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An Event Apart: Chicago 2014

Earlier this week I attended An Event Apart in Chicago. This conference is two days of inspiration and learning from some of the best minds in the web design community. I even unknowingly ate breakfast with the founder of the event, Jeffrey Zeldman, but that's a story for another time!

Though the presenters each had unique wisdom to share, a few themes emerged over the course of two days: people, simplicity, honesty and responsibility. Below is a compilation of my favorite lessons and take-aways from each.

Start of An Event Apart, web design conference held in Chicago

Put People First

Steve Jobs firmly believed that people don’t know what they want until you show them. Before cars, if Henry Ford had asked what people wanted, most would have said, “a faster horse."

While it’s true that designing for the web often involves creating things people don’t yet know they need, it’s really about serving people. Don't get too caught up in browsers, or device dimensions, or the glory of design awards. It’s our job to understand what people care about and to fight for it, ensuring they have an enjoyable and successful experience. Anything that gets in the way of that is bad.

Keep it Simple

Most have heard of the K.I.S.S. principle, but if great design were simply a matter of black text against white background, anyone with a computer could be a designer.

Simplifying language or design isn’t about dumbing ideas down, it's about opening them up. It’s about delivering what people really want in the most concise and approachable way possible.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for delightful design details, but it’s important to first remove redundancy and excess wherever possible. We must ask ourselves, “Does it work? Does it help the mission?”

Integrity, Honesty and Authenticity

Turns out these aren’t just desirable qualities in a potential mate, they also form the foundation of great design!

It's important to keep questions in mind, like: Is there a worthwhile goal behind the site? Does the design accurately portray the mission and purpose? Does the site’s messaging address it’s readers in a straightforward and empathetic way? Is the site built to hold up for twenty years?

It’s the role of each stakeholder and team member involved to ensure that the site’s intent, visuals, content and beyond upholds these values along the way.

The Importance and Responsibility of Design

Everyone likes to feel like the work they do is worthwhile and this conference did not disappoint. I left with the heavy (and satisfying) responsibility of gatekeeper, charged with ensuring that only high-quality, socially-redeeming content enters the Internet.

Our clients have hired us for our professional expertise and it is our duty to steer them in the right direction. To put it more dramatically: design without intent is not creation, it’s destruction!

On a more positive note, making pretty things is good for business! Design-driven companies outperform S&P by 228%, and aesthetic is the number one factor in a website’s credibility.

So let’s all work together to create an Internet filled with beautiful, user-driven, easy-to-use websites, designed with intent, honesty and authenticity!

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