My Day at MinneBar

On May 7, 2011, me and two friends (Aaron Spike and Phil Wels) headed up to the Best Buy headquarters in Bloomington, Minnesota to attend this year’s MinneBar. We were only three of the nearly 1200 people there, but I think I can safely say that we enjoyed our time.

It is hard to get all of the information contained in the talks during the day, but I’m going to briefly touch on the ones that I thought were the best for me.

HTML5, CSS3, & Mobile: Responsive Design

This was the first talk I attended and it did not disappoint. I was able to catch Mike Bollinger’s CSS3 talk during last years MinneBar, and you might consider this talk an extension of that.

If you don’t know what Responsive Design is about, I would recommend reading Ethan Marcotte’s article at A List Apart for an overview and then check out Andy Clarke’s 320 and up for some code that you can start with. If you want some inspiration, check out Media Queries for some good examples of live sites doing exactly what we would like to see.

It really boils down to using the same semantic HTML markup and using CSS with media queries and other mumbo jumbo to tailor a site for any screen resolution. It really is an exciting idea, and recent advancements in browsers has allowed this to become a reality. While Mike’s example of the upcoming TECHdotMN contributor page starts with the largest viewport and works it way down, Andy Clarke starts from the smallest viewport and adds in things as it gets larger.

The talk was great and seeing the actual code and how things are structured was really useful. The venue also had the most comfortable seats. WHOHOO!

Ban Helvetica Part 2: How to Pair Fonts

Typography is one of the huge weaknesses in my web design/development toolkit and this talk was a good introduction to how one designer chooses fonts that work together in different ways. It is a highly subjective topic, but he added some objectivity to it in order to provide a framework to work from.

Here are the four steps:

  1. pick a font (any font)
  2. REALLY look at it (REALLY BIG)
  3. complement and contrast
  4. pick fonts based on observed attributes

The four parts of a font that he (Garrick van Buren) observed were:

  • serifs
  • contrast
  • shape
  • terminals

That’s it. You look at the four parts of a font, look at what would be similar and what would be different and then start choosing fonts based on those attributes. You want to choose a font face based on whether it complements or contrasts with your chosen font.

That might be the main thing I took away: choose fonts for a reason. Be deliberate in your choices and have reasons outside of “they just look right together.”

Overall, a great talk that had way 10 minutes of information and then many examples of how he does it. Sometimes it is the simplest things that you take away.

Pseudo Elements for Fun and Profit!

his one was right after lunch, so I was in a little bit of a food coma at the time, but Chris Coyier did an awesome job of showing us how awesome pseudo elements can be for hammering out designs in CSS. It really is remarkable what you can do with just CSS, and it was the inspiration for me to hammer out my CSS calendar icon today at work.

Nothing like an icon written entire in code that will be easy to update on the homepage. Awesome sauce.

Chris is a great speaker and I hope I can catch him again in the future. Remember, pseudo elements are a part of CSS 2.1, so if someone isn’t implementing them, they can’t use the CSS3 excuse!

Color Theory & Consumption: A Matter of Life & Death?

This one was a last-minute change for me, and I’m glad I went. John Mindiola III was an awesome speaker, very engaging and very funny talking about a very serious subject.

He started (and most of his presentation) revolved around what design is used for in order to sell things to consumers. Most of the time it is trying to sell something that maybe a consumer doesn’t need, or maybe shouldn’t want. He used chips as an example, blue M&Ms and many other junk food things.

He then brought up baby carrots and their website and campaign to try and get them into more places and more kids eating them. It was all very eye-opening, even for someone like me who tries to work my way through the advertising. It really is all around us.

Finally, the main gist (I think) of the entire talk was to get us to think. Here is my (poor) paraphrase:

What is we spent as much time trying to sell things that are good to people as we do trying to sell things that are considered bad?

That’s a terrible paraphrase (he said it far more profoundly), but it brings an ethical tilt to the job of a designer when often they might just be asked to make something look pretty to get people to buy something … anything!

The Missing Web Curriculum: What Every Web Professional Should Have Learned

Jeff Lin took the time to talk about what he sees as the missing parts of the current curriculum for web professionals. He kept it broad for a reason so that he could bring in anyone who even touches the web (which could include producers of content along with coders and designers).

He’s currently working through a curriculum change at the college where he teaches and he gave an overview of how they are handling that. Basically, they are moving to a more generic curriculum so that they have the opportunity to catch all of the current technologies without having to go back and redo the entire curriculum every year.

He is an advocate of learning how to actually markup in HTML and CSS, which is HUGE in my book.

However, the rest of the time was mainly spent with discussions going on in the group. Sadly, most of it revolved around people defending the current higher education model of education and trying to fix it or mold programs into what they perceived as beneficial. While that might work in some cases, I think that the web and technology in general (NOT things like computer science necessarily or design generics) do not lend themselves to the “ivory towered” approach of higher education and that starting from scratch and building something new might be both more beneficial and more economical.

Overall, a good presentation with even better discussion.

Closing Comments

The whole day was great and I enjoyed the whole thing. I’m looking forward to getting back again next year to learn some more. Last year I went to many of the startup/business sessions and this year I spent most of my time at the design sessions. Who knows what I’ll visit next year.

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