I make art and websites by hand.

front end

Front-End Design: Re-cap

A single day design conference focused on content, presentation and behavior.

The community of the web is vast and diverse. It is conferences like this that help the general community understand a bit about type, spacing, color psychology, and overall aesthetics. While I'm sure there were many people in the crowd of this conference twiddling their fingers during reiterations on such topics, the event still provided a fantastic avenue to meet people that are really good at doing things, whether designing, developing, or simply sharing knowledge.

It doesn't matter how much you know about these subjects, anyone can certainly benefit from hearing another's perspective. I think that this practice of conversation about our workflows, processes, and ideas are very important in design, but even more so in design and technology. Speaking, teaching, listening, and sharing most certainly makes you a better thinker - and when dealing with anything web, that is one thing that is required.

This probably isn't the most thorough recap of a conference, but I hope you find some of the links, and documentation valuable. There is some stuff here that you may know, or may not be aware of at all - either way - here it sits until the end of the internet, so enjoy.

Speakers included:

Larissa Meek - Learning to Love Ideas: Brainstorming 101

twitter: @larissameek

Larissa works for Agency Net. Her presentation discussed defining a narrative with your projects. The principles she presented reminded me a lot of those outlined in Hillman Curtis's book that was published in 2002 called MTIV, that I had read a few years ago.

It was interesting hearing ideas presented from an agency's perspective. Many of the projects I deal with are strictly "websites" or a piece of the larger picture. Hearing her talk about the big picture - the project as a whole, and which direction to go from just a problem that a client is having, was very valuable. The end result may not be a web project - or even a video, it may be something entirely different. One of the most powerful message of her slides was that great design starts with great ideas. Great ideas require experience and hard work.

Points that stood out to me in Larissa's presentation:

Attention to humor

Humor is important - not only while your working, in a collaborative creative environment, but even in the actual work produced. A good, and humorous narrative is worth sharing. - Precisely the way that Old Spice turned their market towards a younger - hipper crowd.

Define a clear objective

With so many different ways to tell a story - it helps to narrow down a pool of ideas. Apply constraints.

Constraints are beneficial - communicate with the client about which constraints are important. "Doing whatever you want isn't going to reach a particular goal."

Larissa explains the process of constraining ideas as a lone freelancer - or in groups, and outlined the pros and cons of each in her slides. Here are some points that I thought particularly stood out.

Process of constraining

Target, ask questions, define goals. Then take all ideas into consideration.

  • Explore all ideas without criticism
  • Refine Clarify and Condense
  • Critique and Choose

Some methods that are helpful

Mind Mapping, Square (a group activity that is explained in the slides as well), Clustering, and SCAMPER

Scamper is an acronym for a set of questions that forces you to come up with fresh ideas. The questions are ones that normally would not be asked.

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to other use
  • Eliminate
  • Rearrange or reverse

Morphological Synthesis - Grid of extremes

The process of the grid of extremes seemed extremely helpful in creating an entire "project." Great for getting started from open-ended direction. This process can take you from "I got nothin'" to something pretty solid in a few steps.

Larissa also mentioned a great book called Thinker Toys to help come up with great ideas.

Niki Brown - Design is in the big picture and the tiny details

Niki had a very laid back personality and awesome sense of humor. She presented on plaid, and some very useful information about narrowing down the details when designing. I like her layered approach - starting minimal and adding details with each new iteration. The dynamic nature of web allows for this type of layered improvement.

Colors and their meanings

Colors present feeling and meaning - color psychology

Niki pointed out that green, does not have the same meaning in Boston as it does in Iowa. So you have to take your audience into consideration when choosing colors.

Color Schemes
Some amazingly helpful tools


The most valuable thing about this part of the presentation, was when Niki mentioned that every designer should read this book. Great advice

Typography convey's feeling, in the same way as color. Much of what Niki was talking about here brought to memory a very interesting article in the New York Times about the typography that presidential candidates used in their campaigns, which explains the psychology of typography quite well.

The first step to choosing great type for your content, is to read the content. Keep things legible and simple, and obviously if an element needs a bit of attention in the document - present the words in a typeface that deserves the attention.

A great example of just using one simple typeface (Times) is

Adjust the type in your document to provide visual hierarchy - adjust elements according to how much attention they should garner.


Grids are important. Constraints are important. Conveniently, grids provide constraints. Here are some tools that I use to help me design within a 960 grid system. It isn't just a trend - sites designed within the 960 grid usually appear better on mobile devices such as the iPhone and Android, as well as on most screen resolutions. It is important to present to your audience.

Download Niki's slides

Meagan Fisher - Conquering the Blank Canvas

Unfortunately, Meagan was feeling pretty sick so she didn't get a chance to finish her presentation - but her slides were the most gorgeously designed, ever. So nice, actually, that I was just looking at the slides and not taking proper notes. Sorry.

Great sources of inspiration

Type: The league of moveable type (I'm using Goudy Bookletter on this blog)

Meagan Elsewhere

Meagan has a great write-up on designing in the browser on 24ways, so check that out. She also recently wrote an article about keeping your internet sucking brain from being distracted as hell.

Lea Alcantara - The Art of Self Branding

"Brands are built on what people are saying about you, not about what you are saying about yourself"

Top 5 things for a successful brand

  • Relevence
  • Look
  • Message
  • Target
  • Consistency (Quality)

The Nice Guy vs. The Guy's Guy

Be the guy's guy
  • Think about what you are doing, how you are presenting yourself and your work.
  • Evolve - learn to be dynamic, change with the times.
  • Take a varied approach.
  • Be aware of presentation
  • Not just a logo - a brand is the big picture
  • Friendly communication - not forceful
  • Honesty
  • Consistency

Read Lea's series on self-branding.

Download the slides

Jina Bolton - Css Workflow

Jina works for Crush + Lovely and has a fantastically designed personal blog too.

I don't even really need to reiterate what she talked about, because someone else already did it very well.

Sarah Parmenter - Principles of UI Design

Sarah Parmenter explained the creation, approval, and launch process of the lustrous iPhone application.

The main points of her presentation included.

  • Purely use the Apple SDK (where possible)
  • Don’t use any Apple icons/imagery
  • Don’t use any Apple trademarks
  • Don’t use popular stock icons
  • Don't be controversial in your content

Sarah also included an App definition chart available for download.

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