Day three of An Event Apart Seattle 2012 draws to a close. I saw a number of presentations ranging from “very good” to “face-meltingly good” in the last three days, and I present you with my selections of the most important running themes from the conference.
Better service is still a top consideration for the people shaping the web.
“Better service” isn’t a very sexy phrase. In fact, I think one of the reasons our industry settled on the term UX is that it’s shorter, sexier, and more futuristic than, say, “service-oriented design.” This conference was a reminder that leaders in web design, development, and content strategy are still considering and respecting the individuals on the other side of the solutions: the audiences who will use our interfaces, read or watch our content, and navigate the sites and experiences we build. Two speakers who covered ideas about the human side of what we do exceptionally well were Jared Spool and Whitney Hess.
Internet access on multiple devices in general, and mobile specifically, are the biggest changes to the web since the inception of the web.
I’ll actually go bigger and say that proliferation of devices (mobile specifically) is a step toward pervasive computing and is one of the biggest technological advances in human history. Many speakers touched on this theme, and the specifics of this change were very well articulated by Luke Wroblewski and Ethan Marcotte. The magnitude of the global move away from a desktop-centric web can’t really can’t be overstated. It’s a change that deals with use (how / where people use the internet and what they do while connected), resources (both time and money spent on devices and associated ad revenue), and the practices that need to be adjusted to accommodate different needs and displays with different input types.
Content strategy is the phoenix rising out of the ashes of a traditional print-first publishing model.
A print-first publishing model is already dead for most organizations. This change created a dire need for strategic decisions about how content is managed, and the role of content strategist has emerged. Karen McGrane showed a great example of a future-friendly content model in her presentation when she highlighted NPR’s Create Once Publish Everywhere workflow.
Responsive design and mobile development are both still in the early stages of infancy.
Shoehorning desktop-centric philosophies and solutions into smaller, touch-driven mobile screens creates really sucky mobile experiences. It’s a little bit like saying that the only way to accommodate a smaller room is to shrink all the furniture down. You wouldn’t do that because it would create unusable, tiny furniture. On a mobile device, we are dealing with people who have different needs and operate in a different set of circumstances than desktop audiences. We lose a significant amount of visual real estate and so the decisions about how we manage content and interfaces have to change significantly. In Luke W’s two presentations he covered a few ways we tend to fall back on desktop thinking and apply it to user experience in a mobile context. Ultimately, we must remember that this a new phase of the webbest practices are still emerging and in flux, and we must approach our work in an investigative and open-minded way.
In the future-friendly web, generalists rule, but most good generalists still have specialties.
Scott Berkun talked about reasons why generalists trump specialists. Generalists have a bigger circle of understanding than pure specialists do and they are able to relate their work to a bigger context. I also can’t help but observe that many compelling speakers such as Jon Tan still have specialties (in Jon’s case, typography) that lend magic and emotional grace to their work.
An Event Apart is worth attending for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the forces, people, and practices shaping the web.
And no, I’m not being paid to say this. Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman know how to curate and host a great conference. Since a big portion of our readers work in .edu I’m going to finish this thought with an additional call-to-arms: more people in higher education should attend this conference. It’s a place to learn and to relate your work to a web community beyond colleges and universities.