A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To 2016…
It’s been ten years since An Event Apart debuted, and we’re celebrating all year long—looking back, as well as ahead. As part of our celebration, we recently asked ten of our favorite speakers from the past decade what they were doing professionally ten years ago, in 2006. Here are their answers. Stay tuned for more fascinating looks back from more of our favorite designers, developers, and strategists.
I was one year out of college—I studied Graphic Design at Flagler. I was living in Boston and working as a Junior Interactive Designer for an agency called Mindseye. We built a lot of highly-functional sites at Mindseye for clients like Aspen Snowmass and Footjoy Golf. In those days, many of my colleagues–not me, of course!–referred to these app-like sites as RIAs (Rich Internet Applications). Over the course of my time working there, we went from relying heavily on Flash and Flex to build them, to being able to use web standards and that new hotness, “Ajax.” Later that year in the fall of 2006, I had the great luck of being scooped up by Filament Group, where I’ve been working quite happily ever since.
I had decided to postpone my university graduation and participate in the University of Florida’s first graphic design exchange program in Leeds, England. So I moved to the UK, only my second time out of the US, and began a job at a little web shop in Surrey, designing interfaces and Flash projects for Duracell and Chevrolet, and animating web banners for Gillette. I met my husband at that first job, and ten years on, we’re halfway around the world again, growing our family, living in a small town, and still working together. I wish I could harness some of the energy I had back then, but I’m glad I jumped around a lot and explored my interests. I feel like I know myself and what I’m capable of much better for it.
I was in the early phases of running Clearleft with my friends and fellow An Event Apart speakers, Jeremy Keith and Richard Rutter. My book, CSS Mastery, had just come out, and our own conference—dConstruct—was gearing up for its second outing. Neither Twitter nor the iPhone had been invented yet, so people still blogged. The battle for web standards was well on its way, and by then we had turned our attention towards the field of UX Design.
I was leading the studio at Cooper. At the time, we worked on some devices, a lot of enterprise applications, and the occasional website. The distinction between applications and sites was a lot sharper than it is now. When we did work on sites, we were more concerned about low bandwidth than about viewport size, since mobile viewing wasn’t really a thing yet. We all knew there was a ton of potential there, but I don’t think we anticipated just how much smartphones were going to become the do-everything-tool. Funny thing: one of my teams that year designed a screen-based business phone ... only to have our client tell us that it was simply too radical. We had one of those “if only…” moments the next year when Apple did the big iPhone reveal.
My teams’ tools have changed a little bit—Sketch instead of Fireworks, for example—but the tools I use most haven’t changed at all: whiteboards and markers, Powerpoint or Keynote, and (sadly) Excel. Never let them promote you to the point that you spend time staring at spreadsheets.
I was finishing my degree in “Multimedia,” which was mostly Flash with a bit of web development thrown in. I remember a tutor suggesting—in 2006!—that CSS may be the future, but it’s really broken, giving an example where he tried to style a heading inside a paragraph. “The heading isn’t blue, so yeah CSS is not really ready.”
I put my hand up and said, “I don’t think you can put headings inside paragraphs.”
We had a fairly fruitless argument about it, because this was a time before you could bring up devtools to show that the browser had closed the
<p> when it encountered the
<h1>. It was also a time before the HTML parsing spec, so there was no rule to say the browser should do that.
At the time, Opera was the only browser that supported media queries. I feel rather smug that I used them in my dissertation piece, but unfortunately it wasn’t mobile-first, as Luke Wroblewski hadn’t been invented yet.
I was working in digital pre-press. That’s a job where you take files from designers and get them ready to be printed. Some print designers can be fairly press-aware; for example, they know things like to not use random spot colors in a CMYK job. But in my experience, almost no designer really understood what their documents went through before hitting a press. Prepress is this fascinating, highly technical middle step. Just like you can’t export a website from Photoshop, you can’t export plates for a 16-page booklet from InDesign. Looking back now, my career has long been somewhere in the middle of art/design/expression and tech/math/programming.
I had just left the employ of others to form Easy Designs with my wife, Kelly McCarthy. It was a terrifying move, but one that I’m glad we made. Through the years, we’ve learned a ton and gotten to work with some amazing people. Incidentally, 2006 was also the year I was invited to join The Web Standards Project and the first year I spoke at An Event Apart!
It was ten years ago that, for the first time, I left a full-time job to work on my own, ten years ago that I received an email from one of my heroes for the first time, ten years ago that I first drafted an outline for what would become the MFA Interaction Design program at SVA. 2006 seems like the year that taught me the power of our digital tools and our networks. What I’ve learned since is how very critical both those things are in shaping the course of a career.
I was thinking about diversity in the industry at the time my daughter was at home, making it much harder for me to get to the few events that happened. These days she is away at college, my life has changed, it’s good for me to remember the challenges of being a mum of a young child plus trying to run a business.
I completed an undergraduate degree “for fun” and published the second edition of Designing Without Tables through SitePoint. Not using tables was still relevant enough to be on the cover of a book in 2006. At the end of the year I wrote for 24 Ways about ways to develop using CSS Constants. I’m glad that 10 years on we finally have custom properties to fulfill that role!
I was a designer at Google. When people ask me what that was like, I tell them that in 2006, being a designer at Google was like being a baseball player in Europe—everyone had heard of it, but very few knew anything about it. It was a tough job and we did good work, the result being a design for Google Analytics that, for better or worse, persists to this day.
It was a turning point in practicing my craft, as well. I went from spending all day in OmniGraffle and Photoshop to spending all day with whiteboards and Keynote. That is to say, my responsibilities both increased and became more abstract, teaching the most valuable lesson of all: even the best design will fail if the surrounding organization doesn’t accept it. Or, more succinctly: I learned politics.
That’s it for now, but watch this space for more great memories of the way we were… coming soon!