A graphic designer, copywriter, digital marketer and two web developers walk into the University of Minnesota McNamara Alumni Center. Here’s what they learned at #WCMSP.
Here at Swim, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our quality of work. Which is why five of us recently made way for WordCamp Minneapolis 2019: a 2-day conference on all-things WordPress, the leading content management system (CMS) used to create and manage websites.
And when we say all-things WordPress, we mean all-things WordPress. We heard from a series of WordPress wizards on topics like content marketing, design, community building, working styles, ethics, compliance, website development and, of course, Gutenberg. We soaked up as much information as we could, and now we’re ready to spill our insights in this — you guessed it — WordPress blog post. Check them out below.
Meet the Swim team: Al, Copywriter; Ben, Director of Interactive; Pete, Web Developer; Savanna, Content Strategist; and Tyler, Graphic Designer.
What was your biggest takeaway from Word Camp 2019?
Al: From a copywriter’s standpoint, Word Camp was a great experience and I had numerous takeaways. My biggest takeaway, however, was more of a reminder than anything else. On the first day, I was the earliest of the Swim crew to get there (slight brag), so I did a little mingling. I was soon talking with a group of three strangers: a web developer, web designer and a web development professor. When I introduced myself as a copywriter, one of them said, “Without people like you, the websites we make wouldn’t mean anything.” I’m not going to let that handful of words get to my head, but hearing it was reinforcing. I took it as a reminder that there’s no final product without collaboration and trust amongst coworkers and clients, at least in our industry. In my experience, those two things are absolutely essential for great work to be done.
Ben: I’m a WordPress veteran. As Director of Interactive at Swim, WordPress is more or less my job. I use it daily. Like all-day, daily. More than anything else in my professional life, WordPress has had the biggest impact on my career. By a damn mile.
I try to make it to WordCamp every year. For me, it is first and foremost a place to recharge and connect with my tribe — like, there are literally hundreds of people who’s own careers or businesses have been similarly shaped by WordPress.
My biggest takeaway is always how reinvigorated I feel when I leave. It’s kinda like New Year’s. You reflect on the past year of working in WordPress, swap stories, tips and tricks, celebrate victories and commiserate over pitfalls. When it’s over, I always want to jump right into work with a new resolve to practice what I’ve learned or rework things I’ve done with some freshly acquired perspective.
Pete: My key takeaway is an overarching concept of constantly improving yourself even with things you think you’ve “already figured out.” This idea applies both professionally and personally. For example, just because you use a specific snippet of code in your development process — that works — doesn’t mean you shouldn’t re-evaluate said code and see if there are better or more effective ways to implement it. This translates into lifestyle choices as well. Why do you take a particular route to work? Why do you buy a certain product and not a different product? Taking a step back and re-instituting your options can have an incredible impact now and in the future.
Savanna: Working in digital, it was extremely interesting to learn about the evolution of how digital marketers will be able to manage their workload going forward. My job requires me to use multiple platforms and different software daily — all of which helps me accomplish a comprehensive digital content plan for the consumer journey. But, it can be overwhelming to strategize, set up, manage, optimize, report, etc. using so many different tools. With the growth of digital experience platforms (DXPs), digital marketers will be able to better manage all the touch points of the consumer journey in one integrated, cohesive, personalized platform. One word comes to mind: efficiency.
Tyler: My key takeaway was the importance of thinking outside our given roles when creating a website. Often times in a typical work day we become entrenched in the common tasks of our day-to-day. As a designer, I’m definitely guilty of it. I attended a variety of sessions covering everything from animation and entrepreneurship to user experience and SEO. Attending these sessions allowed me to get a bird’s eye view of how all these principles can work together to build a better website and, in turn, a more successful business.
Which session was your favorite? Why?
Al: “Design for Interaction: Using Animation to Enhance User Experience” with Michelle Schulp was my favorite session. From Disney’s 12 principles of animation all the way to our smartphones, this talk opened my eyes to the power of the art. In fact, animation is so powerful that most people don’t even notice it — we just expect it to exist. Take the iPhone lock screen, for example. When you type in your four-digit passcode incorrectly, the four dots at the top of the screen shake back and forth, prompting that you typed the wrong series of digits. That back and forth shake is an animation, and it’s much more aesthetically pleasing than saying “Incorrect passcode. Try again.” And it doesn’t stop there — the internet and our smartphones are littered with animation to make our experience, as users, better.
