Today we are happy to release three more exclusive interviews as well as two Smashing Conference videos featuring Brad Frost, Andy Clarke and Nicole Sullivan. You can check out even more conference interviews and talks by Jeremy Keith, Rachel Andrew and Stephen Hay. In case you are wondering whether Smashing Conference 2013 will take place or not, the answer is a definitive “yes!”, so please make sure to stay tuned to not miss it this year!
The videos of the SmashingConf 2012 were filmed by Frank Sippach, cut by Marc Thiele (the co-organizer of the event) and the interviews were conducted by the Smashing Editorial team members, Esther Arends and Melanie Lang.
Interview With Brad Frost
Brad Frost is a mobile Web strategist and front-end designer in New York City. He is the creator of Mobile Web Best Practices, a resource website aimed at helping people create great mobile and responsive Web experiences. He runs a responsive Web design newsletter and also curates WTF Mobile Web, a website that teaches by example what not to do when working with the mobile Web.
Brad is passionate about mobile and is constantly tweeting and writing about it. He will also give a workshop on responsive design in Freiburg, Germany later this year.
Beyond Media Queries: An Anatomy of an Adaptive Web Experience
Brad was totally busy taking notes and listening to every single talk. Luckily, we still got the chance to ask him a few questions about his work, the conference and his dog Ziggy who does amazing things.
Q: We would like to ask you a few questions about your work. You worked at R/GA in New York. How did you get there and what did you do before?
I started my career in Pittsburgh making websites for real-estate companies and stuff like that. My wife had just gotten a job at R/GA in New York, so I moved up there to be with her. I found a job at an e-commerce Web design company and a few years later moved to R/GA. Even though we worked at the same place, my wife and I (thankfully) didn’t actually work on the same projects together.
The company is huge. When my wife started four years ago, we had an office in New York, San Francisco and London. Now we also have an office in Chicago; Austin, Texas; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brasil; Singapore; Sydney, Australia; Stockholm, Sweden; and Romania. I remember coming back from lunch to find out we opened an office in Stockholm. Pretty crazy.
Q: In terms of Web design, was there ever a topic that you and your wife just couldn’t agree on?
Thankfully, she mostly works on native apps and never dealt too much with the Web world. She does her apps and I do my websites — and that’s a good thing. Because we do different work, we never really had a major disagreement on anything like that, except minor things like “Why are the buttons there, there shouldn’t be so many icons in the navigation,” but that’s about it.
Q: You are very excited about everything that concerns mobile. Can you explain what’s so exciting about it?
Whats not to be excited about? It unlocks so many wonderful things. It’s opening up an entire new world to many people. More people have access to mobile phones now than have access to running water or toilets. We communicate in ways we never communicated before and make payments in ways we’ve never made payments before. And what gets me so excited about the mobile Web specifically is that we have all of these mobile devices — more devices than humans on the planet — combined with the ubiquitous power of the Web. You take mobile, you take the Web, you put both together and suddenly the world has access to all sorts of information and tools wherever they may be. What a beautiful concept.
Q: Responsive Web design has been the huge topic for the last two or three years. What is the next big thing in your opinion?
Right now the Web is incapable of doing everything that native apps can do. You’re not opening augmented reality apps in you browser. But it’s all advancing pretty quickly. When things like accessing the camera, accessing contact lists and more device capabilities make their way into the browser, it will open up a much richer world of what you can actually do on the Web. I think that will significantly change what the Web is, what it can do and who it can reach. In the meantime, we can get Web design into a more flexible place so it can reach any device you throw at it.
Brad Frost at the Smashing Conference. (Image John Davey)
Q: You offer a newsletter on your website. Why should people subscribe to it?
(laughing) I can’t answer this honestly because I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had time to send one out. But I really enjoy doing it. It’s a place to collect resources about responsive design. I also try to make it fun and friendly, and I put in horoscopes that are a bit cheeky. Some people like that, some people think that’s stupid. I thinks it’s a good resource if you want to get quick information about what’s new in responsive Web design.
Q: You’re quite new in speaking at conferences compared to people like Jeremy Keith, Paul Boag or Andy Clarke. When, where and how did you start?
