Design Strategy

An Event Apart Boston: One Week Later

Thanks to the kind folks at HB, I was able to attend last week’s An Event Apart in Boston, a conference for people who make web sites.After meeting hundreds of interesting people and listening to dozens of engaging speakers, here are my most important takeaways:

Lack of Control
You may not be in control of the user’s experience,” said Jeffrey Zeldman when kicking off the event. Throughout the week, we learned to design for the worst possible outcome. Even better, we should think responsively – sites must adjust to the user’s experience. Mark Boulton offered solutions with grids, while Ethan Marcotte suggested detailed media queries within CSS.

Content Comes First
Users should be interacting with content, not navigation tools or page structure. In fact, “content precedes design; design without content is decoration,” said Zeldman. We are redefining how we think about layout: content-out instead of canvas-in, said Boulton.

Experience and Users
Have a philosophy – especially one about how to treat people or make an impact, said Whitney Hess. Both your clients and your company should have a strong philosophy and/or design voice. In the mobile world, make things easier for users with customized input forms and remove extraneous page elements while elevating content, said Luke Wroblewski.

Plan for the Long Haul
How can we ensure that our brand lives on ten, twenty, or even fifty years from now? Jeremy Keith recommends text and open formats without restrictive licenses. Additionally, strategy, planning, and culture are all extremely important (Aarron Walter and Jeff Veen were particularly interesting to me from a strategy perspective). Take the time to develop patterns, prototypes, and design personas. Build a strong culture that allows for employees to work at their highest levels, especially in difficult times. And perhaps the most important thing I learned, courtesy of Typekit CEO Jeff Veen: “purpose is timeless.” Understand what problems you to solve, and the best place to do it.

In the end, it was a full two days of information digestion. I’m sure there’s plenty of great information I’ve missed… but what excited me the most were the talks that were more strategical and less technical. An Event Apart Boston gave me more fodder for thinking less like a designer and more like a creative problem solver. Big thanks to Jeffrey Zrldman and Eric Meyer for putting together a diverse cast of characters.

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