E. Smith Productions

An Event Apart Chicago 2008 - Day 2

10.14.08 | 11:06 AM CDT

I was really impressed with the new speakers that I didn’t have the chance to hear from last year, including Rob Weychert, Cameron Moll, and Jeff Veen.  This day was even more focused on design and theory, rather than actual code.  I will admit, I am always a fan of some hardcore coding demonstrations, but I do need to learn more about the design concepts and theory.  This session didn’t disappoint.

Rob Weychert - Design Lessons in Chess
As it turns out, Rob is not only a fantastic designer, but an aficionado of the game of chess. He describes several elements of web design on how it relates to chess. You must have an opening, which is your information architecture. This includes how your site will be coded, consideration for content management, and database consideration. This all must be considered before you embark on your design journey. The middle game, as he puts it revolves around the visual design.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. - Sun Tzu
He outlines several opponents that can prevent you from winning the design game, including users, clients, and colleagues. Still, the underlying message is that content is king!

Dan Cederholm - Bulletproof Design
Ah, Mr. Cederholm. Always a show stopper. I was excited to find that he was on the bill this year, but unfortunately due to a death for the other speaker. Dan talks about web design as a craft or a trade. This is a trade that allows us to create, but without something that is tangible, and sometimes that can be an obstacle. When something is well crafted, craftsmanship is implemented. He goes into some good detail discussing some of the usability concepts of design. For example in navigation, make the entire row clickable, instead of just the text. This will eliminate any confusion to the user and enhance their experience. Websites do not need to look exactly the same in each browser, and we do not need to focus all of our efforts trying to do so. Em based grids are more flexible than pixel based, and using a grid system is excellent design.

Cameron Moll - The In-house Designer
Great design comes from doing the work in the actual code itself, publicity, and building relationships. All of these are necessary for the message to be conveyed. Few things build trust better than results. The old saying that let your work speak for your competence is very true, and he describes this. Great communication skills create the shortest distance between an initial idea and a successful user experience. He left us with the idea of finding inspiration everywhere. Look in the office, and in the areas where you think that inspiration cannot be found. You will be able to surprise yourself.

Jeff Veen - Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps
Veen is an energetic speaker, and was full of great ideas. His message was that it is our job as designers to take seemingly complicated raw data and put it into a format that doesn’t require a lot of thought. He described his personal experiences when working with Google Analytics and how he was able to find inspiration in everyday situations. In order for us to create effective applications, we must ask what the users are doing. What do they want to do? How can we make it easier for them, and what tools do they need? When you start with the user, and then know yourself, you can then understand the user.

I was very pleased with this year’s conference, but I think I will rate it a close second to last year’s. This is due to the fact that I had no expectations for last year, and I was much better at feeling inspired. Don’t get me wrong, I always feel inspired when attending any kind of design conference, I just felt a tad bit less inspired than last year. Would I attend the conference again? Maybe. If you have never been, then absolutely. You’ll not only be inspired, but you’ll learn from many of the pioneers and architects in the web industry.


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