“REDESIGNS REQUIRE STRATEGY, otherwise they are merely reskinning. We don’t do reskinning. We do strategic redesigns that help the people who use your website achieve their goals. Strategic redesign starts with research. The notion that a design is ‘dull’ and needs to be ‘freshened up’ by a ‘burst of creative inspiration’ reveals a lack of understanding of, and disrespect for, design.
“UPDATED SERVICE ADVISORY – EAST RIVER FERRY CAPACITY LIMITS – PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ,” the top banner on the East River Ferry’s website nervously advises. Immediately below this warning comes the gentle and slightly vacuous headline, “Relax. We’ll Get You There.” The two headlines tell contrasting stories that completely contradict each other. No print art director would place these two messages on the same page, let alone in such close proximity or with treatments that compete for the reader’s attention. Yet this is how we treat content on the web.
Elsewhere on the page, care has been taken. An interactive map! With rollovers! Be still, my heart.
But when it came time to determine a content strategy, no one was in charge (or the wrong people were). Instead of the kind of headline that actually works on the web, a committee approved a soft print advertising headline—the kind that might appear in a quarter-page ad in the back of the playbill for a regional theater company’s production of Guys and Dolls. No thought was given to how that headline would play if the ferry developed service problems. Apparently no substitute, contingency headline was created. And not much thought (if any) was given to how the design might change if a problem arose.
Thus at the last minute a slightly hysterical “over capacity” headline that makes the “Relax” headline look ridiculous was jammed on top of the primary headline, using design techniques that give the warning primacy of place, and add shrillness by using all caps, only to defeat their own urgency with a low-contrast teal-on-blue color scheme that is difficult for people with normal vision to read and may be invisible to people with certain kinds of color-blindness.
This is what we do. We have meetings, we reach consensus, we make templates, we approve inoffensive headlines and copy, and we fumble contingencies. Avoiding these problems is what content strategy and user experience design are all about.
IN HER PRESENTATION at An Event Apart in Atlanta, GA 2011 Kristina Halvorson talked about how to integrate content strategy into a typical Web design worksflow. Here’s my notes from her talk: LukeW | An Event Apart: A Content Strategy Roadmap.
YOU FIND ME ENSCONCED in the fabulous Buckhead, Atlanta Intercontinental Hotel, preparing to unleash An Event Apart Atlanta 2011, three days of design, code, and content strategy for people who make websites. Eric Meyer and I co-founded our traveling web conference in December, 2005; in 2006 we chose Atlanta for our second event, and it was the worst show we’ve ever done. We hosted at Turner Field, not realizing that half the audience would be forced to crane their necks around pillars if they wanted to see our speakers or the screen on which slides were projected.
Also not realizing that Turner Field’s promised contractual ability to deliver Wi-Fi was more theoretical than factual: the venue’s A/V guy spent the entire show trying to get an internet connection going. You could watch audience members twitchily check their laptops for email every fourteen seconds, then make the “no internet” face that is not unlike the face addicts make when the crack dealer is late, then check their laptops again.
The food was good, our speakers (including local hero Todd Dominey) had wise lessons to impart, and most attendees had a pretty good time, but Eric and I still shudder to remember everything that went wrong with that gig.
Not to jinx anything, but times have changed. We are now a major three-day event, thanks to a kick-ass staff and the wonderful community that has made this show its home. We thank you from the bottoms of our big grateful hearts.
I will see several hundred of you for the next three days. Those not attending may follow along:
THE SHOW IS OVER, but the memories, write-ups, demos, and links remain. Enjoy!
Speakers, attendees, parties, and the wonders of Boston, captured by those who were there.
Jeremy Keith quite effectively live-blogs my opening keynote on the particular opportunities of Now in the field of web design, and the skills every designer needs to capitalize on the moment and make great things.
Related to my talk: Jeremy Keith’s original write-up on a notorious but all-too-common practice. If your boss or client tells you to design this pattern, just say no. Design that does not serve users does not serve business.
“In his opening keynote … Jeffrey Zeldman talked about the skills and opportunities that should be top of mind for everyone designing on the Web today.” Luke Wroblewski’s write-up.
“As a consultant, [Whitney] spends a lot of time talking about UX and inevitably, the talk turns to deliverables and process but really we should be establishing a philosophy about how to treat people, in the same way that visual design is about establishing a philosophy about how make an impact. Visual design has principles to achieve that: contrast, emphasis, balance, proportion, rhythm, movement, texture, harmony and unity.” In this talk, Whitney proposed a set of 10 principles for UX design.
Live blogging by Jeremy Keith. Veerle, a noted graphic and interaction designer from Belgium, shared her process for discovering design through iteration and experimentation.
Luke’s live awesomeness cannot be captured in dead written words, but Mr Keith does a splendid job of quickly sketching many of the leading ideas in this key AEA 2011 talk.
See also: funky dance moves with Luke Wroblewski, a very short video I captured as Luke led the crowd in the opening moves of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
“The next talk here at An Event Apart in Boston is one I’ve really, really, really been looking forward to: it’s a presentation by my hero Ethan Marcotte.”
Ethan’s amazing talk—a key aspect of design in 2011 and AEA session of note—as captured by the great Luke Wroblewski.
