Geeks in the garden of Eden: a review of Bamboo Juice

Bamboo Juice
I’ve just returned from the Bamboo Juice web conference which was held on Friday at the Eden Project in Cornwall. If you’re not familiar with Bamboo Juice here’s a brief explanation in the organisers own words:

Bamboo Juice is  a one-track, one-day web conference, held at the Eden Project, in Cornwall.

We’re aiming it at ordinary web designers and developers, doing websites for clients… not the lucky few who work at Facebook or Yahoo! As such it’ll be: affordable, relevant, balanced, easy to get to by public transport, green and will include free entry to the Eden Project.

I thought I’d put together a brief review of the conference in a similar vein to my FOWA Dublin post from earlier in the year.


Prior to the event the line-up looked strong and I was looking forward to the varied mix of presentations. However, for this review I thought I’d limit it to the talks that I personally got the most out of.  These were:

  • Jeremy Keith (ClearLeft) – All our yesterdays
  • Relly Annett-Baker (Poppy Copy) – Copywriting for the reluctant
  • Paul Boag (Headscape) – Winning business in tough times

All our yesterdays (Jeremy Keith)

Jeremy Keith (@adactio)

Jeremy Keith (@adactio)

I was really looking forward to hearing Jeremy Keith’s talk. I haven’t seen him present before but had heard good things.  The format he chose was really engaging and covered the concept of standards, past, present and future. It was interesting to hear about his take on the evolution of communication methods through time from basic language, to the first printing press and beyond.

Towards the end he focused more on the concept of copy-writing and his personal take on ‘intellectual property’. It’s pretty hard to explain everything that he covered sufficed to say you probably had to be there!

As much as I enjoyed Jeremy’s talk I felt it may have been pitched a little high for the audience and didn’t seem to fit well with the conference as a whole, this is not to say that it was a bad presentation however, far from it.

As with my review of Carsonified’s FOWA Dublin conference I thought I’d highlight the key points I took from each presentation.

3 things I took away from Keith’s talk  ‘All our yesterdays’:

  1. The history of standards – it’s too much to cover here but all the information on the history of standards from the forming of language as a way of communicating to the Gutenburg press through to  Joseph Whitworth and on to the birth of the Internet and Tim Burners-Lee was fascinating
  2. Mickey Mouse destroyed our freedom – Something to do with copyright law… but again very informative!
  3. The biggest threat to the web is not technical its legal – Keith made some really valid points about how much we entrust our data to third parties online and how grey the lines of ownership become, especially the misnomer of ‘intellectual property’.

Copywriting for the reluctant (Relly Annett-Baker)

Relly (@rellyab)

Relly (@rellyab)

I knew very little about Relly AB before heading to Bamboo Juice but was hoping for a strong presentation on copywriting. As you’ve probably guessed from this blog I’m not a particularly good writer myself but this is something I’m trying to improve. Obviously when it comes to the topic of User Experience good copy plays a major part. With this in mind I wanted to be able to take a lot away with me from Relly’s talk.

Unfortunately I don’t feel this was the case. Although she was a very engaging speaker and was obviously very knowledgable I didn’t think the presentation acheived what in my opinion it set out to do;  convince people to put more emphasis on writing good copy.

Being a User Experience designer I know only too well how much I need to focus on the benefits to sell usability to clients and to a certain extent colleagues and although RellyAB did a good job of providing a basic introduction to the subject I didn’t feel it presented a strong enough arguement.

Having said that I was still able to take a lot from it.

3 things I took from RellyAB’s talk ‘Copywriting for the reluctant’:

  1. Be authentic – Believe in what you’re selling, provide tangable guarantees as to what it will do for the user
  2. Copywriting is a part of the Information Architecture – Copywriting should be considered as early as possible and ideally form part of initial user research so that common language can be understood before the IA is defined
  3. KFCK=Know what the REAL benefits are communicate them. F=Feel – empethise with the end user. C=Call to action – make sure there is one, make sure the copy is engaging enough that the user ‘makes like a toddler’ – “I want it now! now! NOW!”

