@media Day 2 – Afternoon

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but Andy Budd has a very similar presentation style to my own. He’s incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about what he’s speaking about, and he wanders around waving his arms in an extremely animated way. Snap!

The topic of usability testing is an important one. I always try to impress upon our clients the need to see how the systems we build for them are used and tweak and fix accordingly. Andy’s approach to low-budget, formative testing to identify and solve usability issues during development as part of an agile approach struck a chord with me. I think that it’s important to have a dialog with ‘average’ users (i.e. not involved directly with development and therefore too close to a project to notice the problems) and to feed back into the development process what you find and the pain points you identify. Far better to find and fix during development than to force your product to fail testing or, even worse, to hit issues during rollout that hinder adoption.

I really like Andy Budd – every time I come to @media he recognises me and says hi. He’s a guy who knows his stuff, but he takes time out for those around him, and he deserves your attention.

The last session before the Hot Topics panel was Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet. Every time I attend a session with Robin I learn as much from watching and listening to him present (in terms of how he does it) as I do from the content of his session. Robin is blind, and when things don’t go quite as expected on screen, he doesn’t always know. That gives a helpful insight for an able person as to the problems that impaired users might have. I now need to go to Opera Labs to investigate FingerTouch, which looks like a great improvement for my mobile browser of choice. It was also great to see examples of ARIA being used which was pretty inspiring.

@media Day 2 – Morning

It’s a muggy day today. With thunderstorms expected, the morning air was thick as we walked over to the South Bank Centre.

I found Douglas Crockford’s opening session thoughtful. It wasn’t what I was expecting – I had anticipated a focus more on methodologies and approaches to improving quality. instead, it was an interesting and sometimes humorous examination as to why quality in software is such a difficult area, with an informative walk through the history of software thrown in.

Many of the things Douglas covered were topics we take very seriously at Black Marble: The problems described were ones we face and do our best to avoid through our practices every day.

Whilst I got a great deal out of the talk, I was a little disappointed that it didn’t really address the question of how we ensure quality in web development when projects include coders and designers, markup and code, and the very different ways of thinking inherent in the creative processes for each.

After the coffee break came Chris Wilson and a talk that wandered around the web as a platform and some of the issues in play. One statistic I found very interesting was taken from the deployment data for IE6 to IE7 upgrade versus Firefox upgrades. It took around 18 months to convert half of the IE6 userbase to IE7. By contrast, Firefox takes around two months to convert half it’s userbase to a new versino. That’s a powerful illustration of the differing kinds of user that make up the predominant force for each browser, and the kind of organisational inertia which affects the development and progression of Internet Explorer much more than competitive browsers.

Chris also gave some interesting insight into the legal quagmire surrounding font embedding on the web, following on in topical fashion from Mark Boulton’s empassioned delivery yesterday.

Last up before lunch was the indomitable Molly Holzschlag. Ultimately, she was also joined on stage by ‘HTML5’ in a cowboy suit (don’t ask). It was interesting because I admit to not having had time to pay attention to HTML5 at all, and it sounds like a bit of a bun fight, to be honest. Yet more technologies to look at and learn… As usual, Molly’s enthusiastic delivery was infectious. I’m sure she must do a great job as an evangelist for Opera.

@media 2009 Day 1 – Afternoon

Not providing lunch at the conference was perhaps a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, Wagamamas is just so close (mmm… chicken katsu curry); on the other hand, lots of people were nodding off in the warmth of the first session.

Which is a great shame, because Dan Rubin is a really good speaker (and singer, as it happens). His session was all about reflecting the real world in our user interfaces in order to make them much more usable. It was also about taking real items and using them in designs (such as real textures from scanned objects) because of the much better emotive affect that has with our users. It was pretty inspiring, even though at the end of the day everything he talked about should be common sense.

And then… Mark Boulton. Wow! There’s a man who’s passionate about his specialism, and his specialism is typography. Even though it wasn’t a technical session I learned bucket loads of stuff during his session which talked around the area of, whilst not dipping into the how-to of embedding type with web pages in those browsers which support it. A very key point he raised had not occurred to me: to work successfully in the web environment, fonts must have more glyphs in them to cover multi-language issues, and must have lots of hinting information in them to work at varying sizes on the screen. The upshot of those needs is a big font, and that raises issues of download time, potentially rendering content in a default typeface then re-rendering when the embedded one loads and lots of other questions which I personally think underline the technology as being very young. I’m very interested to see how that all develops and I’m certain that Mark will be a big voice in the forthcoming discussions.

Now we’re outside, enjoying the sun and, ironically, cooling off a little – it was quite warm in the Purcell Rooms. It’s hot out here too, but there’s a lovely cool breeze.

One of the things about blogging is that you can’t see the lovely cut scene. Imagine a fade to black. Our hero attends the final session. Fade back for the finale.

Jason Santa Maria does some really compelling work. He delivered a very eloquent session about approaching design, using grids, finding inspiration in lots of things, sketching through ideas and finally typography. It was a really good session for me.

Which is interesting, because I seem to have said that about all the sessions. I think there’s a great deal of mileage in the idea of a small conference with carefully picked presenters who deliver content which is all about areas of thought in an industry or subject area., Huge conferences mean you are pulled between different sessions in multiple tracks. I really like the simplicity of the small, one track conference where thought has been put in to the content and how it flows. that’s @media and that’s why I like it.

See you at @media09? Tickets are still available

Lauren and I set off for London later to today. It’s @media time again and I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. As usual Patrick Griffiths has lined up a fantastic group of really inspirational speakers and, whilst smaller in the light of the current climate, I have no doubts that it will be useful.

I’ve been to every @media since it started and I’ve always had a great time. If you have the time, I’d urge you to make this year the sell-out it’s been in the past!

Catching Up

I’ve been far too busy lately and whilst there have been lots of things I wanted to post about, time has not been on my side. Before I start to forget some of the points I thought a quick post was in order.

  • @media 2008 was great. Slides and audio are just filtering onto the blog now. A highlight for me was Indi Young‘s talk on Mental Models. I now have her book on my desk (waiting for having the time to read it) and I’m excited about how the technique might interface nicely with the User Stories we use for feeding requirements into our Scrum development process.
  • Also at @media, I managed to catch up with Nick, who was as insightful as ever. He’s on the lookout for a Cold Fusion developer, if anyone is interested.
  • On the food front, if you’re down on the South Bank try Giraffe. Also not bad was the food at Auberge, not far from the IMAX.
  • One interesting point is that there was a lot of talk about ‘agile methods’ from the presenters, but I wasn’t getting the impression that there was actually a great deal of understanding as to what they really entail. We use Scrum at Black Marble, albeit with some pragmatism as there are some things you just can’t do when you’re not working on time and materials. I find that the increased level of dialogue between team members that Scrum gives improves the execution of the project no end. If you want to know more about Scrum, Ken Schwaber‘s books are a good, quick read.
  • On the smartphone front, the iPhone 3G looks nice, but given my company infrastructure, the Touch Diamond looks more so. Also, the Diamond is nice and small which is something I’ve been searching for in a smartphone for a while. Big nod of respect to Opera – I have a beta of 9.5 on my TYTN right now and it’s a very nice mobile browser. I’m looking forward to seeing what the polished product is like on the Diamond.
  • I have yet to get chance to install it, but the beta Power Pack for Windows Home Server is available which addresses the data corruption bug. I have a single disk in mine right now and to be honest it’s not doing much other than backups, but I’d recommend one just for that – simple and straightforward image-based backups of all the PCs in the house. Great!