This is part two of my review of the From The Front conference that took place in Bologna on September 20th and 21st.

The conference itself - as opposed to the workshop -  was held at an old theatre named “Teatro Duse" which is an impressive venue with high ceilings, balconies and a huge stage.

With a fully packed venue, we were about to see 10 speakers giving talks about topics ranging from technology and mobile over philosophy and poetry up to debugging and usability.

Here’s a short summary of every single one of them.

YOU’RE NOT DOING USABILITY TESTING? ARE YOU… NUTS? by Steve Krug

The first talk came from usability legend Steve Krug. 12 years ago he releases the highly acclaimed “Don’t make me think", and a few years ago his second publication was released under the name “Rocket Surgery Made Easy". 

In this session, he revealed some of the secrets about painlessly integrating usability testing into your enterprise. I would like to sum up those points that I noted down for being the most crucial:

  • Do usability testing one morning a month. It will keep your developers busy for the rest of it.
  • Invite 5 random people, let them try to accomplish pre-defined tasks, observe them from a separate room. Invite as many people as possible. Testers have to speak out loudly while they are testing.
  • Make it a spectator sport
  • On most company’s websites, the most serious problems don’t get fixed
  • Tweak, don’t redesign (here is why), duct-tape is a good thing

A PIXEL IS NOT A PIXEL by Peter Paul Koch

Next up was Peter Paul Koch, known to most of us for his scientific research on CSS, mobile phones and Javascript. (quirksmode.org)

The topic of his talk was “A pixel is not a pixel". He introduced the important difference between the two viewports of a mobile browser, namely:

  • the layout viewport and
  • the visual viewport

The former represents the actual browser canvas, which means what you can control via CSS while the latter is what the user sees, the physical representation so to speak. 

This becomes increasingly complicated when it comes to zooming, fixed positioning and media queries, because mobile browsers tend to behave differently when implementing these parameters and functionalities.

As an example, PPK fired up 4 different mobile browsers on an Android device and how they interpreted the “position: fixed parameter", the results revealed a lot of inconsistencies. More about this problem can be read here.

SCIENCE OF DESIGN by Denis Mishonov

The following talk was from Denis Mishonov, called “The Science Of Design", where he  gave a brief introduction about the principles of design theory. These included:

  • The law of proximity
  • The law of alignment
  • The law of repetition
  • The law of contrast
  • The rule of thirds
  • The golden cut

The presentation was very beautifuly designed and a pleasure to watch. Most of the content was however not very new to me, as it had already been covered in several of my university courses about design and human-computer interaction.

MOBILE DEBUGGING by Remy Sharp

Right after that came Remy Sharp, who I had actually seen the day before, so most of the information presented to me was not entirely new.

The talk which was called “Debugging Mobile Applications" was built around the following 3 principles which I’ll explain briefly:

  1. Know thy enemy: 
    Simulators are not a substitute for real devices, although tools like Charles or Fiddler are doing a great job
  2. Close the gap: 
    Host locally, use remote refreshing and real debuggers (e.g. Adobe Edge Inspect, jsbin, aardwolfOpera Dragonfly)
  3. Expect the unexpected: 
    Results can differ when being on a Wifi or an ISP network, use last resort debugging (50/50) if necessary to eliminate errors, emulate slow connections (slowy app, sloppy). If all fails, take a break

INVENTING THE NEW WORLD by Blaine Cook

The next speaker was Blaine Cook, the former technical lead at Twitter and inventor of the OAuth protocol.

He gave a very picturesque, story-telling and inspiring talk about the world, the internet, the future, the present, poems, dreams, langauges, desires and actually everything you wouldn’t expect on a front-end conference.

It was a great alternative to the technical information overload we got from the talks before, and gave us 50 minutes of relaxing our minds and thinking about something else.

MAKING THINGS BETTER by Linda Sandvik

The upcoming talk was from newcomer speaker Linda Sandvik from London, who admitted that it was her first presentation at a conference.

Her talk was about self-improvement, and how to leave our comfort-zones, and she grabbed the attention of the crowd pretty quickly with her cute appearance and sophisticated statements. 

