After the Highland Fling 2011

Hey folks, it’s Thea here again, ruminating about last Friday. You see, our designer Paul and I attended the rather erroneously-named Highland Fling 2011 Web Conference in Edinburgh! (Now, I know I’m only an American, so my geography can be a little patchy, but since when is Edinburgh considered the Highlands?)

I digress…It was an all day event, with an audience of more than a hundred attendees listening to half a dozen speakers from England, Scotland and a fellow American, too.

There we’re half a dozen talks on Content Management Systems (CMS), HTML5, the Apple Look, Accessibility and even a talk on Why Simple Isn’t. (NOTE: Link to slide presentations that I could find at the bottom of the page).

There were all types of people in the room, from designers and developers, to project managers and company directors – all with one thing in common an interest in Web Development.

I started building websites back in 1995, teaching myself HTML in notepad, moving on to tools like Dreamweaver and later CMSs such as WordPress (or our very on NSBuilder).

Over the last twelve years, I’ve worked for some of the top Web Development companies in Scotland, in a variety of roles, and one thing I’ve learned is how universal the communication challenges are in Web Development.

These “challenges” can be both internal (say, between designers and programmers) and external (for instance between company and client). OY! and don’t even get me started on the challenges of designing for clients with committees! (See Gary’s piece for .Net magazine on that subject!)

I suspect anyone who works in Web Development can relate to my assertions…

Screen Shot from Remy Sharp talk(<< – – Example from Remy Sharp’s talk of a challenging design to program.)


One of the internal challenges is that programmers often work separate from the designers, and as was described at the Fling, the designs simply flung “over the wall” to the programmer – who then is forced to find a way to make the designs work from a functionality, back end sort of way. This can be problematic (particularly in larger organisations) as illustrated in the picture above. An example of a  busy (cluttered), high-tech, design that was passed over a programmer to code (in this case Remy Sharp, I believe) – presenting him with a nearly-impossible feat.

A way of bridging this gap might be for the designer and programmer to spend a little time, before the project has even begun, discussing the site’s functionality and frameworks. This, would likely, cut down in frustration and hair pulling as the “build” begins.

Incidentally – just because someone is an artist or even a good graphic designer, doesn’t mean they will be competent or even understand how to best design for the Web. (Thankfully our designers are good at all types of design work – print and web and everything else).

So again – a little time discussing the project before the build – might have save a lot of time (and money!) in the long run. (Note: If work is being done separately and remotely then Gmail chat or Skype video calls could be a solution for the two sides to “speak”).

In a firms such as ours, it helps we have no walls separating us, and we’re all able to work side-by-side, discussing any issues as they arise.


Communication hiccups can also be common between the web development company and the client. Each side needs to be succinct regarding the scope of the project. It’s the client’s responsibility to have a clean, concise, technical scope (a lesson I’m still learning myself!), and it’s the company’s to work out whether that scope is logistic.

The issue here often is the fact that a technical scope is beyond the capabilities of a vast majority of clients. Most won’t have any idea how to write up a technical scope of what the site should be, or look like, etc. They tend to have rough ideas, at best.

The more a client articulate what the site needs to do, suggestions on how it does it, and the end goals, the better it will be for the programmers to help define how this can be done from a technical standpoint.

With regards to the design, if the client can provide a list of sites, that they do and don’t like, then it’s the far more likely the first draft designs will hit, or at least be closer to, the mark.

Both sides can often be guilty of expecting the other to be a mind reader and most of us aren’t psychic in that respect. So if you’re a client having your website developed, provide as much information as you possibly can.


In my career, I’ve worked on sites that cost a few hundred pounds, all the way up to ones that have cost a quarter of a million pounds, and, funnily enough, these challenges I’ve written above have been prevalent on all of them.

Having run my own site for eleven years, I’ve been the “client” who’s had her site re-designed and relaunched a handful of times in that period. Each time there have been hurdles to surpass in order to re-launch.

As a result, I’ve realised that seldom does the creation (or re-creation) of a site work in a cut and dry fashion, but rather it’s a dance of one step forward then one back – clarifying expectations and gaining understanding.

It can be a frustrating and sometimes painful process (on both sides) – but once that site goes LIVE, and the client is happy, we’re reminded of why we even do the job. That is because it’s a rewarding job (well, in most cases).

The Highland Fling 2011 – was a chance to not only meet with, but also to learn something from, people who share the same passion as us – namely web development and new technologies.

Though as I said, I’ve been in this New Media field for a long time, it’s constantly evolving for all of us.

We’re all inadvertently forced, in this fast-paced, game-changing industry, to continually learn and expand both our technical skills, but also our communication skills.

That’s why I love attending things like the Highland Fling. You pick up something at every event, seminar, conference or talk. It can be a tip, a technique, a website or business contact, but I don’t think there’s been one event I’ve felt was a waste of time.

So here’s to the Highland Fling 2012 – where we’ll do it all again!

And here are a few photos I snapped for NSDesign on the day.

And here are some links to slide presentations (so far – if you were a speaker and have a link – feel free to add in the comments section and I’ll add you)!

Rachel Andrew’s Slides from her talk on CMS

Remy Sharp’s talk on Implementation Interaction

Speakers & Such:

@ highlandwebconf
@ Steve Marshall
@ Rachel Andrew
@ Mike Rundle
@ Remy Sharp
@ Jack Osborne@ Christian Heilmann
and James Edwards

PS: Bios etc here on the Highland Fling site.

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2 Responses to “After the Highland Fling 2011”

  1. Steven

    Nice wrap up of the day, and your right Edinburgh isn’t in the Highlands and there was no fling either!

    • NSThea

      Thanks! I know, no fling in sight! 🙂 Just a lot of thunder rumbling – which I should have mentioned! Classic!