Some More Thoughts on Artifact Conference

As you may have gathered from my so called “brief notes” on the Artifact Conference there was a lot to take in. This was my first conference entirely devoted to front end web design, here are my thoughts on the experience on the whole.

The conference was a pretty good value overall. I got the “earliest bird” ticket, which was $395. This was for two days of talks + the evening events. I felt like maybe I didn’t get as much as I could out of the evening events as I should because of my general averseness to talking to new people, but I still met a handful of inspiring people I hope to keep in contact with.

The format of this conference was also a first for me: it is a single track conference, with all the sessions in the same room (in our case, the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, which was awesome for both screen size and food). I liked this format for the most part, though it left less time for moving about than I am used to so by the end of the second day I was getting a little antsy. The other downside is, not every session will resonate, and there were a couple of talks that didn’t apply to me too much. Even those were well delivered, though, so I never felt bored.

The conference was about the perfect length for me: after two days of talks, my brain felt pleasantly full but I had not yet tipped over into “that’s way too much information to process” mode. I could digest the information afterwards without feeling overwhelmed. Compare this to South by Southwest, which has 5 full days of sessions + a couple of days of ancillary events. By the end of SXSW I usually feel overwhelmed and exhausted (in a good way, but still…).

Here’s a breakdown of what I got out of the conference broken into categories:

Building Philosophy

The following ideas from Jeremy Keith’s Talk really resonated with me:

  • Structural Honesty
  • When the tools view differs from your own, it affects how you see your code.
  • Solve problems with simpler solutions lower in the stack
  • Make it your problem, not the user’s
  • There is an ethical component to backwards compatibility.

A lot of this just reiterated what I already think about websites and building them, but it was nice to hear it put in such a clean and clear way. I especially liked the thought that There is an ethical component to backwards compatibility. I think this is especially true in DH, where we make educational resources which often have to be made once and maintained forever. As I research all the new tools, I need to keep in mind future and back compatibility.

Tools + Process

There’s lots of tools linked in my conference notes and one of the main things I got was that I need to up my tool game. I have experimented with tools like grunt, only to run into an error and give up too soon. I also tend to do things a little differently with every site, and that has not been the best in terms of efficiency.

Some tools I am especially keen on trying out are:

Scaffolding tools – Some mentioned were Hammer, Cactus, Yeoman, Dexy, and Jeckyll. Using these to get started quickly and with little fuss will free up a lot of my time.

Documentation – Dexy and AsciiDoc were mentioned, along with using Pattern Lab as a kind of visual documentation. Before I went to Artifact I have been toying with the idea of writing a style guide for the Center. I’ve thought of doing this before, but have been hampered by how to do this when our sites are so different from each other. This conference has really made me want to try, though. And we definitely need to get better at documentation.

Text Editors – I have been using Coda for some time now, but demos using Sublime Text and Brackets, and several mentions of Sublime Text, have me thinking I should look again.

Collaboration – Many of the tools mentioned aid in collaboration. Basecamp was mentioned over and over as the base level tool to aid communication. Tools like screencasting to aid in communication between team members not in the same place seems very useful. Also, websites like JSBin and CodePen could aid in collaboration as well. This was the category that I was actually hoping for more solid advice in, but hearing a couple of teams talk about their process inspired me to try harder.

Another idea, from the talk by Rob Huddleston, Scott Childs, Brian Dillon about their responsive redesign, is the idea of Participatory Design. I hope to incorporate more of this in my design process in one way or another.

Also, I love this quote: “Collaboration and communication trumps process.”

Content Strategy

Eileen Web’s talk really resonated with me. One, I had never heard of the job title “content strategist” before, though now it seems like an obvious role. At the Center, we don’t have anyone in that role, but we all kind of pitch in to do the job. Thinking separately about “content strategy” will be a valuable concept for us, I think, as well as the tricks Eileen detailed to get everyone on the same page about content.

One of the big problems we have with web content, not surprisingly since we get the majority from academics used to writing books, is the “wall of text” phenomenon. I really liked the suggestion of mocking this content up and then having the user look at it on their phone so they will see just how much text that is. I also liked the concept of the world’s most boring wireframe, or having an exercise where all we do is determine order for content. This fits nicely into the mobile first strategy, and it works well with keeping things simple at first and then moving up in complexity. The suggestion that sometimes you can only do so much and just have to let it go was also a reassuring one for me.

The talk by Josh Clark, Brad Frost, Jonathan Stark gave me a lot of ideas for working on content with a group, like having kickoff events, building consensus around the big ideas of a website so you can let that guide the content, and thinking in terms of patterns. At first I was only thinking of patterns in terms of design, but there are patterns of content too.


Icon Fonts & SVG – I would really like to do more with one or both of these technologies, and I really appreciated the specifics on how to implement each.

Picture element and Picturefill – I heard of the picture element once a long time ago and then promptly forgot all about it. It looks like it is getting a little closer to reality, and with polyfills I might be able to start using it soon. This is something to keep an eye on.

Encoding fonts right into the CSS – why did I never think of this before??