An Event Apart: What Every Web Designer Should Know

by June 13, 2011

In his opening keynote at An Event Apart in Atlanta, GA 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:

  • It used to be a Web best practice to make all content one click away. "Lather your pages with the scent of informaiton."
  • But this takes away a lot from the content, which is what you are really there for.
  • 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.
  • Designer's jobs are to control the brand experience. But on the Web, this is harder to do. We are creating the World's most important communications platform but we are not controling the brand experience.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Devoid from content you fall back on style.
  • Websites are simply delivery systems for 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.
  • Everyone should have use a usability and experience strategy. But there are times when you don't need user feedback. Eventually you'll need to test and talk to user but early on you might just want to work on your idea.
  • It is the great time to be a Web designer. There is a convergence of new technologies now that make many new things possible. We must learn new skills or perish. The Web has always been a profession focused on constant learning. It's a little bit daunting but also very exciting.
  • The same people are buying all books about Web design: CSS, HTML, content strategy, and design.
  • 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. You should learn about HTML5 elements and know the basics of semantics. It is a fundamental baseline skill. You have to know what the basics are and how they work.
  • Progressive enhancement is a universal smart default. Most of agree that it’s a best practice to create an experience that can reach everyone.
  • Every device does not need to have the same experience. Trying to maintain the same experience in all devices is dated. It is an obsolete approach. People understand different devices provide different experiences.
  • Responsive design is progressive enhancement taken to the next level.
  • 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.
  • For example, HTML5 has an audio and video tag in response to the wide use of embedded videos on the Web.
  • HTML5 is made for apps. It's the first HTML designed for a World beyond documents. Every Web site is now an application.