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Hi! Welcome to my blog about nothing, and everything. I’m a traveler, black cat mom, web designer and a former Londoner.

Review of An Event Apart: Orlando Special Edition 2016

I’m so late posting this review. So late. Luckily An Event Apart is not in short supply, so I hope this review will still help the many thousands of people who should definitely attend this conference!

I’ve broken my review down into a general overview, the food, the people, the atmosphere, and the sessions, so you can easily skim based on your desires! (I put food first because that’s the most important part of life, right??)

Overview:

I walked away from An Event Apart full of ideas and confidence, but most importantly, excitement about the web. One of my main struggles in this field is I always felt like I wasn’t helping people in any real meaningful way, and I’ve often regretted not working in healthcare. Before, I would say that I “just” design websites. I enjoyed it, but ultimately what good was I doing? I couldn’t make a meaningful connection. Now I can see how much I am in a position of power to make a positive difference in people’s lives now and in the future.

I’m not sure how good my review here will be for someone who has been coding his or her whole life, but for someone with only a few years of experience I could not have loved this conference more. That being said, there were a hell of a lot of people there who were significantly more experienced than I am and they all seemed to love it.

The Food:

There was something for everyone here!! And it was GOOD. Excellent, in fact. They had meat at every meal, but they had loads of vegetarian food that was on par with the meat dishes. For the first time in my life, I felt like there was equal thought put into the veggie dishes and that made me want to jump up and down. Man, the food was gooood.

The People:

It didn’t matter where you were at the Contemporary – you could be in the conference hall, by the pool, in a restaurant, on a bus, and if anyone suspected you were also an AEA attendee, you’d make a friend. Literally every person at this conference was so friendly. The best part was getting to meet many of the speakers! I absolutely loved having a few chats with people like Jeremy Keith, and then seeing him on stage on the third day. It made the sessions even more personable (every speaker was already excellent), and I felt excited to see “friends” on stage. It kind of reminded me of the first week of college when everyone is so excited to be there making new friends.

The Atmosphere:

As soon as I checked in and received my lunch box filled with event goodies (like a Mickey hat with my name on it!), I was hooked. The conference is in the Disney Contemporary Resort, so I’d have to challenge you to NOT have fun in an atmosphere like this. They build in time for you to explore Disney on your own, but they also have two happy hours with alcohol and food, which they described as nibbles but it was a full on gourmet snack (think: fish tacos, chickpea sliders, cheese bar, etc.). You can be as social or isolated as you want, but you’d be hard pressed to be bored here.

The Sessions:

The biggest thing I took away from AEA was accessibility, and how easy it is to neglect a significant portion of the population in our designs. Of course I already knew the basics about making a site accessible, but this made me realize there is SO much more we can all do. There were two sessions that were particularly hard-hitting, but I’ll focus here on “Extreme Design.” That sounds like it’s going to be a session about kick ass designs, like a Fast and Furious design session or something. Actually, it was a little heart breaking. By “Extreme Design” he meant that when you design for extreme cases (visual, cognitive, physical impairments), you’ll make the web accessible for those extreme cases and everyone in between, rather than designing for you or me and neglecting everyone else. He had us attempt to read through a form by looking through a “straw.” For someone who is visually impaired, it was quickly easily to see how frustrating (or outright impossible) something so “simple” can be. Thinking back on all the hundreds of sites I’ve personally found difficult to navigate, it made me feel so sad to think of all the people who struggle daily in attempting to access the internet. No one should have to struggle to access the internet.

I LOVED Jen Simmons’ session on design layout and taking inspiration from print. I’ve been so incredibly bored with the traditional scrolling, template-based layout that the web has turned into. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good WordPress template. But I also feel that even a WP template is so easily customizable that you don’t have to have the same look as everyone else. She inspired me more than anyone else to just quit that trend and make cool things that I love.

Working in a corporate environment that has struggled in the digital sphere, I found Brad Frost’s session on style guides particularly useful. I’d already started something of the sort for my company, but his atomic design concept gave me a lot more clarity.

