Kickass: a review of FOWA Dublin 2009


Last weekend I managed to get out to Ireland for FOWA Dublin but unfortunately have only now found the time to write something about it!

I’ve been to Dublin a couple of times before and enjoy it more and more with each visit. This year I’m focusing on getting to as many events as possible in the hope that some of the great stuff thats talked about might actually sink in at some point and make me a better designer.

When I first heard about FOWA Dublin it made me wonder which would be cheaper; a train ticket to London plus accommodation or a flight to Dublin with accommodation. Having Bournemouth airport just a stones through away helped and it turned out that Dublin was fractionally cheaper. So accompanied by m’colleague David Burton we headed off to Dublin. Along the way we picked up a few other Dorset residents so by the time we arrived at FOWA we were a happy band of six – me, Burton, Tom, Jake and Mr and Mrs StrawberrySoup Neil and Keith.

Obviously taking so long to write a report has its downfalls and one of those is someone invariably beats you to it. Dave Concannon has written a pretty concise review of FOWA Dublin over at his blog ‘Ape of Steel’. If you want a complete rundown of the event head over to Dave’s blog to find out more. However, more annoyingly I’m not even the first person to blog about it out of our merry travelling band of designers! Tom’s written a great post about the trip to Dublin as well so once you’ve finished reading this rambling mess of a post head over to Tommy-boy does FOWA Dublin 2009.

Seeing as both Concannon and Tom have already done such a good job I thought I’d just keep my feedback to the sessions that I personally got the most out of and just share with you the main points that stuck with me. This isn’t to say the other sessions weren’t as good just that I didn’t have the faintest idea what they were talking about. Something about frameworks, a girl called Ruby and scrobbles, not sure whatever it means but it sounds painful. Anyway, here’s the presentations that I got the most out of:

  • Ryan Carson (Carsonified) – “14 ways to better webapps – Lessons learned from the acquisition of”
  • Eoghan McCabe and Des Traynor – “Unconventional web applications”
  • David Heinemeier Hansson – “The Real World”

14 ways to better webapps (Ryan Carson)

Ryan Carson on stage at FOWA Dublin

Ryan Carson on stage at FOWA Dublin

First up was Mr Carson himself with an insiteful look into the in workings of webapp aquisition. Although this isn’t necessarily something I can see myself getting involved with anytime soon it was still beneficially to see some of the basic pitfalls layed out such an easily digestible way.

The style of presentation was straight forward and to the point and although not necessarily revolutionary or particularly inspiring every conference needs this kind of  step by step ‘guide to…’ to help ground things every know and again.

3 things I took away from Carson’s “14 ways to better webapps”:

  1. Signup. 37Signals Highrise saw a 200% increase in signup based on minor changes to a prominent call to action, namely changing the wording from “free signup” to “See plans and pricing”.
  2. A/B testing. More 37Signals love from Carson in the form of a link to this post –  ‘Writing Decisions: Headline tests on the Highrise signup page.’
  3. Be obsessive. Basically obsess over your analytics, always know the cost/revenue per head, and be sure to use your app every day, it’ll help you relate to your customers.

Unconventional web applications (Eoghan McCabe and Des Traynor)

In my opinion this was without doubt the best presentation at FOWA Dublin. Until now, I’m sorry to say, I haven’t been aware of, the company represented by Eoghan and Des, although I am aware of some of their work, namely Qwitter.

slide 20 of 194

slide 20 of 194

The guys presented on the subject of conventions “a set of expectations that rule the way we view the world around us” and specifically they’re use within web design. The presentation moved between analysing the benefits of using conventions through to knowing when to break them. They presented at a million miles an hour and although at first I was dubious having mentioned that they had 200 slides to work through they did it so slickly it didn’t seem to matter.

They did a great job of simplifying down the idea of conventions and reinforcing the notion that by using them we reduce the friction of the users experience and reduce the learning curve of a given system.

