Reflections on An Event Apart DC 2013
Jason Garber, Former Senior Web Developer
This week, Trevor and I attended An Event Apart DC, the annual design conference roadshow organized by Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman. Past AEAs were must-see events and this year's conference was no exception.
One of the things I love about An Event Apart is that, while each speaker presents on their own topic, common themes pervade the entire event. The conference functions as a cohesive full-length album rather than a collection of hit singles; more "Pet Sounds" than "Surfin' Safari."
This year's conference touched on many common themes, but the three that stuck with me the most are the importance of iteration, content-first design, and progressive enhancement.
The Importance of Iteration
Several speakers drove home the importance of iteration, both in design and development. In his kickoff presentation, Jeffrey Zeldman remarked that agencies should include post-launch iteration phases in their contracts. Far too often, he argues, we design products, launch them, and then fail to revisit our creations in the following weeks and months.
Speaking at the atomic level, Samantha Warren remarked that it's much easier to iterate on a style tile than it is to iterate on a fully-realized composition. This point ties in nicely with Brad Frost's recent push toward Atomic Design and the increasingly pervasive notion that we should be designing patterns and systems instead of pages. In fact, Jeremy Keith shared his Pattern Primer describing it as "unit tests for your CSS."
Last year's popular content-first (or "content-out") design returned in force again this year, with Karen McGrane making strong arguments for the value of a multi-device content strategy. Karen spoke of how good content transcends platform: "There's no such thing as 'How to Write for Mobile.' There's just good writing."
With the ascension of the Multi-Device Web, we must now take a long, hard look at our content strategy. We should never think, "We can just hide this content on mobile." Instead, we should be asking ourselves, "Do we even need this content?"
Several speakers noted that, in the near-future, all phones will be smartphones. That means people of all economic walks of life will be accessing the Internet from small(ish) devices on a variety of connections and service plans. For many of these people, this device will be the only way they access the Internet. It is therefore critical that your website be designed in a way that lets these users accomplish their desired tasks. Technically speaking, this means building a high-performance, progressively-enhanced, mobile-first responsive design.
Progressive Enhancement is Still Important
Building mobile-first, responsive, progressively-enhanced websites is a winning strategy as far as I'm concerned.
The above is just the tip of the iceberg. An Event Apart DC 2013 may be over, but there are plenty more valuable pieces of knowledge to consider and fold into our thought processes in the coming year. If you're interested in reading more about the event, I've posted all of my session notes for your perusal.