Charis Roodain conversation with Vasilis van Gemert

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Charis Rooda is a Dutch web developer and conference organiser. A few years ago she moved from The Netherlands, where she had a pretty successful freelance career, to Hong Kong. Of course we talk about the move. Why did she move? And why Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong when you have a lot of money you can always have more money. While in Europe when you have a lot of money you can have more free time

We talk about the differences between Hong Kong and The Netherlands, both personally and professionally. We talk about setting up and organising a new conference in Hong Kong, which turns out to be completely different than co-organising an already succecful conference in The Netherlands. And we talk about the work she’s been doing for Smashing Conf lately. Among many other things.


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Vasilis: You're listening to The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting, a series of conversations about quality with Vasilis van Gemert and an eclectic mix of designers. In this episode I have a conversation with Charis Rooda (as we say in The Netherlands, or Charis Rooda as you may pronounce it in the rest of the world). Charis a Dutch web developer and conference organiser based in Hong Kong. We spoke in a park in Düsseldorf in Germany. I hope you don’t mind listening to two dutchies talking english …

We talk a lot about Hong Kong. Why did Charis decide to move, what is life like, both professionally and personally, and how does she find work as a freelancer. And of course we talk about the differences between co-organising a well known conference in The Netherlands, and setting up a completely new one in Hong Kong. But as usual we start with the question What makes a thing good?

Charis: I think in general what makes something good is when somebody has put a lot of love in it.

V: Okay.

C: I think that is kind of like the main reason why stuff gets good and that’s got to do with like love also just comes from people put a lot of time in it when the stuff get good when people put a lot of time in it.

V: Okay.

C: Because most of the time when you start building something you just don’t have a clue and you only get better at something when you have a certain interest and when you decide to put a lot of hours in it and I think even when you … whatever like a junior or something well and you do put like a lot of time in it stuff just gets better. And if you just keep on doing and doing that then eventually you will make something that’s really good.

V: Okay.

C: And of course some people are more talented and stuff. I think we have like a certain interest for it than you are able to make something really good.

V: Okay. So you need interest, you need probably a little bit of talent.

C: Yeah.

V: A lot of time that’s something that you said.

C: Yeah, love.

V: And love.

C: Yeah.

V: Yeah. Okay so have to like what you are doing.

C: I guess so huh?

V: I guess so yeah yeah.

C: Yeah. yeah. We are done!

V: Yeah.

C: Cool.

V: Well, good.

C: Sweet.

V: So and what about one thing that you do is you organize conferences. Right now we are here in Dusseldorf at the Beyond Tellerand a very nice conference if you ask me.

C: Yeah, yeah absolutely.

V: I talked with Marc Thiele in a previous episode about what makes a conference good. What makes a conference good, you organize many. So tell me about your conferences?

C: Yeah. Yes so the one I am organizing is in Hongkong. I started that last year because one of the reasons was I kind of miss like being like a conference girl. It is just I don’t know. So I have done Fronteers for four or five years or so. Learned how to do it, there was nothing in Hong Kong like that.

V: So you used to organize conferences in the Netherlands, you used to visit lots of conferences in Europe.

C: Yeah.

V: And then you moved to Hong Kong.

C: Yeah. On like the last one the year we moved to Hong Kong I was chairing Fronteers so that was kind of like the last year also my whole goal of Fronteers was to kind of do every little thing so I knew how I would be able to run my own. And then I was in Hong Kong and I thought okay I wanna do this myself. I wanna try if I can make it happen because I just don’t wanna be just like your average web developer I wanna be whatever special and I wanna do that by organizing conferences. And I think it took me around two or three years to actually decide to do that. And the thing that really just got me doing that was because I talk with Luca from the Front who said […] because like my biggest concern was how can I do this with a small budget because Hong Kong is […] people in Hong Kong they are not used to conferences they don’t earn that much money as people in the Western World so my biggest concern was how do I sell tickets. And he said okay from the Front in Italy they started with a really small budget. And then I thought okay if they can do it I should be able to do it as well. And I gave it a go. And first year I put 500 hours in it, all non-profit. It was one day it turned out great. I had about 160 people visiting. People were really excited about it. Yeah so that was great.

V: Yeah.

C: It was indeed the hardest thing was selling.

V: Okay.

C: It still is.

V: Yeah.

C: It is not like Beyond Tellerand or as a Fronteers but as a Hong Kong webconf. like an Asian web conference. It is like a pretty good standard. My line up this year is really good. So I am really excited about it. There is so much stuff I more would like to do but it is mainly just me.

V: But isn’t it that the first 160, I don’t remember but I think the first Fronteers wasn’t that big as well.

C: No, no.

V: It was probably that size.

C: Yeah but it is kind of weird when you are coming from a Fronteers where it sells out 500 people. It sells out in two days and then you just need to […]

V: Yeah, yeah, or in 10 minutes. Yeah.

