This is Aaron Rester's blog:

Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Event Apart Chicago, Day 2: The Two-Weeks-Later Wrap-up

Wow. It's already been two weeks since AEA Chicago, and I'm just now finding some time to sit down and sum up what I took away from it (yeah, it's been that kind of two weeks). Anyway, without further ado:

Rob Weychart
, "Design Lessons in Chess" - Having recently discovered a passion for reading about chess, Weychart found some similarities between the ancient game and the design process, which he summed up with the following points:
  • Content is king.
  • Know your history.
  • Think ahead.
  • Don't get too attached.
  • Act with purpose.
  • Obey circumstance.
  • Principles are your friends. Except when they're not.
  • The journey is as important as the goal.
Dan Cederholm, "Implementing Design: Bulletproof A-Z" - Cederholm ran through some hands-on tips based on the principles of "bulletproof design" and "progressive enhancement" (rather than "graceful degradation"). Biggest takeaway: websites don't HAVE to look the same in all browsers.

Cameron Moll, "The In-House Designer" - Co-author of one of my favorite web design books, Moll has an interesting job description: in-house designer for the Church of Latter Day Saints. He quoted the New York Times' Koi Vinh as having stated that in-house designers spend only 20% of their time on their actual work, 40% on publicizing their work, and 40% building relationships. To build relationships within LDS, Moll instituted weekly and annual design reviews so that everyone in the organization could see what everyone else was working on -- this is something I think U of C could really benefit from.

Curt Cloninger, "What Would William Do?" - Cloninger took a look at how William Morris might approach the current sterility and stagnation of design on the web; among other things, he argued for typography being the natural material of the web and that beauty is not mere ornametation but added value.

Finally, Jeff Veen argued in "Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps" that rather than telling people stories, web apps should be giving people the tools to tell their own stories, moving from narration to discovery, from visual cues to interactivity, and from editing to filtering.

So, to sum it all up: An Event Apart was definitely worth attending. The speakers were, by and large, fascinating and inspirational. Being the veteran of not a few academic conferences, I am pleased to say that not once was I bored at this one -- perhaps the highest praise of all.

Monday, October 13, 2008

An Event Apart Chicago, Day 1: The Ten-Minute Wrap-up

Just got back from Day One of An Event Apart Chicago. I've got a bunch of client and personal work to do tonight, so before I settle in with a cold one and Dreamweaver, I'll try to sum up quickly what I took away from some of the sessions I attended.

Jeffrey Zeldman, "What is Web Design?" - Zeldman's talk was something of a "state of the profession" address, but for me the biggest resonance came in the first few minutes, when he asked what skill web designers need most. His answer (and mine): empathy. To be able to put yourself in the user's shoes, and understand the user's experience is key to everything else we do. What struck me about this answer is that it is also what scholars of religion (as I used to aspire to be) ask of their students in attempting to learn unfamiliar cosmological, theological, and eschatological views; it struck me that this was something I had left out of my post describing the similarities between my old career and my new one.

Jason Santa Maria, "Storytelling by Design"- Santa Maria's basic argument was that if web designers are narrators of stories told by websites, we should be using more adventurous visual layouts to augment those stories, in the way that magazines do, and not succumb to sameness.

Sarah Nelson (of Adaptive Path), "Design Criteria" - Nelson described hwo she manages the creative process, and argued that generating with the client a set of 5-7 short, memorable, strategic directives in writin can help your team focus its creative efforts.

Jason Fried (of 37signals), "User Interface Design Beyond the Basics" - The money quote for this one: "Copywriting is interface design."

Andy Clarke, "Underpants Over My Trousers" - The highlight of the day for me. An avid comic book fan, Clarke discussed how he found inspiration for designing a Puerto Rican newspaper site by studying the ways that comics use the convention of differently sized, shaped, and arrange panels to build drama.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Esta un Perdedor: Beck at the Aragon (10/2)

(Last Friday I published a review of the 10/2 Beck show on the Lost Cartographers' blog -- figured I'd cross-post it here.)

For your average rock show, last night's sold-out Beck show at the Aragon Ballroom was pretty damn good. There was an energetic crowd, a mix of old hits and new material, and very loud guitars. The thing is, Beck is not your average rock star. As one of the most consistently innovative artists of the last 15 years (Jesus, I feel old writing that), when you go to see Beck, you expect the unexpected: maybe some puppets, or entire songs played on dinnerware, or at least a little break-dancing. But aside from a three-song acoustic break and a slightly embarrassing borderline minstrel-show hip-hop bit in which all five band members grabbed head sets and drum machines and did everything but tell the lily-white crowd to throw their guns in the air and wave 'em like they just don't care, last night's show was essentially a straight-ahead stadium rock extravaganza. The only accoutrements in evidence were a giant projection screen in the background (featuring what appeared to be someone's senior thesis in abstract expressionist film) and some nifty lights not unlike those Tom Petty brought to the United Center a couple months ago. Hell, Beck is even starting to look a little like Tom Petty. Don't get me wrong: I love Tom Petty, and it was fun hearing rocked-out versions of old favorites like "Loser" and "Where It's At," but I expected more interesting stage antics -- or at least a little amusing banter -- from someone I'm not embarassed to refer to as a visionary. Of course, this hard-rock minimalism may just be the latest in Beck's endless stream of transformations -- but it's certainly the least interesting one yet.