It’s been over a week since I attended the first ever ValioCon and I still have a grin on my face thinking about my time there. To be honest, it was the first ever web design/development conference I’ve ever been to and I think it was a fantastic way to start my conference attending track record. I don’t want to necessarily recount every detail of the conference but I think it’s well worth pointing out a few of the highlights.

First off, let me say that I absolutely loved my time at ValioCon. I heard about the conference via Twitter (probably via Rogie King @rogie) and it didn’t disappoint. There were a ton of great people there and everyone just felt genuine and open (including all the speakers who were all more than willing to hang out and talk during down times).

Conferences are too expensive (usually)

I think the most common deterrent to most people attending something like ValioCon is price and that’s where ValioCon first caught my attention as I was considering going. It was a steal to attend, in my opinion. Luckily, I heard about the conference early enough that I, and my buddy Mike Becchio, got to sign up for the “early bird special” which essentially reduced the price of the conference in half (split hotel room and the two of us got to attend for the price of one person). The conference pass included two days of great presentations and workshops by “unsung heroes” in the industry, four meals (breakfast and lunch for two days), two nights at an hotel resort (within a very short walk to the beach), and a drink night. Even if I didn’t get to partake in the “early bird special”, I’d say the pricing was extremely competitive when compared to other conferences. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how Drew Wilson and his Valio crew were able to make any money off of the conference based on how good a deal it was and how much it included.

You can see the Pacific Ocean

A short walk away

Unless you’re spoiled like me (I live in Santa Barbara which is also on the west coast) then you’ll particularly appreciate the location of the conference. Those in attendance stayed at the Carlsbad Inn which is nestled right in the middle of Carlsbad Village (the little downtown area) so there was direct access to the beach as well as several restaurants within walking distance (Is this starting to sound like a travel ad? I’ll move on.) There was a bit of overcast weather during parts of the conference, but seriously, if you’re from somewhere in which snow until April is the norm then you will love the weather and location of Carlsbad, CA, overcast or not, and the fact that the conference is there.

The Community is the Reason

As a freelance designer, I spend most of my days working physically alone but constantly connected to dozens of others online. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there is a vibrant community of web designers/developers out there in real life. And this vibrant community was evident at ValioCon. Everyone I met had interesting stories to tell, was more than open to share details about themselves, and just felt honestly excited to met everyone else. The speakers all mingled with the attendees the entire conference and there was plenty of time to get to know one another. The presentations themselves were top notch – everything from how to design an icon, to how to love your clients, to making your first native iOS app (and much more). There was a lot for both designers and developers and I felt the line-up did an excellent job of making the material feel relevant and approachable to even those just starting out. The best part of the line-up was the fact that the speakers were almost entirely those that spend the majority of their time doing rather than getting paid to talk about it. At least one of the speakers had never even spoken at a conference like that before (Hi Rogie!) and they all did great.

Kyle Steed (left) and Rogie King (right) having a conversation in the morning

The thing I want to stress is just how open and honest everyone seemed (including the speakers) and the fact that even if I wasn’t blown away by each and every presentation, that it was so easy to immediately get connected to this vibrant community of people doing exciting things in the industry. I think the best quote I found that summed up my feelings after ValioCon was by Joel Beukelman (the official photographer for the weekend) via Twitter:

In reflection on the weekend, I feel like I gained 10 years of homies and contacts in only 3 days.

A Funny Story and a Shameless Plug

The funny story is that I almost but not quite won the iPad2 that was given away at ValioCon. It was the “big” prize for the conference and I, like everyone in attendance I assume, was hoping to win it. The stipulations to win were simple. Just take a picture of yourself with the main conference banner, add a few hashtags, and post the image to Twitter. I did exactly that BUT the picture didn’t post when I tweeted out to the ether. I still stick to my story that it was technical error rather than user error (though I am lame often so I’m open to other possibilities). Either way, I noticed the lack of picture and immediately posted a followup tweet with the picture but when the last day came and my tweet was selected from the pool and it didn’t have the picture attached I was disqualified (insert super sad face here). On the plus side, the guy that did end up winning, Eric Eggert aka @yatil, came all the way from Germany to attend the conference so good for that guy – he earned it. I just drove a few hours down the California coast (from Santa Barbara to Carlsbad) so it was no contest.

Upon returning to Santa Barbara and telling a few friends about what happened and how close I was to winning, I was told about a contest where the prize was an iPad2 and that I probably had a decent shot at winning. The contest involves designing a multilayered web page background using the technique described in the article here – The Cicada Principle and Why It Matters to Web Designers by Alex Walker – and the votes are based on tweets from one’s entry page. So I need your help, internet. I put up my entry last week and I’m already in second place but I’m still several votes behind. All you need to do is go to my entry page “Blind Date Prep” and then click on that top Tweet button to place a vote for me. Help me vindicate myself from my previous iPad prize loss! A ton of you guys have already helped to vote already and that means a lot. I seriously do appreciate each and every vote. And even if you don’t plan on voting, at least check out the entry. It involves a lot of silly illustrated faces and who can be mad looking at that? The contest ends Wednesday, May 25th at Midnight PST so get in there and vote! Thanks in advance guys. Ok, end of shameless plug.

UPDATE: I won the contest! You guys rock my socks! You can read about my win over at Design Festival – The Cicada Project: And the winner is… – and as soon as I get the prize (an iPad2), and a spare moment, I will put up another blog post with details (with a special desktop background for download). Thanks again to everyone that voted and help me win!

C'mon... help a brother out! UPDATE: I won! Way to help a brother out. ;)

Smattering of ValioCon from Around the Web

I’ve tried to collect as many things about/from ValioCon that other people have put online in the list below. If you’ve got something you think should be on the list, then I’d be happy to add it. Happy travels!

Thoughts on ValioCon 2011 by Anthony Garand (@garand)
– A Very Thorough Recounting of ValioCon 2011

ValioCon “PhotoBooth” Pictures
– Flickr set of pictures from the make-shft outdoor photo studio during the Saturday drink night

ValioCon: After Party – Video on Vimeo
– Several people trying to fit into a telephone booth outside of the hotel

Love your Clients by Rogie King
– Blog post by Rogie with the video of his ValioCon presentation. Rogie talks about love and the benefits of a good relationship with your clients.

ValioCon conference Sketchnotes by Patrick Haney
– Super awesome Flickr set of “sketchnotes”. It’s like you were there all along!

CSS Workflow with Sass by Jina Bolton
– Jina shares her slides from her ValioCon presentation. Super interesting and definitely worth a look.

Icon made by Dimitri Tsozik @tsozik during ValioCon workship
– Image of the icon Dimitri worked on during his workshop (with PNG and PSD attached to Dribbble Shot) and the Ustream video of him working on it. I’m still hoping to get my hands on the PSD!

Mike Rundle – From Web to iOS
– Ustream recording from Mike’s presentation

Kyle Steed Illustrated a Pair of Vans as a giveaway for the conference
– You have to check out the sweet pair of illustrated shoes!

ValioCon 2011 by Joel Beukelman
– Joel posts a ton of sweet pics from the conference.

Valio Inc’s Videos on UStream
– Not sure why I didn’t link to this one before! All the videos from ValioCon on UStream. Check it.

Welp, there you have it. Hope to see you at ValioCon next year!