Reflections on Respond 2016

Web Directions Respond conference 2016

I had the opportunity to attend my first conference this week – Web Directions’ Respond conference. I was lucky enough to also have my ticket paid for by work. It was an enlightening and very valuable experience.

Some general scattered thoughts before I write more detail about the speakers and the talks: I didn’t expect the conference to be so relaxed as I was expecting it to have more people than about 80. I have heard too many horror stories about conference food being terrible, but it was OK. There should have been more vegetarian options, but I eat fish, so I was happy with the sashimi on the first day. I attended the speaker dinner on the first night, and the food was better than the conference but not at a venue I would be rushing back to.

Food aside, I am so glad I got the opportunity to talk to some of the speakers and mingle with other web developers and designers. There were some great conversations.


Round of applause to John Allsopp and the Web Directions team. 👏

Not everyone knows everything

If anything was drilled into my head after the two days of the conference, it’s that I do not know everything.

  • I met someone who had not heard of Darin Ross’ legendary open letter to the guy who made his burrito (it went viral), so I informed this person about it.
  • The SitePoint article I wrote about using ARIA with HTML5 was well received and got 57 likes, but Russ Weakley’s talk on accessible web components taught me a lot that I didn’t know.
  • Lobotomised owl (* + *) has a lot of other interesting CSS selector friends. Kevin Yank’s entertaining talk unfortunately lacked audio, but at least we all knew MacGyver. (Also, it turns out OS X knows how to autocorrect my misspelling of MacGyver.)
  • Several of the talks gave an insight into other companies and the difficulty in dealing with legacy code. There is always the assumption that everyone knows what it’s like, but every product and every website is different.
  • More people work with WordPress than you think, and it’s not exactly 100% shunned upon. Not everyone is a jerk. :)
  • So many CSS-over-JavaScript advocates – Jen Simmons and Russ Weakley were just two examples. Love it.

Talk summary

Although I was serial-tweeting throughout the two days of the conference, we have some highlights.

  • Ethan Marcotte spoke of ‘laziness’ in responsive design, which made me think more about taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. Did you know that hamburger icons, the three horizontal lines that usually means ‘menu’, means something entirely different in Chinese? He also happened to have a McDonald’s article on the screenshot of Time’s website with a hamburger icon. 🍔

  • Lucinda Burtt and Dina Gohil gave us a peek into the redesign of one of Sydney’s oldest news websites, the Sydney Morning Herald, and pointed out that the article page was given a lot of attention during development since it is often seen as the ‘home page’ for most visitors, particularly after articles are shared. I definitely thought of this when I did the redesign of my blog recently.

  • Simon Knox did a very brave talk about an incremental responsive web design of, pointing out quick wins around making a non-responsive website responsive. Nothing I didn’t already know, but it takes guts to openly talk about writing ‘bad’ CSS to get legacy code to play nice. We can all admit to doing a lot of what Simon pointed out.

    He also said that just because some guy on the internet said something was ‘a hack’, doesn’t mean it is… if so, then, ‘CSS is a hack’! Louis Lazaris wrote an article discussing what exactly a CSS ‘hack’ is (and !important ain’t one of them).

  • Sara Soueidan gave us a jam-packed talk on SVG, which only brought to my attention how much I don’t know about it, and how much I should be using it now!

  • Jessica Claire Edwards, who coded her slides, showed us a handful of CSS blend modes. Quite similar to what Una Kravets has done, so nothing super new for me. I have been trying to think of more advantages to CSS blend modes, perhaps improved performance and assisting in improving accessibility?

  • Craig Sharkie gave us an entertaining talk titled vw + vh === vnice, bringing our attention to some CSS units that we should be using right now.

  • Rachel Ilan Simpson, UX designer for Google Chrome, talked about usable security. It was a talk we could all relate to and led to some very interesting discussion. She recommended password managers, although personally I trust my head more than I trust those… I know I will have a hard time telling my parents about password managers especially since they don’t ever, ever, ever let their browser remember their password. ‘Let an app remember all my passwords? Whatever do you mean?’ 😦

  • Jen Simmons (‘Real Art Direction on the Web’) made a point about graceful degradation: we should not avoid using something like flexbox altogether simply because it does not work in every single browser. We can use it and it can both work in browsers that support it, and not work in browsers that do not support it.

  • Huge fan of Peter Wilson’s talk on performance and HTTP2. I will admit that a bit of the talk was lost on me with regards to HTTP2 itself, but performance matters.

  • Michael Mifsud brought attention to the new CSS variables. They are here, supported by all modern browsers – you got your LEGO, go build things. Now.

  • I made a point above about Kevin Yank’s talk – but he re-educated us on the CSS selectors we forgot about.

  • Russ Weakley left us in stitches.

    He didn’t take sides, but pointed out potential accessibility issues with JavaScript and its frameworks, and how we can improve accessibility for the visually impaired. He was also handing out chocolate frogs to anyone who answered the questions in his talk. One takeaway I thoroughly agree with is building components to be web-accessible from the beginning, starting with semantic HTML.

  • Matthew Kairys spoke about the picture element and responsive images, also mentioning the unfortunate dilemma that people find themselves in: exporting images in every size they desire. It’s a time-consuming task that cause most people to avoid responsive images, and unfortunately, we don’t like polyfills. Until then, we’ll have to suffer. Admittedly, I have been using responsive images (just with srcset) on my blog for a couple of months. It takes time, but it’s worth it. I felt quite wrong about serving 1000px-wide images to everybody.

  • I’m probably biased because I work with him and he has done some great talks with great ideas, but Chris Wright gave an entertaining talk titled ‘In search of the element query’, which left us rethinking the way we build components and our abuse of media queries. He found that the average number of media queries on a website was over 250, with the highest having 905.

    I got a lot of likes and follows on this tweet quoting him… but I didn’t write this! Follow him, not me!

  • Karen McGrane redefined ‘adaptive’ design, and admitted to getting into an argument with Brian Massey, who said that responsive design did not work for him, and was not good for conversions.

    I’m just going to say sorry, you’re doing it wrong…

    Karen gave us a good laugh. We had some awesome takeaways:


It was great! Although a lot of the conference content covered what I already knew, it opened my horizons to the way other developers work on things and the way other people work. It was such a great opportunity and it also made me want to do more talks and try and speak at conferences myself. It was such an honour being in the same room as some of the best people in web development. :D

There is so much knowledge to be shared, it’s no wonder we all had a bit of information overload after the two days.

(P.S. If you think you need a shout-out or want a link shared, holla. 🙋🏻

Comments on this post

It sounds like it was so amazing. :D It’s great that there was so much discussion and that you could get the ticket paid for. I can imagine you would have had information overload. All the things.

From all of the tweets you’ve made, it sounded like you really enjoyed the talks! It’s awesome when the venue is relaxed and people are ~chillin’~. I’ve been to events where everything is so uptight, it makes me not want to attend that same event next time.

The beauty about not knowing everything is that you’re able to still go out and discover new tricks. I’m glad that you got to take out some great information from the talk! It’s interesting to see how the CSS world is constantly shaping. It’s good to have innovation and discover new things. All of the speakers sound humble and enjoy what they’re doing!