An Event Apart: What Every Web Designer Should Know

by May 2, 2011

In his opening keynote at An Event Apart in Boston, MA 2011 Jeffrey Zeldman talked about the skills and opportunities that should be top of mind for everyone designing on the Web today. Here's my notes from his talk on What Every Web Designer Should Know:

  • Increasingly on the Web, everyone can create content and share through social media. What does it mean for how we design Web sites when people can control the presentation of content within your designs?
  • It’s not just the visual experience that you might not be able to control. Through tools like Instapaper and Readability, people are time and design shifting to experience your content the way they want.
  • But this isn’t new. People have always been able to experience the Web in different ways through different devices, browsers, and even their own user style sheets. We’ve always had to account for this but it’s more apparent than ever before.
  • It’s not just how we experience sites that’s in flux. It’s how we define what we do as well. Every year the AEA survey uncovers many different names for the same job: webmasters and creative directors are often doing the same job. People in this profession love to argue about what to call themselves.
  • Design that does not serve people does not serve business. When you do things that are anti-user, you are designing anti-user patterns. Example: services that spam your address book without you knowing it.
  • Content precedes design. Design without content is decoration. It used to be that you worked on look and feel before you thought about content. But it’s actually very hard to do design without content.
  • When the Blogger team asked for design templates, it was really hard to create anything appropriate devoid of content. Doug Bowman made a universal template that was minimalist and ended up on 20 million blogs. It was the best solution for the problem of designing where you don’t know the content. But it’s one of the only success solutions to this problem out there, which illustrates how hard it is to design without content.
  • Websites are simply delivery systems for content. Even something as simple as a little call out needs to have actual content in order to test out how it will work in layout.
  • You can’t solve a problem until you can define it. And you probably can’t solve it alone. To help you can turn to design testing with users. But ideas can also come from within. Innovation does not have to come from asking people for ideas.
  • We all have to learn many things about building Web sites. In advertising people kept secrets from each other but on the Web people share what they learn. We’re all interested in each other’s techniques so we can learn.
  • Right now is the best time to create Web sites and applications. New opportunities like Webkit & mobile, html5 & css3, UX & content strategy.
  • Many times when we say mobile we are often talking about small screen. Small screen design adapts by adjusting layout and media to fit on smaller viewports. If you are primarily a content site, you might need a small screen strategy not a full mobile strategy.
  • Real Web designers write code. Always have. Always will. You need to at least understand the principles of semantic mark-up and know what is possible with HTML and CSS.
  • Progressive enhancement is a universal smart default. Most of agree that it’s a best practice to create an experience that can reach everyone.
  • HTML5 has design principles that also apply to Web design. Pave the cowpaths = make things work based on how people expect it to work. Find a way to make things work even if people try to “wrong” thing. Fail predictably.