An Event Apart: Boston – Retrospective

June 29, 2009

And so it begins!This past weekend my coworker @davidlink and I drove 1,500 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line to a little town called Boston, MA. Why would we undertake such a ridiculous feat you ask? My response is: To attend An Event Apart, only one of the greatest web design and development conferences on the face of this glorious planet.

Arriving in our hotel on Sunday night was such a relief. We had just driven 26+ hours from Baton Rouge to Boston. The conference was worth it.

Monday we got to hear some excellent presenters like Jared Spool, Kristina Halvorson, Jeremy Keith, Dan Cederholm, and Jason Santa Maria among others. Tuesday we were privy to the presentations of Jeffrey Zeldman, Dan Mall, Simplescott, Heather Champ, and Andy Clarke. The knowledge flowed like a river. I would love to be able to share everything I learned but I’m afraid there’s just not enough space on the internet for that. (Heh, there actually may be.)

But some really key points I picked up on from the conference are:

  • Doing it just like Amazon.com does it, is not necessarily the best solution for everyone.- You have to have to traffic to sustain the type of site that amazon has, and amazon has millions of pageviews a day. Searching for something obscure on amazon typically doesn’t wield helpful results, you need a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for.
  • Content is not a feature. Content generally gets overlooked and we as web developers have been trained to accept the “put-off” of content until the final stages of the site. When, ideally, the content should all already be assembled and ready to go before the structure and architecture of the site are completed.
  • Be bold, use structure, and sketch ??????? ????????? ????? ?????? ????????? 2

    – Jason Santa Maria talked about the marginalization of design not due to inability, but due to fear and lack of process. He strongly emphasized using a grid structure, the types of grids to use, and the power of sketching.

  • Sketching is not about what kind of artist you are but about the flow of information and ideas. Once you exhaust all the normal and conventional ideas you’re forced to think outside of the norm.
  • We need to plan for the future. The DISTANT future.– Jeremy Keith talked about planning for the future through our CSS and using fluid layouts, jquery, and javascript. Cool URI’s don’t ever change. It was really a talk about your legacy on the web, and how the argument could be made that not only are screens getting bigger, they’re getting much more varied. So when you’re coding a site, you need to allow it to adapt to the future.
  • Web Designs should ultimately lead back to user interface and usability. If something isn’t producing a good number of clicks, find out why and fix it.
  • Test, Retest, and Evolve –  Simplescott creative director for the Obama Campaign’s website showed us the entire process he went through while working on Obama’s site. The key point communicated was that through testing, and evolution eventually a final was approved, and through user testing they could see that it was an easily navigable site.
  • The fold is dead. – Everyone has a mousewheel now. The day when we needed to worry about what fit on the very first part of the screen is over. People will scroll down, and they will see your content.
  • Make lemonade out of lemons –  Heather Champ (Community Manager at Flickr) had a great story about how when their site crashed, they ran an impromptu creativity contest with just 2 circles as the original idea. The users of the site then went to all ends of the spectrum and created some really cool effects (rather than freaking out about flickr being down). It’s a testament to ingenuity and finding ways to turn a bad situation into a good one.
  • Re-engineer your workflow. Make mockups in browsers not photoshop. – Andy Clarke dropped this bomb on us as the last presenter. Making mockups in browsers is so unconventional and yet, after he really explained the process it makes  sense. It can clearly communication subtle web behaviors like hovers, javascript, and more. And if the client wants a sitewide color change, one line of css fixes that rather than changing a whole mockup.

I walked away from An Event Apart with all my premonitions and expectations annihilated. It was the most inspiring moment of my career. I would personally like to thank @brianrodriguez for sending me, because it is truly something I won’t forget.