While I admit that this June's Reasons to be Creative Conference, conveniently located 10 minutes away from me in NYC, is more up my alley, I'm glad that I made the trip to Denver earlier this month for DrupalCon 2012. Even though, as a designer and creative director, I didn't find some of the DrupalCon sessions to be that relevant to my work, I did enjoy the sessions I attended and had a great time in Denver.
But before I got to Denver, I met up with some of the Bluespark team in Breckenridge to work together, ski and enjoy the town and scenery. I went straight from NYC to Breckenridge (9,600 feet) without spending some time at lower altitudes like others did, so I suffered from a bit of altitude sickness: Shortness of breath, exhaustion, sleeplesness, ongoing headaches… I may be able to scale a fifth floor walkup in NYC with no problem, but half a flight of stairs in Breckenridge nearly launched me into the afterlife. So rather than go up higher and try skiing for the first time, I explored the bars and brewpubs of downtown Breckenridge and made some new friends. The fact that I was out of breath and had a bad headache by the time I happened across the closest bar in town let me know that I'd made the right call when it came to physical activities.
Some favorite places that I frequented during the trips downtown were Ollie's, Burke & Riley's Irish Pub, Breckenridge Brewery, Downstair's at Eric's, and probably my favorite, Rasta Pasta, where the staff and clientele reminded me a lot of my friends back on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In general, the whole town had sort of an Outer Banks feel, but with a ski and snowboard culture rather than a surfing culture. St. Patrick's Day happened to fall on the Saturday that I was there, and the lone Irish pub in town, Burke & Riley's, opened at 7am for the festivities and had received 23 kegs of Guinness when I was there the day before. I passed by around 11am on my way to somewhere less crowded and witnessed the green-attired, intoxicated mass of humanity celebrating the holiday. It was kind of like St. Patrick's Day in NYC, but with far less people and unfortunately no bagpipes.
After the five days in Breckenridge, we made the snowy drive towards Denver for DrupalCon, stopping at a quaint Czech restaurant called Euro Grill along the way to meet some friends for dinner. The combination of the snowfall, the wood-burning fireplace, amazing mountain views and great Czech beer made for a nice transition from Breckenridge to Denver. Upon arriving in Denver, we were happy to find that the house we had rented was as promised, complete with a back yard including a waterfall, outdoor fireplace, hot tub, oversized grill and view of downtown Denver. I was also happy that the symptoms of altitude sickness were finally starting to subside.
The next day we headed over to the convention center to register for the conference and set up our booth. I perused the DrupalCon info booklet and looked over the schedule of sessions to decide which ones would be beneficial for me to attend. I saw a few that caught my eye from a creative perspective and a few about theming that I thought would helpful to learn about.
The session that was most suited for a designer/creative director was originally called "The Design Revolution," but later re-titled "The Creative Approach." This talk was given Brad Haynes, Creative Director for a company called Salesforce. It was cool to hear about his experience in the design industry, how he’s worked his way up to the Creative Director level, and what he’s dealt with along the way. Brad talked a lot about the principles of good design, reinforcing many of my own opinions, thoughts, and methods. He discussed topics like left vs. right brain and divergent vs. convergent thinking--and pointed to some projects he says "humanize the web," such as the Google Chrome / Arcade Fire interactive video, the "Buy the World a Coke" campaign, and the Nest Thermostat created by the Apple exec in charge of iPod and iPhone development.
Another session I really enjoyed was called "HTML 4 S: While We're Waiting for the Revolution.” The best part about this talk was that it was given by Morten Birch Heide-Jørgensen of GeekRoyale.com. Morten is quite the character and is known in the Drupal community for his skills as well as his heavy metal / beer / Jack Daniels related Drupal T-shirt designs. He curses a lot, is really funny, picks on developers, and makes lots of references to beer and heavy metal in his presentations. He had some great info about HTML 5, front-end solutions and tricks, and responsiveness. I look forward to possibly attending his Frontend United session in Amsterdam later this month. Morten shares my affinity for "rock and roll and big ass beers" as he puts it.
I just happened to be wearing one of Morten's Drupal t-shirts inspired by the KISS logo design when one of our clients, Drew from Sandusky, stopped by our booth and presented me with an autographed copy of Ace Frehley of KISS' biography. Thanks, Drew!
Later that day, I sat in on a session called "Designing for Content Management Systems" by Jared Ponchot, the Creative Director for Lullabot. Jared talked about basic design concepts and principles that can be applied to design for CMS-driven websites. He also shared some design process tips and tricks as well as the hurdles developers must leap to accommodate ever-changing content.
I did attend other talks, but didn't get as much out them, as they were more suited for my themer and developer counterparts: “View Modes: The Many Faces of Your Content,” Zagat.com Case Study,” “Theme Preprocess Functions,” and “Beginner Theming.”
In the evenings, we spent some time exploring Denver and checking out a few restaurants and bars. One highlight was a hot dog place called Biker Jim's, which Anthony Bourdain proclaimed "makes Denver a wonderful place to be". Jalapeno elk dogs, rattlesnake and pheasant dogs, Alaskan reindeer dogs, wild boar dogs, and smoked bacon dogs… lots of interesting and delicious options. The Tilted Kilt was also a personal favorite of mine ($7 for any beer and a glass of Tullamore Dew) and I hope they are in need of a Drupal site in the near future.
Towards the end of our trip, we discovered a few great places right in our neighborhood that we were previously unaware of. Being that it was very residential, I didn't expect that there would be much around, aside from homes and condos. This area is called "the Highlands" and is an architecturally interesting historic district as well as one of the most sought-after city-center neighborhoods.
Lola, named one of the top five establishments to drink tequila in America by Food and Wine Magazine, was the first place we checked out. I also went back for a follow-up visit to ensure that it was indeed one of the top five tequila drinking establishments in America. LoLa now occupies what was the original home to the Olinger Mortuary and the 1926 winter resting place of Wild Bill Cody in what is now their downstairs tequila bar, BeLoLa. Coastal Mexican food + 150 selections of tequila + mortuary = my kind of place.
Also nearby was A Cote Bar a Absinthe. A Cote Bar a Absinthe translates roughly to, "Absinthe Hole." Designed to look and feel like a libertine hangout in early twentieth century Paris (or at least designed to be like what an American might imagine such a place would be), I was a big fan of the decor and atmosphere. I like to enjoy my beverages without being surrounded by a dozen giant flatscreen televisions, and both Lola and A Cote were rarities in this sense. Small, but well appointed, with handmade chandeliers, large mirrors, unique art, and some sort of mermaid fountain built into the wall, it was the perfect place to wrap up the trip over a few glasses of Libertine 72.
Flying back to NYC and sea level altitudes, I read most of my Ace Frehley biography and reflected on the great times, learning experiences, friendships, and majestic scenery of Colorado. It was my first trip there as well as my first DrupalCon, and I hope to have many more of both.