#FOWD Day Two Review

I was a few minutes late today (apparently I didn’t have time for a tactical Maccy D’s bacon roll) which almost cost me dearly!

A change in schedule meant Ethan Marcotte was up first with:

Responsive Web Design

This was suppose to be the headline act. I think a lot of people who missed this morning (a lot of empty seats/hangovers) are going to regret it! Even for someone like me - who’s been focusing on responsive design, content and UX for a long time - this was a real eye-opener.

Ethan presented the ideas behind responsive design with incredible thinking and experience. He demoed the new Boston Globe website (not live yet) and I tweeted it would be “the benchmark for modern website design”. Thinking about it later, I stand by that remark and can’t wait to play with it live.

The highlights:

  • Responsive design is not just about aesthetic layout, it’s about user interaction and user context.
  • We should think deeper into content and modular elements - a hierarchy of importance. Going beyond that - what needs to change, both visually and with interaction.
  • Mobile & desktop should not be synonyms for “less” and “more”, in fact there is no distinction. The “mobile web” doesn’t exist.
  • There are more than three breakpoints for media queries with all posible devices and resolutions. We need to base websites on a completely fluid grid.
  • Think smallest mobile first. Build up with min-width queries. Use respond.js for non-supporting browsers (IE). Work and enhance from an accessible baseline.

I’ve wrote about some of these points recently (particularly content hierarchy) but this talk examined it all. I’ll be writing an extended responsive design post to bring in some of the ideas into my design process.

Getting Down To Business: How To Be Successful With Web Design

Paul Boag delivered his usual client-focused lifestyle and day-to-day practice talk. If you’ve listened to a lot of his podcasts and audioboos then you’ve heard a lot of these ideas. Still, nice to get them all in one go :)

I have to respect Paul’s attitude towards clients. He can joke about them like the rest of us, but at the end of the day it’s our job to educate them. Invest time with them and not just their website users. Most frustation stems from poor client management.

Check email, Facebook and Twitter three times a day. I agree with this one - except Facebook - you don’t need to check Facebook. Ever.

Reuse, reuse, reuse. Tweet an idea, use it for blog content and bring it into your design practice. Use needs (such as redesigning your personal site) for other uses like teaching yourself new practices.

  • Recognise that you’re in a service industry and must engage with clients.
  • Have a self strategy. Take control by organising your work practices.
  • Be flexible and live the life you want, to do that address more than just your design and development techniques.

I had a quick chat with Paul after the talk and he’s a very nice guy!

Buttons Are a Hack: The New Rules of Designing for Touch

Josh Clark’s talk had me tweeting like crazy. He explained the relationship human interactions have with touch devices.

Touch screens have forced an important change in the way we design interfaces. Natural gestures are more intuitive than abstract methods like the mouse pointer.

We can cut through complexity with unmediated interaction. We shouldn’t be introducing highly technical interfaces purely as an experimental gimmick.

Don’t show off with presentation for design’s sake. This is showcasing the form, not the content. This sort of interface design serves no purpose.

Remove chrome and focus on direct contact with content.

Apps need comfort and familiarity with the brand. Sometimes new things are a bad move.

Animation can have a cognitive impact on how users interact. Analogue metaphors can be distracting, though they can signal how to use the app i.e. what to touch. Familiarity invites touch and emotional satisfaction is important. Never misrepresent a concept with a visual metaphor if i doesn’t allow physical interaction.

Choose one metaphor and embrace it but don’t forget digital advantages like random access to content (not linear).

Some abstract interactions like “share on Twitter” will require a button. There is no natural metaphor or gesture. Though if possible remove the button and work with content directly. Our brains evolved to work directly with objects.

While simplicity is key don’t “dumb down” an app.

Copywriting in Design

John McGarvey gave a perfect pitch on why copy is so important and integral to the design process. He called for the death of Lorem Ipsum since it causes far more problems than it solves (which I’m happy to say I pledged back in 2009).

The strongest point for me was focus on what is relevant to the user. This idea can be applied to all aspects of a website from content to design.

IE9: The Story So Far

Martin Beeby bravely stepped up to explain the current state of Internet Explorer and why it’s still behind the game. It makes a lot of sense not to release a broken implementation of a web standard - no implementation is better. Imagine the decade of problems if IE was released with a misinterpreted standard. It’d be IE6 all over again.

That said, there is still no excuse as to why IE is behind especially when the talk started with Microsoft’s business statement of providing the best experience on their own OS!

Bullet Proof Communication Techniques: A UX Strategist’s Guide

Sarah B Nelson started off with an education on the power of listening, emotional literacy, and embracing our feelings. The effort here was to understand ourselves and not to make assumptions about others.

We were introduced to the idea of “participatory design” and how it differs from design by committee. Designing with users, not for users. Giving people a voice and involvement. Similar sketchboard ideas like Aarron Walter presented yesterday were shown with an explanation of how people can engage more.

Design the process, visualise the outcome and know the attendees. Then forget it and allow things to happen.

Final Thoughts

Well that’s my first FOWD conference over. What are the big themes in this years talks?

  • Focus on content. Responsive web design requires greater understanding of the importance of each “module”.
  • Focus on user experience. Allow users to access content and don’t interrupt them with unnecessary interfaces. Make sure the content is good!
  • Understand the main feature of an app or website. Understand what the user wants and expects.
  • Inspiration comes from within - incubate ideas and don’t give up on them. Share ideas with others and involve them in the process.

Attending FOWD has really helped me flesh out and understand a lot of ideas I’ve had over the past few months. For that reason it’s been an invaluable experience. It’s also allowed me to expand what I know into other areas like touchscreen design and copywriting. Though I won’t be changing career, all of these areas overlap and it’s vital to understand them.

Now after writing nearly 5000 words in my notes and blog I think I deserve a bit of sleep! Let’s hope I remember something when I get back to work tomorrow…

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