This week at Smashing, we celebrated 14 years of bringing you the best web design and development content — and what an interesting year it has been! Last year, I published the 13th birthday post from our team meeting in Freiburg. Back then, we were about to run SmashingConf Freiburg and our meeting was full of our plans for 2020. We were looking forward to another exciting year of conferences, and everything else that team Smashing creates. Little did we know that a year later we would all be working from our home locations, our conferences moved online, and the whole world struggling with a virus that no-one had heard of at the time.
The last year has been difficult for many people — our little team didn’t escape that. Between us, we’ve dealt with a bunch of stressful life events in addition to the pandemic. We also lost a good friend in Scott Whitehead, who died last month aged just 39. He will be dearly missed by all of us who worked with him.
Through it all, however, there is always a cheerful greeting when I log into the Smashing Slack. Some positivity on days when it seems as if nothing is going right; and a million ideas and plans despite it sometimes seeming like it makes no sense to plan anything. We’re weathering the storm, along with our wider Smashing community, and we hope that our articles, conferences, meetups, and membership have helped to make lockdown just a little less lonely.
Birthdays should be a celebration, even when times are difficult. I asked some of our Smashing Team and friends what their favorite Smashing memories were. Earlier this week, we ran SmashingConf Freiburg online, so it seems fitting that this first memory is from Vitaly about the very first SmashingConf:
“I vividly remember the first time we were waving Smashing Flags at the balcony of the very first SmashingConf in Freiburg. It was a very sunny day, with a few clouds rising above the sky, and I was walking towards Historisches Kaufhaus to get ready for the setup. It was such a powerful feeling: as I was approaching the building, I could see the flags waving from the balcony far, far away. It’s such an empowering feeling to see that something that has always been digital actually became real right in front of you.
Another feeling that had a tremendous impact on me was in a coffee shop in Kyiv, Ukraine. I was sitting and working there at a large wooden table at some point in 2014, and there was a group of young people sitting next to me. Of course, it turned out that they were designers and developers. So at some point, they stumbled upon some issue, and they opened a Smashing article and were all reading it together. It was quite a feeling because it was actually one of my earlier articles from 2010 or so, and it was so nice to see it actually being used and valued. I didn’t say anything but ordered another cappuccino, then put my headphones on and kept on working with a smile on my face. :-)”
I remember that first conference well, as I was one of the speakers along with many of my friends in the industry. Kristof Van den Eede was an attendee, and told me:
“I attended the first-ever Smashing Conference in Freiburg as a starting front-end developer. The impression it left on me is huge. I couldn’t believe I was offered the opportunity to go by the company I worked for at the time. The overall experience was amazing. I remember having my mind blown by Aarron Walter, Rachel Andrew, and so many other speakers. Since then, I’ve never missed a Smashing update or newsletter!”
Freiburg, as the home of Smashing, always has a special feel and was mentioned in many people’s memories. Sarah Drasner remembers being in Freiburg “for the 10th anniversary for the famous chocolate fondue carpet massacre!” One of our subject editors, Alma Hoffmann, also remembers meeting up with the team at a Freiburg event:
“I love Smashing! Been working with these fabulous people since 2010 when I published my first article. My most cherished memory is meeting Iris, Vitaly, Phil, Markus, Amanda, and everyone else in person at the conference in Freiburg. Vitaly, Iris and I had been working online for so long and had only seen each other on video call. Meeting in person was like out of this world! I also met incredible and amazing people whom I keep in touch with. I love the commitment to quality content we all share and want. It has been a dream to work here. Love you all!”
Marc Thiele was part of the team for the very first Smashing event and was able to host Vitaly (and provide a good camera and internet connection) for Smashing Live. He said:
“This is, by any means, the craziest and strangest year in my life. Luckily the looser restrictions now allowed, that Vitaly came over to my place to run his part of the first SmashingConf Live from my house. It was a lovely and uplifting experience in these dark days. Let’s hope that we are able to meet in person soon again.”
We often refer to our Smashing community as our friends and we love it when you feel part of what we are doing. Greg Vissing remembers his first SmashingConf,
“My favorite Smashing memory was being able to attend my first Smashing Conference in 2018 in San Francisco, CA. I had always wanted to go because Smashing Magazine was one of the reasons I got into web development. When I was told by my current employer that I could pick any conference, it was a no-brainer which one I would pick. Once I met the staff of Smashing in person, it was though I had been friends with them for years because of how friendly and inviting the conference is. I’m so appreciative of how much Smashing has furthered my career and the friendships I have made with the staff!”
I often hear from people how being involved with something at Smashing has led to unexpected things happening. Here is one such story from Eric Portis.
