An Event Apart: Understanding Web Design

The first talk of An Event Apart in Boston was delivered by Jeffrey Zeldman. He talked about the difficulties of our profession and the lack of respect we receive since the dot-com bust days. 

  • Zeldman asks for a moment of silence for George Carlin, who passed away the night before.
  • Jeffrey talks about what Web designers need, asks for laugh
  • Empathy. “If you look it up a dictionary…” 
  • Puts forward example of bad web sites 
      • Has two competing goals for the site, which makes it hard for a single message to get out.
      • Link colors don’t have to be blue and underlined
    • ConsumerSearch
      • Site contains great articles on consumer product research
      • however, Web site is hard to use.
      • No one figured out how to make the front page sexy.”
      • Figure out what content is important to the consumer and make them want to click that link.
      • Recommends guerrilla, cheap user testing. [Ed. note— See Steve Krug.]
    • Failure of Empathy to get yourself into the mind of the user
  • The unmotivated need not apply.” 
    • Main education courses come from product/software companies that build Web-related products.
    • Teaching Excel is not the same as teaching business.”
    • They don’t teach you strategy in Web design courses, but they will teach you the software. [Ed. note—This is so true.]
  • You have to keep on learning. 
    • Worked on creating Web design survey since they wanted facts on our profession
    • 33,000 all over the world took the survey.
    • Education is mostly relevant 53% 
      • The more money you make, the less your college education matters.
      • Project managers need the less educatin’
  • Web designer
    • Gets no respect 
    • It’s disturbing that in a profession that demands so much knowledge and skillsets, that we don’t get respect 
    • One reason is there isn’t respect is because there isn’t a standardized title 
    • Different kinds of organizations, have different breakdown of
  • Who owns the Website? 
    • The Web site IA should not be reflective of org charts 
    • [Ed. note—Lawyer joke warning.] Lawyers spend a lot of time on work on communication. So naturally they should be in charge of the Web site. 
    • Creative people are at work, but are being beaten down.” 
  • Web designers don’t get paid very well. 
    • A lot of people are making 20k 
    • Women who think there is bias against women in the industry, you do better. 
  • In Search of Excellence 
    • They take people who have achieved.” 
    • Communication Arts is about graphic design, not about usability, not about Web design 
    • This particular Web design is graphic design intesnive, 
    • Journalism talks about real estate not architecure–who ever is making the most money. 
  • We have to avoid “guitar solo” approach 
    • Forget the showing off, but focus on the empathy of the clients. 
  • Empathetic Web Design” 
    • Sounds better than “User Center Design”
    • Used more and more around Zeldman’s studio in talking about what they do and how they differentiate themselves from other shops 

Twitter-Sized An Event Apart Presentation Summaries

I’m not one that you might call a copious note taker. I burn out quickly listening to presentations and tend to focus on note taking rather than digesting what is being said.

Rather than long notes, I go another direction. In order to help remind me of what I witnessed during the two-day event known as An Event Apart Boston 2008, I decided to run through the presentations and write-up a Twitter-sized summary of each one. 

Title Slide

Understandng Web Design by Jeffrey Zeldman
Web designers are very talented people who should get more respect. Calls user centered design something else: “Empathy Web Design”.
The Lessons of CSS Frameworks by Eric Meyer
Eric examined nine CSS frameworks, but says they all aren’t right for you. You should make your own or adapt them to your liking. 
Good Design Ain’t Easy by Jason Santa Maria, 30
Designers should be story telling. Talks about the history of print design and how that can bleed over to Web design.
Web Application Hierarchy by Luke Wroblewski
Give your users the “confidence to take actions”. Telling people visually what to do on your site is good. Learn graphic design principles.
Design to Scale by Doug Bowman
We respect proportions. McDonald’s scales, Starbucks sells experience, not Java. Quotes Paul Rand: “Simplicity is not the goal.”
When Style Is The Idea by Christopher Fahey
Quoted Paul Rand, Stewart Brand, etc. Style encourages innovation. Style sells, style happens. Fashion has a vocabulary, does Web design?
Scent of a Web Page: Getting Users to What They Want by Jared Spool
Five types of pages users encounter: Target Contnet, Gallery, Department, Store, Home Page. Users have a purpose when coming to your site.
Debug/Reboot by Eric Meyer
CSS debugging is a good way to tease out things that might be trouble. Not many people use Link Checkers. Reviews his CSS Reset rules.
Comps and Code: Couples’ Therapy by Ethan Marcotte
It’s okay to admit mistakes. Covers three projects and problems he encountered. Treat everyone on your team like a client and prototype!
Principles of Unobtrusive JavaScript by ppk
Unobtrusive JavaScript is more like a philosophy. Use JS wisely for improved accessibility and Web standards-based sites.
Standards in the Enterprise by Kimberly Blessing
To get Web standards into large companies, you need to follow the Circle of Standards: train, review, document, repeat. Buy our book!
Designing the User Experience Curve by Andy Budd
People pay for the experience of Starbucks, not for the coffee. Pay attention to detail, pay attention to your customer.
Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps by Jeff Veen
We are awash in data.” Make data meaningful to your users. Another spotting of Napoleon March to Moscow infographic in a presentation.