C: It really makes you feel like oh yeah yeah. Like when you are doing like such a big conference you are really privileged. You have like a bag of money, you know you sell out so you don’t have to worry about budget at all. And that’s kind of like that’s what I am doing all the time. Does this fit in my budget?

V: Okay. So how is sales going? Is it going better this year, the second year?

C: No it is going worse.

V: Okay.

C: But I also went from one day to two days.

V: Okay.

C: So last year was only a Saturday also it was like the first conference so people give it a go like ah whatever. Even like friends bought a ticket because it was on a Saturday. This year it is two days so people need to take a day off. Taking a day off in Asia is not that easy.

V: Ah, okay.

C: Yeah. And it is also like a bigger investment. So last year was around like 100 euros. This year it’s 200 it is still really affordable including lunch. But still it is quite a lot of money for people who are not used to buying tickets to conferences. So it is harder but it is getting there. And people are late buyers so you just wait and you wait. That’s just the way it is I guess.

V: Okay. So that sounds really like you are exploring a completely new world. Are there things that are I can imagine there are other things that are completely different when you organize a conference over there? So yesterday we talked a little bit about the idea that here you have some people who want to volunteer and something like that doesn’t really exist there.

C: No. Well it is easy to find volunteers for the day itself.

V: Okay.

C: I’d love to maybe next year build a team. I haven’t done that before with volunteers so maybe that’s not even that hard. I just don’t know.

V: No.

C: I don’t know I think also what is a lot harder that like something I find really important when you organize a conference are your suppliers. Like who is doing your catering, who is doing your tax stuff. And the good thing is if they do a good job you don’t have to worry about that on the day. And that makes everything a lot better, a lot smoother. And in Hong Kong like my projector this VGA. The sound is working and stuff but it is not as fancy as a venue for example. And also like catering right now I do have a good caterer but I found it a lot harder to find really good suppliers. But eventually […]

V: Okay but that’s because there is not really industry of conferences.

C: Yeah, or at least it is harder. And then again like it is Hong Kong it is not Vietnam it is not whatever India or Thailand so it is still not that bad. But it is harder.

V: Okay. And you told me something about that people or businesses they always want something in exchange. It is a much harder business like environment.

C: What I always say like people in Hong Kong they believe in money. And really everything is about money. And some people always say like okay people don’t mind spending 200 US for a nice dress but then when they need to pay 200 US for a conference they are like ah but that’s too much. So that’s not easy. What else let me think what was your question again?

V: So about the money. That people are harder it is business like.

C: And also people why should you just go somewhere and if you can’t […] people really wanna immediately apply it and want to see like okay how can I get money out of this stuff I learned today. So for example there is in Ireland there is Web Summit. And Web Summit are doing their own chapter in Hong Kong it is called Rise. And Rise is really expensive. I think tickets start around 700-800 end up to whatever like 2000 US or so. What do people get, there are a few talks but quality wise they are so so most of them are sponsored. There are like a lot of boots so people can sell their products and that’s where people care about. So people really want to sell their stuff, want to promo, want to network. And sometimes I find that kind of tiring because you just wanna give people knowledge instead of where people can sell each other.

V: But it is still here in the Netherlands I remember that it could be pretty hard to sell the more inspiring conferences to my bosses for instance. I wanted to go to I don’t know Deconstruct and then okay but what will you bring back. So there always has to be this practical side to it.

C: Yeah, yeah.

V: So how do you do that with the line up? Is there […] do you consider these things when you think about the line up?

C: Yes. Last year […] so least year I had Vitaly Friedman from Smashing Magazine. He is kind of like well he is kind of like the biggest name always like the biggest brand you can kind of get. And even then people like oh I have never heard of him. Which is kind of like oh okay. So what I try to do is I try of course yeah you try to get big names and also you try to get big names from big companies. Because you know the Google’s and the Microsoft they sell. And of course of course you wanna have good talks because if I put up like a line up with really shit talks it is gonna be useless and also I would feel miserable because after all it is my pet project so I am never gonna have a line up with people I […]

V: Yeah, yeah and nobody is gonna come back.

C: But yeah I really think about that. And also sometimes I think okay my line up is going a bit more towards like the coding side and I kinda know from slack channels that people are eying on my conference but I think yeah these people they don’t have that certain UX speaker yet and then I am gonna search for that UX speaker and trying to get that person in. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I am really concerned on the speakers I get and how they will convert to sales.

V: Okay and what’s the focus of the conference, so it is web […]?

C: It is broad.

V: but what about the web?

C: It is a conference for everybody who builds websites. And that’s kind of like my tagline. It is from UX to design to frontend to JavaScript to managers to start-ups. Also I wanna have it pretty broad. It is pretty broad.

V: First of all it sounds not that broad because the web can be considered much bigger than just websites. But it is websites and then everybody who earns a living with making them.

