Developer Simon Pioli shares his experience of this ever-popular conference which is primarily for Front End Developers, but as Simon explains below, there's learnings for other teams too.

Over to Simon...

I attended the UpFront Conference on 27th March, with the intention of bringing back some new learnings and perspectives to share with the Front End team here at Blueleaf. In reality, the conference was relevant for a much wider audience, with several of the talks being very relevant for Design and Strategy teams too, in particular Derek Featherstone’s “Field Guide to Accessibility” and Charlotte Jackson’s “Pages to Patterns” talks.

So I want to share a little about what I learnt from these talks below, as well as from Lena Reinhard’s “Works on My Machine or the Problem is between Keyboard and Chair” tale because again, I feel this is relevant to a wider audience than just Front End Developers.

Field Guide to Accessibility

In this talk, Derek Featherstone made the point that accessibility is more nuanced than most people account for. Helping people with visual impairment doesn’t stop at ensuring you use the right labels and ARIA roles in your code. Using good design and UX to account for people that don’t use screen readers in favour of zooming into part of the page or using high contrast settings is just as important. The side-effect of this work is that it also helps users with smaller screens too!

Derek also talked about how many people use their computers without a screen, which can produce some interesting results when you attach a screen or run screen-sharing software to see what they actually get.

From Pages to Patterns

This was Charlotte Jackson’s talk. 

Most clients think in terms of pages, even insisting that they’re given full-page designs to sign off, so we tend to adapt our thinking and way of working so that we can fit with this and make it easy for them to understand. This practice leads to repetition and "bloat" within our code. We miss a vital step which is to look at the components that are on these pages and see where we can standardise them across the site.

Pattern libraries have been around for a while now but they’ve only really been spoken about in the context of Front End Development, making it very difficult to introduce into a project.

Charlotte spoke about running an exercise which involves design and the client breaking the pages down into their components, finding common components between the pages and naming them all together. Involving all stakeholders and even adapting vocabulary that’s already commonly used within the organisation to name components ensures that everyone understands the language used and makes it more likely that these patterns will have a greater life span as more people are introduced to the system.

Charlotte’s article on 'A List Apart' explains the process in more detail.

Works on My Machine or the Problem is between Keyboard and Chair

Lena Reinhard used the analogy of a large, legacy software system full of spaghetti code that’s difficult to debug. Her talk was about understanding how the structure of our society means that the biases that we all have from our own experiences can make it difficult for us to empathise with under-represented people (i.e. those who aren’t white males) who often find it difficult or toxic to live and work in tech.

In other words, privilege is a human version of “Works on my Machine”; a saying often used by developers when they can’t reproduce or see a bug on their computer. Just because you’ve never experienced the sort of problems that others do, doesn’t mean they don’t exist, nor that you shouldn’t do anything about them.

I've actually scoured the internet to find this video of Lena's talk. OK, this wasn't her UpFront talk but it's very similar. 

There are 11 tools that we can all use to help us debug and fix the system:

  1. Educate yourself - about systemic issues and oppression
  2. Practice empathy - our choices inform user choices which affects how they feel
  3. Work on humility - we all fail and have flaws
  4. Understand privileges - use them to help those less privileged than yourself
  5. Understand biases - establish policies to address them
  6. Listen - actively look for voices outside your own network
  7. Amplify other’s voices - particularly the voices of those who are under-represented
  8. Work on diversity - we have a moral obligation to ensure our workforce is as diverse as possible
  9. Work on inclusion - making our working environment welcoming and safe for everyone
  10. Give back - educate and help others understand for themselves
  11. Work on being an ally to the under-represented - isten to them and speak up when it’s appropriate

I hope you enjoyed my short review of UpFront conference, and that you're inspired to perhaps attend next year.