Thoughts on the Atlanta Development Conference, Connect.Tech

Last week, Chris Lynch and I attended Connect.Tech, a web and mobile development conference at the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta. Around 900 people attended the weekend event. There were 130 sessions covering topics like Javascript, React, Angular, Node, HTML, CSS, design, PHP, Android and iOS.

I was excited to come back to SAI Digital with new techniques and new knowledge, so I thought it would be fun to share some of what I learned. Following are some ‘greatest hits’ of the sessions I attended.

Fixing Poor UX & Performance

Speaker: Billy Hoffman, director of product at Rigor

Highlight/something I learned: One of the best ways to speed up a website or web app is to use the HTTP/2 protocol, which significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to load a page. However, in order to use HTTP/2, a site must have an SSL certificate installed.

UX Patterns for Developers

Speakers: Nicole Saidy and Jad Joubran, instructors at Le Wagon

Highlight/something I learned: Transitions and animations as users navigate a website or app can make that navigation ‘delightful’, but there are technical and performance implications. Anything that causes repaint or reflow takes more processing power, which can result in jerky animations on low-powered devices. One animation that is easy on the browser is “transform: translate(x,y)” to move an element sideways or up and down. Changing opacity is also a “cheap” animation.

Engaging Engineers in Design

Speakers: Josh Teague and Stephanie Brubaker of FullStory

Highlight/something I learned: The idea of “handing off” a design from designer to developer is extremely outdated. Instead, both should be involved throughout the process. Designers should discuss early drafts with engineers/developers, because they will likely ask questions about situations the designer may not have considered. Likewise, designers will often push developers out of the “what is possible” comfort zone.

Whirlwind Tour of HTML5

Speaker: Jordan Kasper, instructor at The Iron Yard

Highlight/something I learned: New options for inputs can make a huge difference in how we build forms. For example, we can set the “autocomplete” attribute to “off” to prevent mobile devices from changing someone’s last name from, say, Tebo to Turbo. The new “date” input type includes a calendar picker (in supported browsers) and we can specify a range of dates using the “min” and “max” attributes. And by combining a text input with “datalist”, we can offer both a predefined list of options and the ability to enter any text.

Why Nobody Fills Out My Forms

Speaker: Andrew Malek, developer at NCR

Highlight/something I learned: There is tension between the number of questions we want to ask users, and the number of questions users are willing to answer. According to data from Unbounce, one company reduced the number of fields on its contact form from 11 to 4 fields, and they increased conversions by 120%. When designing forms, we should consider thoughtfully whether we really need to ask questions people may feel uncomfortable answering, such as gender or age.

Getting More out of Git

Speaker: Jordan Kasper, instructor at The Iron Yard

Highlight/something I learned: I use Git all the time, but rarely do more than commit, branch and merge. This talk made me more comfortable with non-basic features like amending and resetting commits, reading the log and rebasing. I found the section on stashing — which lets you save partially-done work when you need to switch branches — especially helpful.

CSS From the Future

Speaker: Keith J. Grant, senior web developer at Intercontinental Exchange

Highlight/something I learned: Many of the features we use in SASS (or LESS) for making CSS easier to write are coming to native CSS. One that’s nearly ready to use is custom properties, which you can think of as variables. We will be able to set a variable like –brand-color, then use that throughout our CSS. A big advantage of this over SASS variables is that Javascript will be able to access and change CSS custom properties.

Tablets and Hybrids Need Mobile-Optimized Websites, Too!

Speaker: Andrew Malek, developer at NCR

Highlight/something I learned: Font readability is especially important on tablets, because people tend to use them in a variety of lighting conditions. Slab fonts, for example, shouldn’t be used in body copy, and we should avoid all condensed fonts on small devices. We may also consider using system fonts on tablets and phones. You can use the “-apple-system” font-family value on iOS devices. There’s no similar declaration for Android and Microsoft devices; currently, the default system fonts are “Segoe UI” (Surface tablets) and “Roboto” (Android).

Leave No One Behind: Building Accessible Web Applications

Speaker: Stephen A Thomas, front end development at Intellum

Highlight/something I learned: This talk gave several simple strategies for ways to get started making websites usable for people with disabilities. The speaker gave a demo of how screen readers and keyboard navigation work, highlighting the need for using semantic HTML (like header, article, aside, etc.) instead of putting all content within divs. And some UX patterns that are easy for visual, mouse-based users (like modals) can be difficult for people who use only a keyboard.