Here are some of the valuable advices she gave:

  • Do something differently every day
  • Fail. Fail Fast. Fail again.
  • Every monday, try to do the things you are uncapable of
  • You must develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end
    (This one’s actually taken from the book It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be, by Paul Arden)
Linda is also the founder of a London-based initiative called Code Club, which organizes nationwide school coding clubs for children between the age of 9 and 11. With already 244 of them in the entire UK, this project seems to have already taken off.

APPLICATION CACHE: DOUCHEBAG by Jake Archibald

So the next one by Jake Archibald really left a big impression on me, and if I have talked about information overload before, this was going to top it. 

Jake Archibald really knows how to present, although you have to be really concentrated, and after six talks so far, that was probably not the case for the majority of the people, unfortunately.

In a fast-forward style, Jake explained everything you need to know about the Application Cache, comparing it to the douchebag that is the specimen of a white-collar business person from the financial sector whose only purpose is to sell you stuff.

Go check out this article on A List Apart and the presentation itself if you want to know more, because summarizing this talk what take way to much time and space right here.

STATE-BASED DESIGN by Jonathan Snook

After a short break we went on with a presentation about CSS. While CSS itself is probably not rocket science, it does certainly have its complexities, especially when it comes to structuring big applications.

Figuring out some basic rules that help us understand our own code in the long run and make it more accessible to others is what his talk by Jonathan Snook was about.

So here are a few advices I’ve written down that I found useful:

  • Code for a system, don’t code CSS for a page
  • Think modularly
  • Do one thing and only one thing
  • Be clear regardless of context
He also gave some general guidelines about how to setup a site’s CSS structure:
  • Base
  • Layout
    • Header
    • Sidebar
    • Content
  • Modules
  • Submodules
  • Theme
  • State
For the concrete elements, he proposes to use the following CSS states:
  • Class-based
  • Attribute-selector state
  • Pseudo-class state
  • Media query states

To combine all these methodologies under one hood, he mentioned SMACSS (Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS) to be a proper approach to keep CSS modular and scalable.

RESPONSIVE STORYTELLING by Denise Jacobs

The penultimate talk by Denise Jacobs was actually a story. Wonderfully underlined by pictures and carefully thought through, it was the story of a brain which was exposed to the common stress factors of today’s hyperconnected world.

There were a lot of great insights and phrases in this talk that I would like to recapitulate:

  • Creativity takes place in the right side of the brain and we need to train it regularly
  • When we are in an alpha-state of mind, we feel relaxed. And this is when we have good ideas
  • "Genius is the offspring of the in-between"
  • 80% of chinese and 68% of the US population suffer under communication addiction
  • Unfinished tasks lead to distraction, get rid of “open loops"
  • "We’re all suffering of an influx of over information"
  • "Don’t force creatitivy, Allow it to come to you"
Now comes one of my favorite quotes:
  • "Creation amongst a group of people happens in a secure, relaxed and encouraging environment"
  • The logical  brain is limited, the right side is unlimited
  • When you are playful, you are activating the right side of your brain
  • You can do (and be) what you want
  • Creatitivy is about embracing paradox
Here’s another very good one:
  • Laughing and playing is serious business when it comes to creativity
For those that want to read more about this particular topic, she recommended the following two articles:
She also recommended these two websites for even more creative input:

DESIGNING FOR HUMANS by Aral Balkan

The last talk came from the experience designer Aral Balkan, who gave a brilliant and passionate presentation about everyday usability.

He talks about things that we think are “actually" easy to design, but that reveal tremendous usability mistakes.

He presents many comical moments where he was confronted with a certain “black box" and got stuck with very basic operations like “find the toilet flush" (which was completely misplaced) or “buy a metro ticket" (but the machine’s tarif system makes it extremely cumbersome).

This is why he urges the designers among us to think primarily about the user-friendliness of our products, and to hide as much complexity as possible to make the lives of our users easier.

I would highly like to encourage you to watch this talk from the “Future Of Web Development 2011", which is only slightly different and contains all the major aspects as well. Have fun!

Here are some impressions from the theater and some speakers on the stage.