Beyond Tellerrand 2013

Photoshop, you damn liar! Josh Brewer realised his talk had too much overlap with the talk that Meagan Fisher gave a few hours earlier, so he decided to sing his talk. Yes. Sing it. For 45 minutes. And it was pretty good! The chorus, quoted above, was one of the recurring theme’s of the conference. The web requires a different approach than our old workflow, and Photoshop does not have a big role in it anymore. This has been common knowledge for years, of course, but the urgency has never been this big before. But it goes beyond ditching Photoshop.

HTML and CSS are not code

Mandy Brown answered the question if designers need to be able to code as follows: There is a difference between code literacy and code fluency. Designers need to be code literate. They have to understand what a language like JavaScript can do, but they don’t have to be able to create working applications with it. She said you should understand a few languages. The more you understand, the better. But there was one thing she was very clear in: HTML and CSS are not code. This, if it’s up to me, is the quote of the conference.

A designer has to be fluent in writing HTML and CSS. Not just understand what it does, you have to be able to create things with it. You have to be able to create working mockups of your work in at least one browser. You need to test your designs as soon as possible in a real browser in order to tackle issues you could never think of in a pixel editor. Since we don’t have the tools to do this for us yet, we have to learn these languages ourselves. Mandy urged us to hurry up: designers have to be fluent in HTML and CSS right now. But we also need new tools to do this for us. Josh Brewer told the tool makers that we are waiting for them. Of course there are some tools popping up that make designing in the browser and writing CSS easier.


One of those tools is the new Patternlab by Brad Frost. It’s a collection of small handy tools and much used patterns, meant to make designing more modular, more flexible, but still very maintainable. One of the many nice things is that it doesn’t force you to use a certain development method, it’s meant to fit within your own workflow. Excellent, very clever stuff. I can’t wait to work with it.

This is for everyone

Tim Berners-Lee created the web as a platform for everybody to use to create and read information. Jeremy Keith lauded services like GeoCities and MySpace for the fact that they made it possible for millions of people to create stuff for the web. At the same time he cursed companies like Yahoo, Google and Twitter for shutting down these services, and thus deleting an big, important part of our recent history. His hate for these companies that buy and destroy is bitter, but just. These companies should be hated for it, and we should be very careful before handing over our data to them. This was a part of Jeremy’s message, his main message was that the web is a fantastic medium, and that it’s here for everyone, to consume and create.

The fact that the web is for everyone also means that it should work on every possible device. Not just the high end hardware that we, designers and developers, work on. But, this also means that we should try to get more people onto the web. That’s exactly what Mozilla is doing with their FirefoxOS, a new operating system, purely based on web technologies, designed to work on cheap smart phones. Christian Heilmann told us that the coming months phones with this OS will be sold in countries like Brazil, Venezuela, Poland. Probably the countries that had to wait the longest for the release of the iPhone. This will mean that in the coming months a whole lot of people will have access to the web, for the first time. This is fantastic.

Another thing that’s very clear is the fact that the web is not dead. Wired, said this a few years ago, but it still has a website, not everybody bought an iPad, nobody consumes all information through iPad apps. On the contrary, the web is more alive and more powerful than ever. And more diverse than ever. This means that things can be hard. It’s hard to develop for all these different screen sizes, connection types, input methods. Frameworks like Bootstrap are used to make these things easier. Blaine Cook pointed out that we should take care with using these frameworks: we don’t want to create brutalist constructions, similar to the housing blocks in Hong Kong. One size fits all does not really exist. A bit more attention to design is a good thing. And yes, maybe things are hard, but as Elliot Jay Stocks said, responsive web design may be hard at first, but we’ll get used to it. Just like we got used to using web standards instead of tables.


Apart from these thematic talks, there were also some inspiring talks that are a bit harder to fit into one single theme. There was an extremely nerdy talk about typography. Instead of talking about the construction of a letter, or the ideal measure or something, Erik van Blokland explains how many receptors in our eyes are used to see a font at a certain size. He was surprised to find out that only 80 of these receptors are used for one letter. That’s not enough to see all the details of that letter. By times it was a hard to follow, but the extremely nerdy stuff he’s done with fonts and font-software was incredibly inspiring.

Kate Kiefer Lee gave a talk about the fantastic styleguide/content-guide voice and tone she created for Mailchimp. It explains the tone of voice you need to use in different types of content, all meant for different situations. For example, you probably shouldn’t make a joke on a page where you inform somebody that heir account has been suspended. All content strategists and content creators should really see this talk once the video is released. Incredible stuff.

James Victore inspired us with a brilliant talk that switched between brilliant stories about clever design decisions and American style pep talk. A very inspiring guy, with an incredible amount of talent, in a wonderful combination with New York style bravura. Wonderful to look at.

The entourage

But the thing that was the most inspiring about the Beyond Tellerrand conference is the ambiance that Marc Thiele, the genius behind it, creates. During the breaks, two DJ’s continuously mixed sound bytes from every talk with relaxing music. Not just nice to listen to, but also a great way to think back about what the previous speaker had been saying. After every talk there was a good, long break, which enables the visitors to talk about the stuff you just heard with other attendants. And that is of course one of the best things about every high quality conference. You get to meet people from all over the world, make new friends, and catch up with old ones. I had some great chats and drinks with many, many fantastic people.

After the last talk, a guy walked up to me with a familiar face. He said his name was Jan, and we had been chatting the evening before the first Smashing Conference in Freiburg. Back then he was a somewhat frustrated, but ambitious web developer, working at a company that doesn’t understand the web at all. During our chat I somehow inspired him to quit his job — I don’t remember exactly what I said, I had been drinking some excellent wines that evening. He moved to Berlin and he now works as a very happy freelancer, with inspiring people around him.

And that, like Brad Frost said, is what it’s all about. We go to conferences to get inspired. And we write and talk about our experiences in order to inspire others. The greatest achievement is not when you get a pat on the back, it’s when your knowledge is used to make things, or lives, better.

It’s repeated at every conference: share your knowledge, write down your experiences, report bugs to browsers. But we should take this one step further, since this is the web. I wholeheartedly agree with what Stewart Brand said 20 years before the web was invented: information wants to be free.


  1. Hey Vasilis,

    I am very happy that you liked the event and that you have been part of it. Thanks for this nice write-up.

    Hope to see you soon again … this time with more time from my side ;)


    • Vasilis
    • #

    Haha, yes! We should meet at an event where we’re both just visiting (-: