An Event Apart – The Review
I had been excited for months leading up to An Event Apart, “the design conference for people who make websites” as it’s described by organizer and author Jeffrey Zeldman. Even before it was announced, the themes discussed over the course of two days were ones that stay top of mind in my role as a Senior Product Manager at HealthCentral. From the chatter on Twitter (maybe you saw the #aea hashtags?) and uptick in Gowalla check-ins I could tell I wasn’t alone. The night before I even had a hard time sleeping, that’s how much I was looking forward to hearing from so many of the thought leaders and evangelists I know and respect. Yeah, I geek out for stuff like this.
We started off with a bit of a history lesson. Nothing new or earth shattering, but interesting trivia nonetheless. I personally remember those days well (ahh “best viewed in…” buttons, you are not missed), net traffic doubling every 100 days in 1998… the dot com bust in 1999. It was like the web was coming off one giant bender. In some ways things feel very different today (users are using navigation less and search more, thanks Google), but in others we’re at a point where the web feels new again. Below are my impressions after two days…
First, I love the frontier spirit. By that I don’t necessarily mean web 2.0 (which by the way is a hackneyed phrase used mostly by people who don’t understand the web), but smart people doing some really cool work that is surprising and delighting users. I’m talking less about rounded corners and gradients and names with not enough vowels and too many consonants, and more about HTML5 and CSS3 and multitouch and geolocation. This is particularly the case in mobile. Explosive growth is exposing huge opportunities, constraints on hardware are forcing companies and designers to focus on what’s truly important, and the unique capabilities (like the aforementioned multitouch and geolocation) are spurring innovation. To put things in perspective, there are currently 1 billion internet-connected desktop devices and 10 billion mobile devices. Mobile traffic has also seen a 50x increase within the last 3 years alone.
This had also led to designers focusing more on what’s important. A visitor to your site forms an impression in ONE SECOND based on load time and design, and decides to trust you or not within ten seconds. Consistency inspires trust. Trust, by the way, isn’t just derived from consistent site layout and design (although they help quite a bit). It’s consistency in quality of content, and consistency of tone and voice. It’s consistency of message. Page descriptions, tweets, facebook posts, Google results. Your message should be consistently delivered everywhere. The takeaway was definitely to sweat the details. You need to go beyond usable. Shooting for a usable site is like a chef shooting for edible.
In the end, that’s what I came away thinking after attending An Event Apart… I’m excited to tackle the tough work ahead in turning HealthCentral into a fantastic experience for users, and lucky to be surrounded by people who share in that commitment. How are you out there on the interwebs thinking about these issues? As my fellow web nerds like to point out, information wants to be free, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!