I attended WordCamp London as basically a brand-new hire at Automattic. Pretty great timing to start a new gig and meet some co-workers! ⌚️

This was my second time attending WordCamp London, having volunteered a few years back. I thought WordCamp London 2016 was organised well–of course, when you’re a volunteer things always seem a lot more hectic and unorganised than they appear to conference-goers! That’s the job of a good organisation team and volunteers: to make everything seem as if it’s running smoothly. As just an attendee this year, this seemed great, so I’d say the organisers got it right again! 😅

The Conference, Overall

The speaker lineup was great; nearly every session had at least one talk I wanted to attend and in some cases two. Multi-track conferences can be tough–I still prefer single-track conferences, but WordCamps are a great proving ground for new speakers, so I think multiple tracks are the right call.

The conference was on-time, the volunteers (as always) were great, and there seems to be a new cafe (The Travel Cafe) across the street that made morning flat whites easy-to-access. Holloway seems to be getting a bit more hipster every time I visit… 👓

Hat-tip to the organisers this year who did a great job making sure things ran smoothly. While I didn’t attend the social, people who did seemed to appreciate the later start on Sunday morning. I also liked that the conference itself ran until a bit past 18h, rather than stopping right at 17h as many do. The variety of speaking formats were a highlight for me–I attended lightning talks, a panel discussion, several talks, and an interactive workshops. 👍🏻

I figured I’d share some notes for the talks I attended. There were a few slots that didn’t have anything too interesting to me (and were fortunately near the lunch break anyway), so I used them to leave and sneak in a run. The only talk I wanted to attend but missed was Internationalisation in the Age of Gutenberg by Pascal Birchler, so I’ll have to look out for that one on WordPress.tv. 📺

Talks I Attended

Acccesible Design by Maja Benke

Every fifth person has some kind of disability.

I really liked this talk, and I think it was a great one to start the day. The speaker understood the topic really well and came across really knowledgable. I really liked her delivery. She also had excellent slides! ✨

Her talk was a great introduction to accessibility and was not WordPress-specific. As someone who has cared about accessibility for a long time: a lot of the info wasn’t new to me. But if I wanted to show someone why accessibility is important and a lot of common mistakes–and how to fix them–I would show them this talk.

Maja gave great examples of inaccessible designs and how to make them accessible, and for more than just the usual visual accessibility issues. 💯

She touched on impairments from cognitive to physical; aural to visual. Accessibility issues for everyone from autistic to blind, deaf to dyslexic users were covered, which seemed to help everyone in the audience connect with a certain part of her talk. 👌🏻

The coolest part of her talk: recognising potential conflicts between user groups. I think it’s really fascinating when talks that give you solutions to address problems recognise the limits of those solutions. She cited examples such as colour contrast being important for visually-impaired users, but bright, contrast-heavy designs being very jarring for autistic users.

Maja pointed out that a site designed to be as inclusive to as many people as possible is the most effective design, but know that this design will still leave some users out. Inclusive design can cover a vast majority of users’ needs, but assistive technology (in browsers or from elsewhere) can fill in the remaining gaps. You can’t have a site perfectly optimised for a particular disability in the extreme without creating those conflicts between user groups. If you’re blind every site doesn’t need to implement an MP3 file of its content; just using standard, semantic markdown will allow screen readers to do their job.

I’ve noticed nearly every accessibility or usability talk I’ve seen in the past few years mentions how terrible ALL UPPERCASE (and/or small-caps) are for accessibility. Can we just PLEASE STOP WITH THE ALL-CAPS? 😆

GDPR: Of Privacy and Compliance by Toyin Agunbiade

GDPR is coming to attack you.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was a hot-topic discussion item for this WordCamp, so this room was packed. I’m pretty sure this would have filled the (much larger) Track A room. Probably the only organising mishap I noted was that “hot topic” talks (billed as such by the event) weren’t all in Track A. 🤔

This was a really informative and fun workshop. I was interested in the subject matter but I had barely any idea about GDPR’s specifics. I was worried that as a workshop it would require a fair bit of pre-existing knowledge. This wasn’t the case at all.

The workshop was incredibly accessible and really laid-back. Toyin would run through a few slides, then stop to take questions and interact with the audience. She essentially was her own moderator as well as the speaker. It was really engaging; a great format I’d love to see more people adopt. 🙂

She ran through a tonne of info to get people aware of how GDPR would affect them, how it works at a technical level, and what developers need to do. GDPR affects anyone handling EU citizens’ data, not just EU-based companies. The fines are pretty big too, so it seems like the legislation has some actual teeth. 🐅

I think she said she used to be a lawyer, which would make sense: she was a fantastic and natural speaker; quick on her feet and super-knowledgable about the subject matter. Definitely check this one out even if GDPR doesn’t affect you, it was just a super entertaining and informative talk. 👏🏻

Inclusive Usability Testing by Adrian Roselli

Build extra time for every task.

