By Scott Rowe
Front-end web developer
I recently attended a Web Directions conference in Melbourne called Respond. Web Directions host numerous conferences throughout the year, but this one was of particular interest to me as it was based around creating responsive web experiences.
This was the first 'web' conference I'd ever been too, so I was buzzing with excitement to get the two day event started. Loaded up with the free barista coffee available at the event, I took my seat and was ready to be inspired!
The speaker line up was full of big time players in the industry. Ethan Marcotte being one, he was the guy who coined the term 'responsive web design'. Ethan was up first, and straight off the bat, he was comparing the Pando forest in Utah, which is actually a single organism, to the challenges that us front end developers/designers have when it comes to creating responsive web experiences.
All it took was a simple metaphor and I was enthralled for what the rest of the conference would bring.
The next two talks were based around two very different ways of 're-redesigning' a website. The first was Dina & Lucinda from Fairfax media, and how they used iterative design techniques to re-develop Farifax's portfolio of websites. The other was Simon from kogan.com, in which they used an incremental approach to making their existing website responsive. Two completely different approaches, and two completely different talks, but I guess it proves that one size doesn't necessary fit all.
Then we broke for lunch, which was much needed as there had been an unfathomable amount of knowledge to take in. I thought I'd hit the jackpot when I walked into the lunch area. They served up pork belly (with crackling), roast potatoes, fresh vegetables and a few sandwiches for good measure.
After raiding the buffet, it was time to get back to the serious stuff. The afternoon's speakers were more about actual coding techniques, so being a developer myself, I was keen to learn a new trick or two. First up was Sara Soueidan, who is world renowned in the industry as being a top dog when it comes to SVGs. So naturally her talk was about, SVGs. Second was Jessica Claire Edwards, her talk was titled 'Farewell Photoshop', and she demonstrated different blending techniques that you can actually do in the browser with CSS, eliminating the Photoshop process for those cool image effects. Last but not least, was Craig Sharkie, who gave a talk on viewport units. If you didn't know already, viewport units are basically the units of measure that are calculated from the dimensions of the browser window.
A quick afternoon coffee to keep everyone awake (trust me, it's a long day), then we had our last speaker of the day, Rachel Simpson, a UX designer for Chrome, who spoke about the balance of usability and security on the web.
I felt so exhausted after the first day, there was so much content to take in, I may have busted a few keys on my laptop, but it was worth it. Feeling so inspired after a great day of talks, I took advantage of a free drink or two courtesy of the Web Directions team, and got to know some of my fellow attendees.
Day two was just as crammed with great speakers as day one. First up was Jen Simmons, whose talk was titled 'Real Art Direction on the web'. Jen spoke passionately about layout, and how we should be pushing boundaries in terms of what we can do with it on the web. She also pointed out a major issue of using 'off the shelf' frameworks, like bootstrap, grid 960 etc, in that they limit us to what we can achieve in terms of layout. The web has become boring, and a large chunk of websites nowadays follow a very similar pattern. I liked her enthusiasm about what the future brings though. Flexbox is allowing us to be more creative in what we can achieve in the browser, but with support for grid layout to be gradually introduced into browsers in the coming months/years, exciting times lie ahead in terms of layout on the web.
The majority of day two's talks were more technical. Peter Wilson talking about the future with HTTP/2 and its benefits in terms of website performance. Michael Mifsud and Kevin Yank with talks on CSS variables and CSS selectors respectively. Russ Weakley gave a talk on accessible web components, which personally I got a lot out of, as this is an area of web development that often gets pushed by the wayside, but is extremely important when you need to consider people of all abilities visiting your website. Matthew Kairys gave a talk on the picture element and responsive images, giving examples of how best to use them on the web. Chris Wright spoke about a desirable query that we could all do with in CSS dubbed the 'element query'. He also gave some interesting statistics about the amount of unnecessary media queries websites use, especially when bolted onto frameworks like bootstrap.
The final speaker of the conference was Karen McGrane, who gave us an interesting talk titled 'Adaptive content, context, and controversy'. Karen compared three key ways in serving content to the user. Responsive, serving the same content which has that fluidity on arbitrary device sizes, client side. Adaptive, which she defined as serving different content to the user, server side. 'Mdot', having a totally separate website to serve different content to the user. She finished by saying, "Adaptive and responsive solutions work together – they're not competitors. 95% of the time responsive design will probably solve your problems, then adaptive might solve the last 5%."
This being my first conference, it really did open my eyes to how exciting it is to work in this industry. There is always a new technology to learn, a new device to cater for, in this ever changing landscape of the web, you can never know everything. After listening to who are considered 'celebrities' in our line of work, it has made me so inspired to go and start pushing the boundaries in what you can do in a browser window.
That's all folks!
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