Well, when Jon could not make it to the festival in 2006, Glenda Sims filled the void with a paper doll named Flathicks. The idea was that, through Flathicks, Jon would be able to be photographed at parties, talks, and the like, so it’d be like he was there.
Flathicks quickly took on a life of his own and his adventures went far beyond SXSW. We handed him off, from person to person, as we traveled around the world, back to our homes, to other conferences, etc. In fact, he joined Kelly & me in Sydney, Australia in late 2007 at Web Directions South and then flew back with us to San Francisco to attend An Event Apart. You can follow his adventures on Flickr or even check out his personal Flickr account.
Kelly has had a bit of bad luck when it comes to SXSW.
The first year she went, 2006, she got food poisoning just as we boarded the plane to go to the festival. She ended up spending the majority of her time in our hotel room, recovering, and missed most of the festivities. She did manage to muster enough strength to attend the conference for a bit to see Jeremy Keith & me deliver “How to Bluff Your Way in DOM Scripting”, attend the first Web Standards Project meeting, and then attend a party or two, so the trip was not a complete bust for her. But it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as it should have been.
Kelly planned to return with me in 2007, but caught the flu about a week before and had to cancel. SXSW is a well-renown incubator of illness (“Southby Scurvy” as we affectionately call it) and Kelly did not want to be patient zero that year, so she bowed out.
Coincidentally, Jeremy’s wife Jessica was unable to make it in 2007 either. So Glenda, being the incredibly sweet woman that she is, made us paper dolls of Kelly and Jessica. She dubbed them “Kellydoll” and “Jessidoll” as she didn’t feel “flat” was appropriate as part of a woman’s nickname.
As with Flathicks, Kellydoll & Jessidoll had amazing adventures at the festival and had their photo taken with everyone who missed them.
I carried Kellydoll with me everywhere, her head poking out of my backpack. This turned out to be a bad idea however as it facilitated her escape. I must have been boring her.
I realized Kellydoll was missing on the last night of SXSW, on the way back from dinner at Ironworks, where she had been the subject of a few photos. It was raining, so I had been rushing back to my hotel room when I saw another potential opportunity to photograph her. When I reached back to get her, I realized she was gone.
I spent the next hour and a half combing Ironworks, Red River Road, First Street and a few of the other lanes around the Convention Center, retracing my steps, looking for any sign of Kellydoll. I came up empty-handed & sulked back to the hotel, depressed that I’d lost my little paper wife.
I never did find Kellydoll, so she and the real Kelly never got to meet. Maybe she’s still out there having adventures. Or maybe she ran off with Flathicks when my back was turned.
I never trusted that guy.
It’s hard to believe that SXSW Interactive is 20 years old. Reading through the remarks and stories in this awesome piece from Fast Company, I felt inspired to share some of my SXSW stories. This is the third.]]>
I’m sure a handful of the other nearby hotels offered similar amenities (though perhaps not the veranda), but for whatever reason we all seemed to gravitate to the Hampton.
Over the years, I had a the pleasure of meeting and enjoying both company and conversation with dozens of the web’s brightest minds, but my favorite memories from that particular hotel revolved around food.
Breakfast was always a big draw and quickly began to take on an almost tailgating-esque significance. We’d meet in the breakfast area, load up on breakfast meats, eggs, and pastries and then compare notes and plan out our day. And if nothing interesting was on deck for a bit, we’d pull out our DSes and engage in some pretty epic races in Mario Kart. Shaun Inman usually won, but Dan Cederholm, Jason Santa Maria, and Rob Weychert were pretty good too. I rarely placed.
We didn’t compete for anything but bragging rights. And occasionally bacon.
On particularly awesome Hampton institution was wine & cheese. But before I get into what it was and its significance, let me first talk about its lovely host.
When I attended SXSW 2005, I didn’t know anyone. Sure, I followed a bunch of people’s blogs and articles, but I didn’t really know any of them. I went to SXSW hoping to change that and was successful beyond my wildest dreams. One of the most amazing people I met at SXSW has never been a household name even though she was wildly ahead of her time: Jenifer Hanen (or Ms. Jen as she’s affectionately known).
When I first saw Me. Jen, I stopped dead in my tracks. The woman who stood before me looked remarkably familiar, but I could not for the life of me figure out why. She looked back at me with what I can only imagine was a perfect mirror of the perplexed expression I was wearing.
“I know you. But why?” we asked in near unison.
After rooting around in our past lives a bit, we realized that we had met at SXSW nearly a decade earlier when we were both journalists covering the music festival. Not only that, but we had met through a mutual friend… Rey Roldan (a pivotal figure in my first story).
