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I spent last Monday November 12, 2012 at the sold out An Event Apart (AEA) conference at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. This was my first time at AEA. Admittedly, I had some reservations about how relevant An Event Apart would be for me personally since I’m an SEO and usability professional and not a full-time designer. But I’m a fan of a good conference and a designer friend of mine raved about the event a year or so ago, so I went for the day to see what it was all about.

aea2012-lunch-box1.jpgImage credit: Nick Musica
Caption: A Lunchbox Apart

aea2012-lunch-box2.jpgImage credit: Nick Musica
Caption: Sandwich and apple not included

The morning speakers

My reservations were dismissed early on in the first presentation given by Jeffrey Zeldman in which he talked about the three-click rule (or lack thereof), the scent of information and instapaper.

• The three-click rule, as you may well know, states that if a user can’t find what they are looking for within three clicks they will leave your site. This is a myth, not a rule at all.
• The scent of information, or information scent, refers to cues that help users find their information or complete their task online (or off).

You can find more about debunking the three-click rule and information scent on the User Interface Engineering (UIE) site. Jared Spool, one of the event speakers who spoke on day two, founded UIE.

Zeldman continued to set the stage of the event by mentioning Instapaper. For those of you not familiar with it (I wasn’t), it’s an application that works on just about any device that allows you to view your favorite news site in a way so web page content presents like a book page on a Kindle. I’ve explored the app enough to know it’s going to be one of my top-tapped icons on my iPhone and iPad.

So, within ten minutes, three of my favorite usability topics (Zeldman also referenced Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think) were mentioned and I learned about a new, good, application that will make my life easier. It’s fair to say that I was hooked on An Event Apart.

Samantha Warren was the second speaker of the day. She talked about the benefits of using style tiles in the design process. As a participant and fan of the (re)design process, style tiles sounded like a great design tool as they can be used to communicate the design elements without locking you into specific page designs. They can also help avoid going over budget and disappointed clients and colleagues. See Warren talk about style tiles.

My takeaway from the 3rd speaker, Jon Tan, was that we are all typographers. I’ve never considered myself a typographer, but it’s true. If you are working with type, you’re a typographer one sense or another.

This was one of the main themes of the show, not typography necessarily, but the bigger idea is that no matter what your role may be, be it a designer, a developer, writer, product manager, SEO or usability professional, we are all responsible for the user experience and all impact the user whether we know it or not. The afternoon was wrapped up by three speakers.

Luke W, also known as Luke Wroblewski, gave a lively talk about how to make things easier for users on mobile devices and the future of mobile. One tip from his presentation for designers, developers and UX professionals was: Think outside of the standard default controls that mobile platforms offer. Instead, look to see where you can reduce the number of inputs and controls. This will lead to a better experience and more conversion. See Luke W talk about mobile.

Jen Simmons gave a great presentation on HTML5 APIs. I think the big takeaway from her presentation was when she said, “Knowing what is possible is all of our jobs today”. This is why non-designers and non-developers should go to AEA. The conference helps to educate everyone who works on the web, not just designers and developers. It also serves to create a common vocabulary for our industry – something that is sorely missing at times – so we can better communicate with each other.

Ethan Marcotte finished off the day by presenting responsive design. One of the key concepts Marcotte expressed was to start small, lead with content and scale up. Staring with content, regardless of device, was one of the major themes of day one. See Marcotte talk about responsive design.

The wrap up

If you can only go to one conference during the year, seriously consider going to AEA. Better yet, bring a colleague or two. The more people we have thinking about what is good for the user and knowing what can be done technically can only yield a good UX experience and better conversion.

An Event Apart will be back at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in December 2013. If you don’t want to wait that long, AEA will be in Seattle, San Diego, and Boston, the first half of 2013. Check out the An Event Apart site for all locations and dates.