Speak the Web – Leeds Review

It would seem a splendid time was had by all at last nights Leeds Speak the Web event. The experimental format, developed by Dan Donald and Rich Clark is about presenting some of the topics that affect web design and development in a relaxed friendly atmosphere, where you can have a pint or two, heckle the speakers, learn some new stuff, meet new people and possibly even have fun!

Part gig, part conference, it felt edgy from the start and there was a sense of anticipation and excitement from the long queue to get in. These events are affordable, well timed and local (for those of us in the North anyway 😉 and by the billing of influential names in web design like Andy Clark, bound to stir up interest.

For the Leeds gig, three speakers where lined up: Andy Clark, Chris Mills (Opera) and myself (Stuart Smith).

I took the mic first, took a deep breath, looked out across the dimly lit room and launched into “why you shouldn’t bother with the mobile ecosystem”. Primarily, I wanted to unpack the complexity of the mobile universe and look at some of the challenges for web designers and developers wanting to move into that space. It was a big topic for a half-an-hour slot and I knew I could only scratch the surface and get people thinking. Since Speak the Web is about experimentation I took risks with the presenting style, being ruder and more direct than I have often been on other platforms (and coming up with new metaphors for the problems of mobile development!). I think it worked, we laughed together, scratched our heads and had a long set of questions and further discussions that spilled out into the bar and on to Twitter stream(#speaktheweb) afterwards. My main objective was to get people thinking and recognising that mobile is different, it’s not just your desktop computer shrunk into your pocket. For the creative there are lots of things to explore on mobile; just be prepared to have the moments of banging your head against the wall in frustration as well!

Following on was Chris Mills, who gave a great tour of HTML 5 using the technology to power his presentation in the Opera Browser (it would have been kinda surprising if he used anything else!). Increasingly available and used the potential to integrate movie and other technologies into the code across platforms without having to use tools like Flash offers an exciting glimpse into the future.

From an accessibility perspective I think the working group on HTML 5 needs to consider more native support for the captioning on videos but the JavaScript work-around Chris demoed was elegant and a reasonable (but not ideal compromise). Overall though with more semantic meaning in HTML 5 then users of assistive technologies should see an improvement in their experience of using the web. That is if the producers of those technologies actually develop their tools accordingly.

A short break and then on with Andy Clark, who gave us an overview of some his principles of Hardboiled Web Design. Essentially a no compromise approach to trying to exploit the best and latest web design techniques. Cascading Style Sheet techniques featured a-go-go and some very nice visual effects demonstrated with underlying sound structural HTML. Andy’s view, when it comes to browser compatibility, seems to be produce the best you can in what you can and then worry about the rest. As long as the design in other browsers is compatible and acceptable to the designer then that is fine.

It is a radical approach. Making websites look the same across web browsers has been a Holy Grail for many for a long time. Andy Clark’s approach is much more about pushing boundaries and I like it.

Like all good things the evening came to an end but it was a good end with much to look forward to. Andy, Chris and myself had looked at different but overlapping aspects of the internet. From a mobile perspective HTML 5 offers a lot of opportunities to develop websites for a mobile experience in a more cost effective and creative way. The adaptive techniques Andy Clark spoke about, fit the mobile ecosystem well. There is much to be done.

Let’s remember that although many thousands of people rely on this technology of the internet and especially the web everyday it is still new and that is exciting because there are vast unexplored places. Yesterday at Speak the Web with different opinions and approaches gathered together the assembled were united not necessarily by beer (and other beverages) but by passion, to do something amazing with this new digital medium and that is a wonderful thing.

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