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An Event Apart is not a hyperbolic title: this conference series, aimed at “people who make websites,” is, by this UX engineer’s estimation, at least three cuts above typical fare. The San Francisco edition spanned three days, but rather than give you a detailed recap of every session, I thought I’d just offer up the insights that resonated most with me.

1) Content First! 
Speaker: Jeffery Zeldman
Takeaways:

  • Users will click and scroll as long as it seems like there’s important information.
  • The content should be the focus on the site. Instapaper and Readability prove that people prefer to read just the content and will focus on the content.
  • There’s no difference between designers and developers.
  • Wikipedia design stands up better for special needs or special fonts than the NY Times.
  • Designers’ job: connect the right user with the right content at the right time.
  • Design that does not serve people does not serve business.
  • Tumblr is the human centipede of the internet
  • It’s not about mobile first (or just small screen first)–its about content first. But it happens that thinking about what works for mobile does work for other things as well.

2) Design Decisions with Style Tiles
Speaker: Samantha Warren
Takeaways:

  • Style tiles sort of remind me of mood boards. They’re similar to the paint chips and fabric swatches an interior designer uses. It’s perhaps a bit more structured and geared towards web design, whereas the moodboards are used across design disciplines.
  • Stop the practice of presenting multiple fixed width comps to clients–it makes for frankenstein designs (frankencomps?)
  • Common identity adjectives: “newsy” “clean” “playful.” All are vague and have multiple identities within the adjective. Usually, you’ll need to pull together multiple adjectives, and sometimes multiple style tiles.

3) Big Type, Little Type
Speaker: Jon Tan
Takeaways:

  • Good and bad typography don’t have empirical effect on speed and reading comprehension. (from Kevin Larson and Rosalind Picard’s “The Aesthetic of Reading”)
  • Typography needs to fall back a bit.
  • “Language is not necessary for emotion”
  • Design for reading for long form content, and for scanning for short form content.

4) Mobile to the Future
Speaker: Luke Wroblewski
Takeaways:

  • 13% of adults have a smartphone, tablet, and laptop.
  • Our response is to bring things from what happened before to the next technology.
  • Security and usability aren’t opposing forces.
  • 90% of customer service inquires are from customers who don’t have a link to recover the forgotten password on their mobile device.
  • There are no security issues involved in showing passwords to users. There is a double-digit improvement in password recovery inquiries.

5) HTML5 APIs Will Change the Web, and Your Designs
Speaker: Jen Simmons
Takeaways:

  • NYC had two private subway companies, and then the city government started a public subway. But you couldn’t just switch from one to the other. The city then bought out the two companies. One is square, one is round; the lettered and numbered lines are not interchangeable. They’re built on legacy. One company competes with the other, and try to just have better standards, but they’re all different and thus have these legacy differences. They follow the same patterns and do it via habit. It’s human nature to be stuck on same things. Our industry has some technical infrastructure, but it’s light, and much easier to change than subways.
  • “There are too many web designers not designing for the web”
  • “An innovator is not someone who creates something amazing out of nothing. An innovator is someone who wakes up to the constraints caused by false assumptions, and breaks out of them.”

6) Rolling Up Our Response Sleeves
Speaker: Ethan Marcotte
Takeaways:

  • The web is an inherently unstable design medium. “Let’s embrace the entropy.”
  • We’ve been too focused on layout and need to refocus on content.
  • We still don’t know how far the device is far away from the person.

7) Buttons are a hack
Speaker: Josh Clark
Takeaways:

  • Can’t be futurists without being historians.
  • Gestures are the keyboard shortcuts of touch.
  • Unless there’s an obvious visual cue, it’s hard for people to discover gestures.
  • Our job is to remove uncertainty
  • Instead of the medium being the message, the message is now the medium

8) The Curious Properties of Intuitive Web Pages
Speaker: Jared Spool
Takeaways:

  • Intuitive design is invisible.
  • Intuitive redesigns are invisible. Suddenly, they’re there, and it works

Have you ever been to an An Event Apart event? What did you think?

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