What we experienced at one of Europe’s biggest frontend conferences. The fifth annual Fronteers conference took place on October 4 and 5 in the Netherlands. The organizers chose Pathé Tuschinski as the venue, which is an old movie theater in Amsterdam that has been beautifully designed in the Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles.
The schedule was fully packed with a total of 16 speakers, so eight talks on each day. Each speaker had 50 minutes for their talk, followed by a small Q&A session moderated by Chris Heilmann who did an awesome job as the host.
It would be way too much to go through every talk, so we would like to point out our personal highlights from this year’s Fronteers.
Our top four talks:
This first talk “Adapting to Responsive Design” held by Mark Boulton was already one of our personal highlights and a good kick-off for the event. Mark is a graphic designer living in South Wales and the owner of Mark Boulton Design. During his talk he showed a short movie clip, the red vs. blue pill scene, from the Matrix. Every single statement in this clip perfectly reflects the current situation on responsive design. What Boulton wanted to say is that responsive design is the red pill and that we’ve been living in a conceptual hallucination of control. While “pixel-perfect design” is the blue pill, responsive design forces you to focus on the content. That’s the reason why wireframes do not work anymore. It’s about chunks of content put together in a smart way.
Phil Hawksworth’s talk “I can smell your CMS” from the second day was the best talk of the whole conference in our opinion. Phil works as Technical Director at the marketing agency R/GA in London. He had some awesome slides and the talk itself was very coherent and funny. He talked about how content management systems actually affect code quality and that they are hard to use, which is the reason why people need training to use them properly. Ultimately the person using a CMS will be an intern or a developer rather than the management. Phil suggests getting the user to use text-based styling via Markdown to better manage content rather than design. This would keep the site future-friendly and maintainable.
Marcin Wichary is a user experience designer at Google and one of the people who create the famous Google Doodles. In his outstanding talk about “The biggest devils in the smallest details” he reflects on the many tiny details that go into making a Doodle truly memorable. In one example he explained how they created a way of displaying animated images without resorting to GIFs or video. Instead of displaying a sequence of full frames they create a set of images that only contain the differences between frames. This technique allows for fast loading of very large animations and is just one example of how much thought and consideration goes into making the doodles exciting for a broad audience and a multitude of web browsers.
Alex Russell is a software engineer at Google. He talked about “what the legacy web is keeping from us“. In his highly inspiring presentation he explains that progress can only happen through change. As front-end engineers we sometimes try to cover all of the bases when making use of new features. This means we often resort to polyfills. Alex made it clear that offering such support comes at a cost: increased battery usage, larger transfer sizes and more network requests. He makes a case that doing such things actually delays progress as this conveys to users that their old browsers are still up to the job. He also explained that we’re being held hostage by these browsers and implored us to not support them. Instead we should educate those users via upgrade notifications and not wait for browser vendors as “only we [front-end engineers] can do this”.
Our top four quotes:
“Learn to love the command line. It isn’t scary. You know how to use Photoshop with 300 buttons. That’s scary” – Stephen Hay
“WYSYWIG can fuck up designs pretty often. Round tripping switching between source and rendered code is not perfect and introduces stink at every go, leading to circular stink.” – Phil Hawksworth
“I like to pretend that stuff is a little bit more important than it really is” – Marcin Wichary
“Polyfills are a tax” – Alex Russell
Fronteers 2012 was filled with many fresh, funny and interesting talks, and offered a very novel approach to the Q&A round after those talks. We were very happy that we had the opportunity to attend this very inspiring event.