Front-End Design Conference 2010

August 2, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Front-End Design Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. I had attended the inaugural conference last year and was looking forward to this year’s event. I won a free ticket to this year’s conference from Fuel Your Creativity blog.

As part of the contest, I had to answer why I attend conferences. Here was my response:

I attend conferences to learn, to be inspired, get away for at least a day to dream, and to meet other Web professionals. Conferences provide a great venue to do all these things, especially connecting with people and expanding your personal network.

This year’s conference did not disappoint. I enjoyed the content and had the chance to meet some sharp Web professionals. I also got to further many relationships with people that I had met at other events like WordCamp Orlando.

Kicking off the day

One of the things that I really like about this conference is that they provide a great venue for getting to meet people right off the bat. They provide breakfast in a very casual atmosphere that makes it easy for an introvert like me to begin meeting people. This is great because I don’t have to face a large room of people trying to figure out where I am going to sit in the midst of a sea of strangers. I made a lot of connections last year through the breakfast and was able to catch up with a guy I met at WordCamp Orlando this year.

Besides some new relationships, here are the three main things I took away from the conference:

No one is a blank sheet designer

I believe each of the first three presenters made a comment about the value of constraints. From a career test I took several years ago, one of the observations is that I am not a ”blank sheet designer.” I work best by having something concrete to start with. I am really good at modifying things.

One of the takeaways from the conference for me is that there really are no blank sheet designers. As Larissa Meek said, “we need constraints to be successful.”

The success of a project is really shaped by the defining stage where you get to know the client and get to know their audience. The more you know about the client’s business goals and know about the primary audience, the more successful your design solution will be.

Constraints begin to define the project and give a place to jump off from as you create a solution. Larissa encouraged me to discover the story to tell through my design solution. “What is the story to tell?” is a question I will be asking myself as I take the discovery research and begin trying to solve the design problem.

I am really excited about my new job with Rise Creative. We have a user experience person and a content strategy person on our team. Together they create a thorough discovery document. Working on my own within a non-profit organization for so many years, I did not have the time and resources to really dig into the discovery process. I believe the processes at Rise will take my design work to the next level because I will have such a wealth of information to provide a solid foundation to build a design solution on.

Larissa’s slides

Be consistent

Lea Alcantara discussed self branding. I became familiar with the subject through the book, Career Distinction, and through the Reach Personal Branding website and audio resources. The takeaway from Lea’s talk was to be consistent. Does the design of my website match my brand? I have wanted to redesign my site for awhile and this talk really gave me a place to start as I begin thinking how I want to represent my personal brand online.

Process, Process, Process

Meagan Fisher’s slides were awesome. She talked through her design process. She reiterated some points from the other speakers in the importance of knowing your project and then coming up with a strategy. I liked her idea of making an inspiration board. It is similar to a mood board and is a place for you to put together a lot of different ideas and inspiration.

Frank, a designer at Rise, does a very similar thing. I really like the idea and look forward to using it in my next design project.

I also liked Meagan’s last point of making it shine. This is where you go in and add some texture and lighting to really make your design come alive. She was beginning to go into some techniques she uses in Photoshop by taking public domain illustrations or textures and modifying them. Unfortunately, she was not feeling well and had to end her talk early. I look forward to reviewing her slides when she makes them available.

Work flow

It was great to hear about CSS work flow and see some practical examples of how Jina Bolton implements it in her work. Work flow is an important topic to me as I get my feet wet on a new job. I need to firm up my own work flow process and firm up my standards for how I name files, how I structure my stylesheets, and then integrate that into the existing work flows at Rise Creative Group.

Jina provided a lot of great ideas. She mentioned Modernizer, which is a javascript that allows you to target different browsers depending on their CSS3 capabilities. I have seen others mention Modernizer but had not made the time to check it out. I did take some time to look at it on Friday night.

I sat next to Jina at lunch. I enjoyed listening in as she discussed some different topics that related to her talk including frameworks and object oriented CSS (which I really don’t understand yet).

Jina’s slides

Final thoughts

The day wrapped up at the after conference party. I enjoyed hanging out and talking with different people. One of things I enjoyed was getting to meet Andi Graham, the principal of Big Sea Design and Development. I have been working with her as a contractor since the end of April. I finally got to meet her in person at the conference and I enjoyed hanging out with the Big Sea crew at the after party. I also really enjoyed meeting Stuart, Sarah Parmenter’s fiancee. We talked for several hours about a variety of different things.

Dan Denney and his crew did another awesome job at pulling off the conference. The venue was even better this year as we were in the middle of downtown St. Pete with plenty of restaurants around. This conference is such a great deal for the price, the venue, and the quality cast of speakers that Dan assembles each year.

Sketch Notes

I have always been impressed when I have seen people do sketch notes at conferences. I decided to try my hand. My owl did not turn out well for Meagan’s talk (I forgot what owls looked like). I am glad I tried my hand at something new and look forward to doing more of it in the future.

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