HighEdWeb 2012 took place recently in Milwaukee. It was epic. Turns out #heweb12 is where the Internet lives. My Twitter friends became real friends. I was surrounded by smart. The session content was not only advanced, but uber-practical. Plus, each and every aspect of the conference was extraordinarily well thought out and designed to entertain. It was hands-down the single best conference I have ever been to. What?? You didn’t go!?!?! (…cough…@sethodell)

Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered, with my top 10 takeaways from #heweb12. Keep in mind I was personally tasked to deepen my “responsive design” knowledge at this conference, and had to fight temptation not to sneak into all the social media sessions.

1) How do you design a site that looks perfect on all 523 screen resolution sizes that visited your site last month? Responsive Web Design.
This 1-liner from @brettcpollak was an early a-ha moment for me at the conference. It’s not about designing layouts for all 4 user devices; phone + tablet + laptop + desktop. It’s about designing for the infinite iterations of each device type. More than that, it’s about being future-friendly for whatever comes next.

2) You don’t need “great” stories for your website. You need REAL student stories.
This nugget, inspired by Magen Tracy’s session was a big moment for me. Because it’s true. Great stories are great, but often unrelatable. “I wasn’t a Lost Boy. I didn’t beat cancer. I didn’t compete in the Olympics. I’m just kind of scared of the transition from high school to college, and not entirely sure how I’m going to pay for it.” That’s the story we need to get better at telling.

3) I don’t really understand the concept of a cover band.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I wouldn’t rather hear their originals. But, I hit up the band tent early at the Discovery World Excursion on the final night of the conference as they were performing ‘Refugee’, and to their credit, playing it really well. Then, as they finished the song, the front man leaned into the mic and said, “…that was Tom Petty.” I don’t know why that weirded me out so much. It just did. The whole concept of a cover band is just bizarre to me. Ok, sorry, moving on.

4) The “person who has a bad experience with your brand tells 7 people” rule was pre-Facebook. Now, they tell everybody.
This takeaway from @joelgoodman is one that really stuck with me, but one I haven’t totally processed and figured out what to do with just yet. Little help?

5) Supposedly, I didn’t understand the premise of Dave Eggers’ ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’.
Apparently, it’s not really pretentious since it’s supposed to be pretentious? And I might want to give it another chance via @drewmcdonnell.

6) There is no ‘hover state’ in a mobile world.
This is one of those completely obvious mobile user experience 101 concepts… that I simply hadn’t thought through yet. Of course there’s no mouse. Of course that hugely impacts menu navigation. In fact, more important than any single mobile UX takeaway I left the conference with was my realization that there was a whole lot of stuff I simply hadn’t thought through yet. And while I consider myself fairly fluent in both information architecture and web design best practices, this is a different ballgame, and not all the same rules translate.

7) Erik Runyon is shockingly funny.
A highlight in my responsive sessions, and a worthy best in track winner, I originally prejudiced @erunyon as merely a brilliant tech-mind…but the dude is legit hysterical.

8) There are quite a few ‘Lebron James stuck in Cleveland’ attitudes in Higher Ed.
Turns out we’re all geniuses, surrounded by administrative incompetence who can’t spot the genius. That’s a crazy coincidence, isn’t it? It’s also just not true. Your University is FULL of passionate people. And while giving you full dictatorial control might speed up the process you’re currently fighting for, there are plenty of partners on campus you can find to help you fight the good fight.

9) If it already exists, don’t build it.
This advice from @kyledbowen was even more powerful considering his team at Purdue builds all sorts of beautiful stuff all the time. But that’s precisely the point. They only build solutions that don’t already exist. Once Kyle’s team or someone else has already figured it out – on their dime and with their time – you don’t have to build it again! Note: Just missing this list was Kyle’s “Two Pizza Rule”, which suggested your project team should be able to be fully fed on two pizzas. Any smaller of a group, you’re not getting appropriate buy-in. Any bigger, you’ve got people in the room who aren’t accountable for the project. Note: Kyle is also legit hysterical, but you get that feeling 10 seconds into hearing him speak. I also left his session kind of wanting to buy a car from him. And I mean that in the best possible way.

10) Distractions aren’t a problem. They’re a symptom.
I didn’t check my work or personal email on my phone once during the conference until the day’s sessions were done. Why? Because I was confident what I was currently experiencing wouldn’t be beat by the distractions my phone had to offer.

My only #heweb12 regret? It was the non-Higher Ed conversations I had with individuals that really deepened our friendships. Yet, I think we all felt conduced to talk “work”, not to mention that subject offered an obvious shared interest and easy conversational starting point. But after Adam Savage’s keynote, which included some fascinating anecdotes about his father the painter, and started to hint at Adam’s own synthesis of both empiricist and experientialist philosophies…I kind of wanted to talk more about that the rest of the week. Because I’m pretty sure the folks at HighEdWeb are the perfect group to have that conversation and more with.

Anyway, enough about me. Was it good for you?

About the Author
Eric Olsen is the Web Content Manager for Lewis University, a mid-sized Catholic and Lasallian University near Chicago, IL. Follow Eric on Twitter.


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  • Karen Buck

    On point, funny recap. Still haven’t made it to this conference but it’s on the list.

    Re: Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Do retry. And re-read in the frame of mind that that is your life. Your parents are dead and you’re responsible for your little kid brother. What do you do? I usually can’t stand pretentious BS either, but when I read this book 10+ years ago (dating myself), it rocketed to my top 10 list.

    Then read the God of Small Things.

    That’s it for the Friday book report.



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