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November 21, 2013

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Cultivating Chattanooga’s web community with social talk

ANOTHER SPECIES HAS BEEN SPOTTED IN Chattanoga's emerging tech ecosystem. Aaron Gustafson and Kelly McCarthy, co-owners of web development company Easy Designs, have organized Code and Creativity, a free social talk series designed to build connections among Chattanooga’s web designers and developers and to the larger web community. 

“We are trying to touch on every area of present day web design best practices,” says McCarthy, the series organizer. “We’re trying to pull in people who are in these various fields we feel are doing things right and have a lot to share. Our audience is makers: web tech creative types. The series is for makers by makers. We’re aiming at a pretty broad variety of people: designers, developers, writers, managers, product idea people, even fine design makers.”

Easy Designs is a boutique web development firm that was based in Connecticut until Gustafson and McCarthy moved to Chattanooga  several years ago. They do project work and train in-house developers for companies like Walgreen’s, McAfee, MasterCard, Vanguard investments, and the Shop Bop division of Amazon.com.

Code & Creativity’s next speaker—on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at The Camp House, 1427 Williams St.—will be Kate Kiefer Lee, a writer and editor at MailChimp who helps clients of the email marketing service provider develop a consistent brand voice. Lee will share MailChimp’s voice and tone guide and offer tips on using voice to articulate a company’s brand identity. She says it’s all about creating empathetic content.

“I think it’s easy to forget there are real people at the other end of our content and they have their own thoughts and feelings and touchy subjects and preferences and expectations of us,” she says. “It makes our content a lot better when we think about their feelings before we write and consider the readers’ perspective when we publish content to the web.”

She will also share some lessons learned the hard way, like keeping humor out of sensitive situations. For example, MailChimp once notified companies about people unsubscribing to their emails with a perky “Aw nuts, you had few people jump ship. Who needs ‘em anyway?”

“It’s not unusual,” she says. “It happens every day. We were trying to normalize that for our users and say ‘oh, it’s not a big deal, don’t worry about it,’ but we realized we were sending the message that we don’t value our customers’ customers. When we looked at our tone of voice and how our users are feeling in that situation, we realized we needed to make it something not quite as silly or even funny.”

“What Kate does is a great example of something that is so integral to good web design and people take it for granted,” says McCarthy. “Even if you never write content, it’s always good to know what your company’s voice is and what you’re trying to present with your brand values.”

For example, a developer might be a company’s only hope of noticing a missing error message, because nobody told the wordsmiths who were involved earlier that it needed to be written. 

“The reality is everyone who touches a project affects the overall user experience whether they are a quote unquote UX professional or not,” says Gustafson. “We use an error message as a common example because we’ve had so many clients that completely forget that there are error messages, ever. They just minimize it to the point where it’s ‘oh, just throw something in there.’”

The couple saw Lee give a version of this presentation in Germany earlier this year. Since the 2011 publication of Gustafson’s book Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences With Progressive Enhancement, he has been a frequent consultant and speaker at international web design conferences, where he and McCarthy have become friends with top-tier web professionals. Now they are bringing some of them to Chattanooga, presenting a year’s worth of free bimonthly presentations in a sort of distributed conference format they see as the equivalent of an event with an $800 to $900 price tag.

Like a Nightfall concert, where local web talent opens for each headliner. Kate Kiefer Lee’s companion speaker in December is Nate Hill with the Public Library.

“The web is where it is because of sharing,” says Gustafson. “We think the best stuff comes about by people of varying background working together. The more perspectives you get, the better the end result.”

Code & Creativity is also an opportunity to show off Chattanooga to the global web talent he and McCarthy bring to town.

“That’s how we ended up here,” he says. “We had no intention of moving to Chattanooga. We came to visit friends and ended up falling in love and moved down a month later.”

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November 21, 2013

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