Least

That was Smashingconf 2012 – well, for me, at least…

The last few days I spent in Freiburg, Germany at the first Smashingconf. All the things I did there have been released as slides, screencast and a long article (my notes, actually) on Smashingmag. The video should be out soon, too. So this is about my impressions of the conference.

The organisation

The success of a conference stands and falls with the passion of the organisers and Marc Thiele and Vitaly Friedmann are two guys that are 100% behind what they are doing. I know Marc for years (we’ve done stuff in the C64 demoscene together) and I got to know Vitaly a few years ago when I complained that Smashingmag has terrible quality and he asked me to write and become an editor there.

The organisation was incredible, as speakers you got your travels booked, got picked up at the airport, and put up in the hotel where a welcome basket full of cute little edible and non-edible things waited for you together with your badge, wireless information and how to get to the venue:

Speaker goodies in the room

Not that the latter was needed, as most of the speakers walked there as a group as it was a 5 minute walk down the road.

The conference itself worked well, the tech was fitting (the wireless was a bit hit and miss but that was partly due to the building and the speakers got Mi-Fi backups), timing worked out, there was always enough nibbles, coffee and drinks and the space was easy to navigate. Light and sound conditions in the room weren’t ideal, but there was nothing the conference organisers could have done about that.

Instead of catering lunch and endless queues there was a 2 hour break to get something to eat outside which made the tickets cheaper and also allowed people to form smaller groups to go out to hunt for food. With a market just outside the building this was not hard at all.

The afterparty was in a club which was a tad loud and people smoked inside which didn’t quite do it for me but the attendees were happy, and that is the most important.

The online coverage of the event was superb, with the team live-blogging and tweeting and the lanyrd page getting constantly updated.

I can’t think of much that could be improved, and the venue gave the conference a cute touch others lack which makes you forgive not having a bullet proof connectivity throughout.

The location

If you haven’t been to Freiburg yet, let me just tell you that it is so sweet it must be fattening just to look at it. It is a very quaint little town full of narrow streets, shops with cute things and cobblestones throughout. Arriving at the Airport means you can leave for Switzerland or Germany via France – how cool is that?

The conference venue itself was a very old and posh building complete with red velvet chairs and chandeliers:

Smashingconf building

All over were also old oil paintings of statesmen and kings and queens including Lord Cameltoe (as I christened him – seriously it was disturbing to look at):

Lord Cameltoe

Space was scarce and before we opened the windows it got quite hot in the room. After opening the windows the nearby church bells were audible at times during the talk but sitting in such an amazing building made up for these small niggles.

Audience

The talks

I didn’t see all the talks, but here are my quick reviews of the ones I followed.

  • Stephen Hay’s “Style Guides are the new Photoshop” had some very good advice how to automatically generate style guides from your prototypes and products using scripting. A designer not scared of the command line was unique to the audience and Stephen did a great job breaking down initial fears and animosities. Stephen has been around for donkey’s years (talking about donkeys, check the awesome magazine in the hotel room) and really knows his stuff. At the same time he is very humble about it. Top lad, and well done.
  • Nicole Sullivan’s “OOCSS and preprocessors in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g” was all about her adventure into SASS land and how it relates to the OOCSS work she has done before. I found it a very good reminder not to fall for the siren song of preprocessors without analysing the final code that gets generated. It was also very good to see that Nicole wasn’t going into it with a “this is it, you all should do exactly what I do now” attitude, but instead took a “here is what worked for me after I did it wrong” approach.
  • Jake Archibald’s “Application Cache: Douchebag” was the third time for me (as we spoke at the same conferences) but it is a very worth-while talk with a truckload of research going into it. It is also a very important topic as the success of HTML5 apps stands and falls with our ability to store content offline. Check this out for all the hacks Jake had to do to build Lanyrd mobile. It is also incredibly funny.
  • Lea Verou’s “10 more CSS secrets” was not announced but she replaced her regular expressions talk with that one in the last moment. Lea is incredibly knowledgeable about CSS and showed a lot of cool tricks with modern CSS. Some of them were very useful, others more edge-case. What I love about Lea’s solutions is that they do not only show you how to do this in the coolest and newest browsers but also how to degrade gracefully. The whole talk was live-coded, which meant that she got 15 minutes over the allocated time, but I am sure the audience didn’t mind. I always want Lea’s CSS talks as an article afterwards as it is too much to take in by just watching.
  • Josh Brewer’s “Responsive is as responsive does” explained his journey towards finding a solution to have a perfect measure in line-length in responsive designs. I really liked the talk and the way Josh explained how he got far too obsessed with finding the perfect formula. Good ideas, lots of research and entertaining to watch
  • Tim Ahren’s “Web fonts backstage and on stage” taught us all there is to know about font formats on the web and how rendering of them works. Lots to take in and quite some in-depth information there.
  • Jonathan Snook’s “Your CSS is a mess” explained the rationale behind his SMACSS approach to writing CSS and had quite a lot of handy tips how to organise your style sheets. Jonathan is a very down-to-earth guy and it shows in his talk. Facts and some dry humour, I like.
  • Brad Frost’s “Beyond media queries (and a lot more words I am too lazy to type now)” on the other hand was a whirlwind experience of knowledge about responsive design and how to use it for the benefit of our users rather than because it is cool. I am a bit of a fanboy of Brad and I think we can expect great things from him (wow, I sound like Mr. Ollivander here) and he didn’t disappoint. A very funny and impeccably timed talk. Go and watch it when it is out.

All in all I think Smashingconf was very much worth our while and the audience should have gotten a lot for their money. It is a conference to watch as if they keep the quality up it can be the new Fronteers or @media.


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