An Event Apart Orlando – Day 1

In Design, Personal by Paul Cushing

So here I am a long way from my usual stomping grounds in Boise, Idaho. I am beyond fortunate to be able to attend An Event Apart in Orlando. The setting here is spectacular. Disney World is a beautiful setting and the warm temperatures are a pleasant break from our cool fall weather in Boise.

More important than that, though, is the enormous amount of brilliance flowing out of the speakers at this conference. The day began with Jeffrey Zeldman, cofounder of the event and founder and CEO at Happy Cog. I know Jeffrey by his tweets and a few books, but I had never had the pleasure of meeting him or even seeing photo, so I had no idea who he was when I got into the elevator with him on the way down to the conference room. I was friendly as usual and he introduced himself, and he turns out to be a warm and genuinely nice guy. He might not be a household name, but he’s certainly a rock star in the world I follow, and it’s great to see guys who are smart, and nice too.

Anyway, Jeffrey started things off with a bang. “When others lack understanding of what we do, it has less value.” I paraphrase since my memory is rough, but you get the idea. Basically, if we as designers don’t understand the value of what we do, how can we help others understand the value in it. The other quote I held on to was, “Are we strategists, or waiters?” I find that I’m often a waiter, sometimes due to time or financial constraints. I know though that I can give my clients better return on investment as a strategist, helping them understand the value in research and real design time.

Jaimee Newberry followed with her talk about Designing Engagement. She’s passionate and engaging. She makes me want to spend time pouring personality into every part of the design. The longest part of her talk was on copy. Most of us designers/developers forget that we write copy, but every button and dialog is an opportunity to display personality and delight our users.

Sarah Parmenter was next with Designing Using Data. I was already familiar with many of the tools she suggested, but her unique point of view of data’s value to what we do was refreshing. She used her own business efforts to help us understand ways to use the data and research to directly affect our design and marketing efforts. I’ll likely put a few more tracking items in place as a result.

Jason Grigsby talked about Mobile First Responsive Design. “Slow sites negatively impact the brand”. I think the biggest take away for me is the notion that responsive doesn’t stop at how the site looks on different screens. Responsive is also ensuring that the site loads quick on mobile, too. He also recommends dropping icon fonts in favor of SVGs for fast loading icons and graphics. I’ll certainly look at that for my sites. He and Ethan Marcotte both mentioned GruntIcons and I’ll be looking into that as well.

Val Head talked about Putting Your UI in Motion With CSS. She is exceptionally energetic and fun. She’s as animated as her CSS transitions. She mostly imparted the idea that simple and subtle animation and transitions using CSS can impart the feeling of quality and speed in your design. I will definitely look at some of the dialogs and interactions on my sites with these in mind now.

Lastly, Ethan Marcotte brought it home for the day with The Map and The Territory. I have read things from Ethan and enjoyed his intelligent ideas, but I was completely blown away at how brilliant he comes across when speaking. I’m sure he’s given similar talks before and some of it is well rehearsed, but, wow. His talk was brilliant, inspiring, and almost poetic. My personal take away is that I can whittle my sites down even further. The primary site I manage is small, below 1M, but there’s still plenty of fat to trim. I like the idea of establishing a budget of page size or download time, and using it to inform what fits in your base design and what is part of your progressive enhancement.

On top of all of that, the other attendees are incredible. Everyone I’ve met has been friendly and excited to be here too. Just looking around the room, I can tell that 70% of the future internet awesomeness is going to come out of this room. I’ve met people from Exxon, Lockheed Martin, Facebook, and lots of other well-known places and jobs. I’m a little overwhelmed by all of the talent here, and just happy to soak it all in.