My top 3 lessons from JSConfEU 2017

My top 3 lessons from JSConfEU 2017

Our front end team at Usabilla had the amazing opportunity to attend JSConf EU in Berlin this year. It was a fantastic experience for us all and we came home having learned a ton. This is just a summary of my key take-aways from the conference.

Your site can (and should) be accessible

Whenever we think about accessibility on the web we tend to just think of providing access to people with disabilities. Laura Carvajal from FT.com suggests we reframe this idea:

“Beyond not deneying access, it’s ensuring that access is fair for everyone.”

There are a plethora of ways that people end up having trouble using the web, be it temporary or permanent. Our job is to build the web in a way enables access for all our users, and not just those that engage with the web the same way we do.

15% of the global population have some form of disability. After research FT.com found that 26% of their users had some form of disability. Depending on your demographics, you might find that a large segment of your user base are using tools (such as screen readers) that you do not test for or support.

So how do we work towards ensuring fair access for all our users? Here are some suggestions Laura offered:

Install pa11y

pa11ly is a great way to ensure your site is WCAG compliment. Make pa11y a part of your build process and have your build fail when there are issues.

Get an Accessibility Audit

Ensuring WCAG compliance only covers about 35% of accessibility issues. Accessibility audits provided by organisations like Digital Accessibility Centre put your app/site in front of people who face various accessibility issues. Laura showed an enlightening video from people testing FT.com, which highlighted the diverse range of issues people face with modern websites. There’s no way you can anticipate all these issues, so putting your site in front of real people is a great way to gain insight.

Ditch the Mouse

Many internet users only use a keyboard to interact with the web. To really understand what these users experience Laura and her team got rid of their mice and went keyboard only. Check out Laura’s talk slides for tons of tips for going keyboard only.

Relevant Links:

Getting out of our performance bubble

I’m gonna go ahead and say that Ben Schwarzx from Calibre has coined the phrase “Wealthy Western Web” to describe the web that most of us develop in. We work on €2000+ computers on 100+ Mbit/s fiber. Even on mobile we’re often working with high-end devices on 20 Mbit/s LTE connections. The World Wide Web is a very different place. The average device is about 5x slower than our laptops and 60% of the world are on 2g mobile data connections.

There are a number of ways to start testing the performance of our apps against devices that most people use. Calibre’s platform and Google Lighthouse provide people-centric metrics for web app performance. Specifically Time to First Interaction is a much better metric for app performance than something like page load time because it considers the time it takes for the device to parse the application and render it to a point that it’s usable. A 410kb gzipped bundle is nice and small to download but once uncompressed the device has to handle 3-4 megabytes of code.

There were lots of talks about performance optimisation at JSConf. But without metrics to judge against you have no idea how effective your optimisations are and if you’re optimising the right thing. I’m really looking forward to giving Calibre a shot after chatting with Ben.

Relevant Links:

A new bar for conferences

JSConfEU was the best conference I have ever attended. First off, it achieved everything you would want from any conference. Amazing speakers, amazing topics, amazing community, amazing execution. The venue was beautiful, the day to day flow of things was almost flawless, the food was fantastic and they managed to serve 900+ people within 20 minutes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But wait there’s more.

The speakers were 50/50 men/women. Not all white. All food was vegetarian friendly, vegan friendly, and high quality. (I’m neither vegetarian or vegan but loved the food.) They provided childcare, an inclusive photo policy, live transcription, gender neutral restrooms, gender identity badges, scholarships, and drinks in glass bottles over plastic.

JSConfEU as an excellent example of what a conference should look like. Diverse, inclusive, and shamelessly advocating for those things.

Relevant Links:

Final Words (not really)

Building tools and events that are accessible to all people is achievable if you prioritise it. And you should because it’s just the right thing to do, and if you need another reason, you should because it benefits everyone.

Making code performant for the average device improves performance on all devices. Making apps work for all platforms (browsers, screen readers, keyboards) results in a better user experience for all. Continuously striving to provide spaces (physical or digital) accessible to all people make your communities more cohesive and wiser.

The talks and the conference itself were an eye opening example of what events and the web could and should be, and it’s an awesome picture. There are lots of hard problems to solve, but that’s what we as developers signed up for, to solve hard problems. So let’s do it.

The Usabilla frontend team cramed into a photo booth

Final Final Words… Thank you

First, thanks to all the organisers and speakers at JSConf for putting on a terrific and inspiring event.

I also want to thank Usabilla for giving us the opportunity to attend. The company paid for our flights, accommodation, and the conference fees. I’m well aware that without a company that prioritises all the points above I probably would not have been able to attend.

Last, thanks to all my team mates for making the weekend in Berlin a blast. 😬

Further Reading/Viewing


About Piet

pietvanzoen

Web developer at Usabilla. Previously at Cozy and Daylight Studio. I'm addicted to functional-programming, test driven development, my greyhound Django, my wife Keven, and fries with mayo.


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