In June, I attended the 2016 Awwwards Conference in New York. It was in East Midtown, in a lovely theatre in the French Institute Alliance Française, right by Central Park. The conference, which took place over three days, was packed with two dozen speakers lecturing on everything from responsible design to doodling to Prince. Three concepts really made an impression on me.
1. Storytelling + Empathy
These were the buzzwords of the event, and with good reason. Francesco Bonato, from Italian agency AQuest, spoke about storytelling with such passion and honesty, that I was hooked from the get go. His agency uses all sorts of digital methods, including video, to tell stories (and not just with the intention to sell something). Throughout his presentation, he showed engaging short videos that spoke to the heart of the user, or, in this case, the audience. With the combined use of gripping visuals and powerful music, we were all enthralled and learned that storytelling is one of the most powerful tools in a designer’s kit.
Sherine Kazim, Executive Creative Director at HUGE, ended the conference with a detailed look into how emotions play into UI. She explained that though we might have one initial feeling in mind for the user when we create a site, the user’s reactions will vary throughout their experience. They could go through a wide range of emotions, and most likely will. We have to keep in mind that there is a massive scale of differing emotions, and that the user could be feeling any of them at any given time.
So, how do we design/plan for those emotions? Empathy.
Try to understand, empathize and grasp the range of emotions our users could be going through. Compile your teams with diverse people with different experiences themselves, in order to span the numerous user bases you’ll encounter.
2. End Shallow Experiences
Quick turnarounds. Light and superficial designs. Distracting graphics.
All of these describe a shallow web design experience. Let’s end that. Of course, we are restricted by our clients' needs and budgets, and our own everyday hiccups, but agencies should be striving for deeper and more meaningful digital experiences that include heavy production, algorithms, and engrossing content.
In order to do so, the agency needs to be an all-encompassing entity that co-collaborates and that involves each and every aspect throughout the entire project’s lifespan. UX, design, brand, technology; we’re all one (heart emoji). We need to function as "one" to ensure the production of deep, eloquent and- hopefully- meaningful digital experiences.
3. Refuse to be Average
Yes, this is a pretty general takeaway - but I think it’s pretty important in the current climate of digital design. There are so many convenient web design programs, along with high quality templates, that we’re getting lazy and thus losing originality and creative drive. It may seem as though it’s becoming harder to stay fresh and innovative as digital design becomes uninspired, but it’s our job as creatives to fight that. We should be exercising our creative minds every day, and that goes for every department in every agency.
The team from AQuest (that Italian agency I mentioned earlier), has created an internal “creative gym” they call SilentSide. They use this as a form of artistic working out; designing mini, internal sites for the purpose of keeping up with current trends and giving their employees an outlet to experiment that they might not otherwise get. It sounded amazing and the perfect way to prevent your work from becoming average.
Let’s not get lazy and settle. Let’s reject mediocrity and instead create amazing digital experiences.
My favorite quote at the Awwwards Conference was by Jack Schulze when he said, “Some people (they are wrong) say design is about solving problems. Obviously designers do solve problems, but then so do dentists. Design is about cultural invention.”
So, let us as creatives build stories by plugging in to the vast range of user emotions, and fight against the temptation to create shallow, simple experiences. Let’s flex our creative muscles and push ourselves, our projects and our peers to go above and beyond. By refusing to settle, our creative work will continue to evolve, inspire and build meaningful digital experiences.