Tags: london



Enhance! Conf!

Two weeks from now there will be an event in London. You should go to it. It’s called EnhanceConf:

EnhanceConf is a one day, single track conference covering the state of the art in progressive enhancement. We will look at the tools and techniques that allow you to extend the reach of your website/application without incurring additional costs.

As you can probably guess, this is right up my alley. Wild horses wouldn’t keep me away from it. I’ve been asked to be Master of Ceremonies for the day, which is a great honour. Luckily I have some experience in that department from three years of hosting Responsive Day Out. In fact, EnhanceConf is going to run very much in the mold of Responsive Day Out, as organiser Simon explained in an interview with Aaron.

But the reason to attend is of course the content. Check out that line-up! Now that is going to be a knowledge-packed day: design, development, accessibility, performance …these are a few of my favourite things. Nat Buckley, Jen Simmons, Phil Hawksworth, Anna Debenham, Aaron Gustafson …these are a few of my favourite people.

Tickets are still available. Use the discount code JEREMYK to get a whopping 15% off the ticket price.

There’s also a scholarship:

The scholarships are available to anyone not normally able to attend a conference.

I’m really looking forward to EnhanceConf. See you at RSA House on March 4th!


I was in London again today. A team from Clearleft have their sprint playbacks every second Tuesday at the client’s offices on The Strand. I tag along for the ride, and to marvel at the quality of the work being produced in each sprint. Then I duck out when it’s time for them to plan the next sprint—I don’t want to be the extra cook that spoils that particular broth.

Usually I would just head straight back to Brighton, nice and early, avoiding the after-work rush. But today was such a beautiful, crisp, clear winter’s day that I tarried a while. Instead of hopping on the tube back to Victoria, I perambulated.

At Trafalgar Square, I marvelled at the fact that the National Gallery is right there, free to the public. I could just walk right in and admire one of the world’s finest collections of art. So I did.

One minute I was on a typical London street, complete with obligatory Pret a Manger and Costa Coffee. The next I was standing in front of a Caravaggio, marvelling once again at his use of light—like Renaissance film noir.

Turner, Van Gogh, Seurat, Cézanne; all there for everybody to enjoy. As I stood in front of the Holbein—stepping between the school children to find just the right spot for the skull’s optical illusion—I remembered a conversation I had with Alla just last week.

We were discussing responsive design. I was making the case that there should be parity between small screens and large when it came to accessing content. “But”, said Alla, “what about the emotional impact?” Is it even possible to get the same “wow” factor on a handheld screen that you can get with a wider canvas? She asked me if I had ever had an emotional response to seeing something in an art gallery. I smiled, because her question made her point perfectly. Then I told her about the first time I ever went to the Louvre.

It was my first time ever being in Paris. I wasn’t even supposed to be there. It was the early nineties and I was hitch-hiking around Europe, trying my best to avoid big cities—they’re less than ideal when you have no place to sleep. But through a series of circumstances that probably involved too much wine, I found myself taking a ride into the capital and getting dropped in the middle of the city.

It all worked out okay though. Through an astronomical coincidence, I met someone I knew who put me up for a few nights.

I was standing in Châtelet metro station in the middle of rush hour. Whatever effect that wine had on me was wearing off, and I was beginning to realise what a terrible mistake I had made in coming to Paris. I was studying a city map on the wall, looking for areas of green where I might unroll a sleeping bag in peace, when I heard someone shout “Jeremy!” It was a girl from back home in Cork that I knew through a mutual friend in art college. She was working at Euro Disney for the summer and having finished her day’s work, she missed her metro stop and was switching trains. She just happened to be there at just the right time to take me in.

But that’s not the story I told Alla. I told Alla about what happened during that time in Paris when I busked up enough money to go the Louvre.

I walked in and saw Géricault’s The Raft Of The Medusa. I felt like somebody had punched me in the chest. I was genuinely winded. It was one thing to see a reproduction in a book, but the sheer scale of the thing …I had no idea.

I’ve never had quite the same physical reaction to a piece of art since, but I sometimes feel echoes of it. I think that’s probably one of the reasons why I stepped into the National Gallery today. I was trying to recapture a fragment of that feeling.

Well, that and the fact that it’s free …which really is quite amazing in a city as expensive as London.

One day in London

I don’t get up to London all that often—maybe once every few weeks; just long enough for the city’s skyline to have changed again. Yesterday was one of those days out in the big smoke.

I started with a visit to the Royal College of Art to see the work in progress exhibition that’s running until Sunday. Specifically, I wanted to see the project by Monika, who was one third of the immensely talented internship collaboration at Clearleft that produced notice.city. Her current project is called Watching the Watchers, all about undersea cables, surveillance, and audio—right up my alley. I think Ingrid, James, Dan, and Georgina would like it.

