The Event Apart 2017 – Day 2

Day 2 is in the books, and what a day it was. Brad Frost, Una Kravets, Val Head, Derek Featherstone, Eric Meyer, and the incomparable Gerry McGovern gave incredibly good talks on working together, image optimization, animation, accessibility, real life design and measuring customer experience, respectively.

Brad Frost

In one of my previous posts, I reviewed Brad’s book, Atomic Design. His talk today was a departure from this, but no less interesting. He focused on how we can better work together from the corporate level on down to the personal level. Essentially, he cleverly adapted his Atomic Design theory to inter-office relationships. It was a topic that, on the surface appears like a monumental undertaking that no one person could ever hope to achieve. However, Brad broke it down into bit-sized chunks and showed that no matter where you are positioned in your company,  you can, at the very least, influence corporate culture simply by leading by example and chipping away at the established practices.

Una Kravets

There are gifted public speakers, and then there are gifted public speakers who can talk about image compression and not only make it informative, but engaging. This was one of those cases where you had to be there to appreciate how wonderfully Una presented her topic and got you excited to try new things in something as old-hat as image compression. Even to this crowd, her talk could have been an absolute sleeping pill, but Una wove together easily repeatable examples with performance gain stats that, for me at least, was a welcome breathe of fresh air into a routine, and often overlooked, aspect of web design.

Val Head

What I enjoyed most about Val’s talk was that she expanded on the theoretical aspects of her book and gave real-world examples of how to get animations on the page. Her book, Designing Interface Animations, is a great primer on how to build great animations. Her talk today backed that up with the best methods to create your animations with respect to what level of complexity you need. This could be anything from straight CSS, to CSS and JavaScript, to CSS manipulating SVG elements (sometimes with a little JS sprinkled in for flavor!).

As someone completely new to this, it was interesting to learn that many of the more complex animations I’ve seen are, in fact, exported from After Effects via a plugin. I had suspected this, but could never confirm it. Her comparison of GreenSock, Velocity.js, and Anime.js was tremendously helpful too. As with so much of web design, there is no “right” answer just the answer that best solves your specific problem.

Derek Featherstone

Derek tackled a topic I have trouble finding a happy medium with; accessibility. I know it’s important, and I want to make it a larger part of my process, but the types of clients we have don’t always (or ever) have room for it in their budget. What was good to hear was that there are certain aspects that absolutely must be covered, and a short list of others that should/can be covered; again, based on what your client needs.

It dawned on me that some of our clients customers (given their age, rather than any particular disability) would probably greatly appreciate type that is readable; good contrast across the site; and, navigation elements that are easier to use. The more intensive accessibility practices may be overkill for them now, but it is still important to accommodate visitors with just slightly deteriorated faculties.

Eric Meyer

Like Derek’s talk, Eric’s went farther down the path than I will ever get. Something that, in hindsight, I’m almost happy about. I don’t build the kinds of sites people access in life and death emergencies. Eric showed though that “Designing for Real Life”, does have applications for the types of sights I do work on.

Our client’s customers, may at some point, need to find information on a replacement part they need, quickly and easily, to get an offline machine running again as soon as possible. During Eric’s talk, I realized that there is no difference in the amount of stress a mechanic feels, whose job it is to keep an expensive piece of equipment running, is no different than any other stressful work situation. He/she may need to get part information quickly and easily at a moments notice to save save their job, and I can make that happen by doing my job properly! Kind of cool, I think.

Gerry McGovern

Gerry was an unbelievable closing act for An Event Apart: Chicago, 2017. Maybe it’s because he’s such a natural public speaker, or maybe it’s because the idea of data backed design decisions is so intoxicating to me, but by the end of Gerry’s talk I was ready to uproot the family, move to Ireland, and go work for him. Incredibly, he saved me the pains of expatriating, by pulling back the curtain and showing all of us exactly how to conduct the same type of meaningful user research he does. The type of thing that can ferret out faults in a design you didn’t even know existed. For me, this was the atom bomb of talks at AEA this year. It’s this type of thinking that has enabled me to do my job better, and thanks to his talk this year, I think I have even more pieces of the puzzle in place to create even better sites for our clients.