Jordan Brock

Edge of the Web: Ben Buchanan

Although it only seems like yesterday that I got back from Sydney and the wonderful Web Directions South, things are rapidly heating up for Perth’s own Web Conference: Edge of the Web, taking place at the UWA Club on November 6 and 7, 2008 – tickets available now!.

p. There is a huge list of international and national speakers on the program, one of whom is Ben Buchanan. I recently conducted a short email interview with Ben, talking about some of the subjects that he’ll touch upon in his talk Hacking Humans: Advocating for a better web

p. Q: Is there a disconnect between how our clients see what we do, and how we actually work?

p. A: I think there is. For example I think as a group web developers are diverse, interesting and definitely creative thinkers; but many clients are dismissive of developers.

p. Professionally, we use lateral thinking and creative problem solving on a daily basis. Building a system also requires a solid understanding of the business it supports – so developers often have a well informed and fresh perspective about a business. The potential benefits can easily go beyond the boundaries of web systems.

p. But the view of web developers as boring functionaries means many bosses or clients don’t really listen to their web geeks, and their business suffers as a result. In projects, geeks should be involved from strategy onwards and not just brought in at the end to grind out some code.

p. Q: What can we do to help bridge that divide?

p. A: Well I think the problem does stem from a grain of truth – and geeks can be pretty dismissive of people who are less technically competent, which isn’t helpful. We need to take a look at the way we present our achievements and ideas; and what role we step up to play in our professional dealings. Are we coming across as roadblocks or problem solvers? If we can adjust that then it might open up better working relationships.

p. Q: Do you think that the way that web professionals can approach the “process” can dehumanise the people we’re building the site for – the end users?

p. A: There’s a danger of letting technical or resourcing issues distract from the humans who need to use the final product. We can be a bit too clinical and detached from the real, live people and what they’re trying to do.

p. People don’t go looking for a school location database, they go looking for a great school for their kids. They don’t look for an online store, they look for a cool gift their partner will love. We should think and build accordingly.

p. I think it shows when a system was built for the human stuff, as opposed to sites and systems built because “we have to have a website”.

p. Q: Managing expectations is obviously an important part of the job. Have you got any advice for new players?

p. A: This is a bit of a “depends” question, because it’s driven by the culture and people you’re dealing with. But when people ask if something can be done, I am a believer in speaking the truth and explaining the options available. Because ultimately anything is “possible”, it’s just a matter of having enough time, people and money!

p. What people really need to know is what’s possible in the current scenario and what they can do to achieve their goals. That might mean guiding them through a prioritisation process – if they’re asking for fifty things, they probably don’t need fifty things, at least to start with.

p. It’s not about being negative, it’s about being realistic and focussed.

p. Ben is just one of a range of awesome speakers who are going to be presenting at Edge of the Web on the 6th November. On the following day, there are 4 half-day workshops on a diverse range of topics.

p. And then, to cap the two days off in style, Friday night sees the WA Web Awards, where, in a burst of glorious self congratulation, the best of the WA Web industry are recognised for their efforts. Get your tickets here.