Reflections on @media

While loads of people will be at today's social, I've got other plans, so @media 2006 is over for me.

It was a great conference, with some very interesting talks, some amazing slidecraft, and no logistical problems (aside, of course, from the wifi).

As you may be able to tell from my notes, I deliberately tended away from the technical sessions towards the design ones hoping to learn a little from outside my normal area of interest. The sessions I went to didn't disappoint - among others Jon Hicks, Dave Shea, Andy Budd and Jeff Veen all had some well-presented, interesting things to say.

The talk that stood out the most was Andy Clark's riff on fine art and web design. I was enjoying it so much I gave up on taking notes after about 5 minutes so I could pay more attention. He's right that we need to push out of the boxes we've created for ourselves, both metaphorical and literal. And it's always good to be reminded that you need to look at the world in a different way. The talk as a whole really resonated with me, and gave me a lot of ideas and renewed enthusiasm.

I don't think I went to a single session that wasn't useful in some way, but some weren't as good as others. There was a lot of wooly thinking from both designers and the developers - "well, you know, x is just, you know, better". There were also a handful of speakers who struggled to communicate their ideas effectively, and a lot of time was spent covering what seemed like old ground.

I noted in my reflections on XTech last month that I felt the weak points there were more a reflection on the wider problems in the industry than a problem with the conference. The same was definitely true of @media - and I'm starting to wonder if this is a more general rule that might also explain some of the recent negative feedback around conferences like Emerging Technology.

In the case of @media, as the conference progressed the weaker points suggested to me that as a professional web design and client-side dev community we still have a long way to go in understanding the medium - in terms of techniques, methodologies and, above all, the level of discourse.

We're still ignoring valid lessons from other related areas, in both design and technology. And at the same time we've yet to really get to grips with many areas where the web is demonstrably different, and develop our own ways to handle this, which often leads to inappropriate techniques being used.

There are some solid ideas in the industry, which we've been working with for half a decade - the separation of content and presentation, the importance of standards, and the dual ideas of graceful degradation and progressive enhancement. We're just taking our time in pushing beyond them.

This to me is really exciting - the current state of affairs is not as good as it's going to get, and there's a lot more to learn, understand and define in the future.

It's been a while since a conference has really energised me like this - big thanks to the speakers, and to Patrick, Dan and Amanda for pulling it together.

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