Checking out Monika’s work in progress at the RCA. Watching the watchers

After that, I entered a metal tube to be whisked across the city to the Hospital Club, where a room had been booked for a most enjoyable Clearleft event. Anna had organised a second of her roundtable gatherings. This time the theme was “going responsive.”

The idea is to gather people together for one afternoon to share experiences and challenges. Anna invited people from all sorts of organisations, from newspapers to e-commerce and everything in between. Some of them were people we already knew, but most of them had no connection to Clearleft at all.

Everything happened the Chatham House Rule so I can’t tell you the details of who said what, but I can tell you that it was very productive afternoon. Some of the companies represented were in the process of switching to responsive, some had already done it, and some were planning it, so it was a perfect mix.

We began with a variation on the lean coffee technique. Splitting into groups, everyone jotted down some topics that they wanted to discuss. We shared those, grouped them, and voted on which order we would discuss them. Each topic got 5 to 10 minutes of discussion. In my group, we discussed strategy, workflow, tools, and more. We could’ve easily talked for longer. Some outcomes (very badly summarised):

  • The vision and strategy for a responsive redesign needs to be communicated (and sold) up the chain to stakeholders as well as to the designers and developers in the trenches.
  • “Mobile-first” For The Win! Solve the harder problems first.
  • Multi-disciplinary teams For The Win! Works well with Agile too.
  • A pattern libraries is probably the best tool you can have. So pattern libraries For The Win too!

After a break, we switched over in to a sort of open space exercise. Anyone who has a burning question they want answered writes that question down on an oversize post-it and slaps it on the wall. Now we’ve got a room with questions written on different parts of the wall. If you want to take a stab at answering any of those questions, you write it down on a post it note and slap it next to the question. Everyone does this for a while, going from question to question and having lots of good discussion. Then, at the end, we go from question to question, with the person who originally posted the question taking ownership of summarising the answers.

Some of the questions were:

  • How to help people to stop thinking “desktop first”?
  • Should designers code? Should developers design? Or Both?
  • How do you start to deploy a responsive version of an existing site?
  • How do you do responsive ads?
  • What is the best tool to use to create responsive designs?
  • Would every project benefit from a design system? Is it always worth the investment?

You get the idea. The format worked really well; it was the first time any of us had tried it. We slightly over-ran the time we had allotted for the afternoon, but that’s mostly because there was so much meaty stuff to discuss.


With that productive afternoon done, I made my way to the Bricklayer’s Arms, where by lucky coincidence, a Pub Standards meet-up was happening. I went along for a pint and a chat while I waited for rush hour to ease off: I wanted to avoid the crush before I started making my way back to Brighton. See you next time, Londinium.

100 words 097

It’s the weekend …and I got up at the crack of dawn to head to London. Yes, on this beautiful sunny day, I elected to take the commuter train up to the big city to spend the day trapped inside a building where the air conditioning crapped out. Sweaty!

But it was worth it. I was at the Edge conference, which is always an intense dose of condensed nerdery. This year I participated in one of the panels: a discussion on progressive enhancement expertly moderated by Lyza. She also led a break-out session on the same topic later on.

100 words 060

I spent the day in Greenwich, where there were two different web conferences happening simultaneously—Clearleft’s own UX London, and the annual Talk Web Design conference for web students at the University of Greenwich.

I was bouncing between both events, which meant I never really got immersed in either one. But that’s okay. I managed to meet up with plenty of people at both.

There was one unmissable talk today: Charlotte’s public speaking debut, opening up Talk Web Design with a presentation about her transition from student life to working at Clearleft. It was great. I knew it would be.

100 words 059

Today was the first day of UX London. I was planning to attend. I decided I’d skip the first couple of talks—because that would entail rising at the crack of dawn—but I was aiming to get to the venue by the time the first break rolled around.

No plan survives contact with the enemy and today the enemy was the rail infrastructure between Brighton and London. Due to “unforeseen engineering works”, there were scenes of mild-mannered chaos when I arrived at the station.

I decided—wisely, in retrospect—to abandon my plan. Here’s hoping it’s better by tomorrow.

100 words 057

It’s UX London week. That’s always a crazy busy time at Clearleft. But it’s also an opportunity. We have this sneaky tactic of kidnapping a speaker from UX London and making them give a workshop just for us. We did it a few years ago with Dave Grey and we got a fantastic few days of sketching out of it.

