Thoughts on An Event Apart

I posted earlier last month about my excitement involving my chance to attend An Event Apart in Minneapolis this year. I just wanted to take a couple minutes and write my thoughts, impressions and opinions about the conference. As this was my first conference and I had heard so much about the quality (and of course the major names in web design, development, UX and content strategy) I was, at times, excited, nervous and delighted.

First impression

Nothing sets the stage for a promising day of learning like a gorgeous hotel in the middle of my favorite big city. The Hilton Minneapolis not only provided a great location, fantastic conference rooms and decent wifi (I never had any issues while others may have). An it never hurts that the first thing I had a chance to eat was a spectacular omelet, and while we are on the subject of food and venue, I’d like to make a note. There was so much delicious food available both days, I could have gone there just to eat. I was seriously in epic food heaven. I also found myself riding the escalators to the open 2nd floor balcony and gazing out at the busy city streets in-between speakers just because I could. The setting and food both get some erroneous amount of stars because they both pleased me.

Speakers, teachers, comedians, story tellers

So, the real reason to be there was not the plethora of food. The real reason to be there was because some of the largest brains in all of web design, front-end development, UX and content strategy. The beauty of the whole thing was that these people were not only extremely knowledgeable, they were approachable, gracious and generally good humored, fun folks. While some talks were drier than others, many of the talks kept me not only interested in subject matter but entertained as well.

I enjoyed every presentation but allow me to mention some highlights.

Ethan Marcotte (@beep) has been leading the charge for the last few months with a principal he calls adaptive design. The ideas that a flexible gridflexible images + CSS3 media queries = a design for all screen sizes and mediums is one of the best ideas I have ever heard of in web design. I think, to the point that he is making, this is finally a design structure that is native to the web. No longer forced to stand in the shadow of print design this is a place where web design can be what it needs to be, it’s own unique type of art and science. Fighting screen sizes with a fixed layout has been a folly for years, fighting devices with a fixed layout is rather silly and honestly I had been hesitant to do it because it seemed so much like a losing battle. Finally, though I had been playing with this already, Ethan’s demonstration is a point I can look at and say, this is when it all changed, this is when web design stood up, got out of print designs shadow and moved on.

The other presentation I will mention, though there were many memorable ones (and if I had a mind to I could write many many paragraphs about each presentation), is the presentation by Minnesota native and epic content strategist Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson). As someone who does not specialize in the content strategy game (but wishes I had a much, much better grasp on it) I was absolutely floored by her presentation. Something that I battle with when dealing with clients is that I have no plan set in stone for how clients should attack their own content and how I should help them with it. Kristina helped by providing me with some tips on actually providing some direction, an outline and a process surrounding how a client could tackle their content and how I can get involved in assisting them in that process. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but some direction I obtained from her presentation plus knowing she has a book out on the subject is going to give me a lot better grounding in content strategy as I try to help clients attain their content goals moving forward.

The personal touch

One of the bigger things at the conference for me was the after party. The food was great, the speakers were awesome but you know me, I just want a beer. Well, not really. I really enjoyed hearing from others in the field and getting the “community” part of the web community figured out — and in person, not on twitter for once. I had the chance to talk to a lot of great folks, not near as many as I would have liked but, most importantly I got up a little courage to follow up with one of the presenters.

In my mind I am still the youngest one in the room. Was that the case at AEA MN? I suppose there could have been younger people or people my age all around, usually not, but it happens. I am sure whatever the case I am not that much younger or that much less experienced, but, it can get to feel that way. Fortunately I was inspired by another young person (still older than I am by a bit) who has really made a name for herself with her knowhow and success. I sat down to talk to Whitney Hess because I have found myself inspired by her success and notoriety. Would I like to be working at her level, well, I am not sure, but having the community know who you are and respect your thoughts would be a really nice thing. It was really easy to see how Whitney has achieved what she has. She was instantly friendly, open, smart, funny and really everything you would expect someone working at her level would be. We chatted about a lot of different things, but what I took from the conversation and the whole night was this:

  • Essentially, being worried about getting out there and shaking hands is all in my head. I don’t look young, I don’t feel young, that is a barrier I have provided for myself. Even if you feel, or actually are 12, get out there.
  • If you’ve had a successful project you have something to teach someone.
  • Don’t expect the people with more experience to be unfriendly or unwelcoming of you and your ideas. I think at some level we all have a desire to pass on what we know and learn from those who know less.
  • And by the way, get your twitter handle on a card and hand it out in social situations. Great way to have people remember you by connecting afterwards on twitter.

That was my experience with An Event Apart. Really a great group of people attending the conference, an awesome line up of presenters (although, I do still wish I could have had the chance to see Andy Clarke’s talk), and just generally an excited, passionate atmosphere that has carried on for me weeks afterward. I am still excited to be working on the web as a part of the web standards movement. It is an exciting time to be a web designer/developer.

An Event Apart Minneapolis

I am super, phenomenally excited to announce that Creature Works Labs, my current employer, has decided to send me to An Event Apart Minneapolis.

As someone who is more or less addicted to learning all there is to know about how to create great web experiences this is something that will really bring a year of learning and perfecting my web talents and skills to a wonderful pinnacle.

I think this is because I am ambitious enough to want to be speaker / writing in the future. What subject will I try to tackle if I were to try to write or speak or shine some new light on a subject? I am not sure. I have a bit of the teaching bug in me that my Grandfather passed down to my mother. I certainly don’t feel the need to teach right now, I have so much to learn it would be silly to think I could teach anyone. But somewhere deep down, I know that one day I would like to be a present, teacher, writer myself.

The great thing about An Event Apart is that they have collected the absolute best teachers and writers from the field. Minneapolis will feature Jeffery Zeldman, Eric Meyer, Dan Cedarholm, Luke Wroblewski, and Jeremy Keith, among many others. I have read one book from each of the amazing web minds named above and they have all impacted the way I work and enhanced my love for the web medium. Having a two day conference where I will hear the words right from the horses mouth(s) is just a stunning culmination to the last year of reading and learning.

I am stunned, elated, excited, and really ready to learn some more, grow some more and meet some great people. Hang on, looks like there is food too, looks like I’ve died and am in heaven. Please disregard this post as postmortem narratives filled with hope and ambition are usually fairly depressing pieces.