C: Yeah and I think also I think when you are an UX designer I think you should also listen to a coding talk so every now and then. And I think also when you are a JavaScript developer you should have that design talk. Because I think that’s how you should build websites after all. You should be all in one team and doing that together. And also my kind of goal is to I wanna have high quality talks. It is kind of difficult in a way because you wanna have high quality talks but you also don’t, you want that talk to be accessible for everybody. And that’s what I am trying to do.

V: I guess that’s harder with the more technical talks.

C: Yes. So I don’t have a lot of technical talks because also that’s […] I also kind of wanna have the line up that will be my favourite line up. Because we always […] that’s what you do, right.

V: Yeah. And I think there are very specialized technical conferences at the moment. So if you really need more knowledge about a certain JavaScript thing then you […]

C: Yeah and also there was like three, four months ago there was an article from Marco Arment about a conference that are dead which I thought was interesting because also […]

V: What conferences […]?

C: Are dead.

V: Ah okay.

C: And one of the reasons was because people can go onto YouTube and they can look up everything. And then you can say like oh yeah that’s not really a problem because people still just wanna have all the social bits. But then imagine when you are in Hong Kong and you are not earning that much money then I think YouTube is a direct competitor to my conference. Because people can look on all the talks online if they wanna get that certain Flexbox trick they can just Google it and they can find it. So I think that way you should also just be able to add something special to it.

V: Then I think articles, blog posts are even more of a competitor because […]

C: Maybe, yeah, yeah.

V: I think videos are crap. I never watch a video, never.

C: No, no. Well, no. Yeah I bits, yeah. No but then it is more kind of like the general internet that’s just because there is so much stuff out there why can’t you just get that free e-book instead of going to a conference.

V: Yeah well I am not sure. But yeah sure. I still like conferences.

C: Oh absolutely. I thought it was kind of like an interesting angle to […]

V: Okay so sales are going okay. And you are working on other conferences as well is that right?

C: Doing SmashingConf pretty recent. So I don’t know where that will be going.

V: It is pretty cool.

C: It is really cool. It is super excited. So I went to San Francisco three weeks ago or so. We helped out the team that was amazing. It is also I think Smashing does a lot of stuff right and I a way what I kind of like is they do program big names which I anyway I kind of do like that. Also what I really like is they are really good with diversity but they don’t brag about it which I think is really cool.

V: Okay.

C: Their friendliness is cool so like their high level of quality is really good. Like the stuff is in the details that’s what I really like and they are a really friendly bunch of people so yeah I am really excited.

V: Really cool. And you get to work on very very high quality conferences around the world.

C: Yes.

V: Which is exciting.

C: That’s really nice. And in a way I also noticed with the stuff I did for Fronteers and the stuff for WebConf that I actually have a pretty solid base like pretty solid knowledge base which is kind of like surprising like okay like there is indeed like a pattern you see in every conference and you got like the same stress moments in the morning and in the line, that’s all the same. And it is also interesting to see how people do stuff differently. And it is cool. It is very nice.

V: Yeah yeah if you look at Fronteers well there is lunch. I think one of the things that I really like about Marc Thiele’s conferences is that there is a huge lunch break. You have to take care of your own lunch and after every talk there is a break so these are the personal things about his conferences that I really like.

C: Yeah and I think also that in general well that’s also really got to do with like the whole subject love that is something that makes a conference good. Like because he just puts in like a lot of personal preferences that makes it special. Because well you also so every now and then you feel like a conference has been organized by like a company or so.

V: So are there any Charis Rooda details to conferences?

C: My God.

V: I mean I can recognize a Marc Thiele conference from a distance.

C: Not enough yet I guess.

V: No?

C: Well no because it is just I am still building it up. I’d love to do more. I think in general what I kind of hoped to do when you invite speakers you kind of wanna have you kind of wanna have the match together really well. And I think this year that’s gonna work out really well.

V: Okay, so have a solid program.

C: Yeah and then also when all the speakers know each other they get to mention each other on the stage all the time. And that way I think you just get it makes it kind of more magical or so. So I think that’s one of the things. I would love to do a 1000 more things but it is just me and yeah, no. I think give it a few more years.

V: It is just you and it is also it is not really what you earn your living with.

C: No.

V: Yet. So it is not a full time job it is next to your job.

C: Yes.

V: Because in your daily life you make websites.

C: Yes.

V: Okay. And you have always been a freelancer I think.

C: Yeah well I worked for a company like a total three years or so at the beginning of my career.

V: But that’s a long time ago.

C: That’s a long time ago.

V: So ever since I know you you have been freelancing pretty successfully first in the Netherlands and then suddenly you decided now I am going to Hong Kong.

C: Yeah.

V: So tell me about the differences about working in the Netherlands and working in Hong Kong.

