The pace of change in our industry is relentless. New frameworks, processes, and technologies are popping up daily. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. Let’s take a step back and look at the over-arching trajectory of web design. Instead of focusing all our attention on the real-time web, let’s see which design principles and development approaches have stood the test of the time. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, but those who can learn from the past will create a future-friendly web.
EVERY YEAR I give a new talk at An Event Apart. And every year I panic.
After nearly two decades, public speaking no longer frightens me. But deciding what needs to be said gets tougher, and more terrifying, each year.
In 1998, when Hasan Yalcinkaya hired me to give my first public web design talk in, of all places, his glorious city of Istanbul, I wrote a speech for the occasion and read it aloud from the stage.
The following year, when Jim Heid hired me to keynote Web Design World Denver, I intended to do the same thing. But a fellow Web Design World speaker named Jeff Veen (who was also a colleague on The Web Standards Project) persuaded me to throw out my speech and “just tell stories.” I did it, it worked, and I’ve done it ever since.
For all my An Event Apart presentations since starting the conference with Eric Meyer in 2005, I’ve designed slides outlining the parameters of what I intended to talk about, and then spoken off the cuff.
But this year, inspired by the rigorous (and highly effective) speech preparation regimes of my friends Karen McGrane and Mike Monteiro, I’m once again writing a speech out word for word in advance. I will polish it like a manuscript. Only when it is perfect—logically structured, funny, passionate, persuasive—will I design accompanying slides.
I may read the speech out loud, word for word, as Mike sometimes does, or I may revise and practice it so often that I no longer need to see it to say it, like Karen. Either way, my talk this year should be tighter than any I’ve given in the past decade. Hopefully, that’s saying something.
I’m grateful to all my friends for their inspiration, and delighted that the panic and terror I felt at the start of this year, while contemplating creating a new AEA talk, has turned into the inspiration to approach the task a different way.
How do you approach public speaking? And if you don’t speak, what part of you is holding the rest of you back?
MIKE MONTEIRO is a man on a mission. He wants to improve design by fixing the core of it, which is the relationship between designer and client. Too many of us fear our clients—the people whose money keeps our lights on, and who hire us to solve business problems they can’t solve for themselves. And too many clients are even more frustrated and puzzled by their designers than the designers are by the clients.
It’s the designer’s job to fix this, which is why Mike first wrote Design Is A Job, and spent two years taking the message into conference halls and meeting rooms from New Zealand to New York.
I wish every designer could read this book. I can’t tell you how many friends of mine—many of whom I consider far better designers than I am—struggle every day with terrible anxieties over how a client will react to their work. And the problem isn’t limited to web and interaction designers. Anybody who designs anything burns cycles in fear and acrimony. I too waste hours worrying about the client’s reaction—but a dip into Mike’s first book relaxes me like a warm milk bath, and reminds me that collaboration and persuasion are the essence of my craft and well within my power to execute.
If the designer’s side of things were the only part of the problem Mike had addressed, it would be enough. But there is more:
Next Mike will help clients understand what they should expect from a designer and learn how to hire one they can work with. How he will do that is still a secret—although folks attending An Event Apart San Francisco this week will get a clue.
Design education is the third leg of the chair, and once he has spread his message to clients, Mike intends to fix that or die trying. As Mike sees it (and I agree) too many design programs turn out students who can defend their work in an academic critique session among their peers, but have no idea how to talk to clients and no comprehension of their problems. We are creating a generation of skilled and talented but only semi-employable designers—designers who, unless they have the luck to learn what their expensive education didn’t teach them, will have miserably frustrating careers and turn out sub-par work that doesn’t solve their clients’ problems.
We web and interaction designers are always seeking to understand our user, and to solve the user’s problems with empathy and compassion. Perhaps we should start with the user who hires us.
Learn from some of the smartest people in our industry. Go deep on topics like emerging responsive image standards, advanced web typography, designing in the gap between devices, putting your UI in motion with CSS, working with CSS preprocessors, increasing the likelihood that your digital design projects will succeed, and even the best ways to share the ideas you’ve learned at An Event Apart when you get back to your office.
10 Commandments of Web Design (Notes by Luke Wroblewski on a Talk by Yours Truly)
“ITERATION isn’t just for visual design. It also helps you uncover insights. A List Apart found people are often commenting and re-tweeting articles before they read them. They learned this by iterating on where the share and comment links exist on the page.”—LukeW | An Event Apart: 10 Commandments of Web Design.
Don’t Cry For Me, San Diego
60 Minutes of Luke
IT’S ANOTHER Full-length Friday! In this 60-minute video caught live at AEA Boston, Luke Wroblewski (Mobile First) explores multi-device design from the top down (desktop to mobile) and bottom up (using mobile to expand what’s possible across all devices):