“In his presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jared Spool detailed the importance and role of links on Web pages.” No writer can capture Jared Spool’s engaging personality or the quips that produce raucous laughter throughout his sessions, but Luke does an outstanding job of noting the primary ideas Jared shares in this riveting and highly useful UX session.
Luke W: “In his All Our Yesterdays presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jeremy Keith outlined the problem of digital preservation on the Web and provided some strategies for taking a long term view of our Web pages.”
Although it is hard to pick highlights among such great speakers and topics, this talk was a highlight for me. As in, it blew my mind. Several people said it should be a TED talk.
Luke: “In his Idea to Interface presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Aarron Walter encouraged Web designers and developers to tackle their personal projects by walking through examples and ways to jump in. Here are my notes from his talk.”
Compiled by the speaker, links include Design Personas Template and Example, the story behind the illustrations in the presentation created by Mike Rhode, Dribble, Huffduffer, Sketchboards, Mustache for inserting data into your prototypes, Keynote Kung Fu, Mocking Bird, Yahoo Design Patterns, MailChimp Design Pattern Library, Object Oriented CSS by Nicole Sullivan and more!
“In his Smoke Gets In Your Eyes presentation at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Andy Clarke showcased what is possible with CSS3 animations using transitions and transforms in the WebKit browser.” Write-up by the legendary Luke Wroblewski.
The “Mad Men” opening titles re-created entirely in CSS3 animation. (Currently requires Webkit browser, e.g. Safari, Chrome.)
Anthony Calzadilla, a key collaborator on the Mad Men CSS3 animation, showcases his works.
Pure CSS3 box-shadow page curl effect. Mentioned during Ethan Marcotte’s Day 3 session on exploring CSS3.
Fascinating article by Anton Peck (who attended the show). Proposed: a solution to a key problem with CSS transitions. (“Even now, my main issue with transitions is that they use the same time-length value for the inbound effect as they do the outbound. For example, when you create a transition on an image with a 1-second duration, you get that length of time for both mousing over, and mousing away from the object. This type of behavior should be avoided, for the sake of the end-user!”)
Ethan Marcotte: “Hello. I am here to discuss CSS3 gradients. Because, let’s face it, what the web really needed was more gradients.”
Like it says.
By the incomparable John Allsopp.
These sessions were not captured
Some of our best talks were not captured by note-takers, at least not to my knowledge. They include:
- Eric Meyer: CSS Anarchist’s Cookbook
- Mark Boulton: Outing the Mind: Designing Layouts That Think for You
- Jeff Veen: Disaster, DNA, and the Fathomless Depth of the Web
It’s possible that the special nature of these presentations made them impossible to capture in session notes. (You had to be there.)
There are also no notes on the two half-day workshop sessions, “Understand HTML5 With Jeremy Keith,” and “Explore CSS3 With Ethan Marcotte.”
What have I missed?
Attendees and followers, below please add the URLs of related educational links, write-ups, and tools I’ve missed here. Thanks!
In Issue No. 326 of A List Apart for people who make websites: liberate your content to get ahead of the curve in 21st century publishing, and empower live audiences with backchannel wizardry.
by CAMERON KOCZON
Bookmarklet apps like Instapaper and Readability point to a future where content is no longer stuck in websites, but floats in orbit around users. And we’re halfway there. Content shifting lets a user take content from one context (e.g. your website) to another (e.g. Instapaper). Before content can be shifted, it must be correctly identified, uprooted from its source, and tied to a user. But content shifting, as powerful as it is, is only the beginning. Discover what’s possible when content is liberated.
by CHRISTOPHER FAHEY, TIMOTHY MEANEY
Baby’s got backchannel! If everybody at the conference is staring at their Twitter stream instead of at the person who’s doing the speaking, maybe the speaker should meet them halfway. Migrating speaker presentations to the backchannel can empower the audience while enabling the speaker to listen carefully to their responses. The broadcast model of presentations is dead! Long live the conversation model.
I’m enjoying An Event Apart Seattle 2011 and you’re not. Despair not, help is available:
The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) records live every Thursday at 3:00 PM Eastern. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!
ON SUNDAY, while leading a discussion on the future of web design and publishing, I noticed a slightly confused look appearing on some faces in the audience. The discussion had been billed as “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel,” and I thought perhaps there was a disconnect for some in the audience between “design” and such topics as where content comes from and who pays for it.
So I asked, “Who here is in publishing?”
A few hands were gently raised.
Uh-huh. “And how many of you work on the web?”
Every right hand in the room shot up.
“You are all in publishing,” I explained.
Now, I like a good rounded corner talk as much as the next designer. I’ve given my share of them. Also of line height and measure, color and contrast, how to design things that don’t work in old versions of Internet Explorer, and so on. In the practice of web and interaction design, there will always be a place for craft discussions—for craft is execution, and ideas without execution are songs without music, meaningless.
But right now (and always) there is a need for design to also be about the big strategic issues. And right now, as much as design is wrestling with open vs. proprietary formats and the old challenges of new devices, design is also very much in the service of applications and publishing. Who gets content, who pays for it, how it is distributed (and how evenly), the balance between broadcast and conversation, editor and user—these are the issues of this moment, and it is designers even more than editors who will answer these riddles.