An Event Apart DC 2011

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a conference for “people who make websites” that brought together top-notch speakers who give engaging, thought-provoking, and practical talks infused with humor? Fortunately, there is. If you haven’t been to An Event Apart yet, start saving your pennies, because it’s worth every one.

Just make sure you register several months before the conference, or you may well be stuck crying into your beer.

As this year was my first time at An Event Apart, the care and planning that was put into coordinating the speakers and the order of their presentations was striking. AEA was one of the few conferences I’ve attended where all of the talks seemed to dovetail and work off of one another, even when they were on wildly different topics.

The Talks

Some of the sessions were more technical than others, but many of them came back to a few core ideas in one way or another. Mixing up the technical with the more conceptual talks was a welcome change from conferences that divide attendees into multiple concurrent tracks—one for developers, one for designers, one for UX, and so on. Perhaps it’s my generalist nature showing, but seeing the big picture is important for anyone who works on the web.

Eric Meyer gave a presentation on the pitfalls and possibilities surrounding Flexible Boxes. One part in the particular—box-ordinal-group—caught my eye, since I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the next iteration of the website I coordinate at my organization. We’re taking a responsive approach and want to be able to change the visual order of content and navigation, depending on whether the user has a small or large screen. It turns out that Jeremy Keith posted about this very idea a while back. There are still some quirks to consider, even with this limited use case, but it seems promising.

Given our plans for a responsive redesign, Ethan Marcotte‘s overview of the philosophy and how it was implemented during the Boston Globe’s redesign was one I was especially looking forward to. Ethan didn’t disappoint, but left me eager for his full-day workshop at next year’s AEA in DC.

Karen McGrane‘s talk on “adaptive content” was smart and eye-opening. In a nutshell, she spoke about the issues we face when our content workflow is broken as well as general ideas about how to fix it. Using NPR’s API as an example, she spoke about the importance of planning for content that’s reusable, a concept especially important given the rise in the number of contexts in which an organization’s content might appear. This is a problem I always knew we had in our organization, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Karen’s talk was like a spotlight shining on the issue. It was so good that I was left wishing she could’ve shared more in greater detail, publicly wishing that AEA would devote an entire workshop to the topic. Kristina Halvorson followed up the next day with a great presentation that outlined practical ways to integrate content strategy into our existing workflows.

Aarron Walter spoke about a subject near to my heart: how to stay creative and turn ideas into viable side projects even when you’re busy working for someone else. This has been a huge problem for me, but Aarron gave me some inspiration that it can be done.

Andy Clarke blew away the room with a look at CSS3 animation and dissection of the Madmanimation site. As the ever-responsible practitioner, he thankfully stressed the importance of using semantic markup, even when the entire website is a complex animation. Jared Spool did some dancing on stage and gave a great closing talk on the importance of paying attention to your links. Links—boring, you say? Not a chance. He had me laughing so hard I was crying by the end.

Every one of the presentations was exceptional. Even though he gave his own awesome, data-driven, presentation on taking a mobile-first approach to websie building, Luke Wroblewski also took the time to post excellent notes on several of the other talks. I’m thankful for that, since, at some point, I stopped taking notes and just listened.

Luke’s Notes from An Event Apart

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stick around for Derek Featherstone‘s full-day workshop on accessibility, but judging from the chatter on A Feed Apart, it sounds like it covered a lot of ground that I would’ve loved to have heard.

At the end of the two-day conference, my brain was overflowing with ideas and code.

Thanks to all of the hard work by everyone involved in putting this conference together, I’m already looking forward to next year’s An Event Apart.