Over the past few days, I attended one of the world’s premiere web design conferences, An Event Apart, which has now become one of the most inspirational events of my life. Now, to give you a brief idea as to what I experienced, it essentially can be described as a 2-day celebration of working in this industry, creating websites professionally, as it should be noted that this is “The design conference for people who make websites.” However, those who could benefit from this conference can be anyone involved in the direct or indirect production of a website; including your organization’s account executives, sales representatives, your bosses, programmers, developers; even your clients.
With such a broad audience receiving potential benefit from a conference, you may wonder what kind of topics could possibly be covered, and how were they presented? Well, I’m so glad you asked. The morning kicks off with conference co-organizer, the “King of Web Standards”, Jeffrey Zeldman running you through his version of the “Ten Commandments of Modern Web Design”. Up next, Eric Meyer – the Grandmaster of CSS (in my opinion) – steps on stage and gives you his expert insight on how to define a “Strong Layout System”; that is, of course, once browser support catches up to the vast features found ingrained into CSS3.
The fun doesn’t stop there; another 10 of the web’s finest, most-well known advocators and practitioners take the rightfully captive audience through their one-hour talks, fully immersing the audience’s willing minds into their topics of choice. This includes Jon Tan, co-founder at Fontdeck describing web typography, Luke Wroblewski (the busiest man in web) running us through how content appears online, and who’s writing it. Scott Jehl (his credits include the responsive implementation of national newspaper The Boston Globe) gives us pointers on responsibly designing websites responsively. Josh Clark, or as announced by Jeffrey Zeldman as “Doctor Touch” runs us through the slides found in his topic “Designing for Touch”. This brings day 1 to an end. Yes, there’s still another day, as jam-packed with information and ideas that you can really take with you.
Continuing on the trend that was formed the day before, Jeremy Keith opens the morning by telling us how to embrace the “Spirit of the Web”, Colleen Jones gives us reasons to want to offer the ability to “compare” to our users, and Karen McGrane explains how to plan and strategize content delivery for web, no matter your end-user’s device. The afternoon sessions begin with their best foot forward, as the stage gives away as Aarron Walker, Director of User Experience for MailChimp, speaks inspirational material surrounding brands that create emotional connections with their audience and the reasons to why you’d want this. Finally, the day finishes strong with Kim Goodwin laying out the facts of how compartmentalising your users my be the biggest cause of bad user experiences, and Jared Spool preaches to the choir on why it’s the most excellent (great) time to be a User Experience Designer.
I now want to cover the points that I consider being my favourite, the moments I experienced that really stuck with me. While Eric’s presentation on “Strong Layout Systems” may not be for everyone, the style and tone in which he delivers the technical details transforms this topic into information that is incredibly approachable. The entire context surrounding the talk dealt with our needs as front-end designers requiring a system to form our creative layouts. Covered was our ability to adapt the tools we were given in the past to create our websites as we needed; using floats and position on block elements. From there, he gently leads us into well informed coverage on the CSS3 features which will give us as web designers the control we need through the properties of “grid” and “flexbox”.
Another favorite moment for me was when Aarron Walter took to the stage shortly after lunch on the second day. Throughout his one-hour block, chock full of inspirational images and examples, Aarron walked the crowd through the reasons as to why companies want to build their brand in such a way that it invokes an emotional response from its audiences. The reason is simple: connect with your audience on an emotional level and they will want to share this experience with everyone they encounter.
During the keynote he informs us on how to build this connection with your audience through the usage of your brand’s voice, story and narrative, building your audience’s trust through honesty and small kindnesses, by focusing on the quality of the product or service you are crafting and leaving whatever you create full of human presence and personality. Furthermore, Aarron walked us through the concepts of “finding your tribe”, using design personas, embracing the varied tones your voice may need in order to remain consistent and why becoming the real you will lead to the best you.
Finally, a personal highlight came for me after what had concluded to be an already great two-day event, which, interestingly enough, occurred after the presenters were wrapped for the day (yes, the good times kept rolling). I don’t know what the environment or culture is like at other conferences but at An Event Apart the presenters are fully part of the experience, part of the crowd. The majority eat their meals (delicious food!) among the masses, attend their fellow presenters’ talks, and are readily available after the show’s done for the day in the halls, lounge or restaurants of the host hotel. This all only adds to the feeling that one picks up on, emitting from within the conference walls – the feeling of community. And so, with that said, perhaps by chance I crossed paths with Eric Meyer on Tuesday evening. After shaking the hand of someone who’s spent nearly two decades dissecting the inner workings of CSS, Eric Meyer, Jon Tan and Jeremy Keith invite me to sit down and join them for a beer (and ice wine).
At this point, my experience can’t get any more surreal – but this invitation to sit down leads into the 4 of us spending the next 2 hours discussing everything from their favourite past An Event Apart conference moments, different thoughts on how information should be delivered on the web, Eric’s own CSS reset and how he decided to release it under the GPL, and why An Event Apart has never crossed the invisible divide between Canadian and American soil. The time spent talking with these gentlemen, after hours, as friends do with drinks, will definitely have an impact on me for a long time to come.
However, as they say “everything good thing must come to an end”, and with the clock nearly approaching midnight, I went back up to my room. But as I pulled out my door key, a true excitement washed over me for what had just transpired; feeling truly appreciative for the entire trip and all that I was able to experience, listen and just discuss with like-minded colleagues… And, of course, the cherry on the proverbial cake, the time spent with Eric, Jon and Jeremy. Cheers!