A Few Takeaways From Last Month’s Smashing Conference in NYC
Last month, I spent a couple of days down to New York City at the annual Smashing Conference, put on by Smashing Magazine. I’m an editor of Smashing Magazine, so was there partially in that capacity, but I was also wearing my Tunnel 7 hat much of the time, learning about the latest thinking in building great websites, so that I could turn around and share it with all of you.
Here are a few takeaways from the conference:
- Embrace the messiness of web design – web designer Mark Boulton stressed that designing websites is rarely a straightforward, linear process so it’s good to let go of any expectations that it will be. A big part of the design process is identifying good ideas (and ones that could work!), trying them out and not being afraid to fail. You’ll need to trust your instincts throughout the process and remember that the web design process can (and should be) fun!
- Pay attention to performance – web designer/developer Scott Jehl stressed website performance in his conference presentation. If you’ve been reading my last few blog posts, this won’t be new news to you, but it’s an important point and bears repeating.
You want to pay attention to performance indicators such as how quickly webpages are loading on your site (remember that slow load times = frustrated users), whether or not users are visiting the pages that you want them to visit and whether you’re reaching your site conversion goals. And if you’d like to see how you’re doing in this area in comparison to your competitors, there are many easy-to-use web tools that can do this for you.
- Make sure your emails are responsive/mobile-friendly – the main takeaway from Mail Chimp’s Fabio Carniero’s conference talk was the importance of having responsive or mobile-friendly marketing emails. In the US, 52% of users send and receive emails using mobile devices and in Europe, the number is higher: 67%. The trend toward more mobile usage isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon, so this is important to take note of.
- Typography is important – web design is a completely different animal than it was say, 10 years ago. In years past, web font choices were limited to little more than Verdana, Arial and Times New Roman, and designers focused mainly on other decorative elements to create the desired look and feel of a site.
Nowadays, typography is one of the most important elements in website design and with the wide range of web fonts available, the fonts you choose play a big role in conveying the overall tone and feel of a website to your users. For example, a website designed for kids might use a playful, tilted font to draw kids in, whereas a site for scientific papers would use an entirely different, more functional type of font.
- Work collaboratively, share information within your organization – Aarron Walter of Mail Chimp talked about the importance of collaboration and knowledge sharing within an organization.
If you are one of several people responsible for your organization’s online communications, sharing ideas and resources regularly with the team will go a long way toward ensuring that you’re all on the same page, you aren’t duplicating each other’s work and that you’re presenting a unified message to your users.
There's no shortage of online tools and programs available to help you share info and knowledge within your organization. Aarron talked about using Evernote for info sharing at Mail Chimp.
- Focus on process - this was presenter Oliver Reichenstein’s advice to conference goers. Here’s his:
- Slow way down: we’re all trying to do too much, too fast and in our frenzy to do things quickly, we don’t always build the highest quality websites. By slowing down and focusing more on quality, you'll make a site that’s truly targeted for your users and isn’t just adding clutter to cyberspace.
- Focus on process – when designing a website, you want to keep your users in mind so that you make things as easy and intuitive as possible for them.
- Embrace negativity – it may seem counterintuitive to embrace negative feedback about your website, but by taking it in and learning from it, you'll be on track to make your site the best it can be.
- Build trust – regardless of your industry, you will want your organization (and your website) to be a trusted resource for your users.
- Take care of the details – focusing on making a site with a cutting edge design is great, as long you've covered the basics. Be sure that all of your links work, the navigation on the site is clear, you've used good grammer.