A Few Lingering Thoughts on An Event Apart

Hawk Thompson   June 21, 2013

 Photo by zeldman

I have a confession to make: I attended An Event Apart more than two months ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it.

Sure, the fact that it was my family’s first trip to Seattle might be part of the reason (it being my six-month-old daughter’s first big trip ever may also factor into the equation). But more than the AirBnB rental in Queen Anne, dinner at the Walrus and the Carpenter or anything else about the trip, the reason #AEASEA is branded on my brain has to do with how the conference confounded my expectations in the best possible way.

Simply put, An Event Apart elevates the conference-going experience. A decade-plus SXSW veteran (love you SX), I’ve survived enough hype-fueled madness to know to plan for the worst and to expect a good amount of stress at the very least. As its name implies, An Event Apart is cut from different cloth. Attendees have the same agenda — three days, twelve speakers, no overlap — so there’s little need to wait in line or jockey for position. Perhaps because of this, each speaker is able to hold the autdience’s attention and every talk feels like part of a conversation.

The ethos behind A List Apart helps bring everything together. United by common beliefs, collaborative projects like Editorially, mutual business interests like A Book Apart and, of course, the ubiquitous Zeldman, the speakers exude a camaraderie that’s contagious. This shared enthusiasm keeps everyone feeling convivial and fuels discussions between talks.

A List Apart attracts tremendously talented people who work together to weave cohesive narratives. Take Karen McGrane — a content strategy hero of mine for a number of reasons, her brilliant book Content Strategy for Mobile (read our review here) chief among them. What struck me in the context of the conference was how compatible Karen’s approach to creating mobile-friendly content was with Luke Wroblewski’s mobile-first mandate, Ethan Marcotte’s rationale for responsible responsive design and Jared Spool’s celebration of UX generalists. Taken as a whole, these talks all draw from a deep well of experience to rally the audience to join forces and future-proof the web in anticipation of whatever challenge comes next.

Looking back, it’s clear that everyone involved with An Event Apart is invested in creating truly stellar online experiences for all users that can stand the test of time. While it wasn’t surprising that common themes emerged over the course of the conference, it was delightful to experience this emergence firsthand. I left Seattle with five big takeaways and one strong urge to return in the near future.



One Response

  1. Joe Doyle says:

    Nice read, Hawk. I’ve been very tempted to join my team at AEA here in Austin. Like you, I’m a SXSW advocate, just something about the structure and great minds at AEA that get me thinking about it.



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