We Make The Interwebs 12

Last week, I hopped a flight to St. Pete for the fourth Front-End Design Con­fer­ence. It’s the first, and so far only, conference I’ve been to, and it really sets the bar in my mind. Dan and Cher­rie Den­ney are amazing and do an awe­some job of host­ing this event each year.

If you’ve never had the fortune to attend, you’re missing out. It’s a small event, capping out at 250 attendees, but it’s top quality, featuring lead­ing voices from the indus­try. And it’s intimate atmos­phere that makes it easy to meet other creative-minded professionals.

The entire weekend was incredibly fun. I left feeling inspired to create something amazing, and with new friends to talk nerdy with.

Friends, New & Old

By far the best part of this conference is the intimate atmosphere surrounding it. It’s truly a family affair, with Dan and Cherrie’s family doing most of the behind-the-scenes work. And I feel like the people I’ve met are my extended nerd family. I arrived Thursday afternoon, and after a brief Florida monsoon, hooked up with Homer Gaines and Tami Stillwell, some friends I met last year. I was also introduced to a new friend Alina Balean, who later gave me a lesson in how to use chopsticks. Like last year, I stayed at The Pier Hotel, this time with a roomie (and fellow lover of pink) Blake Clerke. I had a blast hanging out with each of them and look forward to seeing them again real soon.

The Talks

There were seven featured speakers, all of whom brought humor and a vast amount of information to their talks. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite.

Jason VanLue: Three Pipe Problems and How Design Can Solve Them

The first talk of the day was from Jason VanLue. He spoke on real-world problems, and how we as designers can help solve them. He reminded us that designers are first and foremost problem solvers, not just decorators. He stressed that we can use design to change the world by solving real problems for real people. The problems don’t have to be huge, they just have to be real.

Design is about asking why. And why not?

The Take­away: Find what you’re passionate about and give your time and skills.

Darcy Clarke: Front-End Techniques for the Modern Web

One of the more technical talks, Darcy spoke on some lesser known development techniques, and how they could be utilized in our designs. I’ll admit that a some point during this talk my eyes glazed over, proving again that I’m much more designer than developer, but I did come away with a couple of techniques I’m looking forward to trying. His main point, however, and the one I will take to heart, is this:

More developers should be sharing their work, best practices, and techniques. Being open benefits all.

The Take­away: Be an advocate for the web.

Giovanni DiFeterici: Conceptual Design

Next up was Giovanni DiFeterici speaking on “Conceptual Design”. After seeing Gio speak at Day 2 last year, I was excited to see him on the main stage this year. His talk focused on the deeper artistic qualities of design and how to employ those in the web. To be honest, I was so captivated by it I forgot to take notes, but the main point he was making is this:

The exploration of what is possible is often more important than what is right.

The Take­away: The web can be both beautifully crafted and usable. You don’t have to choose.

Bermon Painter: CSS Preprocessors: Stylus, LESS and Sass, oh my!

This was the talk I was most apathetic about, only because I had no idea what was the purpose of preprocessors. Sure I’ve heard about them, but I didn’t care enough to really look into it. His talk didn’t necessarily make me a believer, but it definitely intrigued me. I’ll have to do some more playing around with them before I make up my mind. Stay tuned.
The Take­away: CSS preprocessors can save time and code. And I’m all for that.

Carl Smith: CHOOSE!

Carl’s talk was one of the more interesting, as it didn’t really focus on design or development. It was more about finding inspiration in people, and learning lessons from their mistakes. Even the people he chose to highlight weren’t designers (some of them were even jerks). But it was the most engaging talk of the day, and at the I was more inspired than I’ve ever been. The biggest lesson I got from it was, it doesn’t matter where you start. Just start.

Don’t be the monkey that doesn’t grab the bananas!

The Take­away: Stop doing things just because that’s how it’s always been. Try something new. Figure it out. Find a way, and see what happens.

Dave Rupert: Flexible Media in Responsive Web Design

After watching Dave Rupert speak, it’s easy to see why he teamed up with Chris Coyier. They are both hilarious. His talk on Responsive Web Design, renamed “Gettin’ Flexy with Uncle Dave,” was definitely the funnest of the day. He used his unending humor to break down responsive design into easily digestible pieces, and encouraged the naysayers to “get over themselves and surrender control” to the user.

Responsive web design is not a religion; it’s just math.

The Take­away: There are no set breakpoints. Embrace the fluidity and add breakpoints when things get weird.

Sarah Parmenter: The Future of iOS

The last talk of the day, and the one I was looking forward to most, was from Sarah Parmenter. She began her talk speaking about the rapid growth of mobile web usage. If you’re still not convinced mobile web is the future, you need to get on board now. She then made a pretty radical statement: she refuses to start designing anything without real content from clients. I can’t remember how many times I’ve designed an entire site without seeing one word of copy. She says that you can’t create good experiences without knowing the content and content structure. Of course she’s right. Time to stop using Lorem Ipsum and demand real content.

Start thinking in terms of pieces rather that the finished picture.

The Take­away: Be adaptable and flexible, it’s okay to create different user experiences.

The Github After Party

This happened:

I really don’t think I need to say anything else.

Lessons Learned:

  • I really need to do a respon­sive design. Seriously. It’s not an option anymore. I’ve read about them. I’ve admired them from afar. Now it’s time to stop thinking about it and just, as Uncle Dave says, get flexy.
  • Slicy and Style Tiles will save the world (or at least my sanity). When Sarah mentioned these in her speech, I felt my world expand. Look them up if you don’t know what I’m talking about. They’ll change your workflow for the better.
  • Try to change the world. Not necessarily in a Peace Corps kind of way, but on a smaller scale. Make something that helps people. Solve a real problem.
  • Find my passion. The PageBreak crew and Jason VanLue touched on this, and it’s something I’ve been working on for a while now. In fact, it’s partially why I started this blog. Using my creative skills for something outside of the 9-5 that I’m passionate about will allow me to experiment more, hone my skills, and refine my style. And maybe even do some good in the world.

Want to be a part of the fun? Watch out for next year’s event. I’ll be there, and so should you.

What Others Have Said:

0

Like this? Pass it around!

June 18, 2012 |  

  • http://nikibrown.com Niki Brown

    For getting started with responsive stuff I’d say check out some of the frameworks that are out there: http://getskeleton.com/ http://cssgrid.net/ (this is what the page break site is using) or twitter bootstrap http://twitter.github.com/bootstrap/

    • Mina Markham

      Thanks Niki! I’ll definitely look into those.

  • Pingback: Front End Design Conference 2012 | Jeff Bridgforth :: Web designer and front end developer in Orlando, Florida

  • http://frontendconf.com Dan Denney

    Thank you very much, Mina! We’re honored by everyone that chooses to attend but there’s always a little more pressure for people that travel across the country. So, we’re very glad that you had a great time.

    Thank you very much for putting this together, I know these posts take a lot of work and time. I’m really digging your takeaways and be sure to share or ask questions as you dive into RWD. It is a wonderfully frustrating experience for your first couple sites.