Chris EK, on life as a continually learning software engineer.

An Event Apart

This week, I had the good fortune of attending An Event Apart in Austin, TX. Coordinated by the same great people behind A List Apart, An Event Apart (AEA) is two days of fantastic talks about the web—content, design, development—and a full-day workshop (A Day Apart). Many of the concepts we now take for granted as web best practices, like mobile first and responsive design, have been introduced and elaborated at AEA events.

Before I continue, some thanks are in order. AEA made three scholarships available to Flatiron School alumni. Now, in retrospect, I realize the value of attending is well worth the $1,000+ price tag, but the reality is: I wouldn’t have been able to justify that cost on my own. So some major thank yous for making this happen, first to AEA for offering those scholarships, and then to Flatiron School for enabling that hookup. Thank you!

Moving on, I want to share some of my notes and highlights from the three days. For a quick summary of the conference in the form of 140-character highlights, #aeaaus is a great place to start. A summary of my takeaways from the conference (as well as my full notes) are below.

My full unfiltered/unedited notes can be viewed here, and videos of all talks will be posted online at some point, so you should sign up here. For now, these are my highlights/summaries of each talk, some of which may turn into full posts.

  • Jeffrey Zeldman opened the conference by telling his personal narrative, from starving artist to professional creative to disillusioned advertiser to web practitioner.
    Takeaways: Talk about the problems you’re solving, not the aesthetics; attitude trumps work; blog!
  • Yesenia Perez-Cruz discussed design from the perspective of performance.
    Takeaways: performance isn’t a last-minute add-on, it’s part of the UX; consider performance at the beginning.
  • Jen Simmons presented modern layouts and recent/upcoming additions to CSS.
    Takeaways: we see the same layout with sidebar everywhere; use CSS shapes/flexbox; layout should serve content.
  • Cameron Moll walked us through interfaces and the ways we interact with them.
    Takeaways: the best interface is the one within reach; forget about mobile/desktop and instead build a unified interface.
  • Karen McGrane summarized issues around content and how it should be separated from form.
    Takeaways: separating form from content makes web design much easier than an interconnected blob of a website.
  • Ethan Marcotte argued that laziness is good, that less is more when it comes to responsive design.
    Takeaways: use flexible layout systems rather than device-specific designs.
  • Lara Callender Hogan built on Yesenia’s talk about performance
    Takeaways: we optimize for design/layout but not page speed; need happy medium of aesthetics and speed; tips for image optimization; need a culture of performance; set a performance budget.
  • Eric Meyer presented an incredibly vulnerable talk about personal tragedy and how his experience as someone in crisis informs his understanding of web design
    Takeaways: design with crisis-driven personas in mind; empathy; don’t consider just the ideal user.
  • Jason Grigsby got into the nitty gritty of responsive images.
    Takeaways: responsive images matter for resolution switching and art direction; look-ahead preparser.
  • Brad Frost framed web design from the perspective of atoms –> molecules –> organisms.
    Takeaways: design systems of components not pages.
  • Matt Haughey brought a customer service perspective to web design.
    Takeaways: everyone at Slack does customer service; need to have empathy for the user.
  • Jeremy Keith took us through the history of the web and argued for using basic, supported technologies that don’t break.
    Takeaways: identify core functionality and implement using simplest technology, then enhance.