An Event Apart 2011

Posted by on Aug 12, 2011

Earlier this week, HY Connect attended the Minneapolis session of An Event Apart.

What is An Event Apart?
An Event Apart, or AEA for short, is described as “A conference for people who make websites” it’s also been described as “3 days of design, code and content”. Each year they have 4-5 sessions in cities throughout America.

Why Does AEA Matter?
A common theme in The Digital Download is the fast moving pace of the web/ digital world. AEA is an opportunity to hear about the newest trends in design, development techniques and best practices direct from industry leaders.

In this week’s digital download we’ll take a look at some of the big takeaways from this event that can help all of us meet our client’s growing digital needs.

The Definition of Design
The web is a living thing, constantly changing and moving. Due to this, the traditional role of design must adapt. Traditional advertising mediums are passive – the web is interactive. Design has served us well in traditional advertising; it’s provided emotion to our words, helped communicate our message and given our brands an identity. But, on the web, design needs to do that and more. It needs to support content, functionality and interaction.

The design needs to be aware of how a user will interact with elements on the page, the path they will take through a site or app and how that functionality or interaction is communicated. This means our normal process of define and THEN design needs to change. Designers, Developers and UX specialists all need to work together to craft both the visual and interaction layers of a project. So, when we talk about design in the context of the web we aren’t just talking about how it looks and feels. We’re talking about how it works, what it is capable of and how someone will interact with it.

The 3 Firsts: Users, Content and Mobile (In that order)
When it comes to the digital space one thing is abundantly clear: There are a LOT of ways to access information. With feature phones, Smartphones, PDAs, Tablets, Laptops, Desktops, Video Game Systems and eReaders all online it means there is a good chance that our sites can and will be seen on any or all these devices.

Due to this it’s important to focus on 3 areas first: Users, Content and Mobile.

“What’s bad for the user is bad for the business. We’re all in charge of protecting the user.” – Jeffery Zeldman (Author of “Designing for Web Standards”)
A new project starts with a Business Goal. That goal is usually accompanied with a slew of feature requests and IT requirements that will guide and influence the rest of the project deliverables. However, what is rarely considered from the onset is the needs of a user. We build, create and maintain tools that are meant to be used by a human. As such we have a responsibility to balance the business goals with the needs of the user. The best site or app in the world is only as good as it’s user interface and content allow it to be. Having a “user first” mindset ensures that our final outcome isn’t just a deliverable, it’s usable.

“Content Precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” – Kristina Halvorson (Author of “Content Strategy on the Web”)
We need to consider content first; before talking about layout, architecture or design. Content first is not about copy first. (Content can be words, video, or images) Content and the consideration of content needs to happen at the beginning. If you don’t know what the content is, how much of it there will be or why it is there you can’t possibly create a meaningful and usable interface.

“Web products should be designed for mobile first. (Even if no mobile version is planned.)” – Luke Wroblewski (Leader in UX Design, Author of “Web Form Design”)
When planning a web site or app looking at it from the mobile perspective first helps to create focus. Mobile devices have a limited amount of screen real estate. Which helps to ensure that the content, functionality or features that are most important are included and planned for.

By looking at these three areas first throughout a project’s lifecycle we are able to ensure that no matter what device a user accesses our information on it will meet their needs, be valuable and be focused.

Content Strategy
Content strategy is figuring out how content is going to help you meet your business objectives. It plans for the creation, delivery and governance of content. Not by just asking: What are we going to say? But by asking what, why, how, when, for whom, with what, where, how often, and what’s next.

In order to answer all those questions it’s important that content owners (our clients), content writers (copy writers) and project owners (project managers, designers, developers, etc…) connect early and often. That way the content can be reviewed, dissected, created and vetted through the entire process.

Why Links Matter
People navigate the real world by seeing something and moving towards it. People navigate the digital world by reading something and clicking it. This distinction, however mundane, is very important. Links exist to deliver users to their desired objective, show users the right doorway to take, provide a visual path to content and do what the user expects. When a user visits a web page they usually come there for a distinct reason. They will immediately start looking for words or phrases that mean something to them, their “trigger words”. If a user doesn’t find their trigger word they have very few options on what to do next, those limited steps lead to users failing to find their intended content and ultimately abandoning their objective.

That next step usually falls into these three groups:

The Back Button A user has to use the back button on their browser to navigate through the content of a site.
When a user is forced to use the back button to navigate they fail to complete their content objectives 82% of the time. If they have to use the back button more than once that goes up to 98%.

Pogosticking A user jumps up and down within a site’s hierarchy looking for the right page or section.
This is like opening and closing every drawer in your dresser to try and find the right one. When a user starts to pogostick within a site they fail to find their objective content 89% of the time.

Using SearchA user doesn’t see what they are looking for and decides to use the site’s built in search to find it.
The search tool is supposed to help users find what they are looking for, but unfortunately it doesn’t usually work that way. 70% of the time that a user uses a site’s built in search they end up failing to find what they were looking for. Luckily, that same search function also provides valuable data about what users are looking for, their trigger words.

Links are the doorways to content, so they should describe that content. Using the words “learn more” or “click here” aren’t going to cut it anymore. At the same time links need to look good while still looking like links. Users need to understand that the link is different from the rest of the content. Developing a clear visual structure for what is and isn’t a link is important. If a user can’t find it or understand it – They can’t use it.

Thanks for taking the time to read this week’s Digital Download. The information above is only a taste of what came out of this year’s AEA.