Tags: talk

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Saturday, December 24th, 2022

An Event Apart

My trip to California went well. It was bookended with a few days in San Diego on either end. I relished the opportunity to hang with family and soak up the sunshine.

In the middle was my outing to San Francisco for An Event Apart. There were some great talks: Krystal talking about onboarding, Miriam blowing my mind with cascade layers, Eric diving deep into the :has() selector, and David closing out the show with a superb call to arms.

I gave my talk on declarative design at the very start of the event, just the way I like it. I was able to relax and enjoy all the other talks without having mine on my mind.

The talk went down well. I thought maybe I might have the chance to repeat it at another An Event Apart sometime in 2023.

But that won’t happen. An Event Apart has closed its doors:

Seventeen years ago, in December 2005, we held our first conference in Philadelphia. The event we just held in San Francisco was our last.

Whenever I was invited to speak at An Event Apart, I always responded in the affirmative and always said it was an honour to be asked. I meant it every time.

It wasn’t just me. Ask anyone who’s spoken at An Event Apart. They’ll all tell you the same thing. It was an honour. It was also a bit intimidating. There was a definite feeling that you had to bring your A game. And so, everyone did. Of course that just contributed to the event’s reputation which only reinforced the pressure to deliver a top-notch presentation.

I’m really going to miss An Event Apart. I mean, I get why all good things must come to an end (see also: dConstruct), but it feels like the end of an era.

My first time speaking at An Event Apart was in 2007. My last time was in San Francisco this month.

Thank you, Eric, Jeffrey, Toby, Marci, and the entire An Event Apart crew. It has been my privilege to play a small part in your story.

2007
Chicago
Be Pure. Be Vigilant. Behave
2008
San Francisco
Pattern In The Process
2009
Boston
Future Shock Treatment
2010
Seattle, Boston, Minneapolis, Washington DC, San Diego
Paranormal Interactivity
2011
Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Washington DC, San Francisco
Design Principles
2012
Austin
The Spirit Of The Web
2013
Atlanta, Washington DC, Chicago, Austin, San Francisco
The Long Web
2014
Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, Orlando, San Francisco
Enhance!
2015
Seattle, Austin, San Francisco
Resilience
2016
Seattle, Boston, Orlando, San Francisco
Resilience, Evaluating Technology
2017
Seattle, Denver
Evaluating Technology
2018
Seattle, Boston
The Way Of The Web
2019
Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco
Going Offline
2020
Online
Design Principles For The Web
2021
Online
The State Of The Web
2022
Online, San Francisco
In And Out Of Style
Declarative Design

Thursday, December 1st, 2022

Links for Declarative Design

At the end of next week, I will sally forth to California. I’m going to wend my way to San Francisco where I will be speaking at An Event Apart.

I am very much looking forward to speaking at my first in-person AEAs in exactly three years. That was also in San Francisco, right before The Situation.

I hope to see you there. There are still tickets available.

I’ve put together a brand new talk that I’m very excited about. I’ve already written about the prep for this talk:

So while I’ve been feeling somewhat under the gun as I’ve been preparing this new talk for An Event Apart, I’ve also been feeling that the talk is just the culmination; a way of tying together some stuff I’ve been writing about it here for the past year or two.

The talk is called Declarative Design. Here’s the blurb:

Different browsers, different devices, different network speeds…designing for the web can feel like a never-ending battle for control. But what if the solution is to relinquish control? Instead of battling the unknowns, we can lean into them. In the world of programming, there’s the idea of declarative languages: describing what you want to achieve without specifying the exact steps to get there. In this talk, we’ll take this concept of declarative programming and apply it to designing for the web. Instead of focusing on controlling the outputs of the design process, we’ll look at creating the right inputs instead. Leave the final calculations for the outputs to the browser—that’s what computers are good at. We’ll look at CSS features, design systems, design principles, and more. Then you’ll be ready to embrace the fluid, ever-changing, glorious messiness of the World Wide Web!

If you’d a glimpse into the inside of my head while I’ve been preparing this talk, here’s a linkdump of various resources that are either mentioned in the talk or influenced it…

Declarative Design

HTML

CSS

Design Tools

Design systems

History

People

Tuesday, November 29th, 2022

UX London 2023

I am very excited to announce that UX London will be back in 2023!

