This last weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at Devsigner Conference in Portland, Oregon. I met some wonderful people, and I learned a lot of wonderful new things. Here’s the rundown of my experience.

Ahead of time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When choosing a conference, I typically look for the ones where my web heroes are speaking, and this one had none of them. Well, not quite none, but whereas many conferences promote (and price) their event on the strength of the names of their stars, this one was all about the sessions, which were hand-picked among submissions primarily from the Portland area.

By the end of the first day, I was already glad I got to go. There were so many great talks, and I learned something at all of them. As a speaker, I got the conference’s already modest price comped for me (much appreciated), but even if I were to have paid the full price for both days, I would have received more than enough value out of just that first day alone.

The Theme’s The Thing

One thing I like to do at conferences is to find an overarching theme. Whether intentionally chosen or not, finding the theme can give you insight into what the design world is focusing on as a whole. If you can understand the industry’s burgeoning themes, you can address the growing trends and issues of an ever-evolving web, instead of constantly chasing after them or hastily patching over bad experiences.

Back in April, at Smashing Conference, the theme was about performance: making your websites stupid-fast. Here, at the smaller conference, the theme wasn’t as obvious, but, looking back, I think the keynote talk nailed it: Thinking Outside The Box. In that talk, speaker Mason Wendell compared design to jazz music with the most gorgeous deck of the whole event, and showed off a truly clever Sass mixin for quickly trying out different design styles.

In a talk by Micah Godbolt, notable Sass developer and podcaster, he totally changed my perspective on how front-ends should be developed. His stance against Object-Oriented CSS made me skeptical at first, but by the end, I was signed on to read all about it in his upcoming book. His position is that we should let components be components, giving them a single class name. Instead of stacking up multiple class names to add features and create variations, he uses data attributes to theme components. Data attributes are particularly useful because they have two dimensions: a key and a value. This makes theming more like turning a knob to one of the predetermined acceptable settings. All this works together to make it much harder to break your front-end.

From there he went more in-depth into how he creates standalone templates that can be ported across content management systems. It was far more information than I could absorb, so I’m excited to pick up his book and dig into the details.

Between those talks and many others—static sites being the new hotness, a virtual reality web that you can walk around in, a plug-in that can change the way we use language on a cultural level, an excoriating critique of the flat design fad—the weekend was full of unconventional, exciting new ideas.

Dare I include my own talk in that crowd?

Pitching The Perfect Sunset

My talk, among other things, describes a new way of mixing color and creating more artistic and aesthetically pleasing color palettes with CSS preprocessors. Leading up to it, I had a number of attendees tell me that they were very excited to hear it. I’m not going to lie, I was very relieved to hear that every time. I chalk up some of my apprehension and nervousness about the talk to the way I’ve been pitching it to various conferences. (I plan to write in more detail later.) When I was going to submit to Devsigner, I re-wrote a lot of my proposal and, when I was ready to send it off, I felt like it was a much more accurate representation of what I wanted to talk about.

Point being: not only was I more comfortable with my pitch, but people actually wanted to hear it!

I am waiting to hear back from the conference about my final evaluations, but when talking to people afterwards, I had some positive, enthusiastic conversations. My co-workers have seen a version of this talk before, and they told me this one was better, and I appreciate their being there to support me. Plus, I had some time at the end, so I squeezed in my little CSS min-margin hack, which at least one person took to Twitter about.

The only mistake I made was forgetting to record the damn thing.

This was the second year Devsigner has been put on, and it looks promising that they’ll do it again next year. If they do, I’ll be ready to register.