The Event Apart 2016 – Day 1

I am back at An Event Apart: Chicago again this year to get another shot of Web Development insight and inspiration. This is my third year and each AEA conference I’ve been to has packed my brain with new ideas I’m itching to try as soon as I get home. Today was day one of the 2016 show and what follows are my thoughts on the presenters talks. So far this year has been no disappointment.

Jeffrey Zeldman

Zeldman’s talk was a good “mental reset” and set the tone for this year’s conference. He reminded us that the frustrations we face as developers are nothing new. Furthermore, it’s time for all of us to put on your big boy pants, get to work and make the web better. Only he said it with much more grace and tact.

Yesenia Perez-Cruz

I enjoyed Yesenia’s talk because it was a good refresher course on performance, but she added some of the methods she uses to actively impact performance budgets. I think performance budgets are going to be a tough sell to non-tech-savvy clients. That is about as foreign a concept as not having a Flash landing page on their site. It feels like a lot of client education needs to happen before hand, followed by many gentle reminders about why there is a performance budget and why its necessary to stick to it. In the end, with work, it seems like an attainable goal.

Jason Grigsby.

Jason focused his talk on the many forms of input and what we can do as developers to account for them. His methods dovetailed beautifully with the principles of progressive enhancement and served to strengthen the argument of building for the low-end small screen first and then enhancing. It’s a little scary that no input device can be detected, but reassuring that there are ways to accommodate them if the user has them and fallbacks if they don’t.

Brad Frost

Brad hit it out of the park with his Pattern Library/Lab talk. I heard his talk two years ago when Atomic Design was a fairly new concept. I have to admit back then, it took me a while to grasp every aspect of the process and how it would benefit the types of clients I work with. His talk this year clarified the advantages and made a stronger case than ever about why Pattern Libraries are a must for any size website.

The great thing about AEA is that the presenters mingle with attendees during the event. I was able to talk with Brad afterwards, and he gave me some tips on moving code from Pattern Lab into a CMS. He also confirmed some ideas I had about getting client buy in on a Pattern Library. Having this kind of access to the speakers is something you don’t get at other conferences and it’s invaluable. I am excited to hear his full workshop on Pattern Libraries in a few days. He also got me thinking of how, at our agency we could do the work of creating pattern libraries in-house and letting our developers just handle the back-end heavy lifting.

Stephanie Hay

Hay was a surprise for me. I love the idea of thoroughly fleshing out your client’s story. It’s genius. Like her, I absolutely wish I could deliver a custom experience to each visitor who visits a client’s site. I just wish I worked with the type of client who needed this type of storytelling! That being said, I see opportunity, in smaller ways, to implement her ideas with even the most blue-collar clients. Specifically, turning the goals for a clients site into a narrative that gives them more life than a bullet list of items to check off.

Jen Simmons

Jen’s speech sounded like an evolution of the talk she gave last year, and it reignited in me the idea that I need to show what can be done with layout on the web by making examples and sharing them. It takes someone like Jen to remind you that people without a deep knowledge of web design and development have no idea what is possible. Its up to us to lead by example and educate our designers, clients, and bosses.

As expected, AEA was a much needed dose of kick-in-the-pants motivation. Other design conferences I’ve been to tend to shy away from this. There seems to be this idea that, “doing what you love,” will make it all better. That may work for some ridiculously lucky people, but by and large, its bullshit. Our industry needs to understand that change takes work, and guess what; it’s our job to make that change happen. We may be the ones in the trenches, but we have the ability to not only make a better web, but make better work lives for ourselves.

I’ll (hopefully) be writing a follow-up to this tomorrow on day two, and a final piece on Brad Frost’s day long workshop on Pattern Libraries.