We’re returning to Tobacco Dock. Save the dates: June 22nd and 23rd.

Wait …that’s only two days. Previously UX London was a three-day event and you could either go for all three days or get a ticket for just one day.

Well, that’s changing. UX London 2023 will be condensed into a two-day event. You get a ticket for both days and everyone shares the experience.

I’m very excited about this! I’m planning to make some other tweaks to the format, but the basic structure of each day remains roughly the same: inspirational talks in the morning followed by hands-on workshops in the afternoon.

As for the who’ll be giving those talks and running those workshops …well, that’s what I’m currently putting together. For the second year in row, I’m curating the line-up. It’s exciting—like a planning a heist, assembling a team of supersmart people with specialised skillsets.

I can’t wait to reveal more. For now though, you can trust me when I say that the line-up is going to be stellar.

If you do trust me, you can get your super early-bird ticket, you’ve got until this Friday, December 2nd.

The super early-bird tickets are an absolute steal at £695 plus VAT. After Friday, you’ll be able to get early-bird tickets for the more reasonable price of £995 plus VAT.

Keep an eye on the UX London website for speaker announcements. I’ll also be revealing those updates here too because, as you can probably tell, I’m positively gleeful about UX London 2023.

See you there!

Saturday, November 19th, 2022

My experience at Modern Frontends Live | hidde.blog

I appreciate Hidde’s reluctance to participate in anything that looks like a pile-on, but in this case, it’s important to call out the bad behaviour so it doesn’t happen again.

The specific issues I’ve put in this post cross the line between honest mistakes and bad behaviour. They cross the line, because they consistute fraud (the livestream) and because they impact attendees, sponsors and speakers. The front-end community doesn’t deserve this, and I’m worried for people new to the industry, who get may assume this is normal or ok. It’s not normal.

Friday, November 18th, 2022

Modern Frontends

More on that shitshow of an event that Jo wrote about, this time from Cassie.

My experience of Modern Frontends Conference - DEV Community 👩‍💻👨‍💻

I’ve heard from multiple people about how much of a shitshow this event was. Worth remembering in case they try to pull the same shit again.

Monday, November 7th, 2022

as days pass by — Don’t Read Off The Screen

Excellent advice from Stuart.

Watch—and more importantly, listen—to this five minute video to get the full effect.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

Design Principles For The Web - Jeremy Keith - YouTube

Here’s the video of the talk I gave at Web Dev Conf in Bristol recently. I think you can tell that I had fun—it was a good audience!

Design Principles For The Web - Jeremy Keith

Tuesday, October 25th, 2022

Prepping

Speaking of in-person gatherings, I’ve got some exciting—if not downright nervewracking—events coming up soon.

Next week I’ll be in London for Leading Design. Looking at the line-up that Rebecca is assembled, I’m kind of blown away—it looks fantastic!

You’ll notice that I’m in that line-up, but don’t worry—I’m not giving a talk. I’ll be there as host. That means I get to introduce the speakers before they speak, and ask them a question or two afterwards.

Then, one week later, I do it all again at Clarity in New Orleans. I’m really honoured that Jina has invited me to MC. Again, it’s a ridiculously fantastic line-up (once you ignore my presence).

I really, really enjoy hosting events. And yet I always get quite anxious in the run-up. I think it’s because there isn’t much I can do to prepare.

During The Situation, I had something of an advantage when I was hosting UX Fest. The talks were pre-recorded, which meant that I could study them ahead of time. At a live event, I won’t have that luxury. Instead, I need to make sure that I pay close attention to each talk and try to come up with good questions.

Based on past experience, my anxiety is unwarranted. Once I’m actually talking to these super-smart people, the problem isn’t a lack of things to discuss, but the opposite—so much to talk about in so little time!

I keep trying to remind myself of that.

See, it’s different if I’m speaking at an event. Sure, I’ll get nervous, but I can do something about it. I can prepare and practice to alleviate any anxiety. I feel like I have more control over the outcome when I’m giving a talk compared with hosting.

In fact, I do have a speaking gig on the horizon. I’ll be giving a brand new talk at An Event Apart in San Francisco in December.

It was just a month ago when Jeffrey invited me to speak. Of course I jumped at the chance—it’s always an honour to be asked—but I had some trepidation about preparing a whole new talk in time.

