Lessons from Interlink 2012: on content, craft, and tiny Japanese candy

A 3 minute read written by Alaine June 20, 2012

Interlink 2012 banner

A few weeks back, the whole YP creative team convened in Vancouver for the second annual Interlink conference. Interlink brings together web nerds of all shapes and sizes – developers, designers, content strategists, and everything in between – for a cozy two-day, 200-person meeting of the minds.

Interlink is especially great because it breaks free from the standard web conference agenda. It’s so tempting to make events like this about the how. Many of the audience questions were along those lines: ”How do I get my clients to…?” “How do I make …?” But those questions miss the greater opportunity. We have all these great minds in the same room at the same time. Let’s use this chance and talk about the why.

The importance of craft

This year's conference theme, "crafting the web", brought how and why back together. Because with all that how-ing we do, it’s easy to forget that we are making things for people. Real people, with hearts and minds and souls. Their problems are the why. Craft is the how.

One perfect example was Erin Kissane’s talk, Little Big Systems. It was the perfect balance between “what should I do?” and “what does it all mean?” 

Erin talked about the other part of the people equation – the people creating content, not just the people consuming it. We’re not just building products for end users. We’re building systems for everyone involved. And it’s important to keep people in mind, no matter how big the system.

According to Ms. Kissane, there are:

Five steps to keeping craft in big systems

1. Return to artifact

An artifact combines a material and a goal. Good systems require an intimate knowledge of artifacts, and system builders have to be sensitive to them. Our systems need to be dynamic and adjust to changing needs and situations.

2. Empower makers

Think about the people using your system to make things, not just the people that consume them. Systems should encourage excellence, not prevent it!

This ties in nicely with our content work here at Yellow Pencil. A good-looking website is important, but what about the content author environment? Improving the experience for creators will improve the experience for consumers. Happier authors = better content.

3. Work in craftsman’s time

Newsflash to no one: big projects suck because of time. There is rarely enough time or money to do everything. So work in craftsman’s time: things take as long as they take. Compromising for the sake of a budget or timeline won’t produce good work, and it will hurt our users in the end.

Cost is an issue, of course. It always is. There is a cost to going slowly, but also a huge cost to going too quickly. Better to get a subsystem right than to get the whole system wrong. If you or your client has some time/money/resources, but not enough, repeat after Zeldman:

“No. I’m sorry.” (Okay, I added the “sorry” because I’m Canadian) “But what I can do is this:”

4. Ship small but excellent

Define your minimum viable product. What’s small enough to be excellent? Your project goals cannot be broad and generic. Narrow the scope to something achievable (but meaningful).

5. Respect deep knowledge

Find the experts. Do the apprenticeships. Just like a cabinet maker would – learn from the best. “Innovate only as a last resort” (Charles Eames). Most importantly: share what you know. Record it. Leave behind bodies of knowledge that others can learn from and build on.


Erin talked about many smart people, but not just fellow web-heads: knife makers, cabinet makers, and Japanese candy makers all came for the party. This was a much-needed reminder that looking to other practices will improve our own. A myopic view – content strategists talking only to other content strategists about content strategy – will lead to the same old ideas and the same old work. Look away from the monitor! Talk to someone new.

I was grateful to have the opportunity to talk (face-to-face!) with so many amazing people. Thanks to Shawn Johnston for bringing Interlink to life. See you all next year!