This talk centred around user testing for people with disabilities. Adrian is clearly experienced in this subject; his expertise made a talk that largely centred around logistics very engaging instead of a dull checklist. 👍🏻

The focus on logistics and in-person testing wasn’t quite what I expected based on the title–but I still enjoyed it. There were some generally-applicable takeaways for user testing with disabled users that applied to remote testing too:

  • compensate users appropriately
  • budget more time for user testing than you usually would for users with assistive technology
  • take plenty of breaks if needed
  • make sure your space is accessible

There was a lot of talk about privacy throughout the WordCamp. When doing inclusive usability testing: personal, medical information may be revealed. Make sure to treat this information confidentially–you may be required to by law, but even if not, do it!

Anatomy of a block: Gutenberg design patterns by Tammie Lister

Since I’ll be working on Gutenberg at Automattic, this seemed like a pretty relevant talk for me to attend. 😅 Tammie stressed it was not a technical talk at the outset, but I still found this high-level exploration of Gutenberg helpful.

First off, Tammie did something I didn’t see anybody else at the conference do, which was clearly lay out, at the beginning of her talk:

  • what her talk would cover
  • what her talk would not cover
  • when each bit of info would be addressed in the talk

This overview took all of fifteen seconds, if that, but really set the tone for the talk and it’s something I think more talks should get in the habit of doing. No one is left wondering When will the speaker talk about [X]?–instead you know everything that will be covered from the outset. 🂡

Tammie talked about the vision of Gutenberg, essentially distilled down into the idea that everything is a block. She went through how blocks interact with each other, how they act on the site, and how to build your own in a UX (not a technical one). That was really handy! 👌🏻

I especially liked the explanation that Gutenberg is not What You See is What You Get. I think that’s a good thing to make clear as it’s a very visual editor, but ultimately a theme will influence your blocks as well as the block styles themselves.

Tammie is the design lead for Gutenberg and thus has a lot of insight into the reasons for Gutenberg’s design philosophies, so I was left wanting more answers to “why?” questions during her talk. Why is everything a block? Why is direct manipulation better? Why should we eschew WYSIWYG? I think these questions would be great to cover as well–maybe in a follow-up talk. I could see a talk on the philosophy of Gutenberg’s design architecture being quite cool. 😊

Someone at the end nearly had me roll my eyes when he said he didn’t have a question, just a statement. I usually get frustrated when people hijack Q&As, but he simply said “keep up the awesome work on Gutenberg”, so that was actually kind of sweet. 😄

Lightning Talks ⚡️

I think it’s great to host lightning talks so busy/newer speakers can get a chance to submit a talk without feeling like they need to prep a thirty-minute one.

What does Gutenberg mean for Design? by Nicola Campbell

This was an intro to Gutenberg for WordPress (theme) designers and those “late in the game to Gutenberg”. I thought the coolest part of her talk was highlighting why Gutenberg’s more visual editor would be better for WordPress custom site/theme developers: oftentimes custom features in posts require hard-to-remember shortcodes clients will forget or mess up. This means the content gets boring because shortcodes are ignored.

With Gutenberg’s more visual blocks in the editor, clients will hopefully leverage more of the features you end up building for their site. Nice! 👍🏻

Custom Fields for Print-Styled Graphics by Steve Honeyman

I didn’t really understand this talk as it lacked a clear intro–I didn’t quite have the context I guess for what was happening. I think Steve was also a bit hard to engage with as he spoke to his notes that he read off a screen to the side, meaning he didn’t interact much with the audience. It seemed like what he was doing was fun, but I didn’t really follow along.

I did notice that at one point Steve was referencing code on slides, which is okay, but when referencing code on a screen, you need to make sure the code becomes highlighted on the slides and not pointed to by you/your laser pointer. Someone else did this on the second day so I wanted to note it for future speakers. 😀😉

Empathy for Introverts by Sarah Semark

Sarah started the talk off straight away with the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, India’s Menstrual Man. This really grabbed the audience’s attention and I noticed a lot of people who were slightly wrapped up in their laptops put them down and start listening. 👌🏻

I watched Sarah run through this talk before the conference and have seen a longer version of it before. I really like it, and I think her delivery of it went great. A loud ambulance drove by as Sarah talked about temporary-versus-permanent disabilities, making it impossible to hear her speak. This couldn’t have been better-timed, and she pointed out that loss of hearing could be as much caused by deafness as a passing siren! 🚨

The talk centred around empathy in tech, why we need it, and how we can learn it. This ended up also touching on accessibility, which I think along with privacy were the focuses of the day for me. It’s worth checking out on WordPress.tv when published, as the lightning talk format really suited the talk (originally this talk was about forty minutes).

And that was day one! I skipped the social, instead grabbing some Vietnamese food and heading to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant for some homemade honey wine/mead. Thanks, Luminus! 🍻