Web Directions conferences always live up to expectation and hype. Respond 2016, held at the National Australian Maritime Museum, was no exception. With a myriad of excellent speakers the conference was a great way to inspire Sydney’s web designers and developers.

For me, it started with my first SydCSS meetup on Wednesday night. Sydney’s CSS enthusiasts met up at the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel for a couple of entertaining talks on CSS property-value syntax and Usable Security. I’d definitely recommend checking out events like this in your area. Every presentation at Respond, from Ethan Marcotte’s opening keynote encouraging us to be “lazy”, to Karen McGrane’s closing remarks on Adaptive Content, both days were filled with valuable insights accompanied by laughter.

Takeaways

There was so much to learn in every presentation, but a few things have stuck with me as I look back on the conference.

Focus on the small things for big wins

Too often we get caught up in the latest and greatest tools, forgetting that people will most often just want to load a single page and read a piece of content. This doesn’t require anything fancy, in fact the web has been doing this for years simply serving up a document. Now, sometimes we need a bit more than that in terms of features but a recurring theme from the conference was the seemingly well-known idea of progressive enhancement. A term that gets thrown around a lot, sometimes incorrectly.

Progressive enhancement to me, is the idea that a web page starts from a base document and will increase in features as browsers are able to support them. The result is that people with browsers that aren’t able to support new features will experience the best that their browser can offer.

Additionally, page speed on the web has always interested me personally – by doing a few things right you can get a lot out of optimising your site to make it load quicker, but it only takes one mistake to unravel all of that hard work. It’s hard because you could spend your time working on cool features that will impress your users, but if they can’t get to the site without being frustrated while waiting for features to download it all seems to go to waste.

Accessibility is part of the process

Just as it’s important to give everyone visiting your site as good an experience as their browser can offer, so too should you offer an accessible way to navigate and engage with your sites content, other than visually. It’s often overlooked, and I too have been guilty of this, offering excuses like not having enough time towards the end of a project. The truth is, it’s not as hard or time-consuming as you may think, and it’s easier to integrate into things you build over time.

High hopes for the web

What I’d like for myself and for others to have learned from this conference is that the web is a great platform. We have to spend time building things that work, for everyone, making sure we’re enhancing the web rather than reinventing it.

As silly as that sounds, it’s all too often that we lose the things that make the web great in favour of the newest features and ideas. It’s the same problems we see with single page apps. We gained a few new features, but we lost things that make the web great; deep linking, SEO to name a few.

I’m as much a fan of new frameworks and JavaScript as the next guy. We just need to recognise what it was built for and not try to bend it into situations that see us rebuilding what the web and browsers give us for free. Instead, we should be adding to the default experience, where possible, to give users a better experience.

Respond 2016 was jam-packed with people showing us amazing things – it’s an exciting time to be working on the web.

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