I’ve mentioned this before but it takes me aaaaaaaages to put a talk together. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s worth it. I may not be good at much, but I know I can deliver a really good conference talk …once I’ve spent ridiculously long preparing it.

But more recently I’ve noticed that I’ve managed to shorten this time period. Partly that’s because I recklessly agree to prepare the talk in a shorter amount of time—nothing like a deadline to light a fire under my ass. But it’s also because a lot of the work is already done.

When I have a thought or an opinion about something, I write it down here on my own website. They’re brain farts, but their my brain farts. I consider them half-baked, semi-formed ideas.

For a conference talk, I need something fully-baked and well-formed. But I can take a whole bunch of those scrappy blog posts and use them as raw material.

There’s still a lot of work involved. As well as refining the message I want to get across, I have to structure these thoughts into a narrative thread that makes sense. That’s probably the hardest part of preparing a conference talk …and the most rewarding.

So while I’ve been feeling somewhat under the gun as I’ve been preparing this new talk for An Event Apart, I’ve also been feeling that the talk is just the culmination; a way of tying together some stuff I’ve been writing about it here for the past year or two.

It’s still entirely possible that the talk could turn out to be crap, but I think the odds are in my favour. I’ve been able to see how the ideas I’ve been writing about have resonated with people, so I can feel pretty confident that they’ll go down well in a talk.

As for the topic of the talk? All will be revealed.

Monday, October 24th, 2022

In person

I’ve had the opportunity to gather with my peers a few times over the past couple of months.

There was dConstruct, which I hosted. That was just lovely.

Then a few weeks ago, in spite of train strikes and travel snags, I went to Bristol to give a talk at Web Dev Conf, a really nice gathering.

This past weekend I was in London for State Of The Browser, this time as neither host nor speak, but as an attendee. It was really good!

I noticed something rather lovely. There was enough cross-over in the audiences for these events that I got to see some people more than once. That’s something that used to happen all the time but became very rare over the past two years because of The Situation.

None of the organisers of these events were pretending that Covid has gone away. Each event had different processes in place to mitigate risk. I wrote about the steps I took for dConstruct. For some people, those measures might seem to go too far. For other people, they don’t go far enough. This is a challenge that every in-person event is facing and from what I’ve seen, they’re all doing their level best.

None of these events were particularly large. Attendence was maybe somewhere between 100 and 200 people at each one. I know that there’s still a risk in any kind of indoor gathering but these events feel safer than the really big tech gatherings (like the one in Berlin where I got the ’rona—that was literally tens of thousands of people).

Anyway, all three events were thoroughly enjoyable. Partly that’s because the talks were good, but also because the socialising was really, really nice—all the nicer for being in relatively safe environments.

It’s not exactly an earth-shattering observation to point out that the social side of conferences is just as valuable as the content. But now that so many of us are working remotely, I feel like that aspect of in-person events has become even more important.

Or maybe I’m just appreciating that aspect of in-person events after spending such a long time with screen-mediated interactions only.

Monday, October 10th, 2022

dConstruct 2022 — Polytechnic

A lovely heartfelt personal look back at dConstruct.

dConstruct was about the big ideas, but not in a wanky TED way. It was about ideas on the horizon brought into focus, it always left me wanting to know more.

dConstruct was never about the big showy thing that will make you millions. It was about the interesting. It gave you seeds to take away with you, and that’s important.

Friday, October 7th, 2022

The audio from dConstruct 2022

dConstruct 2022 was great fun. It was also the last ever dConstruct.

If you were there, and you’d like to re-live the magic, the audio from the talks is now available on the dConstruct Archive. Here they are:

Thanks to some service worker magic, you can select any of those talks for offline listening later.

The audio is also available on Huffduffer on the dConstruct Huffduffer account. Here’s the RSS feed that you can pop into your podcast software of choice.

If you’re more of a visual person, you can watch videos of the slides synced with the audio. They’ve all got captions too (good ones, not just automatically generated).

So have a listen in whichever way you prefer.

Now that I’ve added the audio from the last dConstruct to the dConstruct archive, it feels like the closing scene of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Roll credits.

