Handheld Conf roundup

Published on November 29th, 2013

Estimated Reading Time is 7 mins

I'm sat at Cardiff International airport reflecting on the day of talks from Handheld Conference yesterday.

I wasn't feeling all that great yesterday morning so I skipped the 3 talks for a bit longer in bed. Syd Lawrence, Jeremy Keith (who I heard did a talk similar to the one he gave at Industry Conf earlier this year) and Jon Hicks.

The first talk I heard was Mark Boulton on The Business of Responsive Design. Mark and his team have worked on some really interesting projects in the last few years including CERN, Al Jazeera & UCL

What I found very interesting from Mark's work with CERN was their requirement to have the same content aimed at 3 distinct groups: high level physicists, teachers and the general public. Content couldn't be written once for all audiences, scientists hate having things dumbed down so you couldn't expect Joe Public to consume physics papers and Mark talked about the challenge of designing for that kind of scenario.

Mark finished on our responsibility of leaving a legacy for those who follow in our footsteps. He gave the example of Eiger mountain north face and how many years ago a climber called Andreas Hinterstoisser traversed a seemingly impossible path of the mountain, leaving behind the ropes so that other climbers were able to more easily and safely climb the mountain in years to come. We're doing the same thing now to a degree, laying the foundations for future generations of designers and developers.

Mark was followed by my third favourite speaker ever (after Bill Clinton and Tim Schmidt of the Eden Project) Brendan Dawes. I first became aware of Brendan 2 years ago at New Adventures

The first thing you get from Brendan is his enthusiasm for experimentation. He comes from an interaction design background where he made his name as a Flash designer and developer.

His talk was about the data that we have around us: our Tweet history, the things we capture on our cell phones, data provided by third-party APIs. Brendan had taken the data provided by I think the Guardian about how many people had been killed by the hand of James Bond and then output that data visually using a style similar to one of the early James Bond intro titles.

Post lunch

I was really looking forward to hearing Ling Valentine of Ling's Cars speak but I have to admit was left bitterly disappointed. I had hoped for some serious insight into why Ling's website is the way it is, perhaps with some actual data to backup reasoning.

Instead, Ling was wheeled on stage in a Dalek costume (yes you didn't misread that) and then a presentation on why her website couldn't possibly be responsive, that customers using a cell phone to browse the web can't make good buying decisions because there is too many information to consume.

Like her website, the presentation just came across as gimmicky.

We then had a couple of kids read an open letter to the people who make stuff on my iPod & tablet.

Eddie Machado then presented on Crafting Your Toolset. Eddie talked through the build process for the Handheld Conference website. I'd say Eddie's talk was more aimed a newcomers to the web (and there were a lot of students at the conference) so I didn't really glean much from it.

Eddie highlighted how he bootstraps his projects using Sass. His approach isn't so different from the way I now build sites although Eddie did have multiple breakpoint stylesheets for elements. If you are new to building sites, I'd advise against doing that.

This was the way that UGG were delivering stylesheets on the recent Decker's project. While it works, it's not really efficient. I find it much better to use a Sass mixin and add your responsive rules in with the element.

For example:

.news {
    width: 50%;
    padding: 1em;

    @include at-breakpoint($desktop) {
        padding: 2em;
    }
}

What I've done here is specify that the padding on the news element should be doubled on the desktop breakpoint (that I defined in my _config.scss file).

That means that I'm not hunting through multiple files looking for that particular class and it's associated media queries.

Speaker break

Then something weird happened - a video of Eric Schmidt of Google came on screen with his quote:

If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.

There was a short Keynote presentation set to We're not gonna take it on privacy (or lack thereof) offered by companies like Google and Facebook and how this new project planned to overcome those challenges/restrictions.

Then Aral Balkan appeared on-stage to introduce indie OS, indie Phone and indie Cloud (formerly Prometheus).

I'll be honest, I thought this was a joke, I mean seriously, iOS, iPhone and iCloud. The presentation was very Steve Jobs-esque as well but apparently this is a real thing. It'll be interesting to see where it goes.

Coming to the end

The penultimate talk of the day came from my pal Andrew Clarke. His talk was titled How to call your client an idiot without getting fired.

What he was getting at was our approach to building website should be markedly different from how it has been in years gone by. Creating a Photoshop/Fireworks/Sketch comp no longer cuts the mustard and how even early wireframes can stifle the design process. Selling your client a Photoshop design is effectively selling a lie because not all browsers handle things in the same way (rounded corners in IE anyone?). We made a rod for our own backs in that respect because we sold a lie. It reminded me of this entertaining 'talk' by Josh Brewer of Twitter.

Andrew gets his clients to experience his work early on by giving them access to actual HTML and CSS which they can access on their desktops, tablets and phones - and then iterates on those in agile style sprints.

The conference was closed by Jeffrey Zeldman who presented the 10 Commandments of web design. I'd heard Jeffrey speak 2 years ago at DIBI and was quite disappointed. His presentation felt rushed and I didn't really take much from it.

Yesterday, he nailed it. Jeffrey gave this presentation earlier in the year.

He covered a lot in his 10 points (it took him 20 minutes to get to point 2) but it was number 1 that stuck with me. It seems common place now for us to forget to entertain our audience. Even something as simple as modifying your 404 page can be entertaining.