I started about a year ago in my hometown Pittsburgh at a great smaller conference called Web Design Day. They try to get speakers which have an affiliation to the area, so they asked me to talk. And I also spoke at the Breaking Development Conference. They’re now on their fourth event, but I went to the first one as an attendee. On the second round they had a call for lightning round speakers, where you’re not a featured speaker but you have 30 minutes to talk. I applied and got accepted. All this speaking stuff, it’s all very new and wonderful, and I love it.
Q: Everyone has their own opinion about Web design. However, we overheard that you called Paul Boag a wanker. Why was that?
(laughing) I actually never called him that. Jeremy Keith set me up. I wanted to talk to Paul before I got on stage, because I use his site as an example of responsive sites that hide things for small screen viewers — which you shouldn’t do. On his site, he hides his comments and the comment form on small screens so you’re not able to read or make comments. I was using that as an example of what you should avoid when designing a responsive site. I didn’t want to upset him, because I love his work and I think he’s a great guy. So I just wanted to check with him beforehand. But then Jeremy called him over and said: “This guy just called you a wanker.” And I felt so embarrassed because I didn’t even know Paul personally at that point and had to explain myself.
Q: We also heard that your dog Ziggy is the new Tony Hawk?
He still pees in the house. He is very stubborn and won’t walk down the street, but he got really good at skateboarding.
Q: We noticed hat you were taking so many notes and tweeted a lot during the Smashing Conference. Did you enjoy it?
My mind was pretty much exploded. It was phenomenal. It wasn’t that I learned something new at every talk, it was that I learned something significantly new at every talk. Either a new mentality, or a new technique or a deeper understanding of a certain thing. But it wasn’t like “Oh, that’s clever,” it was more like “Oh, wow, that is really, really good.”
Q: You have been to a few conferences now. How was the Smashing Conference for you?
It was very sincere and thorough. Everything was really thought through, which shows the care that Marc and Vitaly put into it. But they also did a great job of getting a great group of people together and making an atmosphere that was happy and inclusive, which facilitated a lot of conversation and camaraderie. Also this special venue added a lot to it. I just felt like everybody felt very comfortable, and even during my talk I felt like I was just talking to people and not like I was on stage.
Q: What was your personal highlight on the Smashing Conference?
There were many speakers that I’ve been following since the beginning of my career. For example, I was following Andy Clarke from day one of my career. But I hadn’t met pretty much everyone before. Nicole, Lea and Jonathan, for example, have all shaped the way I write CSS, so it was brilliant to meet them. I’d never met Chris Heilmann before, and I just thought that he has some of the smartest writing about this stuff. Almost everyone has been a big influence on me and just being around them has been amazing. (laughing) I can’t believe I’m just with them — that blows my mind a little bit.
Andy Clarke a designer, author and speaker who’s known for design work, books, conference presentations and contributions to the community. Jeffrey Zeldman (the Godfather of Web standards) once called him a “triple talented bastard.” If you know of Jeffrey, you’ll know how happy that made Andy. Over the last fourteen years, he made designs for clients and wrote two books, “Transcending CSS” and “Hardboiled Web Design.” He has given many conference presentations and hosted workshops and training events for other Web professionals all over the world.
Encouraging Better Client Participation In Responsive Design Projects
Andy was the mystery speaker at the Smashing Conference and shared his knowledge in two workshops. In this interview, he reveals a fun story involving scooters, he tells us why he isn’t that fond of Brighton and explains why he didn’t enjoy speaking at conferences for a long time.
Q: You haven’t spoken at conferences much lately. Why have you stopped enjoying speaking?
I have spoken a lot over the last years — I did fifty talks since 2005. They involve a lot of traveling and they cost money unless you can do workshops. You may get paid for speaking, but if you fly to America, for example, you take a week off work and if you work for yourself, like I do, no one is paying for those days you’re not earning.
It’s also really hard to keep coming up with new interesting things to talk about. And I didn’t want to be the guy who is talking about the same topic again and again.
A lot of people don’t realize that there’s lot of pressure on speakers. People mostly talk about how hard it is to do public speaking, but the hardest thing is actually the emotional pressure. When you speak regularly, you have the added pressure of, “Oh, he wasn’t as good as last year.” There’s a risk-to-reward ratio. If you do a good job and you read nice things on Twitter, you get a reward, an ego boost, and that’s great. But the problem is that if you please 99 people, and just one person says something negative, you’ll always focus on that one negative person and that makes speaking really difficult.
