Photograph of An Event Apart conference in Boston 2012

My first experience of an Event Apart web development conference has been extremely positive: each session is short (just an hour long), with every speaker expertly delivering a series of concise points that were at just at the right level of technical expertise. The conference is a single track (no tough choices or rushing between crowded rooms), varied in content, and assigns enough time between sessions to recover. The food and media presentations are also flawless.

There was a tremendous amount of information to absorb in the conference, but if there was one theme of the sessions, it would be ”content is still king". A quick summary, in a series of quotes:

Jeffery Zeldman: Content First!

Photograph of Jeffery ZeldmanOne of the original firebrands of the web design industry, Zeldman set the theme of the day with a design critique of the site for the New York East River Ferry Service, and then expanded his range to the entire design process:

“The only thing worse than click here to read is click here to read more.”

“Designers may no longer control the visual experience… and perhaps we never did.”

“Wikipedia is almost undesigned, but it responds better to user’s visual preferences than most websites.”

“Bypassing your design with tools like Readability is no longer a minority activity.”

“Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it ’s decoration.”

“It's absolutely impossible to design in the absence of content.”

“Web design is making sandcastles in hurricane season: everything is impermanent, everything changes.”

Whitney Hess: Principles of Problem Solving

Ms. Hess is a consultant and user experience designer who provided an excellent overview of the problem solving process for creatives:

“The more time I spend defining what a problem is, the better I am at solving it.”

“Designers don't get to decide what the problem is. The problem isn’t at your desk, it’s out there, among your users.”

“Designers are cultural anthropologists.”

“Market research is what people say they like; user research is discovering what people do.”

“Be obsessed with the problem, not the solution.”

Jason Santa Maria: On Web Typography

A self-described “font geek”, built like a Brooklyn fireplug, Jason shared his obsessive love of typography:

“If your type is bad, the design fails.”

“The term readability doesn’t mean simply can you read it but, but do you want to read it?

“Type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters”

“Asking “What's a good font?” is like saying “I'm going to paint a picture - what color should I use?” Context is everything.”

“What are you trying to say with your typeface? Make a list of communication qualities first – “dependable”, “engineered”, then start looking at typefaces to match.”

Scott Berkun: Five Dangerous Ideas

Scott BerkunScott spoke on the uses of power in organizations, particularly how designers can understand and use it.

“Designers are ambassadors for good ideas.”

“Everyone is a designer that adapts their environment through countless thoughtless acts… but that doesn’t make them a good designer. See their struggles as an opportunity for education, rather than a negative.”

“If you have little territory, fortifying it gains you nothing: be certain that what you're defending is actually defensible, and not just a case of denial.”

“Whoever uses the most jargon usually has the least confidence in their ideas.”

“The generalists are in charge: the person with actual power is never a specialist.”

“If people think you are smart and useful, your job title is irrelevant.”

“We got into tech so we can work with software instead of all the people we don't like.”

Karen McGrane: Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content

Karen is a consultant to streamlining and reusing digital content, contrasting success stories such as NPR against giants like Conde Nast that are struggling to make the transition:

“Don’t make content to fill a container. Instead, intentionally build content that can be used on a variety of media – internet, mobile, social, print, RSS, blogs – from the beginning.”

“The only way forward is to write in chunks - small, relevant, bite-sized pieces of information. One of the reasons that traditional news organizations can successfully transition to the web, due to the way they write: headline, lede, plug.”

“The true battle of the web is not mobile vs. desktop but blobs vs. chunks: formless, messy, unstructured content vs. discrete, specific, defined components.”

“Separation of content from display, for realsies”

“You are not in the mobile space. You are not a web developer. You are in the content publishing business.”

“Metadata is the new art direction”

Ethan Marcotte: Rolling Up Our Responsive Sleeves

Photograph of Ethan MarcotteOne of the vanguards of responsive design, Ethan gave an amazing talk that arced from history to his favorite high school English teacher to modern design in a way that was both inspiring and perfectly seamless:

“We’re seeing the rise of the “digital omnivore”: users who will browse the same site at different times of the day using whatever device is on hand.”

“Solve the parts, not the whole problem.”

“We should start treating layout as an enhancement.”

“We’re no longer building web pages - we are building systems of networked content.”

“If information isn't useful to mobile readers, it’s probably not useful to anyone"

“Simplify before you suppress.”

“There is no correlation between screen size and connection speed: I could be using WiFi on a phone, 3G on a tablet.”

A summary of AMA Day 2 will follow tomorrow.

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