Ben: I really enjoyed the session “Who Needs Themes When You have Blocksets” with William Ranney. WordPress 5.0 shipped with a new editor, called Gutenberg, which revamped the entire content editing experience in WordPress. This editor is based on the concept of “blocks,” where a block is a basic unit of a webpage (e.g. a simple button block, or an image gallery block). Ranney did a great job of identifying how this new editor provides solutions to webpage layout that previously were only available only in premium themes and plugins.
The meat of the presentation was more of a discussion about what the future holds for WordPress/Gutenberg. Ranney coined the term “Blocksets,” or what Gutenberg currently calls reusable blocks — user defined groups of blocks that, when assembled, become components/elements of a webpage (e.g. a three-column section or a call-to-action section).
Ranney concluded his presentation with a prediction and call-to-arms. Because blocksets (reusable blocks) are portable and can be easily exported/imported from site-to-site, he proposes that a community-driven repository of blocks should and will be created. One where designers, developers and content managers share their blocksets for the benefit of all WordPress users. With WordPress being an open source project with one of the largest communities of contributors and users, a community repository of blocksets appears to be a very safe prediction.
Pete: My favorite session was “The Developer’s Spectrum – From Junior to Lead” with Jeff Holland. This session detailed Holland’s journey from junior to senior in the development world. It helped me understand some of the benefits and caveats in certain career stages and where I’m at in the developer lifecycle. I learned about how to contend with certain challenges that I’m facing in my career and ways to overcome those hurdles — things that I may have never brought to a conclusion myself. It’s great to have a third party help you understand things you might not otherwise think about. It was almost like a mini-intervention for me.
Savanna: I’m always interested in content and how it relates to the consumer. Whether it be UX, social media, blogging, SEO or whatever else. I loved hearing the talk from Cari Twitchell about writing content that connects with search engines AND users. I think authenticity is an important part of any sort of content strategy, and it was reassuring to hear about how more and more content is being created with a consumer-first mentality. Marketers are prioritizing connections before SERPs because your content should be empathetic and about your customer if you want to build a lasting relationship. It all comes down to knowing your customer, being true to your brand, and naturally incorporating foundational SEO and content that resonates with your audience.
Tyler: My favorite session was Bill Rice’s talk on the importance of Lead Generation in today’s web landscape. Currently, there is an ever-growing list of user-friendly website builders, templates and themes. Because these cheap and easy options are becoming more popular, advertising agencies and developers need to demonstrate their value more than ever. Overall, Bill’s talk touched on web design tactics and strategies that raise the bar above click and drag web templates.
Do you have an overall highlight from Word Camp 2019?
Al: My favorite part was regrouping with the Swim crew between sessions, heading to a grassy patch on the U of M campus, and sharing our thoughts on the sessions we attended. I felt that these small reflections helped us understand each other better as coworkers and as friends.
Ben: This year’s venue was fantastic. The McNamara Alumni Center at the U of M is such an amazing building. It really adds to the experience and makes for an inspiring canvas for the event. Additionally, being in the heart of the city on a major university campus amplified the fun and camaraderie with the Swimmers in attendance.
Pete: It was fun just being down there with friends and sharing the experience — before, during and after the sessions. We’d never had a Swim turnout for WordCamp as good as this one. It’s great camaraderie.
Savanna: My favorite part was hearing the Swim team’s thoughts on the sessions we attended together — feedback ranged from extremely technical to more conceptual. Since we brought a team made up of a few different departments, it was super interesting to hear everyone’s diverse takeaways. I will for sure be going again next year!
Tyler: The whole atmosphere and experience was extremely energizing. It was refreshing to have a change of pace from the common work day to spend quality time with coworkers while learning from some of the best in our industry. I’m looking forward to attending more conferences in the future.