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15 Conferences to Attend in 2015

Every January, as we look ahead to our professional growth over the coming year, we remind our staff of one of our favorite perks: fully-funded conference attendance. Viget proudly covers the cost for all our staff to attend at least one major conference every year, and we also proactively encourage our staff to speak at events. These are ways for us to learn new skills, connect with colleagues across our industry, give back to our professional communities, and return to our daily rhythms with new ideas and fresh perspectives.

And, inevitably, we note: so many conferences, so little time! So here’s our handy list of 15 for 2015, in roughly chronological order (though some dates are still TBD). Our list is by no means exhaustive, and you’ll see that we carried over some favorites from last year’s list. We hope to inspire you to register for one of the great events below or to seek out others. Have we missed any? Let us know in the comments below. And make it a great year!

Viget Senior Front-End Developer, Dan Tello, speaking at GiantConf in 2014.

2015 Conferences

(1) Ruby On Ales—March 5-6 in Bend, Oregon. Great talks, great people, craft beers—this is a two-day, single track conference that feels “a lot like a reunion of friends and colleagues.” A nice change of pace and vibe compared to the larger events for programmers.

(2) MountainWest Javascript and (3) MountainWest RubyConf -- March 3-4/March 9-10 in Salt Lake City, UT. Note that these two sister conferences bookend Ruby On Ales (above) so, if you’re a Rubyist with JS inclinations, and you’re in the vicinity, you might consider some combo of thereof.

(4) SXSW—March 13-17 in Austin, TX. Don’t let the price, or the hype, stop you on this one. If you haven’t been yet, then go. And if you’ve already been, then go again. If you need more convincing, you can read our recap series here.

(5) RailsConf 2015—April 21-23 in Atlanta, GA.  We noted last year that this is the largest Ruby on Rails event in the world. It is still the largest Ruby on Rails event in the world.

(6) IA Summit—April 22-26 in Minneapolis, MN. Celebrating its sixteenth year, this is a leading conference for anyone who designs and structures information on the web. In past years, our UXers have returned with valuable takeaways, and we plan to be back in 2015.

(7) JSConf 2015—May 27-29 in Amelia Island, FL. Last year’s JSConf hit all the right notes with our FED crew, and they plan to go back this year. In its seventh year, it’s still all about the JavaScript language and the community, with tons of hands-on learning, a super-positive atmosphere—and, judging by last year, some of the best swag around.

(8) GiantConf—June 14-17 in Charleston, SC. An all-around great conference for anyone in our industry, and especially designers and UXers. Our own Dan Tello (pictured above) was among last year’s top-notch speaker lineup and he/we will be back.

(9) Open Source Convention—July 20-24 in Portland. Our teams are interested in all things open source—from new projects/products/languages to best practices to reconnecting with the wider open source community—so, naturally, OSCON has made our list.

(10) Circles—September 10-11 in Grapevine, TX. Our team has attended for the past two years and we’re big fans. Despite the deliberately aspirational vibe, there’s definitely some pragmatism too, and we’re planning to return yet again for both.

(11) eMetrics Summit—September 27 - October 1 in Boston (although there are multiple dates/locations). We’ve had this event on our radar for a while because it’s a leading conference dedicated to digital analytics and marketing optimization. It’s comprehensive, focusing on both strategy and practice.

(12) Google Analytics Summit—dates/location are TBD (most likely late spring/early summer in Mountain View, CA.) As a GA Partner, we attend every year in order to learn the latest on new GA features/tools directly from their creators.

(13) BlendConf—2015 dates/location TBD, but it’s usually in September. Viget’s own Mindy Wagner and Jason Toth were among the 60+ speakers in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This is a great generalist conference known for its wide offerings, including hands-on workshops, and its focused, supportive environment (including a “no gadgets rule”).

(14) Digital PM Summit—dates/location TBD. Since launching this event in 2013, our friends at Happy Cog/Bureau of Digital Affairs have built it into the leading conference for project managers. Our team had tons of fun attending last fall, and we were proud to see our own Josh Korr  and Becky Tornes among its speakers. Eager to see what’s in store for PMs in 2015!

(15) Story—dates/location TBD. Providing an inspiring environment for creative practitioners, Story attracts designers, writers, and other creatives nationwide. Our Copywriter, Ally Fouts, returned from last year’s event with new insights into story-telling, experimentation, the value of failure, and some pretty rad scribbles (pictured below). We expect to be back.

 Viget Copywriter Ally Fouts' scribbles, scribbled at and inspired by StoryConf 2014.


