Themes from An Event Apart (Boston 2010)

The farther away one gets from the end of a conference, the less likely one is to write about it. I’m no exception, which is a shame because there was a ton of great thinking and practical advice that came out of the energizing An Event Apart 2010 in Boston.

So, on the tiny off-chance that I can’t write in-depth, lucid details about everything that inspired me, I wanted to at least capture the broad themes I heard last week.

Without further ado, here they are:

Your designs should embrace the diversity of browsing experiences offered by different devices

Media Query

  • It is no longer necessary—or even possible—to make the browsing experience the same across all browsers. Like HDTV, the device determines the experience you get; the experience is not (and should not be!) the same for every device. Design and testing processes should change to reflect this reality.
  • CSS3 media queries are an easy, stylesheet-based way to adapt our designs to devices with variable widths.
  • Read more: “The CSS3 Experience” by Dan Cederholm, “Hardboiled Web Design” by Andy Clarke and “Everything Old is New Again” by Eric Meyer.

Mobile is moving to the center of the web design practice

Growth Opportunity

  • Change is coming: designing for mobile browsers will represent a significantly larger chunk of your design focus and energy in the next 5 years, due to the incredible proliferation of smartphones.
  • Consider designing the mobile experience before the desktop experience, it allows you to focus on users’ primary needs.
  • Designing mobile experiences means embracing—and designing for—flexibility.
  • Read more: “Mobile First” by Luke Wroblewski, “Everything Old is New Again” by Eric Meyer, and “A Dao of Flexibility” by Ethan Marcotte.

Usable is no longer good enough

Aarron Walter - An Event Apart: Seattle 2010

There’s still no substitute for good planning, informed design, and responsiveness, both in project management and product design

  • Plan for change at all points of the project, from scoping the project down to the individual design decisions.
  • Avoid adhering to hard and fast rules if you have the opportunity to investigate, research, and make an informed decision. But don’t ignore your gut.
  • The more techniques you learn, the more flexible your processes can become.
  • The qualities that contributed to the success of the web as a platform are the qualities that make us successful as web developers: rough consensus, working code developed quickly, velocity, and responsiveness.
  • Read more: “Put Your Worst Foot Forward” by Jeffrey Zeldman, “Anatomy of a Design Decision” by Jared Spool, and “How the Web Works” by Jeff Veen.

For more details from the individual talks, Luke Wroblewski’s conference notes are that rare combination of concise and thorough. I’ve linked to them liberally above; here’s the full list: Luke’s An Event Apart notes.


    TJ Kelly |

    Great post. I like @aarron’s “usable is no longer good enough” the best.

    Thank you for linking to my Event Apart: Boston Roundup. There are 3 more parts to that series coming soon!

    link to

    Matt |

    Thanks for the comment and your notes — totally agree with you, @aarron’s quote is the one that has stuck with me more than any other from the conference, although Jared Spool’s “It validates” is a close second :)