C: It is a world of difference really. When we just moved to Hong Kong the first kind of thing we wanted to have sorted out was our visa. And the best way to get a visa is to get a job. And then we have a Dutch passport it is pretty easy to get a visa. So I had like a local job, had a visa and whatever. Six weeks all good. So I started working at a local company and I was surrounded by really lovely people who were also pretty smart but the culture is really different. So there is really like a strong hierarchy. It is really like a bunch of coat monkeys or design monkeys or whatever they are but you are all kind of like monkeys working in the same factory.

V: Okay.

C: Instead of like this is also this is like a very local Hong Kong company. I kind of can imagine that agencies do it differently but it is still pretty much like that. So it doesn’t have to do that much to do with a creative process more like oh we just saw something we are just copy it. And yeah that’s when you are coming from Europa that just feels really wrong but also stupid. Because you know cool also what we just have seen at Beyond Tellerand it is fine to get your inspiration everywhere but you don’t want to copy stuff because it has been build with a purpose. If you copy it you just take away the whole purpose. And I remember it was like okay we want to take away a few filters. Okay I just get that because you have like a product page and there are a of filters and you want to reduce that from five to three. So I did some research Google Analytics you can measure it all and then after whatever like I just had it all done and they were like okay and then my boss saw it just like a nice page somewhere say like we are gonna do it like this and we are gonna get these filters. Super random. And I just grrr that’s just something I could not understand.

V: And is that typically Hong Kong or is it just a bad design agency because it is sounds like something that can happen in the Netherlands as well.

C: Yeah I think what I […] I think also in general Hong Kong is whatever like web wise whatever 10 years behind so it is yes it will also happen in Holland I think all the stuff that happens in Hong Kong whatever I think that shouldn’t happen, used to happen in Holland but Holland or like Europe moved on and are not doing that anymore. Because Hong Kong still feels like backwards.

V: Okay.

C: Also there is a lot of less money available for web.

V: Okay. So how come why is the […]?

C: Maybe it is still the thing that people are not willing to pay for pixels, like the old school. And also […]

V: So is it more of a […] are there fewer services, online services. Do people still pay with cash or something like that?

C: Yeah that is […] yeah.

V: Because that’s the same thing here in Germany and some people say that if you compare Germany to the Netherlands, digitally that Germany is a bit behind.

C: Yeah I don’t know whether that has got anything to do with […] because n a way it is really weird because I don’t know there is one other city in the world that you see that much expensive cars. So after all there is money. Housing prices are the highest in the world but people are not willing to pay for websites. And that’s really weird and I think also sometimes I really wonder […] also like the question like what is good. Sometimes I think in Hong Kong it is quite easily it is good enough. For example when you have like a little shop somewhere. Why would you have an online shop because that it just probably won’t help you sell more products because people in Hong Kong they like to go shopping so they will go to your shop and they won’t go to your shopify shop and then also […]

V: It makes sense.

C: It does make sense.

V: It doesn’t really matter right?

C: No. And then also in Holland when like a certain website so you wanna buy whatever something like something premium-ish and their website is shit you would tell your friends ah but they had a really bad website but then in Hong Kong every website is just really shitty.

V: Okay.

C: So you know their website is bad you are like oh […] it doesn’t like you just still trust their website, you just still enter at least that’s what I do. Call me stupid. You still enter you credit card details, the whole website, the layout is all over the place and you still just get your stuff delivered because websites are just a lot more ugly and they are 20% the price it still converts it is fine right.

V: It is a pity because I thought actually that your website, the websites that you made for your conference is just fantastic. I mean that is internationally I think that is one of the best designs, most beautifully designed website and I thought this is Hong Kong style.

C: Aha nice. I didn’t even […]

V: I Thought every website looks like that in Hong Kong.

C: Yeah. I think also one of the reason when I thought hey I want to organize a conference that just really makes a difference I can make a difference with a really good design.

V: Okay yeah.

C: That was the reason but no it is sadly it is not like that.

V: Okay that’s a pity. That’s a real pity. Because then I thought okay we should all move to Hong Kong and learn or at least go and learn how to make websites. Are there good things about this people not willing to pay so lower budget, having maybe more restrictions does that work out?

C: What I find interesting in Holland well sometimes for example you should just put it online right and people are like oh in Holland or Europe oh it is not good enough, it is not good enough. Just put it online, it is not that bad. So that’s in a way that’s what I do like. What I also I think in like in Hong Kong everything is about money and when you have a lot of money you can always have more money. While in Europe when you have a lot of money you can have more free time, you get more time with your kids, you can […] And sometimes I wished that people in Europe would give like that little extra instead of just at five o’clock oh it is five turn off their computer and run out of the office, it is done. Sometimes I think when you give that little extra you just make it a lot better. Just work a little harder. And that’s also kind of what I […] or at least that’s also more maybe like kind of like a China thing then a Hong Kong thing because China is going so much faster than Hong Kong. Hong Kong is kind of standing still. And that’s sometimes what I like in China like in China you actually can get the good, the fast and the cheap. You can get all three of them. And I think that’s awesome. And that’s well like why is China doing so well because they manage that. And of course they are not there yet of course they just copy stuff and it doesn’t look that good. But for example for my conference I source a lot of stuff from China and the stuff I get is good and I communicate with them in English. And the English is not perfect but it makes sense and after a while you get it. And it is nice and I just get it fast instead of in Holland like oh I don’t know and then you have to wait for two weeks because whatever. It is I think sometimes also like an ego thing. Like in Holland they are like oh yeah this project is not big enough for me bla bla and I just […] if I just make like a really small order in China I just still get I just get samples, I get e-mails, I get replies in two hours on really weird times because they are still working.

