Earlier this year, when it was announced that eZ Conference 2015 is going to be held in New York, I had mixed feelings about the place of business. Two ten-hour-long plane trips and seven days out of the office seemed like quite an investment, but since we are building Netgen to be the top eZ expert, New York was the place to be.

As it happens, the Future of Web Design conference was also in town, so we decided to combine these two great events into one and took a big jump.

FOWD

Future of Web Design is a three-day conference for web designers and developers covering new and emerging developments in HTML and CSS, UX, and UI design, so it was only natural for Netgen to visit.

Out of a number of great talks, Vlad Magdalin’s "The Future of Web Design Is Not Code" was the one that struck me as most interesting and inspiring. In this talk, he argued that web design is an exception in creative industries in the sense that web designers still need to express themselves directly through code, something that no artist in other fields needs to do.

Vlad is a co-founder and CEO of Webflow, an easy-to-use website builder intended specifically for designers and web creatives. We took the opportunity to check out the tool (as it was presented in the venue lobby) and talk to Vlad himself, and I find it a truly promising piece of software. It incorporates a slick visual designer and a full blown CMS with flexible content modeling features, something seldom seen in the web builder market. It is certainly something to check out and keep an eye on. It pushes a lot of the same buttons as some of the "upper class" CMSs while at the same time being an extremely easy-to-use tool.

We at Netgen share the vision put forth by Vlad and his team and are working towards creating a tool that would be built upon Symfony and eZ providing similar ease of use for digital creatives. It is a big goal to set, but a well-put one.

eZ Conference

eZ Conference was a three-day event held on November 3-5, with the first day dedicated exclusively to workshops while the latter two were a mix of business and tech presentations.

We were not present the first day (enjoying the FOWD), but the program was quite interesting.

Day 1 - Workshops, workshops all around

The tech workshops were focused on learning development in the new eZ stack. There were many familiar faces such as Ryan WeaverBernhard Schussek, and eZ veterans likeJérôme Vieilledent and Bertrand Dunogier. The program included topics for the beginner- and intermediate-level developers and covered different topics such as the Symfony forms use, controllers, routes, templates, etc. Judging from similar workshops held by the same people on the Summer Camp sessions, it was a great opportunity to enhance your knowledge both in Symfony and eZ.

Paul Boag and Dave Wieneke led the business workshops and covered intro to user interface design and digital strategy redesign. These days, strategy and design responsibilities escape from the traditional departments and spread all over different parts of a digital organization. These are the topics of the utmost importance, and I am contrite we did not have the time to attend. Next time, for sure!

Day 2 - Partners are gathering

The second day of the conference started with the eZ Partner Meeting. It was a great opportunity to see the future of eZ Platform and eZ Studio. As it seems, next year will bring to life a lot of long-awaited changes, and all the hard work put into creating a rock-solid foundation should finally pay off. Let's just say that we are living in interesting times and eZ positions itself once again as one of the most potent platforms for organizations trying to have a deeper reach in ever-growing digital space.

The day continued with Roland Benedetti presenting eZ Platform to the non-partner audience in a keynote called “Intro to eZ Platform - Past, Present & Future”. It covered mostly the same ground as on the partner meeting, but with less detail. Next on the business track was Bjorn Dieding from Xrow who talked about integrating eZ Publish with e-commerce and ERP solutions via BPM workflow engine.

On the tech track, our own Ivo presented Netgen's vision of integrating e-commerce seamlessly with CMS by combining eZ with Sylius. By fusing these best-of-breed solutions on the shared platform provided by Symfony, we believe it is possible to create a combination that can really change the way we think of integration of open-source solutions. As Ivo put it, this can really be a "monster" a lot of our clients need. You can check out more in the blog post on ez.no and try it yourself with ourNetgenEzSyliusBundle available on GitHub.

Whirlpool EMEA case study was the next presentation on the business track, and it was really inspirational to see a giant company harvesting the power of eZ and Symfony to produce an ecosystem of solutions ranging through 45 countries.

The day ended with a keynote by Paul Boag that touched on something we all know and feel - user experience became a field that reaches far beyond the responsibilities of only designers and digital strategists. In a superbly delivered presentation, Paul reminded us that all that each and every department in a modern organization co-creates the experience their users receive and that it is crucial that work we do as digital creatives is impregnated into every part of that experience. In other words, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Day 3 - People get awarded!

The final day started with a keynote by Deane Barker from Blend Interactive who talked about the fact that today the content we create and manage is not contained in the CMS only. Social media and integration with other systems create an ecosystem of different content repositories, each of them chipping off a piece of the story we are trying to tell. In such environment, CMS as the main content hub needs to adapt and provide its users with better tools to control this whirlwind. Well said.

On the tech track, Ryan Weaver presented changes in Symfony3 and the program continued with presentations by (among others) Sebastian Morel on managing eZ users in MongoDB and Gilles Guirand on web performances and reconsidering CMS as a solution for the media sector. Since it was impossible for us to attend all of the talks, we would be grateful if eZ provided some video materials.

Karen McGrane took over the business track talking about adaptive content and the recent efforts in the industry to use contextual information in order to target specific users with different content. According to Karen, the hype about using such methods is somewhat overblown and we should first try to create a solid content architecture that gives users the right information and only then think about using the adaptive approach, but with care and only if needed. I agree with this stand and I also believe in the idea of "One Web" where all content is available on any device in any context. Taking assumptions about users based on their devices or locations can be expensive and dangerous and, therefore, should always be thought through.

Continuing the e-commerce theme (obviously a big trend in CMS), Ania Hentz and Frenk Dege presented Silver E-Shop, an enterprise shop solution fully integrated with eZ Publish. As a product of a few years of development, the solution is integrated with a plethora of external systems including ERP (SAP), PIM, and CRM, and seems to be a great solution for complex e-commerce projects. Great work from our friends at Silver Solutions.

The conference (as always) ended with a celebration of eZ Community at eZ Awards Ceremony. This year Netgen and its people were nominated in four categories:

  • Innovation of the Year - Netgen - for eZ + Sylius integration we have implemented with our partners at Keyteq and Locastic
  • Contributor of the Year - Edi Modrić - for continuous work he put into Tags bundle
  • eZ Social Supporter of the Year - Ivo Lukač
  • Blogger of the Year - Ivo Lukač

In the end, we won one of the four awards (eZ Social Supporter of the Year), and it was great to feel the appreciation of the community. We also congratulate to all nominees and winners as we all benefit from the great work of our community (our partners from Keyteq were also nominated in two other categories and won Best Website User Experience for hougenbok.no).

The complete list of nominees and winners can be seen on the eZ Systems' website.

Conclusion

As mentioned in the beginning of the post, being out of the daily office routine for seven days (together with Vjeran and Ivo) was quite a burden for Netgen's schedule, but I believe it was worth it.

The purpose of our tools (such as CMS) and the expectations users put in front of them change rapidly and it is crucial that all companies making a living in digital space stay focused on providing the best value to their customers. Therefore, I believe that combination of Symfony, eZ, and contributions and services provided by integrators such as Netgen offer a rock-solid tool set for building digital solutions that can stand the test of time.

This trip was also a great opportunity to share the experience with our peers in the eZ and broader web community. Catching up with old friends and getting to know some of the new ones is one of the main benefits of attending conferences such as these, and I feel re-energized after seeing all the great stuff done by our communities.

And, of course, enjoying a few almost-summer-like days in Big Apple is always a treat :-)

Some links for more details:

http://conference.ez.no/

https://futureofwebdesign.com/nyc-2015/

https://webflow.com/

http://ez.no/Blog/It-s-official-the-2015-eZ-Award-winners