A few weeks ago, four One Northerners, Hannah Green, Leah Marcus, Sarah Levine Meyer and Akhilesh Pant, attended Generate: The Conference for Web Designers in New York. Presented by net magazine, Generate takes place in five locations around the globe and never disappoints. This year, we came away with some fantastic takeaways and inspired concepts that we are delighted to share with you here.
Before we get started, let us just say that this event recap is going to be a little bit different from event recaps you’ve seen from us in the past. When sending multiple people to the same conference, the “divide and conquer” strategy is one we are all familiar with; however, this method often makes it challenging to reflect together and have discussions in about the various sessions. Interacting with colleagues is a valuable dimension of attending a conference with others from your organization. We didn’t want to miss out on engaging with one another. So, instead of tweeting pictures of speakers’ quotations and then liking each other’s tweets, we tried something different at this conference.
At this year’s Generate, we talked about the sessions…during the sessions (stay tuned!). We talked about them afterwards too. Not only did we have a lot more fun and feel much more engaged, we came away with ideas and energy around our business and our work. We were inspired to take things back to our teams and to our clients. And now we are excited to share with you a handful of the high level takeaways, and also a view into the conversations that lead to them – get ready to get to know us a bit better.
Cut to our shared google doc – the forum through which we facilitated our communications. We took notes, commented on others’ notes and conversed with one another, all within this living document throughout the day. The technique worked very well for us and was also a fun way to digest all of the insights during a conference. Here are our high level takeaways from Generate, supported by some of the more raw interactions which led to the takeaways.
Takeaway #1: Unified Design
We came away from Generate with this term ringing in our ears. Keynote speaker Cameron Moll spoke to this, emphasizing the universal desire of all users to have a seamless digital experience. Moll encouraged people to no longer refer to small devices as such, but instead call them “smallish.” Many of us have designed for the latest iPhone, only to find the dimensions surpassed by the next Apple device release a year later. Moll encouraged us to think in terms of scalable devices – designing simply for desktop, tablet and mobile is just not going to cut it anymore.
We like this idea, and we also believe there is some value to the seams. In our perspectives, having a seamless digital experience doesn’t mean that every experience should be exactly the same. That would mean actually ignoring context in some situations. A great example of a business that demonstrates a continuous digital experience very well is Spotify. Their app openly recognizes – and acknowledges – when you shift between devices. Spotify understands that what you are interested in listening to at your desktop might differ from what you are interested in listening to on your phone – because your context may be different: while working versus running, for example. Adjusting based on which device you’re playing from enables Spotify to maintain an experience that aligns to your current interests and needs, which feels both personalized and continuous.
This idea of unified design is a helpful foundation not just for design, but even goes as far as the terminology we use. Using the phrase “click here” is not truly connected to what you do when you are on your mobile device. Referring to these actions as touches or taps is more relevant across devices. Moll pointed out that for decades the mouse even alluded to this as it shifts from an arrow to a pointed finger when you roll over something clickable. Foreshadowing much?
Takeaway #2: Design Is the Rendering of Intent
The concept of design being the rendering of intent was an excellent reminder of a fundamental objective of all good design: not only to address user needs, but also to achieve business goals. When we think of design in this way, it forces us to remember the business objective we set out to meet and the problem we are attempting to solve through our design decisions. It also enables us to look past whether we simply like the design. A design we like is not necessarily a successful design.
Something one of us brought up in our internal discussions around this theme was the need to understand “the intent” completely. A deep understanding of both the user needs and business goals allows us to better solve for the intent.
As we thought about the process of getting to effective designs, we felt strongly about how our interactions with clients have evolved during the design process. Today we collaborate with clients early and often, where historically we might have gone away and come back with a few options. When you recognize the purpose of design as achieving set goals, it requires you to actually understand (and articulate) what you’re aiming to achieve. It also takes the subjectivity out of the process. With that in mind, everyone’s input to the solution is valuable.
Takeaway #3: Humanizing Digital
There were a few different presentations around the idea of humanizing digital. Rather than using animation as decoration, use it to humanize an experience. Take a user through your site by adding animations that encourage direction through a website.
The process of architecting user journeys is meant to guide the designer to a place of empathy and understanding. You want a digital experience to be simple and helpful. We’ve moved beyond the era of design where it was “make this look cool and tech-y!” Instead, let’s solve the customer’s problem and build for what they need.
Takeaway #4: We All Do Very Cool Stuff.
Whether you are a marketer, a designer or a strategist, one of the key takeaways from this conference was just how cool the stuff we do truly is. A conference like this is designed to get you thinking – to start conversations. What we do is impressive – how we learn, how we fail, how we design, how we create, how we solve problems. We strive to never lose sight of just how innovative digital marketing can be, and a conference with such inspiring content as this was a great reminder.