My Friends Make Art is a blog initiative featuring my friends’ creative works and interviews about their individual explorations. Whether they be visual artists, writers, musicians, designers, dancers, etc., here, we will explore their work, processes, and inspirations.
For those who don’t know, An Event Apart is a design/development web conference for professionals working to improve user experience, web standards as well as raise the level of and redefine the standards of web design aesthetic.
My coworker and I were sent to the most recent AEA in DC this July. While I expected the majority of people there to be developers and designers, there were also some copywriters and project managers. The most impressive aspect of this conference is how universally accessible the knowledge is to those who attend.
The sheer amount of information from this conference could fill an entire book, but instead I’ve picked my top three takeaways to share with you.
First up, Chris Coyier’s presentation on SVGs was beyond enlightening. SVGs are vector based images that don’t pixelate or degrade when resized, and are usually much smaller file weights compared to the JPGs and PNGs that are used more commonly nowadays.
(photo: Chris Coyier’s SVG is for Everybody)
SVGs can have multiple colors, the developer can target different elements of an SVG in the code (for color, animation, etc.). One of the coolest things was seeing him take the file in Illustrator copy and paste it into the code editor. Voila! SVG’d.
In the end, Chris inspired me to use SVGs by showing me how easy and helpful their usage can be.
“It’s becoming the new buzzword,” Jaimee Newberry claims about the word ‘empathy’ in her presentation, Designing Engagement, ”but we don’t have to let it.” She’s right, too. We’re starting to overuse the term empathy and with every misuse, the word loses it’s original meaning and intent. It’s our job to not let “empathy” become the new “literally.”
(photos: left - Jeffrey Zeldman’s Understanding Web Design, right - Jonathan Hoefler’s Putting the Fonts into Web Fonts)
If you’re empathetic you’re able not to just relate to someone, but more accurately put yourself in their place, because you’ve been in their place before. What does this have to do with designing and development, you may ask?
With all the new technology, shared methods of design and optimized standards flowing around, it’s easy to get swept up in what’s new and cutting edge and fun. But as Jeffrey Zeldman put it, “we don’t design for browsers, or displays - we design for people.”
One of the most useful tools in any designer/developers arsenal is the ability to create a great user experience. This can only be done if the user is the end-goal, not the cool new effects we can create using CSS3/jQuery, etc.
(photo: Luke Wroblewski’s Screen Time)
Finally, empathy is not just something we use and design for, it’s our ability to work with others and recognize it in others. One of the most surprising presentations at AEA was Whitney Hess’s The Integral Designer: Developing You. In this presentation she talks about your social and emotional intelligence (SEI profile).
Anyone who has worked with web designers and developers knows that communication isn’t always as smooth as you’d like. It’s not because people aren’t communicating at all, it’s more because people communicate in so many ways, consciously and unconsciously that messages get lost in the melee.
Hess tells us the best way to make our work better is to focus on four quadrants as they relate to ourselves: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
I’m only going to discuss how you relate with others and interact with others on a daily basis. Hess titles it, social awareness, or empathy. Those who struggle with empathy “assume they know how other [people] feel, have a hard time ‘reading’ people, are often surprised by what someone has said or done, wait for their turn to talk - planning their response, and believe everyone thinks like they do.”
The best way to improve on your own social awareness is to listen. Take in the environment around you and focus on how people are interacting with each other. “Understand how others’ perspectives differ from your own.” What are people striving towards? What drives them? Once you’ve ascertained that, then work with others and have your views come from a place they can respect and relate.
Content is King
(photo: Jared Spool’s UX Strategy Means Business)
Content, content, CONTENT! It was the Marsha Brady topic of this conference. In fact, this concept was covered in arguably every single presentation from DC’s An Event Apart.
It was discussed in Jared Spool’s UX Strategy Means Business presentation, where he declares, “content is king, but strategy is key.” In essence, the key to successful design and business is “delightful content” which “adds real value” to the product and the user’s experience.
(photo: left - Jonathan Hoefler’s Putting the Fonts in Webfonts)
And then again in Dan Mall’s Responsive Design is Still Hard/Easy! Be Afraid/Don’t Worry!, where he breaks down his web process by adding a content inventory step. This is where the client and designer figure out the site map and informational structure, helping to design and develop with all the variables known prior to construction.
Content is the name of the game on the web. If you’ve got the user’s attention it may be because it was easy to access or designed well, but if you want to keep their attention? Make sure the content is top notch.
A Whirlwind …
In the end, An Event Apart was an incredibly fun, educational, and useful conference. I recommend it for anyone who works with the web either directly or indirectly.
I also want to thank Squarespace who sponsored an awesome lounge to relax in (barista and free coffee included) and Lynda.com who provided great promos to their site.
And even if you can’t ever make it to an AEA conference, I highly recommend following the speakers from the conference for tips on best practices and conversations about the web and user experience:
I’m currently working on a freelance project. It’s super exciting and I can’t wait to tell you more about that later, but in the process of my work I’ve been using kuler to help develop color schemes.
Some didn’t fit the bill of the project, but as I went through I found there were some I loved, and even some that elicited memories, smells, sights, and sounds as they combined. Here are just a few of my recent favorites. Enjoy!
Music, food, friends, and fun - what more could you want from a Summer Party? I’m sad I didn’t bring my real camera, but I wanted to experience this event, not photograph it so these shots are just what I took on my phone with vscocam.
So many great groups representing Philly were there. First off, I have to give a shout out to my friend and amazing entrepreneur, creator and founder of Hooley Coloring, Alli Blum. Hooley is coloring for grown-ups and they teamed up with Philly Love Notes and had special post-cards at the event where you could color and then write your love note! Super fun. Be sure to keep an eye out for upcoming events with Hooley.
