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Webstock 2014: Rattling the cage

Posted 8 years ago in Xero news by
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Webstock presentationIt’s hard to believe, but this year’s Webstock was the best ever. And I’ve been to them all.

As always, there was a phenomenal mix of speakers: designers, technologists, entrepreneurs, thinkers, musicians and artists. Some are industry heavy weights, but many of the best are the most obscure. All of them rattled my brain, in both good and frightening ways.

The Xero team had the privilege of spending time with Aarron Walter (director of user experience at Mailchimp) and Jonathan Snook (product manager at Shopify) last week as part of Webstock, which I’ll also summarise in a separate post.


As always, a few themes emerged from the conference. This year it seemed to be…

  • Think about the bigger picture, not just your app. The reality is we don’t build web sites or apps, we build the future of human society. That’s not being grandiose, it’s the natural effect of systems that are used by millions and billions of people, every day. The platforms and companies we build need to be designed with that in mind. Gov.UK isn’t about building better goverment websites, it’s about building a better government.
  • The internet is being used against us: what are we doing about that? The once decentralized, open platform we call the internet has been hijacked and hacked by spies. It’s time to design a better internet. Strangely, Bitcoin wasn’t mentioned once, but I believe it holds the key to making this happen – money is power, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Bitcoin takes the decentralisation of the the internet a step further to ensure no single entity has absolute power.
  • Cut out the middle-man. You don’t need approval or support from the old power brokers to make things happen. All the centralised power brokers of the industrial age are worse than useless in the digital age: record labels, movie studios, banks, governments. Crowd funding, home production, social marketing and digital distribution are fundamentally changing our economy and our society.
  • Traditional metrics of success don’t tell the whole story. Data isn’t the only data-point. Growth can be bad for business, not to mention individuals and society. It’s dangerous to measure ourselves by other people’s rulers. Living by and for numbers is the path to corruption and ruin – make time for family, friends, hobbies, distractions, love and poetry.

A few more gems I picked up from the speakers…

  • Aarron Walter: Showed how important and easy it is to do guerrilla user research & build a culture of inquiry and shared learning
  • Dan Saffer: design signature moments
  • Sha Hwang: Swap the word ‘growth’ for the word ‘greed’ in the famous Wall St quote  and that’s our current startup culture
  • Paula Scher: All design, even seemingly peripheral and insignificant design work, can have a major social impact. Plus this “beige is the color of indecision”.
  • Josh Clark: we have the technology, we just need to use our imaginations more

I’m extraordinarily proud that Xero is a major sponsor of Webstock, helping to bring together such an inspiring and smart gathering of creative people. The themes of the conference are a testament and a reflection of the people who make Webstock – they dreamed of a better world where we can spend time with amazingly talented, inspiring and nice people. And they make that dream come true, year after year.

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