Just Wanted to Say Thanks

Mr. Feeny

There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of how grateful I am for things in my life. I know it can be tough to appreciate things when life isn’t going the way you want, but it definitely helps to take a step back and reflect. I recently tweeted my 5 ways to living a happier life:

  1. Be grateful
  2. Challenge yourself
  3. Laugh
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others
  5. Respect/help others

With Thanksgiving coming up, it is a time to look back on your past year or your entire life to appreciate the small and large things in your life. There’s always something. Here are things I am grateful for over the last year:

Life. I am grateful to be able to breathe and enjoy life.

My wife. Honestly she is one of the hardest working people I know and she goes the extra mile to make sure I am happy in life. She pushes me to be a better person and supports most of my decisions. After being apart for 8 years, I appreciate everyday I come home to her.

Family. I am thankful to be living closer to my family now so I can be a part of my nieces lives as they grow up and have my family’s support or support them if needed. Whether a family member is still here on Earth or have gone, every member of my immediate and extended family has had a genuine impact on my life.

My brother, Brad Frost. Without him I probably would be working some shitty job that I didn’t enjoy. Thankful to be able to work with him and enjoy it, whether it is building websites, design systems, or workbenches.

Friends. You guys inspire me everyday, whether you are getting your PhD or successfully trudge your way through a rough patch in your life. Keep the positive attitude and always do the right thing.

Travel. I am grateful to have visited some amazing places over the past year. I took a road trip with my wife from LA to Seattle in 8 days, visiting a bunch of breathtaking national parks along the way. I got to go to the Outer Banks with my family. Seeing the world makes you a better person.

Work that I enjoy. I moved to Pittsburgh 3 days before my wedding 2 summers ago, scared shitless that I wouldn’t find a good job. It has been quite the transition from meteorology to web design, but I have enjoyed every minute of it. It’s pretty awesome to say you’ve built a website with a client in the center of Times Square and that you’ve helped build a design system for one of the largest companies in the world after such a short time in the field.

Basic needs. I have an apartment, food, clothes, and a mode of transportation. Some people aren’t so lucky. After getting back from San Francisco recently, it was sad seeing how many people don’t have these basic things.

Education. You never stop learning. I am thankful to have gone to college for a subject I loved. I am thankful for the books I have read that have helped me transition from meteorology to web design.

Failure. Weird to be thankful for it, but failing in life has allowed me to become a harder working individual.

Open mind. I am happy that I am laid back and respect someone for who they are as long as they respect me. With the recent escalation of hate, I am happy to be raised in a manner where race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability do not make a person any less important.

Ability to listen well. I suck at talking. I mumble and take a while to spit out a story. But I am a good listener. If you try to teach me something, I will likely listen hard. If you have an opinion different than mine I’ll listen. If you are struggling with something, I’ll listen and try to help.

To these web people who have taught me a lot about web and life this year:

  • Dan Mall – Friend, coworker, and smart dude. Honestly privileged to have worked with you and hope to continue to work with you. Thanks for putting up with me.
  • Josh Clark – Friend, coworker, and smart dude. Privileged to have worked with you and hope to continue to work with you. Thanks for putting up with me.
  • Matt D. Smith – Friend, coworker, another smart dude. Privileged to have worked with you and hope to work with you again. Thanks for working with me.
  • Dave Olsen – Friend and collaborator on Pattern Lab 2 (PL PHP guy). One of the nicest guys who seems to enjoy hiking as much as I do. Thanks for being a good and helpful dude.
  • Brian Muenzenmeyer – Friend and collaborator on Pattern Lab 2 (PL Node.js guy). Super nice and bright guy. Just don’t ask him where he’s from. Thanks for your help and being a cool guy.
  • To all authors of books/articles I have read about the web, thank you for sharing your knowledge.
  • To all speakers at conferences I have gone to, thank you for your web and life lessons. I learned a lot from you. I have written about those speakers here at Web Design Day and An Event Apart San Francisco.

An Event Apart San Francisco 2016: Lessons Learned

After Web Design Day in Pittsburgh, I wrote about my personal takeaways from the web conference. So I am going to do the same thing with An Event Apart San Francisco.

