Unstoppable Robot Ninja

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  1. My questions for event organizers

    In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of speaking. As a result, I’ve drafted a set of questions I send to organizers, which help me figure out which events I’m able to participate in. It’s a great way of figuring out whether or not I’ll be a good fit for the lineup—and, like the start of any other client engagement, they help me understand how well the organizers and I might work together.

    When I’ve mentioned my list of questions to some colleagues, they’ve asked if they could see ’em—so I thought I’d share them here. But before I dive in, a few quick caveats!

    1. I should note I’m not proposing that these questions are, like, THE Best Questions™; I’ve changed them significantly over the years, and will probably continue to tweak them.
    2. I’m also not suggesting you should copy and paste this into your own replies to conference organizers.

    Basically, these are questions I’ve been revising over the past few years of speaking, and I’ve found they’re helpful to me: I thought I’d share them in case they spark ideas of what might be helpful to you.

    Sound good? Great! With all that folderol out of the way, here’s my list:

    If you don’t mind, I have a few standard questions I like to send to organizers. Whenever you have a moment:

    1. How do you plan to compensate your speakers?
    2. What kind of audience would I be speaking to? (Size, industry, etc)
    3. What kind of talk would be most relevant? (“Big picture”, practical, etc.)
    4. Are you committed to building a diverse lineup of speakers?
    5. Does your event have a code of conduct?

    These might be pretty clear. But as someone prone to fits of over-explanation and blathering on at length, I thought I’d step through each question, and say a bit more about why I ask it.

    “How do you plan to compensate your speakers?”

    This is a logistical question. But in full disclosure, this is also the question that’s been revised the most.

    Historically, I’ve liked being up front about my terms, and starting the list with something a little more direct. (Something like, “Do you have a budget for speaker’s fees? My standard fee for a hour-long presentation is $X, plus lodging for Y nights and travel.”) I felt like leading with terms immediately was helpful for me and the organizer; if their budget didn’t line up with my fee, for example, then we could save a few rounds of back-and-forth over email.

    But recently, a colleague suggested this alternate take, which I really like: it lets me start the conversation around how the organizer thinks about compensation for all their speakers, not just me. And I think it’s a nice alternative to leading with my rate immediately; from that initial, more general question, we can start a discussion about my terms, and see how well it lines up with the event’s budget.

    So since I like this approach, I’m trying this question out. But like I said, I revise these pretty constantly; it’s possible I’ll go back to my old question, or maybe try a different tack. And maybe a different tack will work better for you.

    And of course, I don’t want to suggest that my terms aren’t open to negotiation. (They are!) And I don’t want to imply that I won’t speak for free under certain conditions. (I have!) But in general, I’ve found that mentioning my standard terms as soon as possible helps me be a bit more direct with organizers, and set the expectation that this is a professional engagement.

    (Related: Jenn Lukas wrote an essay about how she calculates her speaking fee, as did Seb Lee-Delisle. Both articles are damned great.)

    With terms out of the way, here are the next two questions:

    “What kind of audience would I be speaking to? (Size, industry, etc)”
    “What kind of talk would be most relevant? (“Big picture”, practical, etc.)”

    These are also logistical questions, but of a different sort. This is where I’m trying to figure out what kind of talk the organizers would like me to give, and what the audience’s expectations might be. If I’ll be addressing a non-technical audience, a “hands-on” talk about implementing responsive design might not interest them; conversely, a broader talk might be out of place at a more code-focused conference.

    On a slightly more personal note, these questions occasionally start some great conversations about the kind of event the organizers hope to create and, in doing so, the kind of audience they’d like to see at their event. And I love hearing those stories. If the organizers are passionate about the people, you can tell the event’s gonna be good.

    And the last two questions, which I love:

    “Are you committed to building a diverse lineup of speakers?”
    “Does your event have a code of conduct?”

    I love ending with these two questions. Lemme step through ’em in turn—here’s the first one:

    “Are you committed to building a diverse lineup of speakers?”

    To be clear: I’m not looking for organizers to respond with some sort of quota, that they expect to have X minorities and/or Y women on their lineup of Z speakers.