This time we grabbed Jeff Patton. He spent this afternoon locked in the auditorium at 68 Middle Street teaching us all about user story mapping. ‘Twas most enlightening and really helped validate some of the stuff we’ve been doing lately.

Playing TAG

I was up in London yesterday to spend the day with the web developers of a Clearleft client, talking front-end architecture and strategies for implementing responsive design. ‘Twas a good day, although London always tires me out quite a bit.

On this occasion, I didn’t head straight back to Brighton. Instead I braved the subterranean challenges of the Tube to make my way across london to Google Campus, where a panel discussion was taking place. This was Meet The TAG.

TAG is the Technical Architecture Group at the W3C. It doesn’t work on any one particular spec. Instead, it’s a sort of meta-group to steer how standards get specified.

Gathered onstage yesterday evening were TAG members Anne van Kesteren, Tim Berners-Lee, Alex Russell, Yehuda Katz, and Daniel Appelquist (Henry Thompson and Sergey Konstantinov were also there, in the audience). Once we had all grabbed a (free!) beer and settled into our seats, Bruce kicked things off with an excellent question: in the intros, multiple TAG members mentioned their work as guiding emerging standards to make sure they matched the principles of the TAG …but what are those principles?

It seemed like a fairly straightforward question, but it prompted the first rabbit hole of the evening as Alex and Yehuda focussed in on the principle of “layering”—stacking technologies in a sensible way that provides the most power to web developers. It’s an important principle for sure, but it didn’t really answer Bruce’s question. I was tempted to raise my hand and reformulate Bruce’s question into three parts:

  1. Does the Technical Architecture Group have design principles?
  2. If so, what are there?
  3. And are they written down somewhere?

There’s a charter and that contains a mission statement, but that’s not the same as documenting design principles. There is an extensible web manifesto—that does document design principles—which contains the signatures of many (but not all) TAG members …so does that represent the views of the TAG? I’d like to get some clarification on that.

The extensible web manifesto does a good job of explaining the thinking behind projects like web components. It’s all about approaching the design of new browser APIs in a sensible (and extensible) way.

I mentioned that the TAG were a kind of meta-standards body, and in a way, what the extensible web manifesto—and examples like web components—are proposing is a meta-approach to how browsers implement new features. Instead of browser makers (in collaboration with standards bodies) creating new elements, UI widgets and APIs, developers will create new elements and UI widgets.

When Yehuda was describing this process, he compared it with the current situation. Currently, developers have to petition standards bodies begging them to implement some new kind of widget and eventually, if you’re lucky, browsers might implement it. At this point I interrupted to ask—somewhat tongue-in-cheek—”So if we get web components, what do we need standards bodies for?” Alex had an immediate response for that: standards bodies can look at what developers are creating, find the most common patterns, and implement them as new elements and widgets.

“I see,” I said. “So browsers and standards bodies will have a kind of ‘rough consensus’ based on …running code?”

“Yes!”, said Alex, laughing. “Jeremy Keith, ladies and gentlemen!”

So the idea with web components (and more broadly, the extensible web) is that developers will be able to create new elements with associated JavaScript functionality. Currently developers are creating new widgets using nothing but JavaScript. Ideally, web components will result in more declarative solutions and reduce our current reliance on JavaScript to do everything. I’m all for that.

But one thing slightly puzzled me. The idea of everyone creating whatever new elements they want isn’t a new one. That’s the whole idea behind XML (and by extension, XHTML) and yet the very same people who hated the idea of that kind of extensibility are the ones who are most eager about web components.

Playing devil’s advocate, I asked “How come the same people who hated RDF love web components?” (although what I really meant was RDFa—a means of extending HTML).

I got two answers. The first one was from Alex. Crucially, he said, a web component comes bundled with instructions on how it works. So it’s useful. That’s a big, big difference to the Tower of Babel scenario where everyone could just make up their own names for elements, but browsers have no idea what those names mean so effectively they’re meaningless.

That was the serious answer. The other answer I got was from Tim Berners-Lee. With a twinkle in his eye and an elbow in Alex’s ribs he said, “Well, these youngsters who weren’t around when we doing things with XML all want to do things with JSON now, which is a much cooler format because you can store number types in it. So that’s why they want to do everything in JavaScript.” Cheeky trickster!

Anyway, there was plenty of food for thought in the discussion of web components. This really is a radically new and different way of adding features to browsers. In theory, it shifts the balance of power much more to developers (who currently have to hack together everything using JavaScript). If it works, it will be A Good Thing and result in expanding HTML’s vocabulary with genuinely useful features. I fear there may be a rocky transition to this new way of thinking, and I worry about backwards compatibility, but I can’t help but admire the audacity of the plan.