Thursday, September 15th, 2022

Reflections on Dconstruct 2022 – Bill Tribble

Wow, what a day. A really diverse selection of talks that went all over the map. From building vast world-changing health systems, to scaling and archiving global online communities, to the beauty and joy of calligraphy. And lasers. I enjoyed the lot, which is rare for me at an event like this.

A rather lovely write-up of the final dConstruct!

Above all it was nice to see the diversity of approaches and reasons for doing ‘design’ / art / whatever. Some of us are solving the hard problems, some of us are thinking philosophically or creating new tools, and some of us are just having fun – and all approaches are valid and useful.

Sunday, September 11th, 2022

The last dConstruct | hidde.blog

A great write-up from Hidde on dConstruct 2022 and how the speakers tackled the theme of design transformation:

They talked about turning a series of penstrokes into art, lasers into fireworks, human experiences into novels and patient data collection into a minimal effort task.

A lot of our work in web design and technology has a power to transform and that is wonderful, especially when we manage to be intentional about the how and why.

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022

Democratising dev

I met up with a supersmart programmer friend of mine a little while back. He was describing some work he was doing with React. He was joining up React components. There wasn’t really any problem-solving or debugging—the individual components had already been thoroughly tested. He said it felt more like construction than programming.

My immediate thought was “that should be automated.”

Or at the very least, there should be some way for just about anyone to join those pieces together rather than it requiring a supersmart programmer’s time. After all, isn’t that the promise of design systems and components—freeing us up to tackle the meaty problems instead of spending time on the plumbing?

I thought about that conversation when I was listening to Laurie’s excellent talk in Berlin last month.

Chatting to Laurie before the talk, he was very nervous about the conclusion that he had reached and was going to share: that the time is right for web development to be automated. He figured it would be an unpopular message. Heck, even he didn’t like it.

But I reminded him that it’s as old as the web itself. I’ve seen videos from very early World Wide Web conferences where Tim Berners-Lee was railing against the idea that anyone would write HTML by hand. The whole point of his WorldWideWeb app was that anyone could create and edit web pages as easily as word processing documents. It’s almost an accident of history that HTML happened to be just easy enough—but also just powerful enough—for many people to learn and use.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Laurie’s talk. (Except for a weird bit where he dunks on people moaning about “the fundamentals”. I think it’s supposed to be punching up, but I’m not sure that’s how it came across. As Chris points out, fundamentals matter …at least when it comes to concepts like accessibility and performance. I think Laurie was trying to dunk on people moaning about fundamental technologies like languages and frameworks. Perhaps the message got muddled in the delivery.)

I guess Laurie was kind of talking about this whole “no code” thing that’s quite hot right now. Personally, I would love it if the process of making websites could be democratised more. I’ve often said that my nightmare scenario for the World Wide Web would be for its fate to lie in the hands of an elite priesthood of programmers with computer science degrees. So I’m all in favour of no-code tools …in theory.

The problem is that unless they work 100%, and always produce good accessible performant code, then they’re going to be another example of the law of leaky abstractions. If a no-code tool can get someone 90% of the way to what they want, that seems pretty good. But if that person than has to spend an inordinate amount of time on the remaining 10% then all the good work of the no-code tool is somewhat wasted.

Funnily enough, the person who coined that law, Joel Spolsky, spoke right after Laurie in Berlin. The two talks made for a good double bill.

(I would link to Joel’s talk but for some reason the conference is marking the YouTube videos as unlisted. If you manage to track down a URL for the video of Joel’s talk, let me know and I’ll update this post.)

In a way, Joel was making the same point as Laurie: why is it still so hard to do something on the web that feels like it should be easily repeatable?

He used the example of putting an event online. Right now, the most convenient way to do it is to use a third-party centralised silo like Facebook. It works, but now the business model of Facebook comes along for the ride. Your event is now something to be tracked and monetised by advertisers.

You could try doing it yourself, but this is where you’ll run into the frustrations shared by Joel and Laurie. It’s still too damn hard and complicated (even though we’ve had years and years of putting events online). Despite what web developers tell themselves, making stuff for the web shouldn’t be that complicated. As Trys put it:

We kid ourselves into thinking we’re building groundbreakingly complex systems that require bleeding-edge tools, but in reality, much of what we build is a way to render two things: a list, and a single item. Here are some users, here is a user. Here are your contacts, here are your messages with that contact. There ain’t much more to it than that.