Wildlife Alert: An App to Combat Wildlife Trafficking

In its effort to save wildlife and wild places, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has programs targeted at the growing crisis of wildlife trafficking -- the illegal trade of protected wildlife parts and products. Part of this international problem is due simply to a lack of awareness and education, which affects, among others, some military personnel serving in countries such as Afghanistan. Souvenirs brought back to the U.S. may violate (or contain parts that violate) international restrictions. Wildlife Alert is a mobile app that helps address this issue by providing easy diagnostic features to evaluate whether or not a product comes from a protected species.


4 Takeaways From Conferences in 2014

Last January, we shared a list of 2014 conferences that our Viget staff planned to attend. 

Throughout the past twelve months, we’ve made our respective pilgrimages to conference centers across the country, donned our attendee or speaker badges, posted choice moments on social, posed for professional headshots, and returned home with new skills and insights. In all, thirty-five staff members attended a total of twenty-three conference events. We also sent speakers to five large conferences, and we look forward to continuing that trend in 2015.

One way our staff share knowledge acquired at conferences is by writing brief, internally-posted recaps of each conference they attend. Recaps vary in content, but they tend to include notes on favorite sessions, main takeaways, and memorable quotes. As we’ve written and read these recaps over the past year, we’ve observed a few themes emerging. Here are just a few of the ideas we’ve seen dominate the conference circuit in 2014.

1. Change and adapt.

At Forge Conference, Project Manager Amanda Ruehlen heard this Darwin quotation cited more than once: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” The ways in which agencies anticipate evolving are countless. At Story, attended by Copywriter Ally Fouts, Melissa Weigel of Moment Factory cited Moment’s mantra of “the screen doesn’t matter” and described operating from the principle that public space is no longer physical. Designers attending The Illustration Conference, including Viget Designer Minh Tran, reflected on the powerful role that illustration and animation may have on future interactive work. During his annual participation in Owner Camp, CEO Brian Williams shared Viget’s long-held priority of pushing for clients and projects that allow our teams to experiment with emerging technologies. By the same token, Senior Front-End Developer Dan Tello made a case for a “desktop last” approach to design and development as a speaker at GiantConf. Senior Front-End Developer Trevor Davis, an early advocate for Craft CMS, spoke at the Craft Summit this year. And Developers Zachary Porter and Eli Fatsi, who had already begun learning Elixir, a newly-developed functional programming language, attended ElixirConfthe first conference devoted to Elixir; Eli subsequently used Elixir to build JamBells, one of our latest Pointless Corp creations.

2. Follow your dreams. Or something like that.

Variations include: “do what you love” or “love what you do” or “find your calling.” This theme emerged from conferences with an aspirational bent, like Circles, as well as from relatively pragmatic conferences, like Digital PM Summit. Industry-wide, there seems to be a preoccupation or even obsession with reconciling the pressures and responsibilities of daily work with one’s deeper sense of meaning or vocation. While at Hopscotch Design Fest, I witnessed Elle Luna articulate the choice as one between “must” (what you really want to do with your life) and “should” (what everyone else makes you feel obligated to do with your life). (You can read more here.) One takeaway common to multiple talks: quit your job. We’re pleased to report that none of our staff followed up on this action item upon return to the office.

3. Strong communication is key.

In an industry built on relationships between agencies and clients, it’s no surprise that this perennial theme held strong in 2014. At Forge, Tami Evnin of Nasdaq emphasized the value of in-person communication, and described flying her team across the country for team sketching sessions. Also at Forge, Debra Gelman of EPAM Empathy Lab recommended clarifying definitions with clients up front in order to make feedback more valuable. At Digital PM Summit, Viget Senior Project Manager Josh Korr stressed the importance of defining a taxonomy to improve communication during the QA process. And multiple speakers urged PM’s (and all of us) to move away from the intuitive sense that our own way of communicating is the right or “normal” way to communicate. Instead, they stressed practicing empathy in all our interactions.

4. Know your history.

This theme, on the other hand, does come as something of a surprise. In an industry as future-oriented as ours (see item 1 above, “Change and adapt.”), looking back often seems to hinder progress. And yet, history seems to be attracting new attention as a source of lessons and inspiration. At Circles, Jason Kernevich and Dustin Summers of The Heads of State talked about the importance of understanding a client’s history and traditions, as well as the importance for designers of developing an understanding of their own personal history. And, at Forge, Josh Payton of Huge stressed the importance of understanding the history of your field, as well as of work in general, citing the development of generalists through the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution from the highly specialized guild system of the Middle Ages.

