This weekend sees the first webretreat, something I’ve been working on for about 6 months on and off. I thought I’d share some thoughts on how webretreat came about, and what it is.

Web development is a baby when compared to almost any other profession. Most of us won’t have a formal qualification in ‘web’, and we come from diverse backgrounds. Last month, surrounded by 5 web designer/developers I counted 2 arts grads, a chemist, a neuroscientist, a lawyer (dropped out in 3rd year) and a ‘not telling’. Diverse.

We are all designers

From here on in I’ll refer to all of us as web designers. The whole front end / back end / designer / developer distinction is distracting and not particularly useful. We all need to work in pixels, we all need javascript, html and css. We also all need planning skills, the ability to interpret a brief, the ability to respond to changing requirements. We need to design. To design solutions to problems.

I’ve been involved in running a couple of coderetreats, and although coderetreat would prove valuable to any webdesigner, I found that many were reluctant to attend. This was mainly ascribed to a feeling that it ‘wasn’t for web folk’, that it was ‘too hardcore’, or that it just wasn’t ‘relevent’.

So I started working on a ‘webretreat’ format to give the benefits of coderetreat to web designers. With help from Kevin and Ian I think we’ve come up with a format that works really well.

We can all be better designers

Webretreat aims to give a framework for web designers to practice their craft. We all need to practice. Depending on your background and your working environment you may never get time to refactor, to consider reusability, to pair program or to consider (let alone write) tests.

You may use source control, you may have a standard development environment, but equally you may not. In either case there is room for improvement. There always is. It’s no coincidence that the best in any endeavour practice the most.

Front end focus

The focus of webretreat is on the front end, browser side technologies. Some of the challenges are simplified or made more interesting if you choose to use some server side code – but all can be successfully completed using only browser side code. I feel that the front end is increasingly at the heart of web design, and it’s easy to dismiss as ‘just’ the front end.

Webretreat also focusses on core techniques. Some of these are integral and likely universally well established – like well structured CSS, validating HTML, semantic markup. Some see really mixed adoption in real world front end work – source control, versioning, refactoring, reuse, deployments, test driven development, style guides, automated testing, rwd techniques… So at webretreat you may be improving something you do every day, or find yourself thinking about a new aspect of the job.

Structure

A webretreat follows a structure that will be familiar to anyone who has attended a coderetreat:

  • All day event, usually on a weekend
  • Free, supported by sponsors
  • 45-minute programming sessions
  • pair programming
  • after each iteration you throw away your code and switch partners
  • after each iteration each pair shares something about what they thought, what they learned
  • lunch is delicious
  • at the end of the day everyone gathers together in a circle, and shares something about the day
  • to the pub

Share, Learn

A core aspect of this which will be new to many web designers will be pair programming.

In pair programming two designers share a single computer for the 45 minute session. One drives, taking the keyboard. The other observes, making observations and suggestions but not actually typing.

The perspective gained from being the driver or observer can be surprising and rewarding. It also gives you ‘quality time’ with a wide selection of web designers.

Experiment

Webretreat is an experiment, and we really need your feedback.

If you are attending on Saturday please look out for the survey I’ll issue after the event. Also, please grab me on the day and let me know what you think. The objective is to create a useful format, not to convince you that we got it right first time, and feedback is critical towards that goal.

If you’re not coming on Saturday please still get in touch, I’m keen to take as many soundings as I can to help get this right. I’m already planning the second run out in the new year.

I’ll post a follow up once the event is out of the way. Wish us luck, and keep up on twitter and on the webretreat website.