V: Okay.

C: And that’s great.

V: And so a while ago I talked to Peter Bilak of Typotheque type foundry and when I asked him what makes a thing good he said that everybody involved with the product. So if you talk about the product everybody involved in the product should be happy with the product. So that means the person buying it of course, the business people have to be happy with it because they have to earn a living but also the people making it. And when it comes to China well my idea is that […]

C: Nope.

V: Not everybody is happy there.

C: Yeah and […]

V: So you are very happy, the business obviously is very happy because China is doing great on that field how about the people […] or I don’t know, I don’t know.

C: Well I think that’s also the good things about China sometimes well it is also sometimes when you just freelance you are being paid to do stuff and of course your whole goal is to build the best thing possible but sometimes you are also just paid to shut up.

V: Okay, yeah.

C: And sometimes I don’t agree with stuff and sometimes I think ah I really wanna have this different because everybody is gonna lose and sometimes I also think you know what I just get paid for this I am just gonna say yes I am gonna build I don’t fully agree with it but let’s just move on.

V: Yeah, I had a big problem with that as a freelancer. I used to be hired as the problem solver so other people created problems and then I was hired to fix them and then all of a sudden I had this name that I could fix problems but that was not what I wanted to do so that’s when I quit freelancing.

C: Yeah, nice.

V: So tell me about the web. So where is it going because I haven’t been working professionally on the web for a while.

C: I hope it is going into the right direction but I am not sure.

V: And what’s the right direction and what could go wrong.

C: I think the whole open web is the right direction. I don’t think Facebook is the right direction. I am not that visionary. I am […] I do have concerns about services like Facebook, Instagram, these kind of like container kind of things where everybody is gonna put their stuff in which is of course really convenient. But I don’t know man.

V: And how about technology then? Let’s get back to […] So CSS. That’s what you work with mostly right?

C: Yeah, yeah. I think CSS is heading into a great direction. Like the CSS grid, the layout stuff it is really cool. I like the whole community about it. It goes really fast. I think yeah that’s just super exciting. What I also do notice that like the whole internet it is still being more and more bootstrapping or is more general and that’s something […]

V: And what do you mean by that more bootstrapping?

C: Just more it all looks the same.

V: Okay, yeah.

C: Fast food and I think there kind of two kind of problems because in a way to build a good website it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of love. So when you go to an agency and say I want to have a super fancy website it is gonna cost you a really big bag of money. On the other hand if you want to mock up something super fast and you get a very whatever fast food design which is super blend and that’s what most of the people choose.

V: Yeah you can also say that for most business that is good enough.

C: It is good enough. Yeah but that’s not the stuff that excites me.

V: No.

C: And I think also one of the reasons why I built the Webconf website or why the whole Webconf website is as weird as it is is because I think there should be more websites like that. It should be more exciting, it also should be usable. But there is hardly a website that really excites me, excites me as in I am not really a big fan of all this the fancy or whatever fancy moving stuff but then the stuff you can do with native HTML and you kind of get that print type of design kind of like the good typography mixed with kind of like interesting grids and you apply that to the web and I think that is magic. But I think to do that you need somebody who is really good at UX design and you need a good front-end developer and you need to get those two people and make them work together. And that is still a problem.

V: And probably a good visual designer with […] I mean if you apply these things the classic grid and typography theory to the web it gets really really interesting. I agree with you that I think this has not been investigated enough.

C: No. And it is interesting for example the designer who made my Webconf style he is not good at web.

V: Okay.

C: So he really made something super visual, just a pdf.

V: Yeah.

C: And I translated to web. And I think you can still kind of bridge that gap together but you should really sit next to each other and then build cool things and also have a lot of time and love because otherwise it will never get there.

V: Yeah does it really need that much time? I don’t know when I […]

C: Yeah.

V: I can create a website in a […] I am still fluent in CSS doesn’t really take me that much time.

C: No I think building just the website you can do that like my […] I make websites websites I just really made that in one day. Just make a new one. The thing to make it really good it takes days, weeks.

V: Of course then it is the details.

C: And then that […] when you see a website like that it is really exciting.

V: Yeah. And the bigger websites the more details. Of course that takes a lot of time.

C: Yeah.

V: So maybe that’s a thing that I was always bad at planning because I always thought oh that’s easy.

C: Yeah you just want to get it over with or so sometimes.

