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Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

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.

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