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October 13th, 2010

An Event Apart Recap Day 2

A while ago I shared some initial thoughts after attending An Event Apart and, since registration has opened up for the 2011 conference I thought it was a good time to provide a recap of Day 2 of the 2010 event (apart).

As I mentioned previously, An Event Apart featured a much-needed change in focus from other conferences and workshops and focused on how developers and designers can make the user experience better from top to bottom.

From localcelebrity on Flickr

Day 2: Key Takeaways

Eric Meyer – Everything Old Is New Again: I first saw Eric Meyer speak at An Event Apart in 2007 and was blown away with his ability to translate difficult concepts into easy to understand chunks. Eric built on some of the wow concepts shown by Dan Cederholm the previous day to help find modern solutions to legacy problems, including: rounded corners, box-model sizing and device/media selection. His talk shows we’ve come a long way, but there are new challenges awaiting us: more browsers, more devices, more versions, more problems.

Jeremy Keith – Paranormal Interactivity: HTML 5 is beating a path to all of our doors. Jeremy Keith wrote the book designing for this ‘new’ technology but his talk was much more focused on the ‘why’ and less of the how. Starting with the fundamental technology of human speech he discussed human interaction across regions and spanning language via icons and other visual elements. One point that really struck home was how we as designers can take cues from other mediums but should be very, very careful to emulate and not imitate them. Finding solutions that work for our medium (the web) is key.

Erin Malone – Patterns, Components, and Code, Oh My!: Yahoo is highly regarded for it’s open design approach and use and sharing of design patterns. Erin Malone was instrumental in making that happen. Design patterns are difficult but worthwhile undertaking, and are gaining moment in software. Patterns were initially devised for architecture and some forward thinking engineers applied the concept to object oriented development in 1994. Erin’s work at Yahoo and for others has expanded on the pattern concept and she and her teams have developed a sound and repeatable approach to creating and managing via patterns. Some of her key points were: patterns are for the norm, not edge cases; patterns aren’t specs, patterns require you to make decisions not insulate you from decisions; and finally patterns are the core with research used support assumptions. Having spent more than 5 years in the thick of design patterns working with enterprise software I felt Erin’s talk was spot on and a great introduction for teams unfamiliar with the concept.

Kristina Halvorson – Message and Medium: Better Content by Design: Of all of the talk at AEA this was the one that I was least prepared for and the one that left me feeling like I had truly learned something new. Content and its place in the web design/development lifecycle has always been an mystery to me. I thought I understood the value of content – you know the stuff that replaces the Lorem Ipsum – but after listening to Kristina I have an entirely new respect and valuation for words on the pages. She showed us how elevating the content creator/curator in the process and making sure to include a content strategy early on can produce a better all-round product and make the transition from design comp to completed work quicker and easier. This was a big lightbulb moment to see how dramatically the content on the page effects the overall experience – something that will better inform my process and decisions in the future.

Ethan Marcotte – A Dao of Flexibility: Ethan has become a bit of a guru for flexible design – taking grid-based logic and applying to an adaptive canvas. In his talk he walked the crowd through how to construct a truly adaptive, flexible grid design that is optimized for key display sizes. One big takeaway was that it’s acceptable to vary the experience based on the screens size – both small (think iPhone) and big – think 30-inch cinema display. Using some new CSS3 tricks as well as degrading for older browsers, Ethan explained how to optimize elements, build an em-based grid, focus on ratios and not pixels and how to embrace media queries and ‘snap to’ a given display size. An excellent talk, but not for CSS neophytes.

Jeff Veen – How the Web Works: I walked away a bit dazed from Jeff’s talk, he has an uncanny ability to tell a great story and to inspire you to go and build cool stuff. He does an amazing job of bridging the history of technology and business with the modern web/startup culture. I was most struck by his belief in getting a product built quickly and getting it into people’s hands as soon as possible. From there iteration and responsive enhancement is key – but if you wait too long you won’t only miss an opportunity you could miss the boat all together. He was the perfect capstone to two full days of inspiring presentations.

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