Last year I got to the point where I’d done so many talks, I would come off stage and I didn’t feel any of that reward. But I still had the same amount of emotional risk. So I decided that to become enthusiastic again I couldn’t speak for a while. So I said no to everything — except to Jeffery Zeldman for “An Event Apart” because you can’t say no to him. And after that I felt much better, so I also said yes to Vitaly when he asked if I wanted to fill the open spot. And I’m really glad I did it.
Q: You mentioned in your talk that you work for several long-term clients at the moment. Is that different from the work you did before?
In the past I would just do one project and after it was finished I moved on to the next one. Now I’ve got regular contracts. One is with the British government and one is with a Scottish TV channel. They book me for certain number of weeks every month so I go there and see and work with the the same people. That’s nice and something I’ve not had before.
Q: Did you go to university?
Yes I did, I studied Fine Art and wanted to be a painter. But then I turned out to be a terrible painter. I like the process of things, especially the photographic and the printmaking process. So I spent a lot of time in the printmaking room and the dark room doing photography projects.
Q: How did you start doing Web design?
I used to design for print, so when I was designing on the Web I just used software like FrontPage, Dreamweaver or something horrible like that. I thought that was okay, and I spent a few years designing websites like that. I even did this when I started my business.
Then I went to a seminar down in London, and there was a guy talking about accessibility and code. When I went back home, I looked up his website which was actually CSS-based. At that time, not many CSS-based sites were out there. So I did what I always did and pasted his code into Dreamweaver to see how it was constructed. But it was just text and I thought: “What the hell is this?” — I had no idea. I didn’t even know what the difference between HTML and XHTML was. I had no idea because I couldn’t write HTML. I spent the next six months learning HTML and CSS. There weren’t books about it at that point, just one or two blogs. I basically just learned it for myself, staying up late, trying to figure it out.
That was around 2002 or 2003, before “Designing With Web Standards” by Jeffrey Zeldman came out. I remember how I went to the bookstore in my local town one day, I saw this book, opened it and there was everything I had tried to figure out in the last six months. I thought, “damn!” I bought a copy for myself and hid all the other copies behind other books, so that no Web designer in the area could see it and have a shortcut. I feel really bad about it and I told Jeffrey that I owe him some money — he just laughed.
Q: We really liked your redesign of Stuff & Nonsense with the different responsive scooter illustrations. How did you come up with that idea?
I mostly had a scooter illustration on my page, also in my old designs. When I came to redesign it, I wanted to do something to show off responsive design and I wanted to make people smile. I thought about different things. One idea was that the scooter gets more and more mirrors as the screen gets wider. Another one was that I would have more mods. But when I started thinking about the small screen I just decided to make it an age thing. So on the tiny screen you have the little kid, and after that it transfers to the image of me that I’d like to see. And on the big screen it gets to that slightly fatter midlife-crisis guy that I probably am. [laughing]
I want to do so much more with it. We want to do CSS animation so that the scooter bounces and I want to do more on the background. However, I ran out of money for now so I have to save up a bit.
Q: Do you actually have a scooter?
I actually had a motorcycle. It took me a long time and lot of domestic negotiation [laughing] to get it. I passed my test and had a Yamaha 600 a very short time and then I came off it. This is the story that I don’t tell many people but you can tell it here [laughing].
Q: Is there anything else you always wanted to do in your personal life?
I really want to go to Chile. I would like to win the lottery so that I could just continue traveling, all the time. I wouldn’t even have a house, I would just travel — forever.
Q: Apparently there is a story involving you and ferrets? What is that about?
There is my friend Sarah Parmenter who is really beautiful and talented. And I came up with the story that she keeps ferrets, which are quite dirty and smelly creatures. So I started posting on twitter that she keeps them and other people believed it. Sometimes they would send her links to new things about ferrets. And I even created a “Sarah loves Ferrets” Twitter feed and kept it going for three months. It had her picture and also photos of ferrets. She tried really hard to kill them but my friends and I had whole fun thing lined out. You know how there are people in the world who dress ferrets in little costumes? So we had them ordered and delivered to her house and things like that. So that was me and Sarah, who is one of my best friends.
Q: You live in Wales, but you’re not Welsh. Was there any special reason why you moved there?