The evening inevitably included a digression into the black hole of DRM. As always, the discussion got quite heated and I don’t think anybody was going to change their minds. I tried to steer things away from the ethical questions and back to the technical side of things by voicing my concerns with the security model of EME. Reading the excellent description by Henri, sentences like this should give you the heebie-jeebies:

Neither the browser nor the JavaScript program understand the bytes.

But the whole DRM discussion was, fortunately, curtailed by Anne who was ostensibly moderating the panel. Before it was though, Sir Tim made one final point. Because of the heat of the discussion, people were calling for us to separate the societal questions (around intellectual property and payment) from the technical ones (around encryption). But, Sir Tim pointed out, that separation isn’t really possible. Even something as simple as the hyperlink has political assumptions built in about the kind of society that would value being able to link resources together and share them around.

That’s an important point, well worth remembering: all software is political. That’s one of the reasons why I’d really appreciate an explicit documentation of design principles from the Technical Architecture Group.

Still, it was a very valuable event. Bruce has also written down his description of the evening. Many thanks to Dan and the rest of the TAG team for putting it together. I’m very glad I went along. As well as the panel discussion, it was really nice to chat to Paul and have the chance to congratulate Jeni in person on her appearance on her OBE.

Alas, I couldn’t stick around too long—I had to start making the long journey back to Brighton—so I said my goodbyes and exited. I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to Tim Berners-Lee directly, which is probably just as well: I’m sure I would’ve embarrassed myself by being a complete fanboy.

Responsive workshopping

I spent most of last week up in Greenwich for this year’s UX London. ‘Twas a most excellent event. The move to the new venue gave the whole event a much more fun vibe and the format of a morning of talks followed by an afternoon of workshops was perfect.

Andy did a great job curating the line-up. It had a bit of a dConstruct-y feel, and not just because we had old friends like Marty, Peter, and Hannah back: Genevieve Bell, Simone Rebaudengo and Richard Seymour all broke our brains in different wonderful ways.

Hats off to Kate who worked her ass off to make sure that everything ran smoothly. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the amount of work she did. The change of venue and format for this year resulted in at least twice as much work as usual.

In the middle of UX London’s three days, I ran a workshop called Responsive UX. As I told the audience that morning when I was pitching the workshop, I got the title by taking the term “responsive design” and doing a find-and-replace on the word “design” with the phrase “UX”. After all, what’s the difference? Right, Peter?

Seriously though, this workshop was a little different in that I wasn’t covering any HTML or CSS or JavaScript. It was much more about planning for the unknown and good ol’-fashioned content priority and hierarchy.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with how it went. It was a workshop of two halves. The first half had far too much of me talking (and ranting), probably preaching to the choir. But I felt I had to lay the groundwork first. The second half—when everybody got hands on with paper-based exercises—was much better.

I learned my lesson: show, don’t tell. I’ll be doing a full day responsive workshop at Ampersand in June. I plan to make sure that there’s less of me talking and more making and collaborating. Also, because it’s a full day, I’ll be able to get down to the nitty-gritty of markup and style sheets.

And don’t forget; if you want me to come to your company sometime and do a workshop there, no problemo.

Some people at the workshop asked about me publishing my slides. The slides by themselves really don’t contain much information but I’ve published them on Speakerdeck anyway. But what’s more valuable are the URLs to articles and resources I mentioned along the way. So here’s the structure of the workshop together with links to examples and further reading…



Progressive Enhancement


Conditional Loading

Visual Design


Device labs

Following the example of the communal Clearleft test lab in Brighton that I keep harping on about, a number of other locations are also sprouting shared device labs.

The London Device Lab has just been set up by Shaun Dunne at Mozilla’s Space.

The Malmö Open Device Lab should prove very handy for inhabitants of southern Sweden (and Copenhagen too—just a short train ride away).

Here’s the Exeter device library.

Cole Henley is looking for devices that could be contributed to a communal device lab in Frome in Somerset.

Want a communal testing lab for your town? Do it. It doesn’t matter how small it is initially; it will grow once your fellow developers come out of the woodwork and start contributing their devices.

I guarantee you that every web developer out there is thinking the same thing: “I don’t have enough devices to test on.”

Start a device lab. Get the word out. Tell me about it and I’ll shout it from the rooftops.

Share and enjoy.

Update: Here’s a new device lab in The Netherlands.

New day rising

I don’t get up to London that often. Much as I like the place, the travel to and fro from Brighton can be exhausting, given the woeful state of the rail services on that line—just ask anybody who does the daily commute.