And yet here we are. You can either have the convenience of putting something on a silo like Facebook, or you can have the freedom of doing it yourself, indie web style. But you can’t have both it seems.

This is a criticism often levelled at the indie web. The barrier to entry to having your own website is too high. It’s a valid criticism. To have your own website, you need to have some working knowledge of web hosting and at least some web technologies (like HTML).

Don’t get me wrong. I love having my own website. Like, I really love it. But I’m also well aware that it doesn’t scale. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to learn new skills just to make a web page about, say, an event they want to publicise.

That’s kind of the backstory to the project that Joel wanted to talk about: the block protocol. (Note: it has absolutely nothing to do with blockchain—it’s just an unfortunate naming collision.)

The idea behind the project is to create a kind of crowdsourced pattern library—user interfaces for creating common structures like events, photos, tables, and lists. These patterns already exist in today’s silos and content management systems, but everyone is reinventing the wheel independently. The goal of this project is make these patterns interoperable, and therefore portable.

At first I thought that would be a classic /927 situation, but I’m pleased to see that the focus of the project is not on formats (we’ve been there and done that with microformats, RDF, schema.org, yada yada). The patterns might end up being web components or they might not. But the focus is on the interface. I think that’s a good approach.

That approach chimes nicely with one of the principles of the indie web:

UX and design is more important than protocols, formats, data models, schema etc. We focus on UX first, and then as we figure that out we build/develop/subset the absolutely simplest, easiest, and most minimal protocols and formats sufficient to support that UX, and nothing more. AKA UX before plumbing.

That said, I don’t think this project is a cure-all. Interoperable (portable) chunks of structured content would be great, but that’s just one part of the challenge of scaling the indie web. You also need to have somewhere to put those blocks.

Convenience isn’t the only thing you get from using a silo like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium. You also get “free” hosting …until you don’t (see GeoCities, MySpace, and many, many more).

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had a place on the web that they could truly call their own? Today you need to have an uneccesary degree of technical understanding to publish something at a URL you control.

I’d love to see that challenge getting tackled.

Monday, August 8th, 2022

I’m speaking at a couple of upcoming events (Interconnected)

Matt shares some details on what he’ll be speaking about at dConstruct:

I’m going to talk generally around tools for togetherness which is my new framing for my long-running territory of general curiosity: how can we be together online, what we can do there, what it does to us, what are the design considerations, etc.

Get your ticket if you haven’t already!

I’m one of eight speakers – there’s a robotic artist, a neuroscientist, and a calligrapher. It should be an excellent day.

Wednesday, July 20th, 2022

Open Lecture at CIID: “Keeping up with the Kardashevians” – Petafloptimism

A terrfic presentation from Matt Jones (with the best talk title ever). Pace layers, seamful design, solarpunk, and more.

Monday, July 4th, 2022

WWC22 - Design Principles For The Web - YouTube

Here’s the video of the talk I gave in front of an enormous audience at the We Are Developers conference …using a backup slidedeck.

WWC22 - Design Principles For The Web

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

UX FOMO

Today is the first day of UX London 2022 …and I’m not there. Stoopid Covid.

I’m still testing positive although I’m almost certainly near the end of my infection. But I don’t want to take any chances. Much as I hate to miss out on UX London, I would hate passing this on even more. So my isolation continues.

Chris jumped in at the last minute to do the hosting duties—thanks, Chris!

From the buzz I’m seeing on Twitter, it sounds like everything is going just great without me, which is great to see. Still, I’m experiencing plenty of FOMO—even more than the usual levels of FOMO I’d have when there’s a great conference happening that I’m not at.

To be honest, nearly all of my work on UX London was completed before the event. My number one task was putting the line-up together, and I have to say, I think I nailed it.

If I were there to host the event, it would mostly be for selfish reasons. I’d get a real kick out of introducing each one of the superb speakers. I’d probably get very tedious, repeatedly saying “Oh, you’re going to love this next one!” followed by “Wasn’t that great‽”

But UX London isn’t about me. It’s about the inspiring talks and practical workshops.

I wish I were there to experience it in person but I can still bask in the glow of a job well done, hearing how much people are enjoying the event.