That is a long story. My son Alex was ill when he was a kid and spent some time in the hospital. We were living in South England and I was working in London, so I left early in the morning and came home very late. I realized that I didn’t have enough time to be around Alex in this difficult time, so when he got better we decided to move somewhere else. We visited the area where I live now and liked it, and someone we know said that we should move up there. So we did within four weeks, sold the house and I left the job and went up there with no plans or any job. Then I started my business and nothing has changed since then.
Q: Apparently you hate Brighton even though as a creative person you would fit in there quite well. Why don’t you like it?
It’s not that that I hate Brighton, I just hate people in Brighton who think that Brighton is the center of the universe. That anything good has to be in Brighton. When my friends come over from America to a conference in London or something, they always go to Brighton, it always has to be Brighton. I just think there are so many beautiful parts in Britain which people should visit. The Cotswolds are really nice and not far from London. It takes you three hours to get to North Wales. Scotland is also really nice, or Cornwall. Lots of great places, so why does everybody just go to Brighton just because it’s a trendy-poncy place to go to?
Q: You have been to many conferences. Is there anything that makes the Smashing Conference different from the others?
What I like here is how everybody is so enthusiastic. There are a few conferences that stand out. The An Event Apart conferences are always excellent and brilliantly organized. Web Directions in Australia is always great, and there are a few smaller conferences which are great. I hate when conferences are run by conference businesses, where it’s just about making money from the people sitting there. What I love about this one is how enthusiastic Marc and Vitaly are about the whole thing. I’ve seen how much speakers and attendees have enjoyed it. I would want to come back next year just as an attendee if I wasn’t working.
Q: What was your highlight of the Smashing Conference?
In terms of other speakers, I thought Lea Verou was excellent and it’s a shame that she’s not doing more workshops in the future. And Jeremy Keith is always great. I just had a great time overall. At first I thought it was silly to be the mystery speaker, but to be honest I really quite enjoyed it.
Actually… do you know what my personal highlight was? Feeling good about doing conferences again which I haven’t for a long time.
Nicole is a front-end performance consultant, CSS aficionado and author. She started the Object-Oriented CSS open source project, which answers the question: how do you scale CSS for millions of visitors or thousands of pages? She also consulted with many companies including Facebook, Salesforce, the W3C, Adobe, Paypal, and Box. She is the co-creator of Smush.it, an image optimization service in the cloud, and CSS Lint, a tool that helps correct common CSS errors before they are pushed to production.
About Working Together With Big Companies
Editor’s note: Nicole’s conference talk will be available in a couple of days.
Q: You have worked together with companies like Facebook. In what areas do they consult you and ask for your expertise?
I think what I like best about working with big companies, or startups that are really starting to be successful, is that when you make a change for them, there is a really big impact on how much they can get done. It’s exciting to see them go from being really stuck in a big pile of CSS and unable to get themselves out, pushing features out too quickly. The teams really want to build cool new stuff, but often their CSS is such a mess, that it actually prevents them from building the things that they can imagine. The liberation that a team goes through, when finally they can quickly release features, and when they have a CSS that is sane and lean and makes sense to work with, is really fun. So I really like that part of working with big companies.
Q: How did you develop your passion for coding and CSS?
I guess that I have always done whatever I felt passionate about. If you look at my career path, it looks crazy. I studied economics in college. Then I became a carpenter. After that, I moved to France, couldn’t speak the language, and was an illegal immigrant. I had nothing to do with my time there so I started reading W3C specifications and I thought, this looks interesting, maybe I’ll learn about this. Then I enrolled in an engineering school and did a couple of years of that. I then took jobs because they seemed interesting to me and I wanted to work on the code that they had.
I feel like by following your passion, and always doing what in your thought level feels right, then even if it doesn’t work out, even if your project isn’t successful, or the company stops working on the thing that you wanted to work on, you still got to spend that time working on the thing that is closest to your heart. And I guess that’s where the passion comes from. I’ve never been able to spend very long doing something I didn’t really want to be doing.
Q: So passion is what has paved the way for you?
That’s the case. Say you started something and built something you were passionate about. Even if it fails, in the end you still spent this time on something you felt really strongly about. I think that’s where my passion comes from.
We hope that you enjoyed the interviews — more will follow soon! Please make sure to remember the 9th and 10th of September 2013 — the second Smashing Conference is just around the corner! Make sure to subscribe to our events newsletter to not miss the launch of the ticket sale as well as announcements about our workshops and meet-ups!
© Smashing Editorial for Smashing Magazine, 2013.