On Monday, I had an appointment in London. Rather than take the usual train to Victoria, it made more sense to take the London Bridge route. It must have been quite a while since I was last on that train because, as it pulled into London Bridge station, I was confronted with the impressive sight of a science fictional structure rising out of the city: .

Shard rising

From my subjective perspective, it came out of nowhere. The sense of having a large chunk of the future come crashing into my present was amplified by the soundscape; I was listening to the soundtrack from on a small, handheld with more storage than the combined hard drive space of all the computers I ever used up to just a few years ago. The last time I experienced this collision was on the train between Copenhagen and Malmö, listening to the soundtrack to , looking out at the colossal turbines of the offshore wind farm.

On my way back to Brighton, the experience was reversed. Heralded by the kind of doppler-stretched whistle that you only hear in old films, a steam engine raced by, hauling dining cars of elegantly-decked tables draped in white, a lamp on each one.

“The future is already here”, said . “It’s just not very evenly distributed.” The past is still here too, equally unevenly-distributed.

The present is a lumpy place on the timeline.

Hacking History

I spent the weekend at The Guardian offices in London at History Hack Day. It was rather excellent. You’d think I’d get used to the wonderful nature of these kinds of events, but I once again I experienced the same level of amazement that I experienced the first time I went to hack day.

The weekend kicked off in the traditional way with some quickfire talks. Some lovely people from The British Museum, The British Library and The National Archives talked about their datasets, evangelists from Yahoo and Google talked about YQL and Fusion Tables, and Max Gadney and Matthew Sheret got us thinking in the right directions.

Matthew Sheret was particularly inspiring, equating hackers with time travellers, and encouraging us to find and explore the stories within the data of history. The assembled geeks certainly took that message to heart.

Ben Griffiths told the story of his great-uncle, who died returning from a bomber raid on Bremen in 1941. Using data to put the death in context, Ben approached the story of the lost bomber with sensitivity.

Simon created geStation, a timeline of when railway stations opened in the UK. On the face of it, it sounds like just another mashup of datetimes and lat-long coordinates. But when you run it, you can see the story of the industrial revolution emerge on the map.

Similarly, Gareth Lloyd and Tom Martin used Wikipedia data to show the emerging shape of the world over time in their video A History of the World in 100 Seconds, a reference to the BBC’s History of the World in 100 Objects for which Cristiano built a thoroughly excellent mobile app to help you explore the collection at British Museum.

Brian used the Tropo API to make a telephone service that will find a passenger on the Titanic who was the same age and sex as you, and then tell you if they made it onto a lifeboat or not. Hearing this over the phone makes the story more personal somehow. Call +1 (804) 316-9215 in the US, +44 2035 142721 in the UK, or +990009369991481398 on Skype to try it for yourself.

Audioboo / did you die on the Titanic? on Huffduffer

I was so impressed with the Tropo API that I spent most of History Hack Day working on a little something for Huffduffer …more on that later.

My contribution to the hack day was very modest, but it was one of the few to involve something non-digital. It’s called London On A Stick.

A pile of USB sticks had been donated to History Hack Day, but nobody was making much use of them so I thought they could be used as fodder for Dead Drops. I took five USB sticks and placed a picture from The National Archives on Flickr Commons on each one. Each picture was taken somewhere in London and has been geotagged.

Zeppelin over St. Paul's

I slapped sticky notes on the USB sticks with the location of the picture. Then I asked for volunteers to go out and place the sticks at the locations of the pictures: Paddington, Trafalgar Square, Upper Lambeth, St. Paul’s and Tower Bridge. Not being a Londoner myself, I’m relying on the natives to take up the challenge. You can find the locations at icanhaz.com/londononastick. I ducked out of History Hack Day a bit early to get back to Brighton so I have no idea if the five sticks were claimed.

Although my contribution to History Hack Day was very modest, I had a really good time. Matt did a great job putting on an excellent event.

It was an eye-opening weekend. This hack day put the “story” back into history.

Responsive refresh

Another week, another responsive web site.

Two weeks ago, it was St. Paul’s School. Last week, it was Salter Cane. This week, I’ve been working on next year’s UX London site, implementing a nice little design refresh courtesy of Paul.

More pages will be added soon but for now, it’s essentially like a poster for the conference.

Back when I was working on the first UX London site two years ago, I was building it together with Natalie, and I mean literally together: we were pair-programming. Well, I guess programming isn’t quite right for HTML and CSS, but we were pair-writing. It was an excellent experience.

Anyway, Natalie being Natalie, the UX London site was built with rock-solid markup with a flexible layout. All the pieces were in place for a responsive web design so once I was done with the current refresh, I spent a few minutes writing some media queries.

