SXSW Interactive 2007: Day Two

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(Read SitePoint’s coverage of day one of the SXSW festival.)

After an evening of dedicated celebration and networking, your faithful reporter and his band of merry men found rising in time to attend early morning sessions to be a considerable challenge.

However, undeterred, they fought through fatigue, crapulence and poor weather to press on in true dedicated fashion to bring SitePoint’s readers the very best of SXSW Interactive. Here are my highlights from day two:

  • Everything You Always Wanted To Know About The Mobile Web… But Were Afraid To Ask
    This was one of the sessions that I was most looking forward to. The mobile web is fast becoming a reality, and the number of different devices and browsers is eclipsed only by the number of opinions on how best to tackle this brave new world.

    The presenter, Brian Fling, is director of strategy at Blue Flavor, and from the content in his presentation it became immediately apparent that these guys really know their stuff. I’ve always been a fan of Keith Robinson’s musings, so it comes as no surprise that his colleagues are smart and articulate.

    Brian’s talk was both practical and engaging. As author of the dotMobi mobile web developer’s guide he is well placed to give advice and suggestions on how best to structure a mobile site, manage content duplication and provide users with the best context when visiting your site. Tips that I took away from the talk include:

    • test in five phones–most other phones are derivatives of this subset
    • take advantage of the different context available to mobile visitors, such as marking phone numbers up as links
    • aim for a design that works well in 200 x 250 pixels, as this is an average of the many different screen sizes
    • incorporate the fact that a dedicated mobile version of your site–in XHTML-MP–is an inevitability if you want to accommodate those users (lose that One Web ideal). Brian commented that Movable Type’s ability to use multiple templates to generate static pages is a good example of how this can be managed without spending effort duplicating content.

    The slides from Brian’s presentation is available for download as a PDF. I strongly urge you to take a few minutes to look through it. Even without his commentary, it is an excellent and up-to-date summary of the real-life issues involved with developing for mobile devices of which all web developers should be aware.

  • Best Practices For Teaching Web Design
    This was of interest for me because of its relevance in writing books that teach web design, but the focus was more on educators in academia. Panelists Stephanie Troeth and Virginia De Bolt relayed some horrendous stories of university professors who have still yet to embrace the teaching of CSS layouts and semantic markup into their curriculum.

    Stephanie and Virginia enforced the need to focus on the basics–that making the leap from “design view” in Dreamweaver to thinking about semantic markup is a massive paradigm shift, so educators should focus on driving these fundamentals home before getting caught up in the more difficult aspects of standards-based design, such as multi-column layouts or browser compatibility issues.

    This is one thing that I believe we got right in our beginner’s book Build Your Own Web Site The Right Way, and possibly why it is so popular. In the book, Ian Lloyd only covers how to create a CSS layout using absolute positioning; he doesn’t discuss float-based layouts nor does he dwell on relative positioning, and none of this is done until the basics of HTML are reinforced. This panel reinforced to me that Ian’s approach is the right one.

  • Uniting The Holy Trinity of Web Design
    The irreverent Cameron Adams and the flawlessly polite Jonathan Snook were just two of the panelists discussing a trinity that relates to people rather than technologies–developers, users and business folks.

    A shot of the panelists

    The discussion evoked a series of tips from the panelists for working well in a team, hiring, managing change and involving the right people in the process of building a successful web site. Sally Carson’s suggestion for running a daily 15 minute meeting where everyone stands up sounded like an idea that had merit; if you’re standing, you’re less likely to get comfortable in your chair and start waffling…

The social event for this evening was the Avalonstar Bowling Extravaganza, of which SitePoint had two teams entered, pictured below:

Team SitePoint (Blue) and Team SitePoint (Orange) pose for the camera

Unfortunately, despite our recruiting of a semi-pro bowler from Milwaukee and some other talented readers of the SitePoint blogs, both teams were eliminated in the first round (one might wonder whether the free drinks had anything to do with it). Nevertheless, much fun was had by all and many SitePoint books and t-shirts were distributed as prizes.

Many thanks to Bryan for organizing the event, and to the ring-ins for enduring our below-average bowling and arrogant trash talk (we’ll get that cup next year team!).

Matthew MagainMatthew Magain
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Matthew Magain is a UX designer with over 15 years of experience creating exceptional digital experiences for companies such as IBM, Australia Post, and He is currently the Chief Doodler at Sketch Group, Co-founder of UX Mastery, and recently co-authored Everyday UX, an inspiring collection of interviews with some of the best UX Designers in the world. Matthew is also the creator of Charlie Weatherburn and the Flying Machine.

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