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Takeaways from Smashing Web Design Conference 2017

Takeaways from Smashing Web Design Conference 2017
By Christine Lhowe | June 22, 2017
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Last week, fellow Ridge Marketing creative Rose Arenas and I attended the 2017 Smashing Conference in New York. The two-day web design and development conference, which featured 15 speakers from around the world, gave us an opportunity to learn from leading individuals in the field as well as network with our peers.

The speakers covered new and emerging topics in web design that provided us with deeper insights into techniques we’ve started to use while also giving us fresh ideas to push our creative work even further.

Below are my top four takeaways:

"There is no tool to replace human communication."

It feels like there’s a new tool or app coming out every day, each attempting to make communication easier and workflows more streamlined. And most with a trendy name that can also be used as a verb. I can’t deny that many of these tools have improved my day-to-day life and may have prevented me from one or two nervous breakdowns when organizing multiple tasks across a variety of projects and teams; however, the pressure to keep up with them and constantly change processes to figure out which tool is best is daunting.

Then Brad Frost, front-end developer and author of Atomic Design, said the phrase that made me take one huge sigh of relief. “There is no tool to replace human communication.” Each tool has its own purpose and can serve teams effectively when used properly, but no tool will magically make good communication happen. Likewise, no tool will do the creative thinking and bring ideas to life. It’s people and collaboration that will. Good work happens when we work together (with or without tools). Let tools support you and make life a little easier, but don’t rely on them to do any creative thinking, because they won’t.

User research and testing is essential for good design.

Yiying Lu, current Creative Director at 500 Startups, spoke about her brilliant work designing across various cultures. While her entire talk was filled with inspiring nuggets, the portion that stuck with me most was her explanations of how user research drives her work.

Good design dies with assumptions. In assuming your customer or user thinks a certain way (most likely your way), you lose out on creating an impact and relating to them. User research in early stages of the project and user-testing once an interactive prototype is created is critical for successful design. In my own experiences with user testing, the outcomes of the project after feedback was implemented far surpassed my original concepts. Yiyang Lu provided me with a timely reminder to ask questions and listen more throughout all stages of a project. 

Speed is important.

Most people understand that a faster website is better than a slower website, but do many people understand how much better it is? Harry Roberts, performance engineer, went into detail about the relationship between conversion rate and network speed. One impressive example he gave was that when GQ cut their site load time by 80%, they had an 80% increase in traffic.

When designing and developing for fast performance, one of the most important aspects is understanding the user (which correlates very nicely to takeaway #2 listed above). Understanding where your users are located, their Internet access, and connection time will help you better create for them. For example, an iPhone is twice as fast as a Moto G4 and highly-developed and metropolitan areas have much quicker internet connection speed than more inland states. If you’re simply testing on your own device and in your own location, it’s not an accurate representation of how your users see your site. This means test, test, and test again. Test your website on many devices and in different locations—especially those where your users can be found.

Design Systems

Design systems is a phrase that is being thrown around frequently in the design world, and multiple speakers at Smashing Conference emphasized why. A design system is a library of resources for designers and developers that helps build consistency across a brand and its various digital spaces. And frankly, design systems make life easier.  

Consistency is something that we strive to achieve in our web design at Ridge Marketing, as we often work for organizations and brands that have multiple websites and products. Often having more than one designer and developer working on various websites for one brand, figuring out how to keep this consistency becomes tedious. For example, we may decide for a brand that we want all buttons throughout their websites to be the same color and style. A design system would outline exactly how to create buttons and the multiple styles that go into them so that each designer wouldn’t have to figure this out on their own.

Design systems outline the mundane—the repetitive elements that make up a brand—leaving time and money for innovate design to take place. 

A few examples of innovative design systems are: Google’s Material Design, Salesforce’s Lightening Design System and Spotify’s Developer. We’ve recently used pieces of the Material Design system to speed up our design time on two projects – one a B2B website design and the other a financial application interface.

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