Back Bay Represent: An Interview With Boston’s Ethan Marcotte

With An Event Apart Boston just around the corner, we took the opportunity to put a few questions to hometown hero Ethan Marcotte, author of Responsive Web Design and co-author of Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition.

So you live in the Boston area. What do you like most about living there?

It ain’t the winters, I can tell you that. Or the summers. Or the traffic. Or the ubiquitous sportsball talk. Oh god, guys, why do I live here?

In all seriousness, I love this town. I’ve been here for over a decade, and it’s safe to say Boston has its hooks in me. I’m not sure I can point to one thing in particular: I’m a sucker for autumns in New England, for how walkable this city is, and for how my home in Vermont or my friends in New York City are both only a few hours away. I grouse about the weather, about what passes for quote-unquote “mass transit” in Boston, and various other things, but I have a hard time envisioning moving away.

We know you’re a responsively unstoppable robot ninja, but what else do you do? Take us through your typical day.

Well, last year I left my client practice, and cofounded Editorially with a few close friends. We’re working on an collaborative writing and editing platform, something that we think will help foster a better writing process.

So that’s what I’m working on these days. It’s been a bit of a mental shift from working on client projects to designing a product, but I consider myself damned lucky to be part of this team; I’ve had plenty of help making the transition, and I’m seriously excited about what we’re building.

What’s on your horizon right now? Anything new in the responsive world?

Other than Editorially? Well, there’s been a lot of chatter lately about performance as it applies to responsive design, which is a discussion that needs to happen—the entire web, not just the responsive corner of it, has gotten heavier and slower, and there’s a lot of great work we can do to lighten it quite a bit.

What was your first An Event Apart experience like?

My first time speaking at AEA was the first time I’d attended and I have to say, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how, well, stellar the lineup was going to be. And every time I’ve been back, it’s managed to maintain that bar: folks from every corner of this industry talking about what they’re most passionate about, and doing so beautifully. Listening to Karen McGrane talk about mobile content strategy, or Jeremy Keith talk about data preservation, or Erin Kissane on content strategy? Yeah, I’d sign up for that.

(Of course, the high bar makes it an absolutely terrifying show to prepare for.)

Anyway. I know you guys are the organizers, but I’d say this even if you weren’t.  Whenever I’m chatting with the attendees, I tell them AEA’s one of the finest conferences I’ve ever attended. And I mean it every time.

What will you be talking about at AEA Boston?

I’ll be talking about how responsive design is really about honoring access—it’s about designing information that’s accessible on any device, no matter how capable it is. I might even be able to chat about this responsive web application I’ve been working on, too.


Ethan Marcotte is just one of twelve great designers and thinkers speaking at An Event Apart Boston. Reserve your seat before they sell out, or join us at the AEA 2013 event nearest you.