New Adventures in Web Design Conference (#naconf)
Last week Phil and I attended the New Adventures In Web Design Conference (#naconf) at the Albert Hall in Nottingham. A new conference for 2011 it was billed as being “carefully curated; chock-full of integrity, opinion, and fresh content, with an emphasis on shaking things up and challenging convention” by curator and organiser Simon Collison, otherwise known as Colly.
Aside from the spiel, we had our own reasons for going; to keep up to date with the industry, gather new concepts and ideas and reassure ourselves that we are heading in the right direction. As well as to have a bit of a jolly. Come 6am on the morning of the conference though, we began to question our reasoning. My thoughts were: “to be up this early is a New Adventure in itself”.
After parking and walking around the corner, we (I qoute Phil) “found a long queue of geeks” and we knew we were in the right place! There were easily 100 people waiting to get in, it reminded us of the Next sale… especially all the checked shirts!
Once inside, you could see that all Colly’s hard work had really paid off. The production was brilliant and everyone seemed friendly and enthusiastic. The Albert Hall is a stunning conference venue and even the small details such as the names badges and contents of goody bag were great. Colly and the team had put together a New Adventures Newspaper with some exclusive articles; a great read in itself. If you couldn’t make the conference I’d recommend picking one up online! It was nice to see exhibitors there too including the launch of a promising new CMS “for designers” called Sushiworks
Some things were also immediately apparent; the amount of iPhone users in our industry is staggering. As are the amount of creatives going for the American country ‘checked-shirt and jeans’ look!
I was quite pleased too with the lack of WiFi (although found it hard to resist contributing to the insane amount of #naconf tweets on my phone!) and as the day went on I didn’t see one code example on a slide from any of the speakers which I think is great. You can learn most of that stuff online and there is little point going through code in a presentation in my opinion. For me, conferences such as this are more about inspiration and process ideas rather than anything else.
So everything was looking good so far. But what about the speakers? The line-up of speakers was a sort of ‘who’s-who’ of popular industry figures. I had heard they’d been asked to consider talking about new topics to start off their conference agenda for 2011 so I was pretty excited to hear what they’d come out with.
I won’t begin to detail every presentation that went on throughout the day (you can find numerous other reviews online) but I’m happy to say that everyone who spoke delivered many things to take away and think about. As mentioned, the conference for me was all about being inspired and all of the speakers articulated their ideas and opinions very well. The 35-minute per talk format also worked for me (I have a short attention span!) although the Q&A sessions were a bit disjointed and predictable.
I say favourite, besides of course Brendan Dawes. It was left up to him to steal the show during the last talk of the day. The guy truly is an inspiration to anyone in the design industry.
One thing that kept cropping up in a big way was something that I’ve thought about ever since I heard this quote from Jeffery Zeldman a while back:
“Content informs design; design without content is decoration”Jeffrey Zeldman
Mark Boulton, the first speaker of the day talked about a “new canon” – with one of his new ideas being that we should now design content-out and not canvas-in. That is, to consider what we are publishing and design around that rather than fitting content into a space we already have. He argued that the space we have now has no fixed edges.
Greg Wood took the content-our approach even further and gave a talk on art-direction and content. That is, taking inspiration from print media and styling content in a more magazine-style format online. He provided a couple of interesting case studies which proved that users remembered details or facts from styled content a lot better than a plainer version. Greg urged clients to think about art-direction for their content and reflecting this in their budget, rather than just opting for copying word documents into a CMS and using very little styling. His main point was that with so much content on the web, you need to make a real impact to have a chance of being successful.
Greg eluded to the fact we should work with clients from day-one to decide and prioritise what content it is they wish to put online, and what the key aims for the website are. Or even question why there is need for the website in the first place? He also said in the Q&A that the agency he works for wouldn’t start any design work on a project without at least some real content having been provided from the client. Content is king. Again.
Another key theme of the day was how the web has now moved on from being constrained by the ‘page’ or a set size, due to the amount of devices used to browse the web (and we thought getting things to work in IE6 was bad enough)! Some have claimed that the mobile market in 2010 grew faster than the internet itself.
A modern approach called responsive design means that a website can change to suit the device we are browsing on and the capabilities of that browser. This may include things such as layout, sizing of elements, what exactly is displayed or how the website looks visually. A key aspect of this is to have flexible designs and content that re-flows or resizes to best fill the browser space in relation to what the user is trying to achieve.
Mark Boulton put it best in his talk:
“Making a site responsive and being sympathetic to your users gives them more time to focus on their primary goal”Mark Boulton
Whether that goal is finding a phone number or buying a product, it is clear to see how responsive design can make a positive impact on a website.
Language of design
Dan Rubin presented an interesting talk about the language used in the web design industry, informing us that the web has borrowed a lot of terminology from other communications industries such as print.
Examples such as “page” and “page-fold” were discussed, things which have stuck with us since the early days of the web. Contention over the term “web page” again goes back to the idea of there being no physical page online, as that implies fixed boundaries. There is also no fixed “page-fold”; thankfully a term that seems to be dying out in relation to web design!
His argument was that using terms such as these is not appropriate. The web is a scrollable medium and users are so used to it, and the fold could be any number of different sizes on the numerous devices these days.
What do you think? Do you think “web page” will ever be replaced by a more appropriate term? Do we need one? Who will decide?
One thing I took away was that it is important to think about the terms used when describing things in a web environment, especially to clients. He encouraged the audience to be careful with the metaphors we use and consider alternatives to describe things in their true context, leaving the web to stand on its own two feet with appropriate language. This way we won’t confuse anyone or set unrealistic expectations.