Off the Map

Gel Conference Map Workshop

May 23rd 2011

At the end of last month, I teamed up with Wendy Brawer, founder and director of Green Map System, to give a map-making workshop at her studio in the East Village as part of the annual Gel (Good Experience Live) Conference. Gel is a great event; as a featured speaker in 2010, I attended the whole conference and came away inspired. Like last year, Gel 2011 inspired me–not just the speakers and activities, but the interactions and energy among attendees.  The workshop Wendy and I gave this year was a city mouse/country mouse, tech mapping/manuscript mapping kind of thing: let’s just say I was the homemade map country mouse, as opposed to downtown Wendy, who infuses technological mapping with local and very human sustainability patterns. However different we are in approach, our aims–to deliver meaningful maps–are identical, and we loved the idea of giving a workshop together. Here was the challenge: we had 2 hours to provide a tasting menu of our respective map-making practices, and to demonstrate how we dovetail. Luckily, our attendees–young, creative, savvy, curious (typical Gel conference profile)–were quick studies, and moved back and forth between Wendy’s activities and mine. Despite the time constraints, many of our guests managed to create clever hand-drawn maps. For more details and photos, see Wendy’s blog entry on the workshop.


Gel Conference 2010: Brain Spa

May 4th 2010

Tamara Adlin of UX Pioneers calls Gel (Good Experience Live) “the coolest conference in the whole wide world,” and I’m with her.  To quote Mark Hurst, the usability event’s founder and host, “Gel is a conference that teaches good experience by creating a series of good experiences throughout the conference.” And here’s the thing–I had a series of really good experiences at this event, for which Mark had drafted me as a speaker.  Fortunately, speakers are also granted full attendee privileges:  I went to the workshops and talks, mingled with creative and brilliant youth (that’s what it seemed like–the smartest and nicest 30 year-olds ever), ate organic food on bamboo plates, drank water and wine in real glasses, and went on a fabulous field trip to Dead Horse Bay-a great bus outing to a beautiful and haunting landfill of early 50’s refuse.  Matt Haughey (Metafilter guy) does it more justice than I can–read his blog entry.  The heart of the conference was The TimesCenter, an excellent venue.  Most of the speakers described their unusual and creative careers–I was wondering ahead of time how I’d fit in, but that’s the tie that bound us all.  How Mark kept us stimulated throughout:  short talks (20 minutes), variety–including music (from The Gregory Brothers to the Ebony Hillbillies to Dr. Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey on the Rocks, who in her 20 minutes had all of us singing Zulu chants in rounds), restorative breaks. During my slot, I talked a little about my maps, but mostly about all the great stuff going on in the map world, whose cradle is now the internet.

Most of the attendees were veterans–they come to Gel year after year.  I understand why:  you come away celebrating creativity, communication, and possibility.  Check it out.