An Event Apart (Day One)

The people of An Event Apart are not only savvy webbies—they are dynamic speakers and engaging people. I left the conference with a brainfull of great new knowledge as well as an admiration for each of the speakers. But since a personal attachment* to these folks is only attainable by attending the event yourself, you’ll find below a few quick thoughts on what they each presented, instead of further ramblings on each speaker’s awesomeness.

Day one brought Jeffery Zeldman, Nicole Sullivan, Dan Cederholm, Luke Wroblewski, Kristina Halvorson, and Jared Spool to the stage.

1. Jeffery Zeldman

  • Presentation: Web 2.1: The Medium Comes of Age
  • The unexpected: The history of print
  • Favorite quote: “Designers love to do stuff for free, especially when they have clients they’re ignoring” — why the CSS Zen Garden was such a hit.

Jeffery started us off with a great sense of history—a topic carried throughout the conference. The work we do when we build websites is not simply the development of the internet; it continues the growth and democratization of knowledge. Though many attend gatherings like An Event Apart to learn how to make our websites better, it is this sort of perspective-providing topic that drives my passion for in-person learning about the web. People, not computers, make the internet.

2. Nicole Sullivan

  • Presentation: Object Oriented CSS
  • The unexpected: Remember, kudzu is evil
  • Favorite quote: “Hacks should make you feel icky.”

Nicole knows CSS. Before jumping into her CSS strategy, she summarized how the top 1000 websites poorly implement CSS. By presenting the survey, she not only blew our minds with figures, she sneakily provided a list of CSS mistakes to avoid. To further decrease CSS bloat, Nicole promotes using object oriented CSS. Writing OOCSS starts with surveying your site to determine its most basic components—headings, media blocks, pop-ups—and evaluating your code for redundancies. After you have a better understanding of the building blocks of your site, you restructure the code based on the core elements of the visual and structural design.

3. Dan Cederholm

  • Presentation: The CSS3 Experience
  • The unexpected: The stuff we leave on the moon
  • Favorite quote: “I’ve chosen to give them just some color rather than the spacy thing, because they don’t deserve it.” Poor CSS3-unaware browsers.

Many web makers today are in favor of “progressive enhancement”—as long as the functionality and content of a website are available through each browser, the website has no need to appear identically in every browser. Dan promotes using progressive enrichment, which promotes providing visual rewards when a user visits a site with the most standards compliant browsers. In his presentation (and on the demo website), Dan demonstrated how to use the newest and coolest CSS3 features to enhance standards compliant browsers’ experience, without sacrificing the style and markup of the less-compliant browsers.

4. Luke Wroblewski

  • Presentation: Mobile First!
  • The unexpected: I’d never heard of the litl.
  • Favorite quote: This (particularly crowded and confusing) website “needs to pixelate and die.”

Luke encourages web makers to cut the crap and focus on the good stuff. He advocates that by designing a website for the mobile web before designing for the desktop web, a team can better keep content and functionality simple and to-the-point. Luke’s presentation was full of stats and facts to consider. I admired his principles as well his enthusiasm for the creativity that results from constraints.

5. Kristina Halvorson

  • Presentation: Message and Medium: Better Content By Design
  • The unexpected: Getting the audience to sing Happy Birthday to her son, Gus
  • Favorite quote: “Nobody’s coming to your site for the design. Nobody’s coming to your site for the page load time.”

Kristina gave us a great way to test the consistency of a web site’s message. First you work out your primary message — which, by the way, is not a mission statement, and should not be on your home page! Then, with the primary message in hand, you walk through the main pages of your site. She used Ben and Jerry’s as an example: “We always craft our eclectic collection of euphoric ice cream flavors with love, all-natural ingredients, and a plan for global goodness.” If you cannot see the message in every page and feature, rewrite or redesign the page.

6. Jared Spool

  • Presentation: Anatomy of a Design Decision
  • The unexpected: Grey’s anatomy and some really gnarly websites
  • Favorite quote: Describing Jakob Nielsen as “the highest paid grumpy person” in the user experience field.

Besides cracking up the room, as he is known to do, Jared presented five methods for making design decisions.

  1. Unintentional design
  2. Self design
  3. Genius design
  4. Activity focused design
  5. Experience focused design

Though Jared explains that each method has its use, he points out that each level requires more resources and produces more reliable results than the level before it. He notes that teams of the higher design decision levels tend to rely more heavily on informed decisions than rule-based decisions. The most telling conclusion, from my perspective, was this: Agencies can’t go beyond genius design; only in-house teams have the potential to understand the activities and experience best for their users.

The Afterparty

After a very exciting day of web making goodness, many of us headed to the Mad Hatter. I had the pleasure of talking with several fellow conference attendees (with whom I hope to maintain contact) as well as… Nicole Sullivan, CSS extraordinaire!

Quick responses for AEA day two coming soon.

* I pondered whether I should use the standard journalism convention of referring to a person by their last name, but resolved to instead stick to first names. The speakers of An Event Apart are very accessible and (as far as I can tell) love geeking out with the attendees, so it only seems appropriate to talk about them in a familiar tone.


About Veronica Erb

Designs, researches, illustrates, and writes code. Plays ukulele. Dances Balboa. Grew up in a geodesic dome, and hasn't gotten over it.
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