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Future of Web Design Conference 2010

10:12 on Tue, 1 Jun 2010 | Design | 0 Comments

As has become tradition at Further, the design team decamped to London last week for the Future of Web Design conference held this year amongst the bankers in the City of London.

This year the format had been extended to tracks over two days but with the usual high standard of speakers from the upper echelons of web design.

The event was for the most part hosted by the ever enthusiastic Ryan Carson – a man for whom the words 'super awesome', 'good hustle' and 'bro' cannot be overused.

Ryan is rightly regarded as something of a legend within the web design community, and his company, Carsonified, produce some incredible work as well putting together events such as this and generally being a hub for discussion and debate through the excellent ThinkVitamin blog.

The atmosphere at The Brewery was great – relaxed and friendly, not to mention the great food which we took particular advantage of in an ultimately futile, yet satisfying, attempt to recoup the value of the conference ticket. Whilst I say 'we', Annette mostly looked on, ever so slightly disgusted.

Both of us were excited to see what we would get out of the conference – and we were not disappointed. So, whilst many different subjects were covered by the various speakers, hopefully a brief precis of the major themes covered will suffice.

The subjects of CSS3, HTML5, usability and user engagement came up on a number of occasions by various speakers. It seems that CSS3 and HTML5 will increasingly being used to enrich website design in a more accessible and efficient way than the use of flash, javascript and images are used now.

The possibilities are exciting, but I would argue that we are a way off the tipping point where their use becomes mainstream. The obvious sticking point is of course the traditional bane of the web designers and developers – Internet Explorer (IE). A couple of speakers were strong advocates of the immediate implementation of CSS3 properties to cater for the users of 'the modern browsers' whilst allowing for graceful degradation of these for users of IE. The theory being that if IE users get a slightly less 'glossy' version of your website then that's fine.
Whilst I have sympathy with this view, from a business point of view I would probably have difficulty arguing to a client that we should be concentrating our efforts for what still constitutes a minority of the browser market. We should wait perhaps to see what IE9 brings.

HTML5 looks similarly exciting, especially in terms of rendering of video within websites (goodbye flash movies?). Again, the technology is, for the most part, ahead of current versions of Internet Explorer (do you sense a theme here?) and is still a draft specification itself.

Some of the most interesting and animated speakers were found covering the subjects of user experience (UX), engagement and usability. One of our favourite presentations on these was by the Web Standardistas from Dublin. A slightly chaotic yet well executed presentation! These guys talked about how design must serve a function but how important it is to also bring in the emotional concept of design. They collaborated a list of elements to create a great UX, including experience/time, creating a solid foundation for Information architecture and user interface design, bringing an element of interaction to the experience, testing for usability and not forgetting the fundamentals of design including typography, colour, grids etc. The user expectations are always rising and we as designers need to be at the forefront to satisfy their ever growing needs.

The best quote from the conference has to go to Aaron Walter from MailChimp who said that 'Describing a website as usable is like describing a meal as edible'. In a presentation entitled 'Learning to Love Humans: Emotional Interface Design', Aaron proposed that as designers we should be looking to engage and entertain users by appealing to universal human needs.

Prize for the most polished (and perhaps enlightening) presentation came from Dan Rubin. Dan spoke on the subject of user testing and how it is possible to iterate numerous versions of, for example a checkout process, during one day of usability testing. His method basically involved presenting what were effectively flat visuals to test subjects, with only the relevant part of the page being functional – using very basic markup. This allows for rapid iteration of the design during the test itself without the need for the site build to be revisited by developers. The test subjects are completely unaware that they are not using a fully functioning site. An incredibly simple yet powerful tool.

There is obviously so much that we could talk about here from the two days of excellent presentations. Whilst we can't cover everything from FOWD 2010, special mention is reserved for the following:

Brett Welch (Adobe): For giving a 'sponsor presentation' that did not mention his product once.

Anna Debenham: For an entertaining and informative presentation on 'Freelance Survival Techniques' from a frighteningly assured 20 year old.

Robin Christopherson: For an all too brief insight into accessibility and design for mobile.

Elliot Jay Stocks: For inspiring universal jealousy over his client list.

As you can tell from the bulk of our post – it was a jam packed 2 days of web design pleasure. The event has definitely given us a lot to think about and lots of inspiration. We look forward to seeing what next year's conference brings…

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