What I learned at An Event Apart Boston 2014
As a web designer, I’ve learned that the practice is young, difficult, ever-changing, and cyclical. “What we’re doing is hard and scary!” says Kristina Halvorson, CEO of Brain Traffic. “We are all perpetually catching up.”
During this year’s An Event Apart Boston, a fantastically-designed gathering of folks who make websites, I recalled my time at Syracuse University in 2003. We read an essay by Jakob Nielsen discussing some of the practical requirements for any website:
Essentially, Nielsen wrote that web experiences are for humans.
After reading Nielsen’s work, my fellow students discussed web design principles and I recall many of us (myself included) saying things like, “who cares? Let’s make a site that just looks awesome!” Oh, to be young again.
The tenants of websites shared by Nielsen over a decade ago are en vogue yet again in our constant struggle to create useful, meaningful experiences on the web. After listening to AEA’s dozen speakers, I took away a few key messages:
“Web design is an environment for someone else’s expression.” – Jeffrey Zeldman
“Sign off on content hierarchy instead of design.” – Sarah Parmenter
“Think of responsive web design as a catalyst. It introduces complexity through nuance. We have the tools and skills already.” – Dan Mall
“Design to human scale.” – Luke Wroblewski
“Our work is not personal but together.” – Kristina Halvorson
“Design is the rendering of intent.” – Jared Spool
“Think content first, and navigation second.” – Jeremy Keith
Many of the observations from the panel of speakers have very little to do with specific design strategies and focus more on the importance of content and user experience. Essentially, it is our job as designers to get out of the way. Nielsen’s observations and suggestions remain true to today’s web design strategies. Zeldman’s words summarize it best:
“A great website makes interaction easy, guides you subtly to your heart’s desire, can be invisible or in your face, and it delights.”
Content must lead design. Performance is critical. The user experience must be simple and work across all devices.
And college students should pay attention to intelligent thinkers and practitioners.