This is my second time to San Francisco and, I must say, it feels weird. My first time here was for a research meteorology internship with Naval Research Laboratory, when I rode a research vessel out of San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean. This time I come back as a front end web designer/developer. After seeing the sights on Sunday, it was time to sit back and absorb as much information as possible from the speakers.

My general takeaways were similar to the those I had at Web Design Day (maybe since a few talks were similar), but with additional ones. Here they are:

  • Empathy and respect towards a user keeps coming up as a very important topic. We should treat the experience we are creating on the web as an experience that leaves both the developer and user satisfied. After all, we are designing and developing for humans and humans have emotions.
  • Accessibility remains a relevant topic within designing and developing a website. Even though a designer or developer might not have a disability, designing and developing for someone with a permanent or temporary disability is vital for them to have a good user experience.
  • Diversity in who creates the web is very important. Everyone has a different story and a different perspective on issues just like every user.
  • The user’s opinion can matter more than the opinion of the company/client. After all, the user can represent the audience better than the CEO, developer, designer, etc.
  • Technology continues to evolve and allows for more opportunity in the years to come. Embrace this and create with these in mind.

These are only some of the lessons learned, but by using these in your web work, you can improve your own practices and your website’s user experience.

Here’s a more in depth look at each each speaker’s talk:

Jeffrey Zeldman

Jeffrey started off the conference by explaining how the web used to be and comparing it how the web works now. He specifically went into the book he wrote back in 2003, Designing with Web Standards (3rd Edition), and compared it to how the topics brought up in that book stand up to the standards of today’s web. For the most part, the standards discussed 13 years ago are similar to today’s standards, with only a few tweaks here and there. This just goes to show you that although the web is ever changing, concepts we come up with now can continue to be relevant in the future.

Sarah Parmenter

Sarah went into depth about branding, a process many people link to only the logo. There is a lot more that goes into branding, including the voice and tone, guidelines, consistency, and others. It’s the way the company represents itself as a whole instead of just slapping on a logo that has nothing to do with the message of the company. She used examples like Airbnb to show how they rebranded once they became more than just a “couch surfing” organization. There were a lot of points that you don’t think of when you look at the branding of a company.

Krystal Higgins

Krystal discussed the importance of creating a separate experience for new users, but one that works with the consistency of the brand. One of the most important things she mentioned was to cater the experience in way that efficiently explains or shows the user what to do. Getting first-time users to subscribe/register for your product is important, but retaining them down the road is just as important. She also went into detail about how to create these onboarding processes, mentioning ways like guided interaction, free samples, and personal focus. Guided interaction helps the user follow along with the new process, free samples feel like this new product will be worth it, and personal focus feels like this product matters to you personally. A lot of these are things I never thought about more than just slapping a few alerts on a new user page.

Jen Simmons

I had the opportunity to listen to her at Web Design Day in Pittsburgh and many of the concepts were the same. Jen describes how web designers and developers have fallen into web layouts that are quite boxy and very similar to each other. She went into the design of books, magazines, and objects we see in everyday life and mentioned that there is a lack of this creative design in web work. Jen then went into layouts and how the way we layout websites over the years has changed and that it is about to change even more with CSS Grid Layout. Grid will allow flexibility with design (moreso than flexbox) that can take us back to the creative designs we have seen in old magazines and patterns we see everyday. Grid is on track to come out sometime next year and in my opinion, is a very exciting new adventure since CSS layouts have always been a little fuzzy to me.

Jen also presented a workshop in CSS Grid Layout, which was very helpful in the specifics that we will need to know when Grid officially arrives. A lot of the layouts reminded me of Microsoft WordArt (in a good way), formatting titles in a way that can be positioned vertically and to the left of the rest of the content with no problems. She also went into the history of language and the layouts used to portray these languages.

Rachel Andrew

Rachel went into CSS Grid Layout a bit more in depth, showing more technical aspects of it and taking layouts from everyday items and creating them using Grid in experimental browsers. She also went into ways we can use Grid in a way that has fallbacks that will look solid still when Grid isn’t supported in an older browser. Very insightful as to what to expect when working with Grid in the future.

