Last week, a small crew of 37signals folk headed to Portland for the XOXO festival. It was a high-speed joyride of creative spirit, and it might have permanently changed my outlook on making stuff. Here are a few of the morsels that will stick with me for a while.
Ignore cynicism. Do what you want, and love doing it.
The Internet appears to run on cynicism. Twitter is a complaint delivery protocol, and comment threads are polluted with meaningless grammar fights and nitpicky personal attacks. It’s hard not to be distracted and consumed by the blustering.
But somehow, at XOXO, everyone was cheerful. They showed beautiful things. They had fun. They were friendly. No judgement. It was a breath of fresh, caffeinated air.
The talks blurred into a DIY instruction manual for following your bliss. Every speaker shared the same recurring tale of overcoming self-doubt, failure, financial obstacles, and technical challenges to do something they could believe in (and you can do it, too!)
It was a much-needed reminder that the lifeblood of the Internet is still made up of respectful people who are wide-eyed and fiercely passionate about their work.
Work with people you admire, and spend some real, quality time with them.
I’m so fortunate to work with great people. But we’re busy, we don’t all live close to each other, and we don’t have a lot of time to hang out.
XOXO had so much fringe social time that even a bunch of introverts like us couldn’t avoid talking to each other. The social events were invaluable — I kept wishing more of our company was there too. It was team-building, fun-style. When your job is to make things together, your work will be better when you have fun together. Make time for it.
Conference events shouldn’t be be short and formal.
Andy Baio and Andy McMillan could teach a course in throwing a good event. In short: allow your attendees plenty of room to breathe. Don’t pack in tons of simultaneous sessions in a generic hotel. Give people an experience. Give them free time. Give them good food and loads of coffee in a weird place.
Look at other types of art, as much as possible.
Web design has a bad reputation for being stylistically trendy and same-looking. Some guy does a parallax scrolling site, and now your boss wants you to add that to your corporate PR website for some reason. Glossy buttons, Gaussian Noise, linen texture, new things that look fake-old, then back to minimalism and flat colors as a reaction to the glossy noisy textured fake-old stuff.
Turns out, there is a ton of inspiring work being done…in every other genre that isn’t web design! XOXO highlighted so much good work, and almost none of it was on the web. Movies, games, illustration, industrial design, comics, it was all diverse and interesting. Time and again, the web was just a way to deliver or sell it — the means, not the end.
So, get out of your chair and look at the world for a while. Then go make something new.