Flight Midwest Startup Conference 2017

I recently had the opportunity to attend the second annual Flight conference in Akron. Put on by our friends at Launch League, this was a great event promoting and enriching startups regionally. Experienced founders and supporters shared their experiences on a variety of topics, and there were high quality panel discussions as well.

It was refreshing to attend Flight not as a presenter or sponsor but just a regular attendee. It was a useful change in perspective to allow myself to get immersed in the day without being preoccupied with other tasks. One thing that I thought was much improved over last year’s conference was the scope and focus of the the programming. The inaugural conference was very broad with speakers talking about everything from design to dev ops. This year it was honed in on startups and their concerns. I thought this helped with expectations and just made everything feel more organized and coherent.

Heading into the John S. Knight center for the conference

When selecting which presentations to attend I forced myself to go to things I wouldn’t normally go to. I’ve been to enough design and development talks that they really need to be a specific niche or topic to pique my interest. This turned out to be a great strategy though, as I pushed outside my comfort zone and had some great discussions.

Two of the presentations in particular I found really useful:

Mark Weisman from Navidar opened up by explaining that his company works as an technology-focused investment bank; which neither invests anything (in a traditional sense) nor functions as a bank. It was a great start to add some levity to what could be a very dry topic. He explained that their primary service is to work with companies who are entertaining buyout/acquisition offers or seeking them to try and get the best price (and the most offers) possible. There were some great stories of work that they did, and the kinds of details that most people wouldn’t even think could affect deals or valuations.

While we’re not pivoting into the finance industry, it really resonated with me how they only work with companies at a certain point in their lifecycle. It’s something we’ve done as well; we work great with teams who need to build an MVP, or need front end and design help to assist their small back-end staff. How we might better position ourselves that way and options for further defining our best clients were in my head all day after hearing this.

Ryan O’Donnell from Sellhack talked about strategies and tools for a sales process. As someone who’s always been on the creative services side of businesses, I’ve tried to stay as far away from ‘selling’ as possible. But, Ryan’s talk was fantastic and made me consider diving in headfirst to help out. His products Sellhack and Replyify help you build upon some LinkedIn strategies for finding ideal clients for your business, contacting them, and following up in an organized and efficient way. It never felt ‘sales-y’ at all, and he shared some great stories and examples of the things he actually uses day to day. We’ve always focused on passive marketing efforts, using speaking and our work relationships to find new potential clients. As we look to grow though, we’re looking at starting some more legitimate sales and content marketing efforts.

Overall, I had a great time at Flight and look forward to see what next year brings.

Recap: Ethan Marcotte – Responsive Design

This is a recap of the workshop Ethan Marcotte – Responsive Design given on November 5th, 2015. This workshop was the sixth installment of the Build Right Maker Series given by Sparkbox.

We are no strangers to the awesome workshops that our friends at Sparkbox have curated. As a company, this marks the fourth time that we’ve been to one of their events. If you haven’t heard of or been to an event that they’ve hosted, we recommend looking into them. They make the round trip drive from Akron to Dayton in one day (almost) worth it. We recommend getting a hotel.

One thing that I’d like to give a shout-out to before we begin is the food and drinks! From the awesome pastries and Qdoba burrito bar, to the bartender on the rooftop afterparty, this event was filling!

Calories aside, we really enjoyed hearing Ethan speak on his forte. For those of you who don’t know, Ethan Marcotte literally wrote the book on responsive design. A five year old book, it’s still considered required reading for web developers and designers and we have absolutely no problem promoting it.

responsive design book by Ethan Marcotte

We have obviously known of Ethan’s work for some time now, and that was why we were so excited to hear him speak. We wanted to see what he was doing today, and if his thoughts still stood the same regarding responsive design.

To no surprise, he still stands by his three technical ingredients required for responsive design:

  1. Fluid grids
  2. Flexible images
  3. Media queries

Ethan is confident that when combining these three things, a responsive design is easily implemented on the web, and we agree!

You have probably seen flexible grids from technologies such as Bootstrap, and flexible images by adding max-width: 100%; to your img tag styles, but what about media queries? How many of us have truly looked into the capabilities of media queries? Side note: Extra credit for those excited about Element Queries!

For those who are unfamiliar:

The @media rule is used to define different style rules for different media types/devices.

From W3C at w3schools.com

Ethan broke media queries out into two different classes, and we enjoyed the explanations. The first class of media queries are the major queries. These queries define where larger layout changes occur on a web page. The next class, the minor queries, are used to adjust line heights or font sizes as a page size is reduced.

One subject that seems to come up with Ethan a lot is content strategy. An exercise that we did was to take a website, divide it into its content, ignore its layout, and make a single lane priority for it. It’s a very difficult exercise! Could you decide whether a promotion was a higher priority than a logo? What about if a logo was a higher priority than a sign-on form? Very thought provoking!

condition and feature grid

Next, we came to the idea of designing not for a device screen, but for an infinite space. Several times we found ourselves asking questions like:

How will this look on a tablet?
How would this look on a phone?

When we should really be asking ourselves questions like:

How would this look on a medium sized touch screen with a spotty, high latency connection?

A big take-away that we had was to stop referring to devices as anything more than conditions and features and that using terms such as “tablet” and “mobile” were doing a disservice to our industry.

This spiked an awesome conversation regarding the sustainability of your design / code when a network is unstable and causes a resource failure. What if your website never loaded your CSS? This quote was particularly interesting:
reliability quote

Like cars designed to perform in extreme heat or on icy roads, websites should be built to face the reality of the web’s inherent variability

From Trent Walton in his article Device Agnostic</cite

This is a very specific topic that we haven’t been able to stop thinking about. What if a stylesheet never loaded? What does our bare layout look like? What happens when a browser in non-ideal conditions prioritizes our content over our images? Does our site still hold up? Can someone with a sub-par phone view the content that we have put out? Do they have a (relatively) similar experience as another person on a large screen with mouse on a fast and reliable connection? If not, why?

Hopefully this can spark some thought with you, and you can start to ask these questions about your own designs or code.

Yet another side note: Sparkbox is located a block away from an awesome place called Proto Build Bar. They have the world’s largest claw machine. We don’t want to hold any judgement, but Eric’s z-axis perception needs some work. He’s the only one of us that didn’t go home with an inflatable ball:

claw machine