Mystery solved, we filled each other in on what we’d been up to since we’d last met and how it was we both had come to work on the web. Ms. Jen was incredibly interested in the future of mobile photography. In 2005, she was running around snapping photos on her Nokia 7610. She was always ahead of the curve, realizing the latent potential of mobile while most of us were still grumbling about IE6.
Ms. Jen had been coming to SXSW for quite some time and got to know the staff at the Hampton, who routinely hooked her up with one of the suites meaning she had a couch, a coffee table, and a ’fridge… three important facilities if you plan on hosting a wine & cheese party. Which is exactly what she and some friends decided to do in 2006.
When I arrived at the party, I was greeted by Ms. Jen playing the attentive hostess. I was given a glass of wine and plopped myself down on the floor and introduced myself to the little group Jen had gathered. It was a small group, but the conversations were fantastic and I met a number of amazing individuals whose friendships I value tremendously: Kenneth Himschoot, Lauren Isaacson, Chris Mills, Veerle Pieters, Jessica Spengler, and Steph Troeth.
Ms. Jen’s wine & cheese parties quickly became a staple of our annual pilgrimage to SXSW Interactive. Each year, more people came until the crowd got so large you literally could not fit another human being in the room. Standing room only… including on top of the bed and some of the other pieces of furniture. The room would be filled with incredible people you wanted to see and interact with, but was also overcrowded and uncomfortable.
In a lot of ways, Ms. Jen’s wine & cheese parties were mirroring what was happening with the festival as a whole. But that’s another story for another day.
It’s hard to believe that SXSW Interactive is 20 years old. Reading through the remarks and stories in this awesome piece from Fast Company, I felt inspired to share some of my SXSW stories. This is the third.]]>
At the time, the panels for Interactive occupied roughly 3-4 rooms upstairs, in the far corner of the Convention Center. We were the AV club to Music & Film’s jocks and cool kids in the high school cafeteria. But, to me, walking into that corner was like swimming up to a coral reef teeming with schools of incredible fish. I recognized so many of our industry’s luminaries as I floated through: Eric Meyer … Jeffrey Zeldman … Jason Fried … Tantek Çelik … These were people whose blog posts and articles had helped me solve issues I was having, people that helped me hone my craft, people that were indirectly responsible for me being there as a finalist in the awards. And unlike the reef fish, they didn’t spook when I saddled up to them and said hello.
Everyone was incredibly friendly and I was amazed when they invited me to join them as they sat on the floor and leaned against the walls between and during some of the sessions. The hallway became our meeting place and I began to meet more amazing people, many of whom were just starting to make a splash in our then-young industry: Jeremy Keith, Andy Budd, Richard Rutter, Matt Mullenweg, Jason Santa Maria, Jon Hicks, Rob Weychert, Ethan Marcotte, Ian Lloyd, Cindy Li, and Faruk Ateş to name but a few. Together we bonded on those dirty, industrially-carpetted conventions center floors and those relationships became friendships and grew into new businesses and ventures.
I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity I had to go to SXSW that year. I’m thankful for the carpet and the hallways. And I am ever so thankful for the friends I made there, friends that I still hold dear nearly 10 years later.
It’s hard to believe that SXSW Interactive is 20 years old. Reading through the remarks and stories in this awesome piece from Fast Company, I felt inspired to share some of my SXSW stories. This is the second.]]>
Two years later, my little publication became a media sponsor of SXSW and I got a Platinum badge, granting me access to everything SXSW had to offer. I didn’t attend any of the Interactive panels—I was far more interested in seeing Tom Waits’ first live performance in 10 years, meeting Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, and interviewing Janeane Garofalo—but I did check out the trade show.
At the time, the trade show was mixed: music, film & interactive all lumped in together. (The conferences overlapped more at the time as well.) It was an interesting time because many labels were experimenting with interactive CDs and such, but MP3s and digital downloads were still pretty uncommon. Napster had just launched that year and only one major-label band at the time—They Might Be Giants—had the foresight to issue a digital-only album: Long Tall Weekend.
Amid all of the music and film-related hubub, I made my way over to the one corner devoted to Interactive’s vendors. While perusing the wares and looking for cool swag (of which there was none), I discovered a guy hocking something called a “Content Management System”. It sounded marvelous. I had been doing static (framed, of course) HTML versions of my magazine for about two years at that point and the idea of being able to enter and maintain the content in a more dynamic and flexible format was mind-blowing. I have no idea what the software was called, but the back-end was Filemaker. I bought it, of course. It wasn’t until I got back to my hotel rom that I realized Filemaker was Mac-only. I was on Windows. Cue the sad trombone.
