Recently, members of One North's Creative and Strategy Teams attended the Generate conference in New York City. Generate is a conference dedicated to web design and development, and it boasts a speaker list packed with the industry’s most respected and innovative thought leaders, including Brad Frost, Mike Montiero, Dave Ruppert, Val Head, Anton Repponen, Irene Pereyra, Jonathan Stark, Joonong Park, Jonathan Snook and Lara Hogan, to name a few. The presentations spanned a wide range of topics, including designing for performance, animating on the web, building interactive prototypes and understanding mobile user behaviors.
Here are my top 5 takeaways from the day:
Site performance matters, a lot.
Lara Hogan, Etsy's Senior Performance Engineer, gave a phenomenal presentation about designing performant sites. According to Hogan, users expect your site to load in two seconds or less, and 40% of those users will abandon your site after three seconds. It’s worth noting that perceived performance (how quickly users think your site loads) is actually more important than the actual performance. Designers can leverage tools like animations and asynchronous loading to help speed up perceived performance.
Lara’s talk proved that performance is something we all need to care about; this isn’t a tech-only challenge. Decisions that we make in the design phase, such as using multiple web font weights, large imagery and/or high-resolution videos, can significantly affect page load time. This doesn’t mean we can’t use those design features; we just need to understand that there is a cost to using them. Certainly, there may be times when using a beautiful high-resolution image enhances the user experience and helps further your site goals, and this is okay. The overall user experience, when it comes to performance, is really a combination of beauty and speed.
Get to the browser — fast.
I’ve been to several web design conferences this year, and if I had to pick one singular theme - this would be it. Essentially, the quicker you can start to build and view interactive prototypes in the browser, the better. Prototyping is when a design really comes to life; it’s when you can evaluate how the design responds to different devices and viewports; it's when you can start to evaluate performance. Dave Ruppert has a great quote about this: "If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand JIRA tickets.”
Pattern Libraries/Design Languages are huge for RWD.
Almost every talk at Generate mentioned Brad Frost’s Atomic Design Theory in some form or another. Brad’s mantra of establishing design and UX patterns (rather than static page layouts) has been steadily growing in popularity among interactive designers because patterns create predictability and set expectations, and ultimately make a website design more flexible and future-friendly. Brad Frost reminded us in his keynote, “The projects you’re working on today will be interacted with on devices that don’t exist today.” A true statement every day, but especially now that the Apple Watch is finally here!
Every project is different.
Personally, one of the most interesting aspects of these conferences is the peek behind the curtain that the speakers give from their own experiences. I find it fascinating to hear how other designers are adapting their workflows to evolve with the ever-changing demands of the industry. It’s clear that there is no singular tried-and-true method of building a website: everyone does it a little differently, for every unique client, every time. And that’s okay.
Don’t get stuck behind a desk.
This last takeaway is relevant for almost everyone, and it’s an important reminder that we aren’t working in a vacuum. In a fantastic and inspiring talk, Joonyung Park talked about the difference between knowledge (the one-dimensional square) and experience (the 3D cube), and how critical it is to have actual life experience to bring to your work.
Look for the One North crew next at the University of Illinois 2015 Web Conference!