Smashing Conference NYC…Just What I Needed

July 10th, 2014

It happens to the best of us.

Sometimes we just fall into ruts, get bored with doing the same thing over and over or even just get overwhelmed with the pace at which things are happening. I know I’ve been guilty of this lately, not of being lazy or not caring, but of not having that extra little of bit of inspiration or motivation that is harder to find as you get older and start to worry about other things.

The Smashing Conference started today and could not have come at a better time. The conference is all things web design and front-end development with only one track and focus on real-life projects and insights.

Aaron Walter

The conference began with Aarron the head of UX at MailChimp discussing his real-life experiment with using Evernote as a customer feedback repository that was eventually shared with his team and then the whole company. Not only did this help MailChimp improve their product, but it also brought together several different areas of the company that didn’t have much interaction, creating a more cohesive work environment.

– Turn Information Into Knowledge
– Culture of Inquiry

Meagan Fisher – The Business of Design

Megan is freelance designer who loves owls, creates beautiful slides and cursed the most of any of the presenters on the first day. She spoke about some of the pitfalls she’s experienced in her freelance journey. One of my favorite takeaways from her presentation was her process of building our website examples for products that you want to exist. Something about that was beautiful and awesome that I want to start my seaplane/houseboat website first thing tomorrow!

Scott Jehl – The Elusive, Inclusive Web App

Scott is a developer for the might Filament Group which creates so many amazing open source tools for the web community to use such as TableSaw and the Responsive Carousel. He started out by asking what is an App and stated that the most important aspect of an app is that it provides access.

Jonathan Hoefler – Web fonts

Jonathan is the head of Hoefler & Co. one of the world’s leading type foundrys spoke about web type and some of the thoughts that went into his company bringing their fonts to the web. When web design first started it was based on the rules of print graphic design and those principles and practices which were applied to the web. It’s often the cases with new mediums that we try to take the old ways of doing things and apply those to the new. Hoefler didn’t want to do that with their fonts. A typeface must solve a problem, encourage reading, conserve resources, save time and is meant to must convey information. Using fonts on the web that were designed for print won’t do that. They lose clarity and usefulness when being used in the improper medium.

– Web fonts were first available in IE4.

Divya Manian – Responsive Design – Who’s problem is it anyway

Divya is a Product Manager with Adobe and discussed some of the hang ups that can be encountered when creating a responsive design as well as some of the tools created by Adobe to make the process a little easier. Responsive design is a team effort with the UX designer, web developer, designer, client, creative director and required to work together to create a solution. As of now there’s no easy way to create responsive wireframes or choosing breakpoints while building those wireframes. It is not best practice to design for specific devices, but instead create breakpoints based on the design. Adobe Reflow is tool in Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite that allows for the creation of high fidelity prototypes using media queries and CSS for layout that attempts to make the whole responsive process easier.

– Linked Smart Objects – components updated outside a file are also updated in files that call those files

Andy Hume – Building for Performance & Resilience

Andy is a front-end developer currently working for the Guardian and his talk focused on performance, its value and how to improve it. Performance needs to tell a story and like any story, it needs a start. The performance story starts with measuring your site’s load speed and weight, then seeing how that compares to rivals. webpagetest.org is a site that allows you to do just providing information such as start render time, full page load time, number of HTTP requests as well as providing recommendations for improving scores. He also spoke of the concept of the Critical Render Path, which takes essential HTML, CSS and JS and loads that onto the page first, pushing all other to load only after the intial critical content has finished rendering. Another concept that will increase page load speeds is the new HTTP 2.0 protocol (based on SPDY protocol) that will allow multiplexing and cache pushing which will pre-emt sending of assets to browser.