V: So there is grid and there is […] Do you use CSS grid a lot in your projects, how is the browser world over there? So do you have to think about old browsers things like that.

C: No also because I still mainly just work for Dutch clients.

V: Ah Okay.

C: And then also most of the time because I have done some work for Asian clients and most of the time it has been painful. Even Western clients that have been living in Hong Kong for a while you turn more Asian. So probably I will be spoiled in a few years as well.

V: Okay. So what does that mean more painful? Why?

C: I think I charge my European rates in Hong Kong and I think also that way people expect a lot more.

V: Yeah.

C: And I think most of the time I just can’t compete with local people which totally makes sense because if you have somebody who works for like half the price and also if kind of like the whole quality check is like that website should be online with five menu items then that Asian person is probably a lot well meets the criteria a lot better than I will because hey you just check the boxes for half the price for even less because they probably will be faster too.

V: Yeah, yeah.

C: Yeah. So that just doesn’t work I guess which is okay. So I just still mainly work for Dutch clients most of the time the designs you get because they still mostly work with designers and then do front end is not that suitable for grid sadly. It is most of the time mainly just check box or just positioning stuff. But it is mainly […] it is still just three blocks, four blocks, it is not […] you hardly see those really interesting lay outs with a lot of white space and have an image on the left tip […]

V: Is that because of […] do the people who design these sites maybe not know that […]

C: I guess so are they are just not excited about it enough maybe still. Or they just don’t need to […]

V: Or maybe they don’t know what can be done with it. Because that is also a thing this is new technology but I have the idea that we are mimicking what you said bootstrap websites with this. So the things that we know and we are doing it now with grid but we are not experimenting with what is this new material.

C: No, no, well I think there are still people still have trouble with responsive as well. It just takes time. Like for responsive like how long ago was that and still designers just don’t really know how stuff should flow for example. So hey it takes time.

V: Yeah, yeah. Okay so I was actually hoping that the state of the web would be a little bit more […] would have advanced a little bit more since I quit working but […] So I still have to do my job as a teacher and teach the next generation to design for the web.

C: Yeah and to experiment with it and to make crazy things right.

V: Okay. So there is actually still reason to complain because I used to complain and you always used to bitch at me that I shouldn’t be complaining […]

C: Did I?

V: That I should be solving problems. But there is actually still reason to complain I guess. Well for me. You don’t complain that much I guess.

C: I don’t know. Do i?

V: I don’t know.

C: Ah I don’t know.

V: No.

C: Well I think stuff just got a lot of better but then also if you don’t complain how can you make stuff better if you just don’t if you don’t see how you can improve stuff. If everybody’s just happy than we just […] right.

V: It is a concern of me. I really believe that some people think well this is it.

C: Yeah.

V: We are done. We know how we should design for the web. This is web UX. This is how the web should look.

C: Then we will be have like a happy state of mind maybe for me. I don’t know.

V: There are certain people who say yeah they really believe this. Yeah we are done. But I would be pretty disappointed because I know there is much more possible.

C: Yeah I agree. Yeah.

V: Any other techniques that excite you about […]?

C: Not much really.

V: About CSS?

C: Sometimes when kind of people ask me what excites me I thought responsive design was really exciting because with just two lines of code you can change the world kind of like the whole web world. I think also with CSS grid and CSS layout it is really cool. Maybe stuff like vue.js is interesting because it works I haven’t worked with it yet. Also I am doing less and less front-end stuff more organizing stuff also because I think that’s just stuff that excites me a lot more recently. I think stuff like vue.js where you can make stuff interactive like a really simple way is actually just cool because it is so […] Maybe that’s what I like when you just when something is really simple and you can make kind of like whatever complicated stuff with it. I think that’s maybe what I really like.

V: Okay. I haven’t really used vue, vue. I have used it when it was just out I think. There was a hackathon of Q42 and I was there and they used vue and what I remember of it that it actually that you don’t need inheritance that you can actually use CSS on a […] but that’s al I remember of that. I don’t know if that’s the […]

C: I don’t know. What I do know like it is been written by Evan You and he is originally a front end developer and not a back end developer so that kind of makes it like […] and I think that is also that’s why people like it because it got like some sort of simplicity.

V: Okay.

C: I think yeah. But I haven’t properly worked with it so what do I know.

V: Yeah because that was actually a pretty big problem that we had all these Adobe designers who didn’t know anything about interactivity and who didn’t care anything about how the web really works and then all of a sudden all these back end developers started […]

C: And that’s when you get bootstrap and stuff right and then you just get […] yeah you get all these […]

V: Yeah yeah.

C: Yeah, yeah.

V: Okay so you say you work […] ah so you work remote […] I always thought you had local clients over there.

C: No, no.

V: Okay so you just have a big user base or or client base in the Netherlands still.