I never once ended up installing or using that early CMS, but it sowed a seed in my mind of the possibilities for a website and I began to take my practice of web design more seriously. I taught myself PHP and MySQL and just kept going. And I owe it all to that guy and his Filemaker CMS.
It’s hard to believe that SXSW Interactive is 20 years old. Reading through the remarks and stories in this awesome piece from Fast Company, I felt inspired to share some of my SXSW stories. This is the first.]]>
As an only child, the Golden Rule my grandparents insisted was so important—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—didn't really resonate. But I was a kid, what did I know? I was sheltered. I was young. I was the sole beneficiary of my parents' love, time, and money. I had a pretty good life, but I lacked perspective.
I like to think I've grown immensely in the intervening years. Through my work, travel, and moving around a lot, I've experienced dozens of cultures, and I've met hundreds of new people, each with their own life experiences, needs, and desires. Exposure to their unique perspectives has broadened my own and helped me break down the psychological barriers I maintained between me and the “others.”
But it wasn't until I started working on the web that I came to a full understanding of the importance of the Golden Rule. Prior to becoming a developer, the ramifications of my decisions were fairly limited. But on the web, every decision I make can have a profound effect on hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people's lives. I can make checking into a flight a breeze, or I can make it a living hell.
That's a lot of power. And to quote Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
My mom always told me that if you choose to do something, you should do it well, so I made it my mission to make the web an easy-to-use, friendly, and accessible place. I chose to make the Golden Rule central to my work.
As schmaltzy and self-aggrandizing as all that may sound, it's also pretty shrewd. The Golden Rule can do wonders for your business. After all, what is good customer service if not treating someone like a human being worthy of your time, consideration, and respect? If we spend every day looking for new ways to make our customers' lives better, we'll create a lasting legacy and build a strong base of customer advocates along the way.
A commitment to universal accessibility is the highest form of customer service. It recognizes that we all have one special need or another at one time or another in our lives, and that fact should not preclude us from experiencing all the web has to offer. It's about providing everyone with equal opportunity to engage with your brand experience, even though they may do so in different ways. It breaks down the barriers between “us” and “them” and recognizes the humanity in our customers.
And it's really not that hard.
In the pages that follow, Whitney and Sarah beautifully lay out the case for accessibility, show you what it looks like, and demonstrate just how simple it is to achieve. They introduce us to a series of personas—Trevor, Emily, Jacob, Lea, Vishnu, Steven, Maria, and Carol—and help us effortlessly slip into each of their shoes, to see the struggles they experience when using the web, and to recognize our own needs and desires in their own.
In a time when many of us are scrambling to keep up with technological advancements and the opportunities they create, this book grounds us in what really matters: people. This book is a roadmap to providing incredible customer service and realizing the Golden Rule in our work and—much like the code we write and experiences we design—the ripple effect it generates is sure to bring about a more equitable web.
What you have just read is the Foreword I wrote for A Web For Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton & Whitney Quesenbery. If you work on the web at all, you need this book. It’s an amazingly easy read that brings humanity to an often dry subject and I am very thankful to have been a part of it.]]>
Part of the reason this year went by so fast for us was that we were just plain busy. Sure, we had a ton of client work (many thanks to a good number of you for that) and lots of conferences & workshops to keep us busy, but we also had a few new developments as well:
After 6 months of searching and interviews, Jeff Bridgforth joined our team in January. He came to us from Bonnier, where he built websites for Popular Science, Popular Photography, Saveur, and Parenting. He and his family relocated to Chattanooga from Orlando over the summer and they've settled in nicely.
In March we bought an office in Chattanooga’s Southside neighborhood and the renovation of the space was a project and a half. We did the CAD drawings, lighting and electrical diagrams, interior design, and such—pretty much everything but the build-out (many thanks to Haskel Sears & team for their skills in that area). We've settled in and think the results are pretty awesome. I got to stretch her design legs on this project, picking out the colors, furniture, rugs, and flooring. I’ll be posting details chronicling the process on our blog in the coming year, so if you’re into mid-century modern design, keep an eye out for those.
In May, almost 2 years to the day after it’s original launch, Aaron's book Adaptive Web Design was released in France by Pearson. Incroyable!
In August we launched a new talk series called Code & Creativity. The free, bimonthly series features two speakers, one from Chattanooga and one from elsewhere. We started the series to create a casual venue to bring Chattanooga’s diverse design and development community together, celebrate local talent, and provide access to amazing presenters. The response has been phenomenal and we are quite thankful for the amazing speakers we’ve had so far: Nicholas Zakas, Jason Griffey, Jenn Lukas, Daniel Ryan, Kate Kiefer Lee, and Nate Hill. We’ve already begun booking our 2014 dates and the line-up looks to be impressive. Check out codeandcreativity.com for more information.