UX London (1440) UX London (1024) UX London (760) UX London (480)

You can see the results for yourself.


It was conferences-a-go-go in London the week before last. As Future of Web Design—which was, by all accounts, excellent—was winding down, UX London was kicking off. Fears of ashcloud disruption to both events remained happily unrealised.

I went along for the first day of UX London. All the speakers were excellent but it was a particular thrill to see the amazing Scott McCloud speak. I had high expectations and they were duly surpassed.

I didn’t attend any of the workshops on the subsequent two days. Instead, Clearleft kidnapped Dave Gray and whisked him off to Brighton. There we spent two days learning sketching-fu from the master.

It was very informative and a lot of fun. Dave is a superb teacher and by the end of the two days, we were all feeling a lot more confident in our abilities to communicate through drawings. I expect there’s going to be lots of future activity on display in the Sketchleft pool on Flickr.


This is the last week during which you can grab a ticket for UX London at the early bird price. From February 1st, the price goes up by a hundred squid (and from April 1st, the price goes up by another hundred squid—no joke).

In case you’re wondering whether or not you should go, wonder no more. Just check out the line-up of speakers and imagine three solid days of inspirational talks and hands-on workshops in their company. If attended last year’s event, you know what a great gathering it is. If you didn’t attend last year, talk to someone who did.

Of course, it could be that even if you want to go, you still need to convince somebody in your company to send you. Let’s face it, UX London is a very different beast from dConstruct.

dConstruct is deliberately low in price and a more rough’n’ready one-day affair. One of the reasons why we try to keep the price of dConstruct down is so that just about anybody can afford to come: freelancers, students, whatever. If that means we can’t afford to feed everyone or hand out goodies, then so be it—everyone fends for themselves at lunchtime and there’s no schwag.

The audience for UX London is a bit different. It’s almost exclusively attended by people who have been sent by their company. With one day of presentations and two full days of workshops, and all three days fully catered, the price is, of course, far higher than dConstruct …although if you go to dConstruct and attend both days of workshops beforehand, then it works out at much the same price as UX London’s early bird ticket.

Anyway, if you are in that situation—working at a company where you have to convince someone to send you to training events like UX London—Kimberly Blessing has written a guide to getting your conference or training request approved. She shares her three-step strategy:

  1. Build a strong case.
  2. Request funding.
  3. Negotiate!
    • Try before you buy.
    • Strength in numbers.
    • Volunteer.
    • Ask for partial funding.
    • Finally, if you must: send yourself.

If you’ve got any other techniques, share them in the comments to Kimberly’s post.

Thatmedia 2009

It’s been a great month for conferences; UX London, An Event Apart in Boston, and wrapping it all up, @media 2009.

The two day event was filled with great talks. The first day was filled with design-led topics and the second had more of a developer-based approach. You can check out Colly’s slides and Malarkey has published the slides and words from his talk called Walls Come Tumbling Down.

The conference finished with the traditional hot topics panel, moderated by yours truly. My guests were Jason Santa Maria, Jon Hicks, Douglas Crockford and Chris Wilson. They were wonderful. Thanks to them, I had a really enjoyable time debating the burning issues of the day, like HTML5 and @font-face. I thank them sincerely for being such gracious panellists, stoicly enduring my snarky barbs.

This year’s @media had a similar feeling to the very first event back in 2005. But this year’s @media has one distinguishing characteristic; it is the last one being organised by Patrick. Never fear! The conference isn’t going to go away. Far from it. My splendid friends at Web Directions will be running @media next year, ensuring that the high standard of the conference will be maintained.

Thank you Patrick, not just for @media 2009 but for all the work you’ve put into this annual London geekgasm.

From Boston to London

The second day of An Event Apart in Boston kept up the excellent standard of the first day. Alas, I couldn’t keep the liveblogging up for two straight days …I blame the Media Temple opening party.

Other attendees were far more motivated than I. There’s the Django app A Feed Apart that collates Twitter and Flickr posts from the conference. Then there’s the very cute A Seat Apart which allowed attendees to point out their place in the seating arrangement. In fact, all the attendees I met at the event were an exceptionally enthusiastic and lovely bunch.

The content was, of course, superb; Zeldman, Heather, Derek, Dan, Aarron and Scott all gave superbly inspiring talks. The event closed with Malarkey giving a rousing talk wherein he backed up the assertion already made by myself and Dan that no, for fuck’s sake, websites do not need to look the same in every browser!

