Report from ConvergeSE 2013

This past week I had the pleasure of attending ConvergeSE, a three-day web conference held annually in Columbia, South Carolina. Over 400 participants gathered to discuss and explore up-and-coming trends, technologies, and disciplines in web design and development. Speakers ranged from presidents of agencies, to Google employees, to house hold names in the design community.  It was intense content in a laid back atmosphere, between venue hopping in downtown Columbia, food carts lunches, and an art museum party. The event was hugely successful, and it’s easy to tell why just by looking at their speaker roster and the schedule of activities.

Build Responsively

Build ResponsivelyThe first day was split into three workshops that attendees pre-registered to attend. I signed up for the Responsive Web Design workshop, and couldn’t have been more amazed by the content we covered in just 6 short hours. Ben Callahan, our instructor, did a thorough job reviewing the three core techniques: a fluid foundation, flexible content, and media queries. Ben also described how responsive design shifted his company’s mindset away from linear timelines in favor of a continuing “push and pull” within each part of the process, with phased deliverables and releases.

The highlight was Mr. Callahan’s application of a preprocessor called SASS, which he uses to generate a single CSS file (improving performance) for visitors using older versions of Internet Explorer or modern browsers. Combing imports, a custom mix-in (written by his company), and some conditional tags, his approach generates a stylesheet with efficient, modern techniques like media queries served to modern browsers, and another stylesheet optimized for older browsers.

Ben wrapped up by reviewing design patterns arising as responsive web design gains popularity. It is truly amazing to watch the web mature as we transition from a desktop-centric experience to an increasingly mobile-centric audience.

Multi-Track Sessions

Converge SE Day 2The second day was split into five tracks: Design, Front-End, Development, Mobile, and Business. Each track took place at a different downtown venue, with perfect weather for strolling from place to place.

I sat in on a couple of Front-End tracks in the morning, starting with “Taking Your Markup to 11”. Emily Lewis discussed semantics, HTML5, and ARIA Landmarks. She stressed good markup, and the understated value of this skill set  A quote from John Ruskin summed everything up nicely: “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.”

Rob Tarr blitzed through a series of JavaScript tips and libraries that help with responsive web design. He covered popular polyfills, typography manipulation, and even special touch effects powered by the magic of JavaScript. One great takeaway was Hammer.js, a library that adds multi-touch gestures to pages, including a neat “pull to refresh” feature.

After lunch, Johnathan Smiley did a great job convincing me – all over again – that responsive web design is the future. Val Head gave us the low down on web typography, pointing to tools and resources to help us make a web full of beautiful typefaces. Val wistfully informed us that – so far – no single typeface works great on every browser or device, underscoring importance of use case, durability, and testing in a real context.

We closed the day with a keynote from Portland designer, Aaron Draplin, who shared his inspirational story, scratching his way out of a humble midwestern childhood into the carefree life of a highly sought after designer. He inspired us to love what we do and pour all of our passion into it.

A Day of Inspiration

2013-04-27 14.32.44On the last day, we were engaged by speakers with amazing résumés and stories. I came away hopeful, inspired to remember the power that we have in building the future. From leading design for a political campaign, to enabling others to find joy in what they do through education, to running a marathon in Antarctica to raise money for a good cause, we can really make a difference. We need to share what we learn and continue to push the limits of our medium – that’s how positive change happens.

I met colleagues all the way from California to India. I met students and professionals. We learned, we laughed, we shared – some even shed a tear. I’m proud that 10up sponsored ConvergeSE, and hope to relive the inspiration in another year.

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