What I Took Away From An Event Apart Boston 2011

Rich Durbin Rich Durbin
June 09, 2011
User Experience Design , Company News

I seized the opportunity to attend An Event Apart in Boston this past month and had a great time. I listened to some inspiring and thought provoking presentations, met a few fellow webbies, and learned a thing or two about websites. Here is a summary of what I took away.

Content is king or at least a good starting point. There was a lot of talk around considering the content when designing a website. It’s a best practice to understand the content strategy, the amount of content, and what actual content will be used before starting a design.

Mobile is making a move and so should we. We need to start designing more for the mobile experience. Smartphones outsold all PCs by the end of 2010 and home PC use has been down since 2008. Why should we continue to create websites that are almost useless on a phone or tablet? Mobile devices are on the move and perhaps we should take their lead.

Don’t forget the user when designing the experience. A general philosophy of UX design is how to treat people. Good design does not equal a good experience. When we find the perfect blend of persuasion and purpose we will have harmony.

Don’t be afraid, the experiment will not hurt us. When approaching a design, experiment with colors, images, and layouts but know when to quit or change directions if an idea is getting out of hand or not going anywhere. Create a mood board unique to a project for inspiration and ideas. The board can be used as part of a design guide in the discovery phase or in addition to a style guide.

There’s a new approach to web design and it’s responsive. The days of creating a “mobile version” of a website may soon be gone. A single version of a website should be usable and look good on any device whether it is a monitor, tablet, or phone giving users a similar experience on all these devices. This involves a design that can respond to the device it is being viewed on. After all, aren’t all sites mobile by nature?

Links are simple creatures not to be misunderstood or abused. Links should be consistent and non-links should not look like links. They should do what the user expects and not be over used to take users away from their destination. Links are the scent of information. Don’t give off a bad scent.

There is method to project madness. Every project has a personality. Understanding what the project is trying to say, its voice, and creating some sort of visual lexicon or road map will lead us in the right direction. Following simple processes like ideating and developing patterns will help accomplish our goals more efficiently.

It’s pretty cool what CSS3 can do with animation. It may not be the end of Flash, but CSS3 can accomplish some decent animations and they don’t require a plug-in. Simply put, if we take an ordered list of events in a style sheet and add a little JavaScript to control the timing between those events, we can create animations using CSS. And if the browser doesn’t support the animation, the events will just display as an ordered list of images with a description – like a frame by frame presentation. Not a bad alternative.

Think inside the box when designing layouts. The old way of designing layouts is canvas in. We define the page dimensions and work our way in. We need to think content out. Design bits of content that go into grids. Margins, gutters, padding, etc. equal a proportion of these content elements and thus create a grid system. There’s no math, just what feels right. Then bring order to text by adhering to these grids.

And finally, if the stuff hits the fan have a plan. Gaining insight will help us keep our wits in difficult situations. Ask why until the problem is narrowed down. Be driven by purpose and keep communication short and to the point. Have team reviews, but this should not be a forum to express opinions. Success is often the result of many different factors culminating together. If one of these factors should happen to fail, we should be ready with options.

Another key point I took away from An Event Apart Boston 2011 is the Web is still being shaped and molded. It’s changing all the time and the mobile experience is a prime example of a new frontier we are just now starting to explore. These are exciting times for people who make websites. What’s your next move?

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