An Event Apart (Boston): Day One

Hello! Jen here. It’s finally my turn for a conference and I’m not wasting my chance! I’m in Boston, MA for An Event Apart, two jam-packed days of information on the latest in web standards, user interface design, CSS and much more. This conference brings in the heroes of standards and design: Jeffery Zeldman, Eric Meyer, Nicole Sullivan, Dan Cederholm, Luke Wroblewski. While you may shrug and pray you never have to say “Wroblewski” out loud, I daydream about working near these guys and hyperventilate when Zeldman walks by. Yeah, I’m a dork.

So here, for your skimming pleasure, are my comments regarding Day One of the conference.

Jeffery Zeldman opened the conference with his thoughts on failure – specifically with respect to client interaction. This really resonated with me since we’ve recently had a challenging client situation. It was reassuring to see that we all have these problems sometimes.
Zeldman had some really hilarious stories of client conflicts: failing to define the job, the need for a project manager, requiring your own personal exit strategy when things get too bad. One that stood out: make sure you talk to the client. I always feel like projects go better the more you talk to the client. Another big one: trust your instincts. After a while you know what makes a successful client and a problem client. Listen to your gut.

Next up was Nicole Sullivan who talked about cleaning up your CSS. She spoke briefly about a contract job cleaning up a site with more that 700 stylesheets. This makes sites load slower, inevitably causes conflicting styles, duplicate code and is just a rats nest to work through when you’re trying to make an edit. She spoke about abstracting the more commonly used layouts, individual elements and styles and then pulling them in as needed. She also talked about the natural rules and benefits of using CSS properly: page and style order, styling classes rather than ID’s or elements, and the importance of speeding up page performance.

The third presenter was Dan Cederholm who had a somewhat bemusing juxtaposition to Nicole Sullivan’s message of code simplification. He spoke about the new developments in CSS3. Unfortunately, CSS3 is not complete in the traditional sense and also is not standardized among the browsers. This means that developers often have to do specific code for 2-3 different browsers, in addition to a default style since almost nothing works in Internet Explorer (I hate you, IE. No, I really, really do.).
Dan had some really excellent design examples with great code samples and it’s not hard to see the fun and improved interaction that’s possible with CSS3. I personally also think it’s easy to imagine CSS3 eroding a Flash market so maybe Jobs is backing the right horse by ignoring Flash for the iPhone? But I digress… The point is that while this may require a few more lines of CSS it’s certainly a much lighter way to significantly improve the user experience.

After lunch we got another great presentation, this time by Luke Wroblewski who advocates for “Mobile First”. I am among (I suspect) many other users who see the mobile site as an afterthought, but Luke made a very compelling argument for the idea that the mobile site should be The Site. A mobile site is a much smaller interface and it necessitates a very simple, clear message with well-defined tasks. Working to design a site that is easy-to-use and loads quickly on a mobile site means great success in the transition to a desktop environment.

The final two sessions of the day were more specific to user interface design and usability. They both strongly advocated a positive user experience and trying to find unique ways to interact with the user and give feedback. A targeted website response is a surprise, a joy and, when done right, an innovation to improve the site usability for the audience. It requires more time, research, work, etc. to achieve this but it’s very appreciated.

So, all in all a very long and busy day but a good one. Lots learned and I can’t wait to get home and think about way to implement some of this, especially some improved OO CSS and the new features in CSS3. I’m looking forward to another busy and full-filling day tomorrow — check back for my review of Day Two!