But they went on to suggest that sticking with conventions restrict innovation. Furthermore as a designer if you stick with doing what everyone else is doing its just plain lazy.

I could go on but I won’t. Sufficed to say it was a great presentation and I can’t wait to watch it again when the video gets released later this week. In the meantime if you’re interested in finding out more take a look at the slides.

3 things I stole from Contrast:

  1. Conventions are good. Reduce friction and reduce learning curve.
  2. Conventions are bad. Kill innovation and breed laziness.
  3. Stop the sell. Webapps don’t allow the user to ‘own the app’. Branding is forced on to you at every opportunity unlike Basecamp that stands as a shining example of how to do it properly.

The real world (David Heinemeier Hansson)

To be honest following the car crash that was the ‘120 seconds of madness’ where start-ups were invited to pitch their ideas to the firing squad, sorry I mean expert panel, I wasn’t sure I’d take much away from the headline set a feeling that was reinforced by D2Hs harsh loud delivery peppered with the odd F word for dramatic effect… oooh edgy.

Once I was able to find a way to fashion my own socks into industrial strength ear protectors I actually started to enjoy the presentation and between the naughty words I find alot of really interesting stuff.

  • The real World is pessimistic, it’ll always knock your ideas and tell you why it wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t work.
  • There’s no such thing as too simple. If someone says its too simple you can be sure it’ll work e.g. iphone, Basecamp.
  • Don’t plan – plans rarely ever work.
  • Have the strength to say NO. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to your customers/clients but listening to them doesn’t mean you always have to say YES.
  • Popularity won’t make or break an app. Everyone has to start somewhere, popularity is built slowly and you have to work hard to get it.
  • Don’t just build something and sell it. Stick around and invest in making it successful. Just because someone bought it doesn’t make it successful.

And finally an inciteful look into the inner workings of 37Signals in the form of a quote from the man himself, D2H:

“Create a product good enough that people want to take it away and pay for it. Take profit home and play with it.” Simple.

3 things that D2H said that made it passed my socks and pierced my eardrums:

  1. Simplicity. Making something ‘too simple’ doesnt make it a bad idea.
  2. Say no. Listen to your customers but don’t be afraid to say no.
  3. Invest. Don’t sell out straight-away, invest yourself in the product and make it successful.

6 thoughts on “Kickass: a review of FOWA Dublin 2009

  1. I’m really glad there are other people out those who’re recommending conforming and being conventional.’s an awesome company, so the message holds weight! When I was designing and building I fought for the site to basically conform in as many areas as possible, but the client wanted to have a super-original designed website; luckily I won and I see it as a success – if you look at the site everything is as you’d expect it to be – and the design isn’t compromised.

    What was this “120 seconds of madness”, was it a bit like the X-Factor for webapps?

    And going back to what David Hansson said about saying no to clients – Why is it always so hard to say no? I hate it when an argument starts to form with a client, they just don’t want to hear it!


    • Cheers Adam. It wasn’t so much about conforming as knowing when to break away from conventions. You need to watch the video as it’ll make alot more sense compared to my ramblings.

      The “120 seconds of madness” was rubbish! It was a cross between X-Factor and Dragons Den. Of 3 ‘entrepreneurs’ (man alive I hate that title more as each day passes) only 1 had a decent idea and was saved from the Welebraty mauling.

      If you’re intrested the best pitch was by Robin Blandford of Decisions for Heroes.


    • No problem Dave. Tip of the cap to you for getting your post up so quickly. I’d only just started to sober up from the after party when I saw yours appear!

      I totally agree with your comments on Blaine and Emma’s presentations. I didn’t have a clue what was going on and it was really difficult to focus on what it was they were actually talking about. Like you say Blaines obviously a good developer but I had a much better idea about what he wasn’t talking about than what he was talking about.


  2. No worries Des, it was an exceptional presentation. It’s funny that you sent the link today as we’re showing in a designers meeting this afternoon.


Comments are closed.