C: Yeah, yeah and it is still growing. I still work for clients I used to work […] like I must say it is not as exciting as it used to be because for example if you are running a scrum project on site in the Netherlands is of course a lot more exciting than when you are siting behind your computer and just doing some front end stuff. It is never ‘cause some people say ah remote work it is amazing. I think sometimes it is so important just to sit next to somebody when you can just point at the same screen and you can try to get that with Skype but it is just not […]

V: But you are in such a completely different time zone as well.

C: Oh but that’s fine because you just get used to that. It is six hours right now. So I am not a morning person in a way it is really good because by the time people wake up in Holland which is around three in the afternoon so my morning is always really relaxed and I am not a morning person so around three o’clock people just start e-mailing me and by that time I can handle all the bullshit which is great.

V: Okay. Wow.

C: So I must say […] and also you have like that extra half a day where you can prepare stuff. For example when you are not really good at planning which I am in general you still have half the day to solve stuff and then you kind of just being ready at nine o’clock in the morning when they just wake up. Which is kind of refreshing for me as well.

V: That sounds good as well. So it has its advantages obviously.

C: Yeah, yeah.

V: Yeah but I remember that as well. I used to miss colleagues that was the other reason why I stopped working as […]

C: Yeah, yeah, that’s not easy.

V: And are there any co working spaces things like that.

C: Yes.

V: So you go there?

C: Yeah I work from a co-working space. Lovely co-working space. They have a […] so it is called the Hyve and they have a maker Hyve there are makers as well. I must say I have never made anything in there because somehow I am a nerd and sit behind my computer.

V: But making nowadays is mostly behind a computer and it is so much fun.

C: Oh it is but then they have like whatever 3D printers and that type of stuff. I have never used them, which in a way is a shame and I think I don’t know maybe it is also just not really my priority or so. I don’t know. Yeah and it is fun to share that floor because it is with interior designers, it is with 3D designers and it is interesting to see that everybody is kind of designing something and every process is pretty much the same. And that’s what I really enjoy so you can have kind of like the same type of conversations with completely different people kind of but you are all doing design so you are all creating. And I find that really cool.

V: Sounds really cool.

C: Yeah it is really cool.

V: A creative hub is really nice. So if you want to you can have access to all these 3D printers and laser cutters and stuff like that.

C: Yeah and then also like Shenzhen is just across the border. So Shenzhen is kind of like the hardware city so what you also see a lot. You have a lot of product designers who are based in Hong Kong because that’s you rather live in Hong Kong than Shenzhen because Shenzhen is properly China and if you want to you are just designing your stuff in Hong Kong and then you have your stuff made in Shenzhen or in Guan Zhou like one of those factories. So that is kind of like quite like a well know that is kind of how it works over there.

V: So that’s cool. So you said Shenzhen is China proper or?

C: Yeah like properly China really including firewall including everything is Mandarin nothing is in hardly anything is in English. It is China. And China is really different still from Hong Kong.

V: Okay tell me about that.

C: Let’s see. Oh man where should I start.

V: So there is a firewall.

C: Yeah […]

V: In China?

C: There is a firewall in China so Hong Kong is like a special administrative region of China. But still Hong Kong got its own passport, its own law, its own currency and for […] right now we are in like the 50-year window. I think we are around half way or so. I don’t even know where exactly. And that means that in whatever years when that window is finished Hong Kong will become properly Chinese. That is kind of like an official date when it becomes Chinese but you do notice it is getting more and more Chinese every day. And also when you look at China right now where you kind of expect the whole world to become more free and become better. That’s not what is happening in China. China is becoming more and more closed so their firewalls like they are cutting down more and more VPN’s. They are getting up their whole surveillance system where they surveillance everybody with the technique apparently they can build that. So I don’t think China is becoming a better place right now.

V: Okay.

C: And that is worrying and then also Hong Kong is also getting more and more Chinese so what you see for example there were some book sellers who were selling Chinese books and then suddenly they were just taking over the Chinese border overnight. So China just come and get them. And I think also when you kind of like from Chinese heritance you just […] they can get you from kind of everywhere. It is kind of like […] it is really weird how China sees that and that’s something that Hong Kong is really freaking out about because what is gonna happen when Hong Kong is gonna be fully Chinese. There probably will be a firewall. Like what will the law be? You just don’t know. So Hong Kong people are looking for a way out. Trying to get passports in Australia, trying to get passports in Canada and it […]

V: And is it especially certain type of people who value their freedom, who value […]

C: Yeah of course it is more the higher-class people. So they have more access to a way out like they have their kids study in the US and that way they can obtain a passport but that’s worrying because I think half of the people under 35 want to leave the country.

V: Wow.

C: And that is weird. It is like a weird place to live in if people want to leave. But still people really like Hong Kong.

V: Okay, yeah. Yeah because people go to live there. Right you moved from […]

C: Yeah, yeah but then again […]

V: The Netherlands to Hong Kong.