Our list is by no means exhaustive, though we hope it's thought-provoking. Have you noticed any other major themes emerge at conferences in 2014? If so, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


Life at Viget: Then & Now!

As we wrap up another year at Viget, I’m growing nostalgic and trying to remember all the things (large and small) that distinguish what Viget was like circa 2000 versus what Viget is like today. Although many of our employees have been here for a number of years, I’ve found that people are curious about “the old days” -- in addition to miscellaneous Viget trivia.

Then Now
Free Lunch Fridays happened around a single table. I was the only woman. A classic lunch debate was: Which would you rather fight -- a bear in the woods or a shark in the water? Free Lunch Fridays these days are a production challenge:  3 offices & 3 remote people all connected virtually via GoToMeeting. 24 lunch tables; 21 women. Lunch debates about accessibility, active listening, caffeine, and much more.
Our technology set-ups were all Dell desktops and POTS phone lines. We’ve been an all-Apple shop for awhile now. We all have laptops and 27” Cinema Displays. And, we converted to VoIP about 8 years ago. Depending on the day, we love it or hate it.
Stocking the fridge and pantry amounted to loading up on beef jerky, Mountain Dew, Barq’s, and Folger’s coffee. We are much more focused on healthy snacking these days. We stock fresh fruit each week, as well as healthy cereals and milk. Snacks include almonds, granola bars, and pretzels. (Having an Office Manager who is a bona fide nutritionist is a plus.) Flavored seltzer water -- and plain water -- are the predominant beverages, augmented by a fancy coffee pod system.
Supplies were acquired via treks to Giant, Staples, and Costco. Most supplies for all 3 offices are purchased by our office manager in Virginia and revolve heavily on scheduled bulk shipments via Amazon.
We built most of our custom software solutions on the LAMP technology stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). Today, most of our custom software work is in Ruby on Rails.
We outfitted our offices for the first several years primarily with folding tables. We upgraded to IKEA furniture and, as our work preferences changed, have modified our IKEA desks via circular saws and other means to cut off extensions and convert some to standing desks.
Regularly, we had 3-4 large dogs in the office every day. I remember the smell all too well. With nicer office space came “no pet” clauses in leases. Occasionally, David’s pet parrot, Tad, makes an appearance in Durham, however. And, Eli’s small lapdog, Bodhi, appears in the Boulder office on occasion.
Our Third Thursday team activities occurred every month, but were more low-key events such as volleyball, putt-putt golf, or a field day we christened “Vigolympics.” We moved our team events to a quarterly cycle (re-naming them Third Third Thursdays) and raised the bar a bit. Our events these days include paddleboarding, snow tubing, and trampolining.
Our after-hours gatherings often involved our pub darts league and beer pong. These days, we’re a bit classier:  wine & cheese gatherings and visits to craft breweries.
In the beginning, we all did what we could and wore multiple hats. For example, Brian was our visual designer, as well as Cold Fusion developer (in addition to CEO and sales guy). Andy was a PHP developer and IT guy (in addition to President and money man). While Brian and Andy are still involved, even at the project level on some accounts, neither one codes nor designs web sites for Viget these days. Andy is still our IT guy, though!

Craig Hospital Wins Gold Medals at Web Health Awards

We are pleased to announce that Craig Hospital took home a gold award for Responsive Website Design and a gold award Mobile Website: Responsive Design as part of the 2014 Spring/Fall Web Health Awards. The Web Health Awards are organized by the Health Information Resource Center with the goal of recognizing high-quality digital health resources for consumers and health professionals.

We worked with Craig Hospital earlier this year to redesign their website. Craig Hospital is a world-renowned rehabilitation center located in Denver, CO that focuses exclusively on treating spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. 

Making the site work well across devices was a critical goal of this redesign. Due to the nature of the individuals who come to Craig Hospital for rehabilitation, many first-time visitors to the site are the loved ones of potential patients who are typically looking at the site on a mobile device while stuck in the ICU. They are dealing with the reality of an incredibly traumatic incident and trying to make difficult decisions about care and treatment. We wanted to ensure that they could easily find the information they needed and hopefully even provide them with a glimmer of hope as they learned more about Craig Hospital. We approached the site design with a strong focus on responsive and are thrilled that Craig Hospital has been recognized with these awards highlighting that aspect of the site. 

You can learn more about our work with Craig Hospital in the case story