I had the great fortune of attending An Event Apart 2010 in Minneapolis a few days ago. This was my second AEA conference and it was an overwhelming success. If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend and consider yourself a ‘web person’ you should find an opportunity to see this ‘all-star’ show.
This year’s speakers come from rich and varied backgrounds but seemed to all have a similar goal – getting the crowd excited about user experience, something I talked about myself at this year’s WordCamp Chicago. From content to testing to development, the line-up honed in on how we as web professionals can push, pull, drag and code the next great experience for our clients. It was a refreshing and stimulating departure from day long css and development focused events. It’s also a testament to the current state of the profession, we’re well into the transition from the dry mechanics of front-end development to how those technological advances enable us to provide a more rich and usable experience for users.
Fundamental to this unified view of user experience is the participation of all sides up front and early in the planning and development of a project. This year’s speakers filled the bill covering UX design, content planning, css and front-end development. Add to that two great presentations about the history and future of the web that were ideal opening and closing keynotes and you find yourself wanting a third day.
DAY 1 – KEY TAKEAWAYS
Jeffery Zeldman – Web 2.1: The Medium Comes of Age: Jeffery took the audience on a journey through the history of the web, something I dare not attempt to repeat here. Suffice it to say it’s a talk you need to see if you have the chance.
Whitney Hess – DIY UX: Whitney’s talk pulled from real-world examples of user experience design tasks with the Harvest team. Overall it was an inspiring blend of tips and simple techniques to improve and design killer experiences. She discussed how the Harvest team has transitioned away from 3rd party customer support and moved to a single email model – all support feedback emails dump to the entire team. This is more work for the team but easier on the user, and ultimately that’s their job – to make things easier for the user. They’ve seen increased quality and quantity of feedback and that’s helped to directly improve the product.
Jared Spool – Anatomy of a Design Decision: Understanding how we make the design choices is as important as the choices we ultimately make. WHat’s vital is that we use that insight to inform future choices. Jared’s talk outlined a progression in design decision making starting with unintentional design through experienced-focused design, the holy grail of design approaches. Using Disney World Resort as a model, Jared discussed how everyone has a stake in the overall experience and how the organization has to own this level of experience design – from training housekeeping staff to make hand-towel origami through ride design – through transportation to and from the hotels.
Luke Wroblewski – Mobile First: Mobile first. A bold proposition, but one Luke defends with vigor. Luke Wroblewski, a former Yahooligan and highly regarded author and designer does an outstanding job outlining the value of designing for the stripped down, bare essence experience of a mobile device BEFORE you design for the conventional browser. Luke compels us to embrace the myriad of constraints mobile platforms pile on us as product designers; those of size, speed, processor, context, interaction and attention to help forge a better product experience. This is definitely an approach I intend to take on some new products down the road, not as an exercise in restraint, but as a way to distill the essence of the experience.
Aaron Walters – Learning To Love Humans—Emotional Interface Design: Pleasure. Something we all seek, even in the software we use. Aaron Walters presentation let us know that it’s ok to seek to satisfy our users beyond just the conventional blue-link and top logo usability of the last two decades. It’s ok to design and deliver user experiences that people WANT to use, not just experiences that are easy to use. Aaron discussed how Mail Chimp brings a a dash of humor and fun to a set of task that tend to be bland (mass email design and management). He also discussed how this humor can be lost on some folks and why a ‘party pooper’ mode finally mae its way into the interface.
Dan Cederholm – The CSS3 Experience: CSS3 is coming. IE9’s latest previews give us in the field hope that we can start using the techniques and methods sooner rather than later. Dan Cederholm showed us that we can start using these enhancements today and with a little imagination and effort we craft outstanding experiences for the browsers that accommodate CSS3 without punishing those without.