That was certainly an emerging hot topic at An Event Apart. Now I’m in London for @media 2009, where it is beholden upon me to track the hot topics for the closing panel. So far, from an excellent first day, the topics I’m seeing are:

  • Process
  • Icons and metaphor
  • @font-family

And that’s just after one day of design-related talks. There’s a whole swathe of developer-focused hot topics still to come. I’m riding a wave of inspiration from two back-to-back conferences; I hope I can harness some of that energy in the closing panel.


This is a busy month for conferences.

UX London just wrapped up. I went along on Monday to listen to the stellar line-up of speakers before the subsequent two days of workshops kicked off. It was, as expected, fantastic. Judging from the scuttlebutt on Twitter, a good time was had by all for three straight days.

I had an all-too brief chat with Jared but I knew I’d be seeing him again soon. We’re both going to be speaking at . See you next week in Boston, I said.

The last time I was in Boston was back in November for Jared’s UI13 conference. I had a great time. Boston is definitely my kind of town. But then, as an Irishman, I would say that.

I’ll be bringing my mandolin along with me but I don’t know if I’ll be brave enough to actually play at any of the sessions. Still, if you live in Boston and fancy meeting up for a pint and a tune, let me know. If you don’t live in Boston but you’ll be attending an An Event Apart, then a Sam Adams or two is definitely on the cards.

I’m excited but nervous. Excited because An Event Apart is always such a great, great conference with excellent speakers. Nervous because… well, it’s a great, great conference with excellent speakers. The bar is set very high. I’ve been agonising over my talk—entitled Future Shock Treatment—and I keep vacillating between thinking it’s going to be quite good and thinking that it’s going to completely suck. I guess there’s only one way to find out for sure.

Once An Event Apart finishes, I’ll be heading back across the Atlantic to London …like, literally the moment that An Event Apart finishes. That’s because I need to get straight back for which starts right after An Event Apart. And I won’t be alone. Stan and Malarkey will be on the same flight, winging their way from Massachusetts to Blightly to reprise their talks.

For my part, I’ll be moderating the closing Hot Topics panel. I am rubbing my hands in gleeful anticipation. I love moderating panels. I get real kick out of being the .

See you in Boston, London, or wherever else I happen to end up this month.


One of my resolutions for this year (and the year before) is to try reduce the amount of jet fuel I’m responsible for pumping into the atmosphere. So far, my speaking schedule for the year looks reasonably in-keeping for that aim.

Next month I will be flying to Austin for South by Southwest. I wouldn’t miss that for anything. Like last year, my plan was to go but not speak. Like last year, that plan has changed. Tantek asked me to join him on his microformats panel to talk about some of the things I’ve been doing on Huffduffer.

I can’t resist the opportunity to ramble on about my newest toy. I’ll be blabbing on about Huffduffer closer to home when I give a talk here in Brighton on the third of March at £5 App. The last £5 App event was amazing, featuring a crowdsourced adventure game, fighting sumo robots, duelling bluetooth phone lightsabres, and augmented Christmas reality.

When I get back from Southby, I’ll be popping over to Frankfurt at the end of March for the European Accessibility Forum where I’ll be wearing my moderator hat for a panel on accessible web applications.

In April I don’t even have to leave the country. I’ll be speaking at an inaugural grassroots event called Bamboo Juice down at the Eden Project in Cornwall. What a great location for a geek gathering! And the event is priced at a very affordable 99 quid too.

June is when things get a little crazy. First of all, there’s UX London in the middle of the month. I won’t be speaking but I will be helping out and doing my bit to make sure that everything goes smoothly. I’m excited, and slightly intimidated, to be involved in such an intense, intimate three-day event. If you’re thinking about going, I suggest you sign up by February 25th, when the early bird pricing ends.

Shortly after UX London, I’ll be popping over to Boston to speak at An Event Apart, a conference where the bar is set scarily high. I’m already panicking about meeting the event’s very high standards.

Then, literally right after that I’ll be going straight back to London for @media. I’ll be fulfilling my now-traditional duty as moderator of the closing hot topics panel—always a good opportunity for some mischievous fun.

I know that looks like quite a hectic schedule but compared to last year, it’s positively relaxed. And most of those events are reachable by train rather than plane.

I do have one other long-distance flight lined up but it’s for pleasure, not business. Tomorrow Jessica and I are flying to Seattle. It’s going to be a short trip but I hope to meet up with some of my Seattle-ite buddies while I’m there. Get in touch if you’re going to be around.

The Rise of HTML5

Registration opened a couple of days ago for the latest Clearleft event. UX London will be taking place from June 15th to 17th. This will be a very different event to dConstruct.

