DrupalCon[densed] 2016: The Best Developer Sessions (Part II)

drupal condensed 2016  the best developer sessions part ii

DrupalCon[densed] 2016: The Best Developer Sessions (Part II)

  • May. 24, 2016
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)

As a beginning developer who spent the majority of the last three months learning front-end javascript frameworks and the MEAN stack, I was anxious to get re-acquainted with Drupal, all of its ‘isms, and the storied community behind it. But besides tired feet, a hangover, and a backpack stuffed with free swag, what would I take away from it all?

Looking back, it’s tough to capture all the remarkable insights from such interrelated sessions and do them justice in a single blog post, but I did come across several ideas from the con that stuck with me in one way or another. So without further ado, here are some DrupalCon 2016 takeaways from the eyes of a (junior) Junior Front-End Developer.

Don’t Just Design a Page: Create a Design System

In probably my favorite session of the conference, Road Runner Rules: More What You’d Call Guidelines for Design Systems, presenter Micah Godbolt was able to use linguistics as an extended analogy to explain how Design Systems combine sets of design rules and assets to define how to express the visual language of a project.

Similar to Brad Frost’s Principles of Atomic Design, Micah demonstrated how the simple components of a Design System (the phonemes of our visual language) build on one another and work together to form more complex pieces (the syntax) that communicate ideas and intention to the user. By deconstructing a client’s site redesign comp into its individual components, he was able to demonstrate how a design project can easily go from daunting to doable by thinking in terms of these individual rules and components.

But of course, the icing on the cake was the inclusion of Chuck Jones’ Road Runner Rules as an example of thoughtful design rules. With rules like “No outside force can harm the coyote—only his own ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products” or “The Road Runner cannot harm the coyote except by going beep-beep," it became clear how rich, engaging, and repeatable experiences can be created by crafting simple, well-thought-out guidelines that work together to serve the project.

CSS Principles: A Much Needed Re-Introduction

While explaining how design systems incorporate certain rules of thumb, the Road Runner Rules session also provided a much-needed re-introduction to some more foundational principles for writing better CSS: namely, the "single source of truth" principle and the "single responsibility" principle, which together read like two sides of the same coin when it comes to CSS.

The "single source of truth" principle refers to the structuring of classes so that an element ideally receives styles from a single source in the CSS. By avoiding elements receiving styles from multiple locations, we end up with more readable, maintainable CSS.

The flip side of this is the notion of the "single responsibility" principle, which (in this context) means aiming for a single use case for every class so that classes and styles aren’t applied in different, conflicting contexts.

In addition to these principles, I found the quick primer on object-oriented CSS (separation of structure and skin, separation of container and content) to be equally helpful in reminding me what clean CSS looks like, and exactly how un-clean some of my early CSS turned out to be (yuck).

If Possible, Ditch Your Ipsum and Build With Content

In two separate sessions, I was reminded of how valuable building pages with real content can be, as opposed to starting with random bits of lorem ipsum. In Jeff Eaton’s Recoupling: Bridging Design and Structured Content, I was introduced to the idea of what he calls naive decoupling, which represents the negative outcomes that can come from an uncoordinated siloing of content and design. This can ultimately strip meaning from content, or ignore things like editorial curation and aggregation.

The idea to build with content when possible was reiterated in Brett Meyer’s entertaining presentation, Content Strategy in Popular Culture. Brett also provided excellent examples of well-modeled content, including Pearl Jam’s website, where all live performances of each song are catalogued. For instance, thanks to great content modeling, you can look up all 517 times they’ve played Jeremy live. That’s pretty cool, even if they’re not exactly your jam.

With Web Accessibility, Beware the Edge-Case Myth

Being a newcomer to the world of web accessibility issues, I was astonished by some of the facts presented by Helena Zubkow in her presentation, Web Accessibility 101: Principles, Concepts, and Financial Viability.

I hadn't realized that web accessibility measures have so much impact. For instance, in talking about the myth of the edge-case when it comes to web accessibility, she noted that there are 38.3 million severely disabled people in the U.S. -- which is close to twice the population of the state of New York! Just imagine telling a client, “We have the website ready for launch! But it doesn’t work in New York.” The ridiculousness of that statement should provide some much-needed perspective in situations where the term “edge-case” may get thrown around.

I was also excited to check out the two web accessibility tools she recommended. The first is the Wave toolbar, which gives you visual feedback on your site’s web accessibility and how to fix accessibility errors. The other is HTML5 Outliner, a tool that grabs your headlines and allows you to check your headline hierarchy, which is crucial for assistive technologies. All in all, this was a great presentation that reminds us that we make the internet for everyone. Period.

Grey Matter Matters! Douse Your Brain in H20 for Clarity and Focus

Finally, I wanted to share a fun fact from Michael Schmid’s Community Keynote; Your Brain Health is More Important than your Standing Desk, where he discusses brain health and personal workflow strategies that he’s found to be successful.

You’ve probably heard the generic “drink more water!” advice before, but here’s some science Michael came across to persuade those of us who haven’t yet adopted the "drink more, pee more, feel better" philosophy. We know that our bodies are 60% water, but I didn’t know that our brains are made up of even more water -- around 85%. More interesting, though, are the findings that suggest that a dehydration level of only 1% leads to a 5% decrease in cognitive ability, and a 2% level of dehydration leads to losing focus and decreases short-term memory function. Yikes, thanks for dropping some science on us all, Michael! At the very least, we can all have dehydration take the fall anytime we forget to… wait, what was I saying? Brb watercooler.

Even now, as I continue to look back on the conference and review my notes, at least one thing becomes clear: the worst part about DrupalCon is having to choose between so many great sessions with competing time slots (well, that and the wi-fi). Luckily, videos of most all the presentations can be found here, meaning we can enjoy all the aha moments from the conference we can handle. Check them out!


Check out the rest of our DrupalCon[densed] 2106 series! No matter who you are, we've got your perspective covered.

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