It’s the end of August again, so that means I am back in Chicago for my yearly recharge, attending An Event Apart. This is the fourth year I’ve come, and once again the show is living up to it’s billing. A few of the talks felt a little too familiar and others were so crammed with information that the speakers were breathlessly racing through them. I suspect that is only because I have been to enough of these conferences (and read enough books, and listened to enough Podcasts) that what I am learning is sticking! I’ve caught up (for now). I’m not drinking from the fire hose, and I guess, in a sick sort of way, I miss that. Chris Coyier and Rachel Andrews gave me my fix though, and by the time things wrapped up I had a head full of ideas and was getting excited about some new possibilities all over again.
As usual, Jeffrey kicked things off, but this time with a talk focused on research rather than a look back at the web’s history. I always loved his talks because he has seen the web change so much during his career, and history is an important teacher. That being said, it was also great to here him talk about how influential research is in his work. This is a huge passion of mine, and a pain point, because so few clients can be convinced of it’s value. Zeldman had an interesting insight though that got my attention. Essentially; “give me a little money to do some research before we begin, so we at least know what we’re doing.”
I think this has the potential to work brilliantly for clients with small budgets and potentially unlock more money for a project. What you are asking them to invest is insignificant compared to what you will learn, and it gives you an excellent opportunity to show your level of commitment to your clients business; educate them on why following through on the research is important; and, perhaps grow the scope of the job. We’ve been circling around this idea at work for a while now, but Jeffrey crystallized it perfectly.
Coming from a marketing background I wasn’t sure what I would learn from Ms. Parmenter’s talk, but as always seems to be the case with talks at this conference, there were some take-aways I’d never thought of before. Principally, establishing the voice of a brand and telling the brand’s story. At our agency we do a very good job of covering the other branding bases, but never focused on truly discovering the story behind a brand. We might explain in bullet points why they are special, but not take it to that more relate-able level of actual story telling. It makes so much sense.
Tone is another aspect of building a brand where I feel we go on auto-pilot too quickly. We spend all this time on logos, color palettes, and mission statements, and then back that up with writing that is so generic it can’t be distinguished form anything else we do. That’s not because we have bad copyrights, I just don’t think they know it’s something else we can work on for our clients. This bit of fine tuning feels like an easy way for us to bring even more value to our clients.
What resonated most for me in Cameron’s talk was his distinction between unity and uniformity and shipping imperfect products. I like this way of explaining how the design of a site will vary on different devices but retain a familiar language. To me, it sounds a little less off-putting than what has amounted too, it will be “acceptable” on any device. At least “acceptable” is my impression of how it sounds to a client when we say the design won’t match perfectly, but it will be close.
Luckily, where I work (from the CEO down), there is a pretty well adhered to culture of “ship it and iterate”. We talk with our clients about this from day one, and it sets expectations that the job will be done professionally, but it will not be endlessly polished and never delivered. Hearing Cameron support this was welcome news that we are on the right track.
Chris, blasted through an incredible amount of information on SVG. There is a lot that SVG can do, and I appreciate the attempt to give us a glimpse of everything and get us excited about it (I am!). However, I wish he had showed a few more examples of how the more complex stuff was done, or at least an outline of what to expect if you want to do something similar yourself.
I’ve learned to be gun-shy of kick-ass examples of anything they show at a conference, because there always seems to be a “rub” waiting in the development pipeline. Some language I don’t know, or piece of software I don’t have time to learn on-the-clock. Minor criticisms aside, Chris’s talk was one where I felt like the old magic was back; “Shit, SVG is awesome and I need to run out of hear and go do all that stuff now!”
Rachel Andrews & Jen Simmons
I’m combining these two because they were both about CSS Grid. Both talks were excellent, but I wish Jen Simmons had gone on before Rachel Andrews. Only because Jen’s talk was a little more fundamental than Rachel’s. To me, it felt like Rachel’s talk would have built on Jen’s wonderfully. “Okay, now that you know all of the basics, look what else you can do!” No matter though, I am ready to commit to grid. Especially, considering what Rachel said about how quickly browsers are adopting the technology. By the time a job is done, browsers support will be even better.
It was also nice to see examples of fallbacks and that they were not that much extra work. Writing extra code on a job with an already microscopic budget was the main reason I was holding out on going grid.
Finally, Jen’s examples, as always, were so inspiring. Next to Chris Coyier (maybe even more so) she got me excited to play with code and get creative again.
What Comes Next Is The Future
The evening ended with a movie. A really good movie by Matt Griffin that boils down what we do into an easily understandable format that I think the people we work with need to see. It’s on Vimeo and it does a wonderful job of explaining why web standards are important in the context of the historical founding of, and future health of, the web.
Two things that bug me though. Is “Danger” actually, Lyza Danger Gardner’s middle name? If so… holy shit, that is amazing and her parents are the coolest people on Earth.
Finally, did Matt Griffin make the move to Shopify from Bearded because he was tired of having a beard and wanted to shave it while avoiding the hypocrisy of being clean shaven at his studio where whiskers are so clearly cherished? Or, was it a symbolic gesture related to him leaving Bearded? Sort of like in the movies, when a cop has to hand in his badge and gun, because he blew up half of downtown LA trying to stop a bank robbery? The people have a right to know Matt.