And finally, we've opened up a portion of our new office to house the Chattanooga Open Device Lab. The CHA-ODL is a community resource that is freely available to area designers and developers working on the web or developing apps. We currently house over 40 different devices ranging from feature phones and smartphones to gaming systems, laptops, and tablets. We’re very excited to be able to share the resources we have to help others in the community, and look forward to seeing how the lab grows. We're offering regular hours starting in 2014. If you're interested in booking some time in the lab, visit chadevicelab.org.
As you can see, it’s been a whirlwind of a year for us and we’re very thankful for the support of our clients and community that has helped us to grow and empowered us to continue giving back to the design & web community. We wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season, and we hope to spend some time with you in the new year!
Kelly & the Easy Team]]>
The layout really started to break down on smaller screens—we had quite a few 800x600 monitors to deal with back in the day—so, inspired by Joe Clark’s A List Apart article “Big, Stark & Chunky,” I created an alternate stylesheet that rearranged the page layout, enlarged the text, and improved the reading experience. Sadly, I don’t have a screenshot of what that looked like, but here’s a decent approximation (sans background images), courtesy of the Wayback Machine:
So why am I bringing this up? Well, I remembered Joe’s article the other day and was thinking about how relevant it is in this, the age of responsive design. I think the idea of high-contrast zoom layouts is incredibly useful, but not just for mobile. When you start to think about the other end of the spectrum—giant high-definition televisions sitting 8-10 feet from your face—zoom layouts become really useful again.
To that end, I have been thinking quite a bit about the viewport-based units available to us in modern browsers and how we can use them to create automated zoom layouts by simply increasing the font size of the
body element. Consider this bit of code:
You are being redirected.
This tiny bit of CSS can ensure that the entire layout is proportionately scaled up based on the screen size being used to access it. To figure out how this bit of code would fit best into your own work, use this formula (replace “X” with your max width size in ems):
You are being redirected.
The site I developed this technique for is not live yet, so I threw together a simple demo on Codepen. Note: Chrome currently requires a forced repaint on window resize to make it shrink or enlarge the layout. Hopefully that bug will be fixed soon.
I’m still feeling my way around this technique, but I am intrigued by the possibilities it holds. What do you think?]]>
Code & Creativity is a social talk series created to connect us with each other and our larger community. Every other month, we’ll gather at the Camp House for a few hours to listen to one local and one visiting designer/developer as they share their passions, wisdom, and war stories. We'll ask questions, talk shop, and maybe even make some new friends. Of course no gathering would be complete without something yummy in your tummy, so snacks and a tasty beverage (coffee, soft drink, or beer) are on us!
We’re still working to fill in the next year’s worth of programming. You won't want to miss a single one, we promise.
Jason Griffey will talk about his current passion: the LibraryBox Project, an open source wifi file sharing device that recently had its v2.0 funded on Kickstarter to the tune of $33,000. He will discuss the genesis of the project, his ongoing goals for v2.0, and why receiving 1000% of his funding goals via Kickstarter keeps him up at night.
Jason Griffey is an Associate Professor and Head of Library Information Technology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. His latest book, Mobile Technology and Libraries, is available as a part of the award winning Neal Schuman’s Tech Set. He was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2009, and speaks internationally on the future of libraries, mobile technology, eBooks, and other technology related issues. You can find him at jasongriffey.net and on the ALA Techsource blog. Jason spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.]]>
In reviewing their domestic readership, comparing time spent reading online versus time spent reading print editions, the study found that 96.7% of reading time was spent with the print edition. Of course the “quality” of said publications varied greatly and that sad figure was even sadder for some online editions: Readers of “tabloid” newspapers spent, on average, a depressing 1.16% of their time reading the paper online. On the flip side, proper news outlets that are not behind a paywall saw 6.98% of their readership online. Paywalled online editions were all over the place: 4.1% for the Financial Times and only 0.83% for the Times.
I think the most interesting stat, however, was that the overall reading of some of these publications actually declined over the study period. In fact, the total time people spent reading the Independent went down 30.88% between 2007 and 2011.
Due to limitations of the data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the study was not able to include circulation data via apps and the meager data they could get was mostly self-reported and had to do mainly with page requests. They could not get data on reading time spent with the various newspapers’ apps.