Winning business in tough times (Paul Boag)

Paul Boag

Paul Boag (@boagworld)

Having seen Paul present before and also had the pleasure of meeting him I knew his talk would be a good one. He had the last slot of a very long day but took no prisoners and instantly woke every up! Being the geek that I am I actually listened to the latest episode of Boagworld on the drive down to Cornwall which was a bit of a shame as many of the pionts he made were covered in the lastest Podcast. However, he expanded on many of his points and definitely gave some food for thought. You can see his presentation ‘Winning business in touch times’ on Boagworld now so I won’t go on about it too much.

Paul’s presentation was in my opinion the best of the day, it balanced the need to inform and educate nicely with the need to inspire. Although most of what Paul covered illustrated how similar Headscape is to Redweb (something we discovered when he came in to speak to our designers late last year) it was still nice to have things confirmed and to know that you’re on the right lines.

3 things I took from Paul Boag’s talk ‘Winning business in touch times’:

  1. The audience – Although not directly linked to the presentation Boag was the only presenter to interact with the delegates and actually define who the audience was
  2. Marketing shouldn’t be a dirty word – People buy from people, not from brands
  3. Why spec work is evil – Spec work is evil, period. However I really liked the way Paul explained how he communicates this to clients. Basically, if you do spec work for 3 clients (A, B and C) during the pitch process and you only win 1 of the contracts (A) as a business you have to pass on the costs of the other pieces of spec work (B and C) to that client (A). Therefore by asking for spec work the client is effectively increasing their own bill. Paul probably explained this better but hopefully you get the general gist.

Was it worth it?

With any conference you always have to consider whether it was worth attending and by this I don’t just mean was it a good experience but was it financially worth it? In the current econimic climate (yawn) was it worth not only the conference fee but the expense of travelling to it and more to the point the time away from the studio to attend it in the first place.

The venue was fantastic and for a first conference I thought Rich Quick and his team at Rich Quick Design did a great job. The quality of the speakers was high and for £99 a ticket it definitely represented value for money.

That said I think there is definitely room for improvement if it is to run again next year, which I hope it does.

Knowing your audience

As mentioned above Boag was the only person to actually question who the audience was and the response he received was a real surprise. When it transpired that only a very small percentage of the attendees were freelancers Paul mentioned that this was not what he’d be told which leads me to believe that the organisers had miss-read their audience quite substantially.

This helped explain a lot as all the presentations seemed to pitch at different levels and to different interests. In my opinion if Bamboo Juice is to succeed long term it needs to learn from conferences such as Dconstruct and pick a theme so that the presenters can tailor their talks to suit the audience. As well as supporting the presenters is this way it was be useful to research into who the conferences audience actually is. Hopefully the organisers will now strike up a dialogue with the attendees to help shape the next Bamboo Juice.

Better picnics

A nice addition to the event was the concept of picnics – time dedicated to break out sessions were attendees could host discussions or mini-presentations. However, the general concensus of opinion was that the picnics were all quite poorly attended which was a real shame as some people seemed to have gone to a lot of effort to prepare them.

In hindsite if the picnics had been advertised in advance and delegates were asked to register interest before arriving they might have been more successful

The ultimate question – would I go again?

I’d like to think if Bamboo Juice was on again next year I’d attend, but only if it matures. For a first attempt it was well organised and of benefit but in what seems like an already crowded market with the likes of the Carsonified events and the fact that most people would have to travel a long way to get there it needs to learn lessons quickly.

If you have any comments on this post or Bamboo Juice in general I’d be really interested to hear them.

Related links

Update: I briefly met Clive Walker at Bamboo Juice and he’s also written a review over at his blog entitled ‘Bamboo Juice at the Eden project‘.


5 thoughts on “Geeks in the garden of Eden: a review of Bamboo Juice

  1. I’d agree with all your comments.Paul’s presentation was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to listen to – annoyingly I had to leave before the end.Yep and better planning re the “picnics” would have made the difference – something for them to sort out next year. good event though and happy to attend next year.


  2. Good to meet you and some of the other RedWeb team last week. I like your ‘3 things I took from’ summaries above. I agree with most of your points re the future of BJ and I think it was a promising first conference. Good luck with your iPhone app.


  3. Good write up fella sounds as if it’s maybe eArly days for the organizers but with decent feedback I’m sure they can ‘juice it up’ next time. I’ll get my coat…


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