10th of July. The other dates will be announced soon.

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