What we learnt from the Respond conference
The Web is a constantly changing and evolving beast - and as professionals who create for the web every day, the challenges we face are forever changing with this new landscape. In fact, the web is changing faster now than it has ever before - so the need for staying on top of best practice is a must! The Respond conference is Australia's premiere conference for all things related to the web and provides a forum for discussing these unique challenges.
Solutions Outsourced were sponsors of this great 2-day event and we sent some of our staff along who found it immensely helpful and inspiring. Here are some of our reflections from this great event:
I found Ethan Marcotte's (he's arguably the father of Responsive web design!) talk particularly insightful. He spoke of using frameworks and systems to help us build websites. Ethan used the following analogy to explain this- Utah, USA grows a colony of Panda trees that are sustained through one massive underground root system. This single root system nourishes thousands of trees and has enabled its growth and survival for over 80,000 years! If we build website through the utilisation of flexible grids, flexible images and flexible media queries, our websites will be agile and robust enough to stand the test of time in an ever-changing and responsive digital world.
Ethan also spoke about managing the increasing complexity of web design. A technique he mentioned, that stuck with me, is learning to recognise an 'enhancement' (nice to haves) from 'core content' (can’t do withouts) when working on a project. This helps a designer navigate a projects priorities and assists them with educating the client.
Finally, Ethan left me feeling optimistic about the future. No one knows what the future holds. What we design needs to be agile and adapt to a changing environment- so why try to predict what will happen and design something that has a high risk of failing? Ethan’s final screen was a quote from Hugh Prather;
"My anxiety doesn't come from thinking about the future but from trying to control it."
For me it was mostly a helpful reminder that as designers and developers our focus should be on the experience of the visitor, no matter the capabilities of their browser. The priority needs to be that users can easily read the content they are expecting quickly without having the experience ruined by slow loading web-fonts or bleeding edge feature that their browser doesn’t support. Not to say we shouldn’t build ‘cool features’ but that they must be a progressive enhancement with an acceptable fall-back. Also we don’t need to wait years to build in new features. Features that a browser doesn't support should be easily skipped.
In terms of design, print design layouts such as magazines can offer a lot of inspiration. Not everything needs to be in rectangular or square boxes. White space, or negative space can be used to communicate - to draw the eye to a specific area of focus instead. Also, something else I hadn't considered is that a website's performance can be measured in dollar terms - we can significantly improve a website's conversion rates with page load-time increases by only 1 sec, for example.
The highlight of the respond conference for me was the talk by Jen Simmons 'The Web ahead' - her clear passion for the web and revolutionising real art direction on the web was quite inspiring. Her insights into new ways of displaying images and image galleries using Flexbox and CSS grids and other ideas for bringing print publishing techniques onto the web, such as; Shape Outside, Clip Path, Initial Letter, Object Fit.
Karen's McGrane's talk was also very engaging and interesting. Her talk on adaptive content, context and controversy was particularly interesting when it came to talking about how rarely needed it is to adapt your content to a particular device in an attempt to target a particular market. She emphasised that responsive was the most important focus as we cannot use device type to predict what users will want to view their content on. A great slide she showed read: "You don't get to decide which device someone uses to go online, they do."
I've been going to the Web Directions conferences for a decade, and this was my second Respond. What keeps me coming back is the opportunity to spend time immersing myself in the future and potential of the web. This year I was impacted by how quickly things in the web design world have changed in the past 5 years. For the first half of the 2000's we had 1 dominant browser in Internet Explorer 6 (and yes, it sucked and they were LONG years in the wilderness waiting for change) and while we were discovering new technologies in this time the tools were staying fundamentally the same. The discipline of web development wasn't changing a whole lot. However, in the last 5 years things are moving so much more rapidly. Web browsers are being updated every few weeks, and we have an increasingly long list of tools and web building blocks that are changing constantly. HTTP/2, HTML5, CSS3, increasingly sophisticated encryption methodologies - to name but a few things - have fundamentally changed best practice over the past few years, not to mention the rise of the smartphone and it's twin "responsive design" that requires website to work on every device a user might have (including the 10 new ones coming out every month). Even something as basic as how we retrieve files from a server is changing with the introduction of HTTP/2.
Keeping on top of all of this is a huge challenge - so it's great to be able to spend a few days hearing from other industry leaders about what best practice looks like, and how to bring that to our client websites when we return to the day-to-day in the office.
I found that it was the practical tips that stood out to me the most. The biggest thing I took away from the seminars was what Sara Soueidan had to say about how valuable the use of SVG images can be within web design. SVGs (Scalable Vector Graphics) are by nature completely responsive and can be scaled without losing quality or clarity. A clever use of SVGs within design can more or less bypass the need for programs like Photoshop (what??). You can clip movies or images to SVG icons, add various effects to them and even animate them using CSS. Pretty cool stuff.
So there you have it, some reflections on 2 very informative and inspiring days. We're already looking forward to Respond 2017!