    But I do want to hear that an organizer considers diversity an important issue. Events that represent more perspectives and backgrounds—not just in their audiences, but onstage as well—are more interesting by default. And those are the conferences I want to speak at.

    And from there, I want to hear that they care deeply about the safety of their attendees, and have taken clear steps to protect them. That’s why this is my last question:

    “Does your event have a code of conduct?”

    I want to work with organizers who see building safer conferences as a worthy design challenge, and who have an enforced code of conduct. As Erin Kissane so beautifully put it,

    [To define a code of conduct is] to express and nurture healthy community norms. In a small, limited way, it’s to offer sanctuary to the vulnerable: to stake out a space you can touch, put it under your protection, and make it a welcoming home for all who act with respect.

    In other words, diversity and safety aren’t just important to me. They make for better, safer events—and as a result, they’re incredibly important to the welfare of our industry.

    That’s why I ask these questions.


    A note of thanks to Karen McGrane, Scott Jehl, Mat Marquis, and Sara Wachter-Boettcher for reviewing earlier drafts of this entry.

    Also, Karen McGrane and Leslie Jensen-Inman both had excellent takes on this topic. (As they do with most topics.)

    This is a blog entry posted on day 13707 in the Journal.

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  2. Responsive Web Design, Second Edition

    Oh. Hello.

    So as it happens, I wrote a book. It came out over three years ago. It was called Responsive Web Design.

    And today, there’s a second edition available.

    There’s an interview with me at A List Apart that explains the scope of the new edition, and talks about various other things responsive. But if you’re wondering what’s in the new edition? Well, quite a bit. In fact, inside each copy of the second edition—whether an ebook, printed, or both!—you’ll find a little note from me, right up front, that’ll also answer your question.

    Here’s my introductory letter in full as, well, I think the whole thing’s relevant:

    Oh. Hi. It’s great to see you again.

    In this latest edition of Responsive Web Design, you’ll find a whole host of changes: updated figures, fixed links, and a truckload of little corrections.

    But ultimately, the three main ingredients of a responsive design—flexible grids, fluid images, and media queries—are as relevant today as they were when I first coined the phrase. So while the structure of the book hasn’t changed that much, I think you’ll agree there are a lot of significant edits throughout. Also, in the years since this book was first published, designers, agencies, and large organizations alike have been producing stellar responsive designs, pushing the concept forward. At every relevant opportunity, I’ve included their work, writings, and research.

    One thing hasn’t changed, though. You see, when I wrote an article about something called responsive web design a few years ago, I didn’t think for a second I’d be lucky enough to write a book on the topic. (Much less write another edition of it.) In other words: I’m still very humbled by the attention the idea of responsive design has gotten. But I’m also thankful because, well, that attention’s due to you. Thanks for asking such great questions over email, for the feedback on Twitter, for recommending the book to your friends, and for building such wonderful responsive sites. This new edition wouldn’t have been possible without your help. Even if you’re reading this book for the first time, your interest in responsive design helped make this edition possible.

    Thank you so, so much for reading my book. As I said the last time around, I can’t wait to see what you’ll make with it.

    — Ethan

    PS The line about the pirate hat has not been edited in any way, as it was contributed by my wife, who continues to be much funnier and smarter than I am.

    I meant what I said: I never thought I’d be writing a book about responsive design, much less a second edition. The only reason this post even exists is, well, entirely thanks to you.

    So, thanks. Really. From the bottom of my heart, thanks: thanks for reading, for emailing, for tweeting, for questioning, for building, for designing. The only reason “responsive design” is a thing is because you all got impossibly, incredibly excited about it.

    Thanks for letting me be part of it all.

    I can’t wait to see what you build next.

    This is a blog entry posted on day 13692 in the Journal.

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  3. A Responsive Design Podcast

    A few years back, I wrote a little article about something called “responsive web design.” When I did, I figured I’d scoop up the responsivewebdesign.com domain. And of course, as with so many domains I purchase, it just sat there unused, eventually acting as a glorified redirect to my book. A neglected domain, unseen and unloved, like so many tears in the rain.

    So earlier this year, when Karen McGrane and I we were going to start offering some corporate workshops on responsive design, I have to confess: it felt really, really good to finally get some use out of the responsivewebdesign.com domain.