Mark Boulton – My Handbook

Mark is a man that needs no introduction. His presentation was a collection of example and lessons from his career. I think the best way for me to present his points is just to list out some of his points:

  • Don’t screw around with things that work fine
  • What makes the web the web? We can just make something and hit publish
  • Building things is messy
  • Always be talking
  • Watch Real People – if you don’t see people using what you built, you don’t really know what they’re doing
  • Know your limits
  • Don’t Hide From Content
  • Instinct Not Data
  • Make something mundane delightful
  • Look After the Basics
  • People are weird

At the end of the first day I was excited, inspired and my brain was full. These were some of the things that came up several times that I will have to further investigate:

  • Flexbox
  • Backbone.js
  • Mustache

Day 2

Jessica Hische – Sketch to Screen

Jessica was the mystery guest for the second day. She is a letterer and web designer whose work has been used in countless websites and even in Wed Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.” She spoke of her process and the tools she uses to create. I was so inspired by her tools that I went out and purchase my own Leuchtturm 1917 Master Notebook (which is unfortunately still blank because of how long it’s taken me to write this blog post). We’re always concerned where the line between being inspired and copying, so Jessica made the recommendation that if you find something that truly inspires you, sit on it a few days and let your own weirdness inject itself into the idea before creating something. Whatever you’re working always strive for substance and style in everything you do. Talking about logo redesigns, she delivered my favorite line of the conference – “You don’t want your logo to look like it had $100,000 worth of plastic surgery, instead like it had spa weekend.” She ended with some practical tips that we all can use:

  1. Always assume you’re dehydrated
  2. Take Vitamin D
  3. Quit cracking your neck
  4. Invest in a good toothbrush
  5. Don’t eat mediocre bread or dessert

This is an example of Jessica’s beautiful lettering
Jessica's beatiful lettering

Oliver Reichenstein

Oliver is a designer and head of IA in Zurich and Tokyo. His talk started out with a story about his greedy uncle and ended up having the moral that numbers are making us crazy.

  • Frankfurt is the opposite of California
  • Ask the quality question

Principals to Focus On:

  1. Slow down
  2. Focus on process not image – improve the way things work, attention to detail
  3. Negativity can be a good thing. Don’t react immediately. Embrace it.
  4. Building Trust – new is like free sex. Not-new is boring. We like repitition and ritual. Alter and copy. Privacy and intimacy have value.
  5. Care for detail. The little things and it builds a connection between creator and recipient. Add detail to make things better.

Brian Suda – Connecting the Digital to Analog

Brian is a designer and developer living in Reykjavik, Iceland. His talk was about how we are so fascinated with new and digital that we often forget the power of print and analog. He discussed some very interesting products like Little Printer and Paper Later, a company will custom print your internet news into a newspaper based on all the articles you’ve saved.

Eva-Lotta Lamm – Tips, Tricks & Hands -On Practice

First off, here’s an example of Eva’s excellent visual notes:

Visual Feedback loop:

  • Think
  • Visualize
  • Reflect & Evaluate
  • Making makes us think
  • Shared vision and understanding
  • Sketching is not about being a good artist, but about being a good thinker. – Jason Santa Maria
  • Fidelity
  • The fidelity of the sketch should reflect the depth of our thinking. – Bill buxton
  • Eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
  • Choose the level of detail based on what you want to explain

Tim Brown – Universal Typography

  • Set and fit chunks
  • Don’t compose without a scale

Jesse James Garret – 15 Lessons From 15 Years of UX

  1. Go Broad – insight can be found anywhere
  2. Go Deep – teams only work on one project at a time. learn about the others’ environment. Research the founders and they cast long shadows
  3. Go for a walk – shift your sensory inputs – work somewhere else. New patterns of thinking are created
  4. Go farther than you think you should – your own ideas should scare you. Zone of uncertainty
  5. Put away your notes – let the problem flow through you and you’ll find the solutions
  6. Learn to spot your assumptions
  7. Stay Curious – we are so goal oriented that we often forget that sometimes knowledge and impact are not immediately evident. Opportunities to advance and evolve
  8. Be as curious about your clients as you are about your users – business people are idiots and don’t know anything about users
  9. Hang with different crowds
  10. Cultivate allies
  11. Pick you battles
  12. Good work doesn’t speak for itself – you need to share with people why something is awesome
  13. Changing a design is easy. Changing minds is hard
  14. Pay attention to your failures
  15. Everything is Always changing – ride that change wave

As you can see, by the second day, my brain stopping working in narratives and just starting gravitating towards bulletpoints. I guess that’s how my conference experiences always seem to go, I get super excited that first day, then the second day I start to get a bit overwhelmed and try to just grasp at concepts. Either way, it was a great experience and I hope I have the opportunity to go again next year. Great job folks at Smashing!

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