Drupalcon London Calling

 

Drupalcon-LondonPhoto by lucybyhet

Six months after Drupalcon Chicago, Todd Nienkerk and I headed to Drupalcon London for a repeat performance of our Don’t design web sites. Design web systems talk and to generally geek out with our colleagues and peers.

Yes, it’s been 3 weeks since then – an eternity in Internet Standard Time. But there’s a benefit to thinking back over that kind of distance: I can be sure that the speakers, sessions and ideas that are still fresh in my mind, are the ones that really made an impression. Here they are, in no particular order:

Tom Standage reminded us that nothing is new

Tom Standage, editor of all things digital at The Economist, delivered a monster of a keynote on the second day of the conference. His talk was a wide-ranging survey of ancient Roman, Reformation-era and 18th century technologies which, he argued, were precursors to many if not all of our modern ideas of social media, activist blogging, online communities, RSS, content curation, and so on.

It was a mind-expanding talk that I won’t try to sum up here. What I will do, however, is encourage you to pour yourself a glass of whatever gets you in a contemplative headspace and watch it for yourself here.

16th century analytics

For those that want a preview of what they are in for, here’s just a small taste. Through an analysis of 16th century printers’ records, Standage was able to reconstruct Martin Luther’s traffic stats for his 95 Theses or, as Standage called it, “the blog post heard round the world.”

Note: Apologies for the low quality of this image. It’s a screen grab from the low-quality video footage

Just about everyone seems to agree that the optimal target display size is “all of them”

Since the appearance of Luke Wroblewski’s “mobile first” approach and the publication of Ethan Marcotte‘s Responsive Design (which is itself a more mature exploration of ideas he originally published on A List Apart back in May 2010), the web design community has been buzzing with the idea that there is no such thing as an “optimal” display size. Modern websites need to be designed to adapt intelligently so they feel equally at home on a 320 pixel wide iPhone screen as they do on a 1,920 pixel wide desktop display.

The sessions that filled out the design track at Drupalcon were packed with references to, and mentions of Luke and Ethan’s ideas. John Albin Wilkins gave attendees an overview of responsive design along with a close cousin called “adaptive” design. Jake Strawn presented another overview of the approach along with a demo of his production-ready Drupal theme that is responsive out of the box.

Ultimately, Drupalcon proved to be a reflection of the zeitgeist, in which responsive design is beginning to move from the cutting edge to the mainstream. (See, for example, the recent responsive redesign of The Boston Globe.) It’s a trend I’m happy to see, because it’s exciting for designers and good for users.

A modest proposal

Jake Strawn took home the award for “Most Emotionally Moving Conference Session” for the concluding portion of his talk in which he *proposed to his girlfriend* in front of the entire audience of the Arnhem Gallery session room. The moment is recorded for posterity starting at 29:26 of the session video. Spoiler: She said yes.

The Web Standardistas encouraged us to look back as we move forward

Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson (a.k.a. the Web Standardistas) kicked of the third day of Drupalcon with an inspiring, design-focused keynote that argued that modern web design is too often focused on what they called “sprinkles” – visual flavors of the week like text-shadows, rounded corners and 1% noise.

These design tropes can be useful if thoughtfully employed, but to create meaningful, beautiful and timeless design, web designers are better served by careful study of time-tested techniques from the past. Among other sources, the Standardistas recommended Josef Muller-Brockmann’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design, Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography and Paul Rand’s A Designer’s Art as good places to start. I would agree.

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