Now granted, the data they used for the study is two years old at this point and some of the newspapers have redesigned their websites since this time, but the study got me wondering:
Having come from a journalism background, I am incredibly interested in seeing where things go. I have mixed feelings about print versus digital. On one hand, I have not subscribed to a newspaper for as long as I can remember. I only read them occasionally while traveling; most of my reading takes place digitally (online or at least via online sources). On the other hand, I do see print editions as being some people’s only access to what is going on around them.
It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.
Update: I made a small tweak to the declining readership paragraph per Neil’s correction in the comments.]]>
This is all fine and dandy, but not very real world. A cost-benefit analysis has to happen – what does that next user/visitor cost, and more importantly earn you? This idealistic approach would leave most broke if they had to consider “every user” when building a site. That's why clothes come in small, medium, large, and extra large. Most of us have to buy them that way because not everyone can afford a tailor made suit, much less an entire wardrobe. Your approach only works for those who can see the return.
Tim’s response was dead-on:
I think that's where the difference between “support” and “optimization” comes into play. I'm certainly not saying to go out and buy every device under the sun, test on them, make sure things look and behave the same. You don't necessarily have to optimize for all these different devices and scenarios (that's where the cost-benefit analysis has to come in), but it's often not very time consuming to at least support them on some level.
I’ve had similar conversations innumerable times in person, on conference calls, in blog comments, and (of course) on Twitter. Sometimes I can win the skeptics over with a well-reasoned philosophical argument, but often I need to start filling in numbers.
Each project is different, so I’m often reluctant to say “progressive enhancement costs X.” It’s also part-and-parcel of everything we do here at Easy, so it’s damned near impossible to say what a project would cost without progressive enhancement. That said, we’ve been doing this long enough to have a few stories worth sharing. Here are two anecdotes from real projects we’ve worked on.
Some time ago we built a Chrome app for WikiHow. As a Chrome app and a show-piece for the new app store, our client wanted it to have fancy CSS3 animations & transitions, web fonts, a WebDB “back-end”, offline support, and lots of other HTML5-y bells and whistles. And, as our target was a single browser, we relented when asked to go the single-page app route. The app was built to degrade gracefully (it blocked non-WebKit browsers), but it was not progressively enhanced.
Skip ahead about a year and our client returned to add support for Firefox and IE9+. Oh boy.
Switching gears, let me share a success story around building things the right way.
In early 2012 we began working with a client who was struggling with the security of their mobile apps. They had numerous native apps that all followed the common convention of using a web service to authenticate users. They are a very security-concious organization and this setup was creating a bottleneck in deploying new security features. In order to roll out any new authentication method, error state, etc. they had to go through an excrutiatingly long, painful, multi-step process:
They brought us in to re-imagine the authentication flow as a web-based process that would launch inside of each app and handle letting the app know if and when the user had successfully logged in. This approach meant they could roll out new security features immediately because the apps and the authentication flow would be very loosely coupled. It would be a huge win for everyone involved.
A few months after completing the project, our client came back to us with interest in rolling out the authentication flow to their m-dot users. They gave us a list of nearly 1400 unique User Agent strings that had been used on the login screen over a two-day period and asked if we could handle it. We parsed the list (with the help of a little script I cooked up) and were able to put together a more manageable list of aggregate devices and device types to use in our testing. It was something like 25 devices that would cover roughly 97% of the spectrum. We were comfortable assuming that fixing issues in 97% of the devices listed would likely also cover the other 3%, but were prepared to fix any additional issues if they cropped up.
Our budget for this project was about 33% of the budget of the original project.
Much to our surprise, when all was said and done, we came in at roughly half of that budget in terms of actual hours spent and we completed the project in about half the time we expected. It was awesome for us because we saved our client money, which made us look good. It was awesome for our client too, because they were able to save serious money on a project (which rarely happens in the corporate world, at least in my experience).
It’s worth noting that this accomplishment had nothing to do with our bug-squashing prowess or our speed… progressive enhancement just works. We were dealing with some heinous old browsers too—think Blackberry 4 and OpenWave—and they really didn’t present much of a challenge. So, for a very modest sum, we were able to quickly roll out additional support for over 1000 devices (and probably thousands more that didn’t make the list) and that created a huge opportunity for our client to attract and retain new customers.
We’ve been practicing the art of progressive enhancement for a long time. It’s deeply-ingrained in our process and part of who we are as a company. That often makes it difficult for us to put hard numbers against the cost of not doing progressive enhancement and the financial savings of doing things the way we almost always do. Hopefully, these two small case studies help illuminiate things a bit for those who may still be a bit skeptical.
Do you have any case studies or anecdotes you can share? We'd love to hear them.]]>