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An Event Apart Recap

July 13th, 2012 by Erick Beck

Many of us from around campus had the opportunity to drive over to Austin this week and attend An Event Apart. This was a conference I had always wanted to attend but never had the budget for. I can only say “Thank You!” to the event organizers who brought it in-state for us because it was a wonderful experience. There are few other opportunities to listen to and learn from so many of the people who shape our career field. Anybody, whether developer or designer, who didn’t get a chance to go should consider it next time they come to town.

The one common thread that found its way into almost all of the individual presentations was the emergence of responsive web design and the possibility that it might revolutionize the way we think about the design-development process. Much of this argument is actually over a decade old, being espoused in April, 2000 in John Allsopp’s A Dao of Web Design (which was itself referenced several times by different speakers.)

We have improved on many of the elements pointed out in this manifesto, but we still ultimately have not gotten beyond designing for the web as if it were just an extension of the print world. We drew a box to correspond to monitor size, and proceeded to dump stuff into it. As technology advanced and we got better monitors with higher resolution we just drew a bigger box and dumped more stuff into it. The introduction of the iPhone, with its smaller screen, had the potential to spark this revolution, but we largely reverted to form, drew a smaller box this time, and put (less) stuff in it…or worse, pulled out some of the stuff we were displaying in our bigger screens.

“The control which designers know in the print medium, and often desire in the web medium, is simply a function of the limitation of the printed page. We should embrace the fact that the web doesn’t have the same constraints, and design for this flexibility.”

The proliferation of devices is pushing us toward a more mature understanding of the web medium — one that embraces rather than bemoans the loss of pixel by pixel control. The web’s flexibility of display is a feature, not a bug. We can’t know the capabilities of the device(s) that our users will viewing our content with, so we must ultimately give up the idea of creating site designs that are based on the capabilities or limitations of specific devices. We need to (like we have already separated layout from code using CSS) separate design from layout, and instead let the content determine how the information gets displayed on any device.

The various presentations each expressed some element of the overall argument. Some focused on typography, others on CSS, and others on the design process. New tools were presented (styletil.es showed up 3 or 4 that I can remember, perhaps more) that help us transition to a device-agnostic design process. I can’t say that I  agreed with everything that the each of speakers said, but the overall experience has definitely been a stimulus to think harder about how we do things here in the office.

Wednesday was a full day responsive design workshop. I didn’t attend, but am anxiously waiting to hear back from some of those who did to see how it turned out.

Anyone who did attend and would like to add your own insights, please take a few moments and leave a comment and share with the rest of the community.

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Friday, July 13th, 2012 Mobile Web
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