Esa Juhana ~ Designing Digital Experiences

SmashingConf Oxford 2016

Oxford Town Hall

#SmashingConf?

I had the priviledge to participate in SmashingConf conference in Oxford, UK, on 15th and 16th of March, 2016. I also participated in Vitaly Friedman’s workshop on the 17th of March.

SmashingConf is a conference organized by the Smashing Magazine - a well-established website and eBook publisher for professional web developers & designers.

Day 1/2 - 15th of March

Me and my colleague arrived at the conference site, the Oxford Town Hall right away in the morning at 9:20 AM - still feeling a bit worn-out from the yesterday’s travel day all the way from Finland.

At the crime scene we got our personalized batches and a SmashingBag, which was filled with conference-related gear.

As this was my first conference I wasn’t sure to expect. When the speakers started rolling in one by one, I soon realized how fortunate we are to participate the event.

Aarron Walter broke the ice by discussing about topics such as communication, context and the importance of soft skills in building great teams (of soft ware).

Alla Kholmatova continued on describing a modular approach towards design. Atoms, molecules, organisms, templates and pages are the identifiable parts of a design system that helps teams to collaboratively and concurrently develop uniform designs for end-users.

Sara Soueidan gave us technical insights on using SVG interactively in our web designs; viewport, viewBox and preserveAspectRatio among others.

Patrick Hamann introduced us performance improvements of HTTP/2 and what kind of HTTP/1.1 related hacks can be forgotten in future. It all starts with TLS. So Let’s Encrypt.

Chris Shiftlett taught us what kind of limitations human perception and memory has and how this should be taken into account when designing elements such as error alerts on login screens.

Rachel Nabors Vitaly Friedman took Rachel’s slot and showed extensive amounts of dirty front-end tricks we might have to use at some point.

My favourite speaker on the first day was definitely Vasilis van Gemert who spoke about developing responsive web without media queries. He wanted us to embrace the artistic side of the web; try new techniques and don’t stick to the traditional designs that our customers expect.

Heydon Pickering had an almost-political view towards web, and no wonder as it seems like the freedom of web is being threatened more every day. Main takes from his presentation were keeping the web accessible and becoming better in communication.

Something to break text

Day 2/2 - 16th of March

Mark Boulton (Mystery Speaker) spoke us about design systems and taught us that outcomes outweight deliverables.

Cristopher Wright continued on Vasilis’ trail of being creative with layout. How to use flexbox, CSS columns and CSS grid for an algorithmic layout instead of breakpoint-based media queries.

Hannah Donovan displayed us dragon pictures and taught us how important it is to understand the context when designing anything.

Umar Hansa gave us an overview of Chrome Canary browser’s advanced features when it comes to debugging.

Jon Setzen’s presentation had a great influence on me. Understanding user journeys from the beginning to the end (not just UI) helps us to pinpoint problem areas and keep consistency in our products. We should think like a service designer. A single problem-point in a user journey can cause customer to abandon the company forever. “Unhappy customers are expensive”.

Jina Bolton continued on the path of scaling design systems for complex organizations. If a style guide isn’t part of our build process, it becomes a zombie style guide. A working design system helps to keep the fidelity of the design more accurate for end users.

Wes Bos encouraged us to get familiar with modern front-end tooling; the traditional vanilla CSS, vanilla JS and vanilla HTML just isn’t enough. Modern tooling provides us facades such as ES6 which can be transpiled into a cross-browser ES5.

Tobias Frere-Jones took us back to roots of typography and claimed that the classic way of designing font sizes one-by-one should be done for modern digital screens as well: the smaller the font the less it should have tiny details.

The actual conference ended here, but I participated in Vitaly Friedman’s workshop as well.

The End

Vitaly’s Workshop - 17th of March

Vitaly Friedman’s workshop was more of a hands-on session. We were exposed a design-problem and he gave us only 1 minute to come up with a better approach than some common design pattern — Something out of the box!

Example problems from workshop

Summary

Participating in SmashingConf Oxford 2016 for me was an overwhelming experience. One could say that the conference experience is very enjoyable. I can’t come up with anything negative to say. The site and the town were amazing, the attendees were like-minded and often faced with similar challenges than me and the speakers were world class professionals in their subjects.

The only thing that I regret is not having more time to explore the beautiful city of Oxford and it’s surroundings. I must go back one day!

Thanks for reading!

For (most) video recordings, visit: Smashing Magazine on Vimeo

For (most) full slides, visit: SmashingConf Oxford.