C: Yeah and also I am living in a bubble because when shit hits the van I just get my stuff, take my passport and leave. So living being European and living in Hong Kong you do live in a bubble.

V: Okay.

C: And yeah.

V: So do you live like an expat?

C: Half.

V: Well yeah is it […]?

C: Yeah in a way. Well we are not this super rich bankers who are just whatever you know. Snorting cocaine every weekend and just spending all our money on booze but you do you live a really different life than locals, yeah you do.

V: And you don’t mingle with locals is that as well?

C: You do because I do have some local friends but also most of them have already been abroad. Like for example if you think how many people do you know that are expats in Amsterdam?

V: Wouldn’t come to mind […] not anybody.

C: So I think just in general expats or people who come from abroad don’t mingle that much anyway.

V: Well I don’t know any expats but I do know people who moved to Amsterdam and who decided to live in the Netherlands. I think there is a difference. So there is people who decide to live elsewhere and people who are expats and consider themselves Dutch. Who don’t really move.

C: Yeah. Ah I just […] I don’t know I think we are somewhere in between or so because Hong Kong does feel like home and we might stay there for another 50 years, for the rest of our lives, I just don’t know. But I also […] in a way we are also expats because we are definitely not like the locals.

V: No.

C: But we are also not as in general expats are extremely privileged and also pretty rich. And we are not like that. Well we are privileged but we are not we don’t have a banking salary.

V: No. Okay. But you do have a higher salary than […]

C: Yeah well not everybody when you look at all the expensive cars you think like hey I would never be able to […]

V: Okay.

C: So there are also like a lot of really rich Hong Kong and Chinese people.

V: I guess so, yeah sure. There is a lot of money going on there right now.

C: Oh man it is insane. Yeah.

V: Okay so and why did you move actually? I never really […] well I do understand for reasons to leave or […] but […]

C: Love for the city.

V: Yeah?

C: Man the city is just crazy. It is just well I think it is really just how do you fall in love with stuff. Sometimes you don’t even really know right? It is just a certain feeling why do you like it. I think with I really like about Hong Kong all the different contrasts. East meets West but also concrete meets nature, high-rise meets low rise.

V: China meets the UK or […]

C: Yeah.

V: Britain or something.

C: Yeah, yeah. Rich meets poor. That’s what I like about it. I also like big cities.

V: Okay.

C: I don’t know we just fell in love with the city.

V: And the food is good.

C: Yeah. And the food is yeah […] I just feel like Asian food is good. And also like during lunch, we always go out for lunch or we always have […] I have really good Asian lunches which is really nice.

V: Okay yeah. And Dutch food can you get any Dutch food?

C: Oh you can eat Dutch food there?

V: Yeah are there Dutch restaurants?

C: Yes, yeah there is one. I have never been actually. No we kind of try to stay away from the super. Like some people […] there is like this Dutch organization and I don’t have the urge to just become a member at all. Like why should I do that. Why should I move to the other side of the world to hang with Dutch people again? We have Dutch friends but then that just happened to be.

V: Okay.

C: No.

V: So there is one or two Dutch restaurants in Amsterdam as well.

C: Oh in Amsterdam. Dutch?

V: They really say we are Dutch and we have Dutch food.

C: Really?

V: Yeah.

C: It is not like the Van Dobben Krokettenbar.

V: No, no it is more they are in the centre of Amsterdam.

C: Really that’s weird though.

V: Yeah, stamppot you can eat stamppot there.

C: Oh that’s nice though. Yum.

V: Okay. Do you have any other stuff you want to discuss on this podcast, anything you want to tell the listeners?

C: Good question. I don’t know. No. Not really.

V: Okay. So if people just should go to Hong Kong visit your conference.

C: Yeah, yeah they should. Yeah they should.

V: And visit all your conferences around the world for Smashing.

C: Yes, yeah.

V: Okay cool.

C: Yeah cool.

V: Okay thank you very much for this conversation.

C: Thank you as well.

V: This was episode number 60 of The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting with Vasilis van Gemert (that’s me) and Charis Rooda. If you feel the urge to give any feedback you are more than welcome. You can send me an email via vasilis at Or, if your feedback fits in a tweet you can find me on twitter via @vasilis. Another thing you can do is helping me pay the bills for the transcripts of this podcast. These transcripts are necessary for those of us who can’t, or don't want to listen. They’re handy for robots or people who want to analyse the contents of these conversations as well. Support can be done in many ways, and they all make me very happy. You can find all options on, like bitcoin, patreon or a virtual cup of coffee. A steadily growing list of wonderful people are donating monthly, like Paul van Buuren, Job, and my employer CMD in Amsterdam.

My next conversation is going to be with Maaike de Laat, and it is going to be in Dutch.

This transcript was funded with the generous help of CMD Amsterdam, Job, Paul van Buuren, Marrije Schaake, Michael Hastrich, Peet Sneekes, and Peter van Grieken. If you want to you can help as well by donating a (small) amount.