The Spring Art Star Craft Bazaar is an outdoor retail art/craft show that is organized & juried by Philadelphia’s Art Star Gallery & Boutique. Over 100 local & national artists have been selected to set up shop & sell their wares at the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing. Shoppers can expect high quality handmade goods that reflect the unique & often quirky aesthetic found at Art Star’s popular retail shop. Art Star has carefully curated a diverse collection of artists that create anything & everything, including housewares, paper goods, dolls, prints, ceramics, clothing, accessories, paintings/drawings, sculpture, and many other one-of-a-kind curiosities. All items have been handmade from a variety of mediums that include fabric, clay, glass, wood, paper & much more. The event will also include interactive craft demonstrations / make & takes for the entire family by local artists & art organizations including paper crafts, screen printing, relief sculpture, heat transfers and more! Live music by local Philly bands presented by Philebrity – all day, each day.
The post-graduate life is notoriously dreary. There you are applying to several opportunities, constantly striving to get your name and work out there, and becoming increasingly used to rejection. Then you rinse and repeat. If you’re lucky enough to get hired somewhere you’re more often than not underpaid, overworked, and/or under appreciated.
This isn’t the rule - it’s more an observation from my own experience as well as seeing the younger workforce entrants who have followed me. You can blame the economy, the job opportunities, or just chalk it up to a sign of the times, but let’s try and be stronger than that.
As a graduate, you will have many people try to take advantage of you. You may feel you don’t have the experience to back up the level of confidence that you see in the people around you. Simply put, that’s crap. Experience doesn’t always equal intelligence and it certainly doesn’t equate to superiority.
I’m not saying after you graduate you should walk around like you know everything better than everyone else — in fact, don’t do that. What I’m trying to say is don’t let the post-grad negative experience slow you down or get in the way of your growth.
Like a high school MVP going to play college ball for the first time, you’ve just graduated and feel at the top of your game. The first time you get tackled by an upperclassmen, or get to work with people more talented than you, may be overwhelming. You’re insecurities could come to the fore. Don’t let them.
One of my favorite singers, Jason Mraz, sings a line in his “Song for a Friend” that strikes a chord with me every time I hear it: “If you stumble onto something better, remember that it’s humble that you seek.” Be proud of the work you accomplish; of the obstacles you are able to surmount, but remember you always have more to learn. If you meet someone who’s work impresses you - ask to collaborate, or better yet try to gain a mentor there.
Arguably the most respectable quality to have at work would be honesty. Know where your weaknesses lie. Either figure out a way to address them, or ask for help. When I started at my job, I’m sure I annoyed the crap out of my managers, but I learned to do my work well and was able to help improve some of our processes in the long run. But I couldn’t start working on something without knowing how it was done before me.
When working with a client - if they are asking for an impossible deadline: tell them. Don’t make false promises that will anger your client and make you resent the project in the long run. If the client wants to know why something will take a long time, explain it to them. The clients that understand and respect your honesty and time are the ones you’ll love working with in the end.
The most commonly used and completely useless phrase you’ll hear when you start working after graduation is: Charge what you’re worth.
Greaaat. Awesome. Can someone help me figure out how to equate my worth to dollars? Ok? Thanks.
Fresh out of school, you’ll more often than not feel like you don’t have much of a foot to stand on for charging what others in your field are. But remind yourself of this: you should be getting paid for the work you do.
People don’t seem to understand that they aren’t just paying you for your level of effort. They’re paying for your expertise, your talent, your work, the ownership of said work, and your time. Many people debate whether an hourly rateis better than a fixed and vice versa. Personally, I think it depends on the project, client, and time available. In the end, you have to discover your process by experience.
You’re not always going to be the best in your field and in fact - I hope you never feel that you are. "I bet if you all had it all figured out, then you’d never get out of bed" sings the wise Jason Mraz. And just like he says, once you’re the “best” at something, that’s it. You’ve finished. There’s nowhere else for you to go. That’s not to say you shouldn’t always try to be the best. The trying is definitely where it’s at.
The best thing you can do to up your value is learning. Don’t ever stop learning. Take classes if you can. Go to meet ups and network with people dealing with the same hurdles as you. Read and follow blogs of professional peers or successful entrepreneurs and bloggers. Ask questions - of teachers, on twitter, your friends, your barista - whoever!
In addition to all that, reflect on your progress thus far. At the end of every project you complete - for a client or a friend - write a case study. Describe the process and the project. What worked with your process? What can you improve for next time? What surprised you? What motivated you? This isn’t just a great practice for you - it’s also a great way to communicate your workflow to potential clients and also inform them as to how a project would progress.
So, what’s the difference?
In the end, your experiences will be your guide. But you should know that you are not alone. Don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel. We’ve all been there and many professionals out there are happy to answer any questions you may ask. You just have to ask.
On Saturday, May 10th, approximately 400 people showed up to support Canine Partners for Life and to dance the night away. The party got underway with a reception on the expansive terrace of Heartwood Farm in Newtown Square.
Then the action moved inside to a beautifully appointed tent that looked like something out of a movie set. Inside the
music rocked, as the auctions benefiting CPL got underway. Service dogs and CPL puppies mingled with the crowd (some of them even made it onto the dance floor with their human partners). It was a lot of fun and a huge success. Thanks to Esther and Paul Gansky who offered Heartwood as a site for the event and to everyone who came out to support CPL’s efforts. Photos by Katharine Friedgen and Hannah Close.
Alli Blum, founder of Hooley and FaireGood, is the next artist on the docket to be featured on My Friends Make Art. Working on the photographs from the portrait session with her has me so excited I had to share a sneak peak. :)