Brad Frost

The first time seeing my brother speak in person was a good one as expected. After a long day of absorbing information from brilliant minds, he presented in a way that was both educational but funny to keep the audience’s attention. Brad went into the depths of Atomic Design, a process in which smaller components make up larger components that make up even larger components. For the short time I have been in this field, this is the way I learned and have approached many of the projects I have done. This talk solidified the reasoning as to why I have built websites using the principle of Atomic Design.

Jeremy Keith

Jeremy’s talk dove into evaluating technology, going through a history of technology and how the best technology isn’t solely created from nothing. It evolves. Technology is built on prior technology and so on and so forth. That is how technology improves. He showed us how certain technologies can be cool but not necessary and included a picture from the 1990s of a selfie stick with a camera well before the explosion of the smart phone and well before the selfie stick became popular over a decade or two later. One of my favorite quotes from his talk was one from Grace Hopper stating, “Humans are allergic to change.” I feel like it not only represents how humans struggle with change in technology, but with life as well. Jeremy went into detail about service workers and web components and how these are great tools. He also discussed the importance of “how well do tools fail,” since this is important in web development when browsers don’t support certain tools. All in all, I learned a lot both in web development and life from this talk.

Val Head

I have listened to Val talk about animation before at a local meetup since she is based here in Pittsburgh and she definitely knows her animation. Val went into the proper way to use animation in web design and development and how to persuade your company to use animation. She also discussed the tools she uses to design animation as well as the pros and cons of these tools. Val also emphasized the importance of storyboards and sketches and how these can be portrayed to the company rather than just describing the animation and having an opinion on it. She made me realize that showing something to a client speaks volumes compared to just saying what you want to do.

Jason Grigsby

Jason’s talk was about how responsive web design has helped to change the way we interact with content. The content changes in response to the viewport size, but when it comes to a click, tap, swipe, etc., the web has a harder time differentiating these. Jason went into the future of the web and how we may adapt to these different input changes in the best way possible. With the addition of virtual reality and other impressive technological advances, the web will have to continue to change and folks will need to get out of their comfort zone to adapt. A very insightful talk that made me think about the future and how things are ever-changing.

Derek Featherstone

Derek discussed the importance of accessibility. He included the audience by having them read a form with only the use of a straw sized hole in their hand. I, personally, find that it is difficult enough dealing with form fields let alone doing it with low vision. This was a perfect example of how to design for folks who are dealing with everyday or temporary handicaps. Derek also described how design can even look better when you have accessibility already in mind. It doesn’t even take a diagnosed handicap to get frustrated with the web as I’m sure we all know. Designing for ease of use for everyone is very important and decreases this frustration. After creating a design system recently with accessibility in mind, this talk definitely was relevant to me and a solid one.

Eric Meyer

I had heard much of Eric’s talk here in Pittsburgh when he came for Web Design Day, but there were some new topics discussed. Eric went into depth about how designers and developers need to stress test ideas and sites. Although we may have a picture of who the user is in our heads, we will likely have some in an audience that don’t fit this persona. Eric gave several personal examples of this and explained how it can deter people from returning to your site or using your application. Empathy is a huge part of web design and development and by thinking about the user we can design and develop our sites and applications better. By speaking the user’s language and catering to their mood, we can create better experiences.

Gerry McGovern

Gerry’s talk was the funniest of the talks as I was almost in tears during it. It was like a stand-up comedy routine, but with very important lessons included as well. Gerry went into detail about how companies’/clients’ hierarchies of tasks are most times different than the users’ hierarchies, and usually the user is who you want to pay attention to. He showed surveys that he helped with where companies had one idea but the users had another. When the company changed its mindset, the user not only had a better experience but the company itself did better. My favorite quote was “if you solve the customer’s problems, they’ll solve your problems.” After all, it is the customer who uses what you create and if they’re frustrated or delighted, that’ll reflect on the company. A brilliant talk and a great way to end the main part of the conference.

Thank you to all the speakers for all of your hard work and sharing it with us!