There were only a couple sessions where I felt overwhelmed, one of which was Chris Coyier’s session on SVG. First, let me say that he is an excellent, entertaining speaker. But beyond that, I left that hour feeling like I needed to do a lot more learning on SVG (which I have since!). He showed many exciting, intriguing examples of code but didn’t illustrate how to go about actually creating or learning them. His talk was the opposite of talks by people like Rachel Andrew, who is superb at breaking things down in a way that enables you to envision all the complex and just plain cool things you can learn. I left her talk feeling excited, empowered and confident.

The conference ended on a high note with Gerry McGovern’s talk on top task management (which admittedly sounded boring at first, but his talk was by far the most entertaining). It is too easy and common to get completely lost in the details and very long list of “wants” in an organization.

Overall:

An Event Apart is a great conference to get a collective feel of the state of the web today, and I can’t imagine anyone walking away having not learned anything or feeling uninspired. Highly recommended!

Why I quit blogging … and why I started again.

I was dedicated to blogging for years, and my passion for food blogging eventually landed me a gig blogging for Food Network UK. I was SO EXCITED to be blogging for Food Network!! It ended up being an unpaid gig – the only “payment” being recognition that I was connected to Food Network. When I first graduated with a shiny journalism degree I was more than happy to work for free. That’s what you do in journalism, right? You work for free or for pennies until you finally land the gig that’s willing to pay you a living wage to do what you love, and isn’t doing what you love “the dream”?

No. In my late 20s I already had an editorial job with a well-known company in London and was struggling to get by on 22,000 pounds a year. To be frank, there was no end in sight to the low wages. Even my managers didn’t make enough to do the kind of traveling I wanted to do! I didn’t want designer purses and shoes, or even to live in a fabulous house. I just wanted to be able to travel.

On the side I blogged about my life in London and all the food I made and loved around the city. I wanted my blog to be a reflection of me, not just in words, but also in design! Back in the day you needed to know a lot more HTML and CSS to be able to really customize a WordPress template. Now, the builders are excellent and you can design some pretty cool stuff without knowing code. But back then, I dove into w3schools.com and taught myself everything I needed to know. I LOVED IT. It was so cool, and I never thought I was “smart” enough to be able to code. I’d look at HTML and think, “no way!” But there I was, coding away and making it happen!

This got me a promotion at work pretty quickly, and then another promotion! After two years of work I’d gone from an editor wondering how I was going to make enough money to travel, to getting two promotions into the multimedia team and finally earning enough to take a few weekend trips. Plus, I loved the work way more!

I still had a passion for food blogging, and toward my late 20s was when I thought I finally broke into my dream world – food blogging for a magazine! I quickly realized that’s not my dream. I’m NOT willing to work for free anymore. My time is worth something. After the initial excitement wore off, I felt so sad that I was losing interest in writing. I didn’t have it in me to spend a weekend working on a recipe, writing the post, editing all the photos and then feeling like I was missing out on living life. I lived in London!! I could walk outside in that city and have fun not even doing anything. Working for free made me feel depressed. The “recognition” I was getting and possibility of a future paid gig based on the success of being at Food Network was not enough – I’d been working for free or nothing for years at this point. When would it end?

Ultimately I stopped blogging for them, and I also stopped blogging for myself for a long time. I recognize how much I used to love blogging while I was in London, but when I think back on my time there the only memories that come to mind are the times I spent with friends, the places I wandered around and marveled at, the things I accomplished. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time sitting in bed writing blogs, because there was so much life to be lived. I love computers. I love designing websites. But I also love life, and I’ll never go back to the type of life where I’m on the computer 12 hours a day.

THAT BEING SAID. I miss having a space to write thoughts sometimes. So I decided to make a blog section of my personal website to fulfill my need to write, but this is with no pressure. I’m not trying to make money. I’m not trying to be a full time writer. It’s just me, in little pieces here and there when I want writing to be my creative outlet for the day.

Let's talk!

Get in touch on LinkedIn or by email: sara.kuhlman[at]gmail.com.