Lessons Learned From Web Design Day 2016

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I finally got the opportunity to attend my first web design conference in my short career as a front end designer. I had been to several weather conferences as a meteorologist, so I was interested to see the difference. This was definitely different and I was not disappointed.

Web Design Day has been put on by the awesome Jason and Val head in Pittsburgh for the past 7 years. I am thankful to them for giving new web designers, like myself, the opportunity to dig into the web world in a laid back and comfortable environment. I met some good people and I learned a lot about the web community and about myself on Friday.

My main takeaways from all of the talks:

  • Communication is key to any project
  • Use empathy while communicating/expand your perspective
  • Be passionate about what you are doing
  • Patterns/Design systems have become more important
  • The web is ever changing. Find the most efficient/logical ways to design/develop

Here are my thoughts on the individual talks:

Jen Simmons

Jen Simmons started off the list of speakers with an awesome talk about designing web layouts in CSS. She discussed the evolution of layout and showed examples of how this evolution has improved and will improve. She also described how the web has become a very “block-like” form of media and how we should look at print media to shy away from this uniform look. Jen did a great job going into various tools and upcoming CSS that will help to accomplish this. One of these CSS methods was the CSS Grid Layout method, which won’t be out for a little while but reminds me of flexbox on steroids. Instead of thinking of columns like layout in the present and past, it’ll focus 2 dimensionally. This talk was explained so a web designer without a year of experience could understand. What a fantastic talk.

Sharon Steed

Going from Jen’s talk to Sharon’s talk was fitting. Jen’s talk was more technical going into actual code on how to design the web, but in a way where the audience could understand. Sharon’s talk was about talking to humans, something that is very helpful to know how to do both as a web designer/developer or as a human being. She used her personal experience to show how she realized what ingredients go into good conversation, including the biggest ingredient: empathy. Thinking of the other person in the discussion as important as thinking about how you portray your story. I learned a lot about myself and how I need to communicate better in everyday life and within the web community. After attending weather conferences in the past, this would be a great talk for those since much of that material went way over my head. A very inspirational talk, indeed.

Aaron Irizarry

Aaron spoke about the good, the bad, and the ugly about managing design teams. He tied this into project management as well. A lot of what he discussed came down to communication with teams, which was fitting after Sharon’s talk. This talk made me think about my personal experience with project managers and how communication makes a huge difference. Some of the project managers I have dealt with are very good with this while others are poor. Aaron discussed how being a design manager is a battle between sticking up for your design team’s decisions and being open to ideas from the other teams in the project. It gave someone like me who is less experienced a better understanding of what goes into good project and design team management.

Kate Daly

Kate went into detail about how to design websites using a story. It is easy as a web designer/developer to think about a website as just another project when you should think about it as a story. Story mapping allows you to find out the message you want your site to portray while also asking questions about what is motivating you to be a part of the project. Exercises include using Post-its and asking questions that would give you a better understanding on your audience and how to communicate your site’s material with your audience.

Eric Meyer

Eric went into detail about designing with the thought of the user. The Internet is not just a place that people visit, but it has become a part of their everyday lives. Eric used his own personal experience to show that you need to think of your audience while designing a site, including the minority of users that may use your site. He explained that you need erase the tunnel vision of seeing that one user and expand your spectrum into the users that will stress test your site. This along with compassion for the user will help the message of the site better communicate with the user. Definitely a very touching and a very educational talk.

Caitlin Steinert

Caitlin discussed the coalescence between her love of knitting socks and the rigors of JavaScript. She explained how CSS and HTML came to her fairly easily when she started as a designer/developer, but JavaScript posed more difficulty. It wasn’t until she wanted created a tool to measure socks for knitting when she finally found motivation to learn JavaScript. From then on, she learned more JavaScript to continue to improve her tool. This definitely hit home with me since JavaScript is one of the more difficult of the languages to work with. It also struck a nerve since I’ve talked about how getting down and dirty with coding helps you to learn, and motivation to do that also helps.

Smitha Prasadh

Smithia discussed the relationship between classical music and user experience/teamwork. She explained how her love of music has helped her with web design and how there are similarities with teamwork in orchestras and web projects. She also related classical music to web design with the fact that finding patterns in classical music is helpful like finding patterns while designing your own websites. This not only was a brilliant comparison but really spoke to me since I have been helping a little bit with Pattern Lab and saw the similarities. Like Caitlin’s talk, Smithia’s motivation made it easier for her to understand web design.

Bridget Reed

Bridget discussed her experience within the design world from when she got fired from her first design job to her current recent hiring. It was an inspirational talk about the obstacles she had to go through during her career in order to find success within the design world. Her drive and willingness to strive for success allowed her “unlucky self” to finally find a contracting job at the end. Despite her trials and tribulations, she made the talk positive, funny, and inspirational for those of us starting out in this field.

Robert Jolly

Robert explained the importance of accessibility within the web. He discussed his own personal experience of how a temporary injury increased his need of accessibility with websites. Even if we are the healthiest person right now, we won’t know if injury, disease, or a disability will impact our lives in the blink of an eye. The best idea is to incorporate accessibility in all websites to help those who need assistance at all times or just for a temporary amount of time. It is easy to overlook that sort of thing while making a website, but hearing this will definitely make me pay closer attention to accessibility with the web.

Karen McGrane

Karen discussed the difference between responsive design and adaptive design and the when to use each. Responsive design is just a manipulation of the current content on the page depending on viewport size while adaptive design uses the server to figure out the best information to deliver to the viewport size. She also described the ways that adaptive content can be served a certain design type, but that it usually isn’t necessary. It was a good talk showing that while adaptive design is nice, it rarely needs to be used. While our world dives deeper into different devices, it is good to hear how the web continues to become more flexible.

Jina Bolton

 Jina went into depth about her experience with designing a design system. As the web continues to get faster, reusability of patterns continues to grow in importance. Jina not only went into the various patterns within the Salesforce Lightning Design System but elaborated with documentation behind why they used the patterns that they did. While clients may care about the patterns that are used within the site, they are more concerned about why these patterns are used and how they may improve their business. It was great to see a breathing design system and how it functions compared to Pattern Lab which I am more familiar with.