    In fact, it felt so good to publish something on the site, Karen and I decided to keep doing it: namely, we’ve started a podcast about responsive design, which launches today.

    Now, I know better than anyone that a responsive design is built upon a foundation of fluid grids, fluid images, and media queries—but you won’t hear any of that discussed on our podcast. That’s right: no CSS to see here, folks. Instead, Karen and I are interviewing the people who make responsive designs happen: we’ll be speaking with people that have launched large responsive designs, and hearing about how designing more flexibly has changed the way their organizations design. And after recording a dozen or so of these interviews, I’ve been fascinated to hear how these big responsive redesigns happen. I think you will, too.

    And I couldn’t be more excited that our first episode features my friend and colleague Miranda Mulligan, the Digital Design Director at Northwestern University’s Knight Lab. But when I met her, we’d worked together on a little site called The Boston Globe.

    In the weeks ahead we’ll speak to people from Condé Nast, Marriott, Capital One, Starbucks, and many more—and we can’t wait to share their stories with you. So point your favorite podcasting app at our RSS feed, or just follow myself, Karen, and/or my responsive design account on Twitter: we’d love to have you tune in.

    This is a blog entry posted on day 13586 in the Journal.

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  4. Platformed.

    Jeremy said something yesterday that’s been rattling around in my head since he posted it:

    The web isn’t a “platform” like a native OS: it’s a continuum. Varying support levels work with progressive enhancement.

    As he usually does, Jeremy put words to something that’s been bugging me for some time.

    As I see it: we play the long game in this business. Standards get authored, browsers implement them (often at a varied, staggered pace), and, over time, we learn to rely on them in our work.

    Despite that, we keep getting hung-up on perceived short-term failings in various browsers. No, IE6 doesn’t have document.querySelectorAll support; no, we don’t have wide in-browser access to a user’s camera; no, there isn’t a way to reliably detect touch; no, we don’t have reliable insight into the user’s “context.”

    Often, that leads to people deciding the web is being “held back.” So there’s some hopscotching of, say, progressive enhancement—which, in addition to being a great philosophy, has been shown to have real, practical benefits to businesses—in favor of “not being held back.” So, in response, we make the same arguments—good and great arguments, mind, but we’ve been making them for some time now.

    I don’t really have any answers here—hell, I’m not entirely sure what I’m griping about. But I do wonder if our collective short-term frustrations leads us to longer-term losses. And seeing the web not as a “platform” but as a “continuum”—a truly fluid, chaotic design medium serving millions of imperfect clients—might help.

    I mean, ages ago John Allsopp wrote about “[embracing] the ebb and flow of things” on the web. But it’s taken me some fourteen years to realize he wasn’t just talking about layout: our attitude toward the web has to be as flexible as our designs. And maybe it’s worth remembering that the web’ll get there, eventually—we just need to keep playing that long game.


    My thanks to Scott Jehl, Jeff Lembeck, and Mat Marquis, who reviewed an earlier draft in Editorially.

    This is a blog entry posted on day 13413 in the Journal.

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  5. So you’re interested in a responsive design workshop…

    Hey so I’m a little excited about this: Karen McGrane and I are launching a responsive design workshop.

    In the past few years, in speaking with client companies and colleagues, the one thing that comes is that responsive web design doesn’t begin and end with CSS. The best responsive sites are founded upon a culture of performance; they’re made with iterative design and development practices; they plan for accessibility and progressive enhancement from the outset; and they are, perhaps most importantly, built upon a well-researched and -executed content strategy.

    In other words, successfully designing responsively isn’t just about fluid grids and media queries: it’s about designing a better process. And that’s the challenge Karen and I find really, really interesting. (And as it happens, we have a bunch of ideas on the topic, too.)

    To that end, we’ve designed a workshop to share the many things we’ve learned about responsive design and mobile content strategy over the course of one day or two. And we want to share them with you and your company.

    If all this sounds interesting to you, we happen to have a little website with a bit more detail. Check it out; we’d love to hear what you think.

    This is a blog entry posted on day 13369 in the Journal.

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