Material: 2017 Synopses

Tuesday, December 10th, 02019 at 11:11 UTC

20+ years of the Web and we are still at the very beginning of understanding and implementing digitization.

Material 2017 was our first conference event. A year earlier Joschi and Brian tried to kickstart the conference but it didn’t manage to get off the ground. We attribute that to a few different reasons. We didn’t want to put too much personal risk out there so we asked for enough money to cover all our costs. This made our funding goal too lofty for an event with no past record. The other issue was that people wanted to attend, but couldn’t commit to a ticket and then look for flights and hotel for an event that might not even happen. It was hard because we did a lot of work, lined up speakers, venues, events, etc all for naught. We did take what we learnt and applied it to this first event. We put a bunch of personal risk out there and decided to have the event no matter what. 

One goal for the first event was to break out if this chicken and egg cycle. It is hard to convince people to attend a conference if there is no history or examples of what type of event this will be like. At the same time, we didn’t have any previous events to use as marketing. We needed at least one successful event to make sure we could have more in the future. 


Joschi and Brian were both looking at the Web in a different way than most. We’ve both been to enough conferences about specific technologies to have gotten bored and were searching for something that didn’t exist. So we created it.

Before we started, there were two strands we wanted to potentially explore:

The first was the thought that in digital world, we have lost the Apprentice/Master relationship. Spending years getting our hands dirty with an expert, learning slowly and really understanding the material rather than the framework. We need to be asking ourselves what sacrifices should we be making for the convenience of our customers rather than shortcuts for ourselves.

The second was, what properties of materialness exists in the Web. For centuries we’ve worked with wood, metal, glass, ceramic, paper, textiles. More recently, new materials have emerged; plastics, fiberglass, silicon, and more. We understand their limitations, their affordances. We can fold, heat, manipulate and warp some of these materials. But the Internet and the Web are still very new to us. We don’t fully understand them as a material.

What does this mean for the Web? What are the properties of the Web as a Material?

After some discussion, we decided to focus less on the Apprenticeship idea and more on the Material – hence the name. We looked at a few high-level concepts and started to work from them:

For the first time we are facing a generation that never got to know the offline world. By nature they are riding the wave without ever having touched the ground.

We might have unlearned our ancestors’ knowledge about materials and crafts, it’s easy to overlook the intrinsic characteristics of the Web in favour of the newest framework or boilerplate.

Our content should be ‘evergreen’. Even if you comeback to it years and years later, the thoughts, processes, examples and experiences should be as true that day as they were when they were spoken. It isn’t about the now, it is about the underlying knowledge which is then applied in the current time and situation. We focus on learning to learn, asking the right questions and looking back to see what we can reuse from life-times of pre-existing knowledge.

Conference  Web

Our goal with this conference wasn’t to make money, we wanted to bring people together to talk about this new idea of the Web as a Material. We personally consider it a success if within 5 years someone who attended our events starts a new company based on something they saw or heard. Many, many years ago, we attended the conference and in the hallways some of those discussions and ideas blossomed into amazing new products. We’d feel proud if we could contribute in a similar way.

Overall, we managed around 42 attendees from 6 different countries 🇳🇱🇩🇪🇺🇸🇬🇧🇮🇪🇦🇺 and 21 live streaming tickets and 9 excellent speakers. We are very proud of our percentage of international attendees. Around 55% percentage took a chance on us and came from abroad to spend the day learning in Iceland. A big thank you to everyone, it wouldn’t have been possible without you. 

We recorded all the sessions which are all available on the archive site, but we also added them here along with a synopsis of why we thought this was an important topic and what we learnt along the way.

Material is a conference exploring the concept of the Web as a material. There are lots of subtle things around this material concept that we’ve done, some more successful than others. With each of our speakers we’ve ask them to bring or demo something physical. Solidwool brought some samples to show, Omnom brought some samples to eat.

We’ve tried to draw from nature for some of the branding each year. In 02016, when we started the 16th element of the periodic table is sulphur. Therefore, we want with a strong yellow for the logo. 02017 was blue-green since the 17th element is Chlorine. 02018 was purple for Argon and now 2020 is more of a muted brown/grey for Calcium. We tried to tie how and why each of these elements is interesting in Icelandic context.

Multiple Layers

Since this was a small conference, we stuck with a single day and a single track. We’ve been to enough events to know that it is a lot more than just the speaker slots. There are interactions between attendees, discussions in the hallway and over food and coffee. But not everyone can attend, so we wanted to try to do something that works on multiple layers.

At the lowest level, we have all of the sessions recorded, so you can always watch or listen to each talk online as a video or through your ear-holes as a podcast.

There is also a live stream of the event, which is archived if you know where to find it. These are all the sessions, but not just the talks. We have teasers, intros, outros and even a few smaller 5 minute talks to help tie things together. To see these, you either need to watch the live stream or attend in person.

Finally, attending the conference itself. You see all the talks, these little extras, but get to meet other like-minded folks and have discussions.

Anyone can dip in or out of any of these three from year to year or attend at the level that suits you. Either way, we are trying to add unique value where it makes sense and to not have the exact same experience at each layer.

The Venue

For our first year, we used the Nordic House in Reykjavik, Iceland. It is an amazing venue designed by the great finish architect Alvar Aalto. Coffee and lunch were served on site and provided as part of the ticket price.

Since the venue is located so closely to the University, the venue is setup for recording and streaming. That made it very easy for us to offer a live-stream, great recordings and all the A/V equipment ready to go. It was just one price to rent the venue and A/V and a second price for the streaming and recordings.

There is an onsite restaurant and since our numbers were small enough, we booked the whole place for lunch. Everyone really enjoyed the small atmosphere and ability to chat with other attendees all around a table. Some event you are to fend for yourself for lunch. (This obviously keeps the prices down and logistics simpler) Other events can only have buffet lines due to the number of people and venue seating. We’ve been to events were these two options work great too. But due to the location and size, we took the opportunity to have a sit-down, hot meal and people really enjoyed it!

Overall, the conference was a success. Everyone really enjoyed themselves/ We got a shot of energy from the speakers, audience and the whole day. It was obvious, that we needed to do this again. After about 48h of rest, we started planning for 02018!

Thank you everyone who attended and supported us!

You can view all the video recordings and subscribe to the Material podcast on the Material Archive site.

If you are interested in learning more, please have a look at the Material Website join the mailing list so you never miss out on announcements, updates and deals.