The Story So Far

I was once asked to describe an experience I’ve had that made me feel happy, content, something that even now I can think about and it will bring a smile to my face.

The story I told was of going on tour for the first time with Here There Be Monsters. It was 2010. At the time I wasn’t playing in the band, but had been their photographer and helped with the funding and release of their EP. I was asked to join them on tour around the UK. It was a 10 date show with a gap in the middle making it 15 days total.

The cold nights sleeping in our rented transit van, fully clothed, huddled around amps, drum kits, bags and cases. The seemingly endless waiting around one town to the next waiting for someone to turn up and let us load in. Waiting around for sound checks. The show. The drive to the next town, showering in service stations. One of the best times of my life. It doesn’t sound like it would be does it?

We Have Band

I felt something very powerful that had been absent for some time. There was a closeness that grew more and more as the days rolled on between 5 guys who were experiencing all of this together, dealing with the bad, the cold, the shows you drove 200 miles for only to play in front of 2 people who were from another band and the rest had disappeared to the bar. It didn’t matter, because we found the positives in everything, whether it was meeting that 1 promoter who was super nice and bought us burgers, or making a life long friend in the singer from the band we were touring with – who I still see and speak to today. That’s what made it one of the best experiences I’d had – we were a band.

Based on this I was asked to describe another. This time I thought further back, and I began to talk about how my experience of working at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells made me feel, a period of my life that was full of learning (I was there from 18yrs to 21yrs) and how that closeness again was an important part of what made it great. But there was more to it than that. Jason and Mark; the founders, had a very clear mission – to make live music accessible to all. It really was that simple, but boy is it a challenge, and they haven’t stopped. After 20 years they’re still fighting, only the fight has got harder and bigger. Mark created the to protect independent music venues across the UK from closing, and both Mark and Jason are still active in ensuring there are places for young people (that’s 14yrs+) can not just watch live music but perform too.

I loved working at The Forum. I started out doing work experience whilst studying Music Technology at College and never left. I got to learn how to engineer on the fly and to work with total strangers to get the best out of them in a very short period of time. Thinking back on that, it’s where my belief that you can do more with less time comes from. Even in HTBM (Here There Be Monsters) we wouldn’t do sound checks because we knew a line check was all we needed because we, as musicians, had spent thousands of hours in rehearsals perfecting not just our song writing, or performance skills, but our sound and how to manage it. We knew what the minimum we needed and could play with – we even played a house party in a garden with only a mic for Ant and just cranked everything else up. I still argue we were the best act of the night.

Where I got my strength from in these environments was that it was small teams. The band was a five piece, regardless of whether I had a guitar in my hand or not, I was still very much a member. The core team at The Forum was maybe 10 at most with 5 of us running the day to day of the business.

The true definition of Agile

I’ve now been working in the Web and IT industry for 15 years of my life. Many things have come and gone and the thing I dread the most is when the next label for something comes along that you’ve been doing for years. UX Design for example was hard for me to get a job title for because I’d had titles that didn’t match. Solutions Architect, Database Designer, Web Developer, Web Designer, Front-end Developer. The list went on. But these are all just roles within what makes great design and culminates with a successful User Experience.

Having small teams can make you agile, but not your business. For your business to be agile you have to focus on your primary goal and do whatever is needed at the time to move towards, or achieve it.

An example that I always think about is again, working at The Forum. There were times where bands just wouldn’t show up, or something happens and they can’t play. On one occasion, a local favourite Breakneck had just finished recording a new record. All of us at the venue were dying to watch them play this new stuff, and to hear it in full, equally, so were the many people who bought tickets in advance. Something happened, I think their van broke down and half the band were there but there was no drum kit, and no amps. This could go very bad very quickly. Fortunately, we were all on the same wavelength and someone came up with the idea of miming it. If it’s good enough for Britney Spears, we figure it’s good enough for us. But, this is a Metal show, so we have to over-egg it. And so began one of the best Breakneck shows I’ve ever seen. With a copy of the album in the CD player, the available band members along with guest vocalist Kelly Lee and a microwave the greatest gig went ahead.

There were countless times that we ended up playing support slots because bands didn’t show as most of us were in bands we could pull together quickly and because we cared. We cared if the gig happened and that people could come and watch and people had a place that stayed open and they could take part.

This is what makes you agile.

How On Earth Does This Relate to “The Web”?

I’ve worked in companies in varying sizes. Regardless of size, there reaches a point where the art of selling becomes the art of bullshit and it is never more apparent in Web Design as it is today. There are so many businesses out there who are selling snake oil. There are equally, those who can see through the smoke and mirrors and appreciate it for what it is. What am I talking about? I’m talking about UX Design, or what I will now be referring to as common sense.

I’ve hated having the title of UX Designer for the past 6 years. It’s made me uncomfortable every time I’ve said it, nobody really knows what it means (I am the Chandler of my friends and family ref: More important is that I don’t believe in it as a title even though, today it is still on my business card.

Great design is great design. It comes from a team who get one another and have a purpose. What you do to get there doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t. How you do it, well, perhaps. That is after all why this is called We Are AFK, it is a statement on the how. But what comes out at the end is what matters to other people and we don’t focus enough on that anymore.

I love graphic design in all forms. I think I got into web design because for some reason I liked the structure of html, and understanding how these words get onto the screen. But I still think about how I feel when I see a piece of work by Dan Mumford, for example or recently the work by Kyle Bean, and think, how can I take that energy and style to a web page?

I think it’s time that web design became an art form again and for it to be an interaction point that is crafted away from the keyboard, played with and then applied, instead of something that is over-analysed until there’s nothing left but misery and boredom.

This lead to the 2nd iteration of the We Are AFK mission statement.

Debunking the pseudo-science and pop-psychology of great design

This week has been good, I’ve started working on a project with some really great people and I can see it’s going to be really challenging, but also a lot of fun, I hope that this story gives some insight into my mind, and what We Are AFK is about.