“In 2014 I didn’t work in tech and hadn’t spoken publicly since high school and, after a series of increasingly fantastical events, was invited to speak halfway 'round the world, to tell a few hundred people how they should put images on websites at SmashingConf Freiburg.
It was all very surreal. I met a bunch of heroes who accepted me unquestioningly as a peer. Vitaly kept asking random questions and making insane demands, always with a puckish smile. There were surprise fireworks at the speaker’s dinner. And, in line for lunch, Guy Podjarny told me I should really talk to some friends of his at an image-centric startup called Cloudinary. Yadda-yadda-yadda I switched careers and work for Cloudinary, now.
I’ll be trying to pay all of this forward for the rest of my career.
The conference team has had to quickly put everything they know about in-person events and figure out how to translate that into virtual ones. We’ve now run two conferences, Smashing Live! and Smashing Freiburg, and have two more to go — Austin and San Francisco. Charis and Jarijn are based out in Hong Kong, and were involved with the in-person conferences last year. Jarijn told me that a favorite Smashing memory was in getting to Toronto for the first time, and being able to reunite with a childhood friend who lives nearby. Charis talked about how we had to very quickly change from thinking about in-person events to figuring out how to do online ones.
“I was super looking forward to what 2020 had to bring us. 2019 was a fantastic conference year, and running our conferences in SF, Toronto, Freiburg, and New York was one of my best memories of 2019.
Looking back at what we’ve done the past few months, I can only be super proud. We had our online workshops going very quickly after lockdowns were announced, and it was great to see how well they were received. It was so much fun meeting people on the other side of the world and getting a peek into their lives.
It’s been a lot of fun figuring out how to run events online. Working together with Amanda and Vitaly has been an absolute joy.”
While I get involved with the events, the majority of my work at Smashing is already virtual. The pandemic has sometimes meant delays with writing or editing as people struggled to cope with this new normal, but we have ticked along much as we always do. We’ve managed to publish our usual article-per-weekday throughout the past few months and introduced many new writers to the magazine, as well as publishing pieces from some of your favorite authors.
“I’ve been reading Smashing Magazine for years, and it’s had such a positive impact on my growth and career development. Having the opportunity to give back and write for the website was a dream come true.
The Smashing team is friendly, whipsmart, and an absolute joy to work with. If you have been debating writing an article about working on the web, I enthusiastically encourage you to pitch them.
Happy birthday, Smashing! Here’s to many more!”
For the conference team, however, it’s all about in-person events, and a lot of planning had already happened for 2020. Venues and caterers were booked, flights and hotels arranged, and speakers planned. A memory I will take from this period is the day we realized it would be impossible to run the April San Francisco event. Things were changing so quickly, a week previously it looked as if we could go ahead. Rather than complaining, or sitting about bemoaning our misfortune, everyone swung into action to ensure that speakers and attendees were informed and logistics for postponing dealt with. Within a few days, we had online workshops in place and were building out contingency plans just in case — as ultimately happened — we needed to move the events fully online.
Amanda is our head of events, and she remembers this time saying,
“For many people, 2020 has been a challenging year, and at Smashing this has been no exception. However, when the team made the decision to first postpone SmashingConf SF, there was a lot of unknown, yet a beautiful display of teamwork, respect, and truly love coming through. For those who don’t know, the Conf team is fully remote, spanning 4 countries, and 2 continents, and this is the longest we’ve all gone from being together in person. Yet, this is probably the closest we’ve ever felt as a team and as a Smashing Family.”
I’ve mentioned family quite a lot, and some of us actually are family! My daughter Bethany has helped with video editing for Smashing in the past. With everything moved online and her theatre job furloughed, she’s been on board to help with conferences and workshops. She shared her thoughts on being part of the team,
“Though 2020 has been a bit of a disaster in many many ways I feel really lucky that the lockdown and the fact that I’ve been left without my main job has meant I’ve been able to work more and spend more (virtual) time with the Smashing team. It’s been so nice that even though we can’t all get together we’ve still been able to do so many workshops and conferences and get together over a screen. It’s just been lovely to get more involved with a company who is just full of awesome people and I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without this free time that was suddenly thrust upon us.”
And our CEO Inge Emmler linked family and work too, saying that working at Smashing is all about, “being in touch with nice, dear people only — online and offline — what could be more smashing? Well, perhaps celebrating my Mom´s 90th birthday in March. ”
I don’t think any of us want to predict what will be in store for our next year at Smashing. We are continuing to plan — perhaps with a few more plan B and C options that we had last year! One thing I do feel sure of though, is that we’ll continue supporting each other and our Smashing Community, through whatever the next 12 months bring.