For a start, the format is based around workshops (although there will also be a day of presentations). Then there’s the timescale: UX London will last for three days. Finally, there’s the intimacy factor. Whereas the attendance for dConstruct is somewhere between 700 and 800 people, UX London will be deliberately limited to around 150.

Our motivation for putting together this event was partly to bring a kick-ass UX here in the UK for a change. But mostly we wanted to put together the kind of event that we wanted to attend. So we drew up our dream line-up and incredibly, we got everyone we wanted: Dan Saffer, Jared Spool, Jeff Veen …and Don fucking Norman (excuse my French but I find it very hard to say Don Norman will be speaking at UX London without interjecting some indication of my excitement).

Andy has written more about the event on his blog which has, over the past week, arisen from its deep slumber.

The site itself launched right before Christmas. Natalie and I did the front-end build and I’m pretty damned pleased with how it turned out. Behold the liquidy goodness!

We used this as an opportunity to really push what Dan has been calling progressive enrichment: sprinkling in some modern CSS declarations even if not every browser gets all of them—something that Malarkey has been banging on about for quite a while now.

So if you view the UX London site in IE6 it looks fine. Nothing special though. But if you view the site in a browser like Safari, a lot of little details shine through. The design is pretty much a test-case for the property using . Depending on the browser width, multiple translucently shadowed elements can overlap and it’s interesting to see how browsers handle this (Safari’s additive approach seems correct to me).

On the markup side of things, we decided to write the site in HTML5. But wait! Isn’t HTML5 going to take another few decades before it’s finished?

Well, no. That little bit of bollocks was spread ‘round by people who misread the timeline, underestimating the importance of “working draft” and overestimating the importance of “proposed recommendation”. Admittedly, those are pretty confusing and unintuitive labels for it’s ready and it’s been finished for ages and now it’s 100% supported in at least two implementations.

It turns out that when it comes to the markup, HTML5 isn’t all that different to what has come before. It’s all the DOM gubbins—which should allow a more declarative approach to building web apps—that is the real hard stuff that requires browser support in order to work. If you’re not interested in that side of things, much of the HTML5 spec won’t even be relevant to you. For your convenience, Michael Smith has put together a markup-only version of the spec.

From a semantic perspective, the most important additions to the markup language are the structural elements such as header, article, section and so on. Bruce Lawson has put together a test case to show that you can use these elements and still style them in most browsers. For pesky Internet Explorer, you can use a neat little JavaScript trick that John Resig discovered a while back. Alas, Camino still doesn’t play nice with styling the new elements. But that isn’t going to stop Bruce realigning his site to use HTML5’s new structural elements.

For the UX London site, we didn’t go quite that far. We stuck to using divs with class attributes for our structure. But we could still build on the work that has gone into the HTML5 structural elements. Rather than coming up with our own class names, we used the names proposed in the spec: article, section, aside, etc.

Now our document structure has pre-built documentation. Want to know what class="article" denotes? RTFM.

Using HTML5 elements as a basis for a naming convention isn’t a new idea. Malarkey has written about developing naming conventions from HTML5. Jon Tan also wrote about preparing for HTML5 with semantic class names. Oli Studholme put both of those articles together to create a handy little structural cheatsheet. Use microformat class names for the small stuff; use HTML5 class names for the bigger stuff.

Apart from providing easier documentation, there’s another good reason to take this approach: interoperability. Think about how much easier user styling would be if sites shared many of the same class names. Even if you don’t think that they are the best class names—I know, for instance, that Malarkey doesn’t like the presentational smell of footer—the benefits of an aggregate shared vocabulary could be very empowering. So if you do insist on creating a CSS framework that mandates using certain specific names (a concept I despise) please, please, please use those class names.

On the subject of user styling, there’s a site ID of uxlondon-com on the UX London site. Huffduffer, another HTML5 site, has an ID of huffduffer-com on every page. But rather putting these IDs on the body element, it seems more meaningful to me to add them on the html element itself.

A couple of weeks after the UX London site launched, another event site went live: the beautifully-redesigned An Event Apart. It’s also written in HTML5. Jeffrey has written about the design and Eric has written about the markup.

Huffduffer, UX London, An Event Apart and now The Watchmaker Project …there’s quite an exciting air of experimentation around using HTML5 right now. Personally, I’ve found it to be a fun way of breaking out and trying something new. I recommend giving it a whirl. Until recently you would have needed to use validator.nu to test your markup but now that’s been integrated into the W3C validator so all your old bookmarklets and tools will still work.

Even if you decide against writing in HTML5 itself, at least consider using those HTML5-inspired class names for your structural naming convention where appropriate.