As its name implies, Contentful’s 2021 Fast Forward conference promised to help digital builders and marketers launch the next generation of connected experiences faster. The second annual conference, held November 3-5, was meant for contributors from all of the various parts of the digital building process, from developers and architects to content authors and C-suite executives.

Several DEG, a Merkle Company team members attended the three-day virtual conference, with the goal of expanding their knowledge and expertise within the industry-leading content platform. But before we learn about the highlights from this year’s conference, let’s take a moment to understand what Contentful is.

What is Contentful?

Contentful is an API-first (aka “headless”) content platform that’s built to scale across any and all digital channels. Whereas monolithic legacy CMS platforms tightly couple content to a single presentation layer and limit which technologies can be used with them, Contentful’s stack-based approach and extensible App Framework gives builders the power and flexibility to create a perfectly tailored solution for any digital experience.

Key conference takeaways

We expected to see announcements for new Contentful platform features at Fast Forward, but there were surprisingly few. Instead, most of the conference’s sessions seemed to be focused on fine-tuning existing features (such as its already impressive App Framework), as well as showcasing omnichannel digital experiences that have leaned heavily on Contentful’s scalability and composability.

Here are a few of our main takeaways:

App Framework is a first-class citizen and major differentiator. Contentful’s App Framework lets developers customize anything, and that’s not hyperbole. Practically every aspect of the Contentful web interface can be customized to suit any business or technical need, and every content field and component is open source (via Contentful’s Forma 36 design system) and reconfigurable.

No one explained how the App Framework is changing the content game better than Benjamin Keyser, VP of Product for Contentful, in his session on 2021 platform investments. By incorporating best-of-breed third-party platforms (such as Shopify for commerce or Uniform for personalization) directly into the Contentful web interface via the App Framework, Benjamin showed how digital builders can create a technology “stack” that’s purpose-built for the task at hand (in his example, composable commerce). Many of these apps are already available as one-click installations from the Contentful Marketplace, with more being added regularly.

Builder-centrism is here to stay. Contentful takes pride in being created by builders, for builders, and this doesn’t show signs of changing any time soon. Paolo Negri, CTO and Contentful Co-Founder, reiterated that flexibility and builder-centric features are core parts of Contentful’s DNA, and that an A+ builder experience helps facilitate an A+ end-user experience.

There were also several impressive “deep-dive” tech sessions you’d normally only see at much larger conferences, including an entire day of master class sessions. One case study on custom content-preview strategies thoroughly impressed from an implementation perspective, whereas representatives from FIFA focused more on supercharging their authoring and development workflows to power an incredibly robust omnichannel soccer fan experience.

Take care of yourself, and each other. Not every session at Fast Forward was explicitly about the platform, and some of the more “soft skill” sessions were among the conference’s best. Two sessions – “How to Be Truly Accessible” by Rachel Morgan-Trimmer of Sparkle Class, and “jQuery is Not Dead and That’s Fine” by Jayne Mast of Confrere – spoke about the importance of accessibility and inclusion for all, and how crucial it is to remove technological gatekeeping from society.

Meanwhile, prolific blogger and podcaster Scott Hanselman from Microsoft closed out the second day with “Productivity in a Time of Coronavirus,” a refreshing reminder to take a deep breath and reprioritize what really matters in an era where long hours and hyper-efficiency seem to be winning out over self-care and civility.


Is Contentful the right fit for your business?

As a Contentful enterprise partner, DEG has the knowledge and platform expertise to help brands leverage the platform to solve their unique business needs.

We built CAKE (Contentful Accelerator Kit for Enterprise), our market-leading accelerator, to dramatically tighten the gaps between business goals, strategic vision, and technical implementation. This helps our brands get their ideas to market faster, better, and with greater confidence than they ever thought possible.

Let’s talk about how we can work together to solve your business’s digital experience needs.

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