Ten big ideas from BlendConf 2014
1. Some sites aren’t worth saving; build something better instead
Jennifer Pahlka from Code for America talked about different ways the web can be used to make government work better with everyday people. One really interesting idea: old, horrible government websites may not always be salvageable, so sometimes a better option is to start over with something fresh, clean, crowd-sourced, and more useful, like Honolulu Answers or Oakland Answers. Instead of trying to overhaul a bloated, outdated government site, they studied the data, Code for America figured out what were the top things people were looking for when they came to the official city site, then built a site designed to answer those questions clearly and quickly. My take away from this — which can apply to almost any organization — is that sometimes a redesign isn’t the best idea. Starting over with something entirely different might often be the better investment of time and money.
2. No one puts designers in a corner!
Paul Boag called on designers to break away from the idea that they are cogs in service departments and embrace their bigger, more vital role in the increasingly
3. With great design comes great responsibility
Not to be outdone, Mike Monteiro reminded designers (by which is also includes anyone with “UX,” “UI,” or “Developer” in their title) that the work we do matters, and often in a way
He told the crowd to accept their responsibility for their work and its impact. Designers, he argued, have four fundamental responsibilities: to the world (don’t fill it up with meaningless crap), to the craft (represent the profession well; contribute to it with writing, speech, and teaching), to clients (you owe it to them to do good work and tell them when they’re wrong), and to yourself (your work defines who you are).
4. CSS motion is widely supported now (and awesome
); but use it right
As a recovering Flash animator/designer, I’ve generally flinched at the notion of bringing motion and animation back into my projects. But Val Head showed how CSS animations are easy to use and widely supported by most browsers. She provided four key principles for web animations: stay flexible with how
5. Inventive web layouts are easier now; why not use them?
Jen Simmons urged her audience to break out of their predictable design ruts and keep an open mind to different approaches, now that CSS and modern web browser are supporting stuff like CSS transforms, viewport
6. “We want to feel as if there’s a real person in there”
Researcher Pamela Pavilscak studies web users and finds that the happier user feels when on a site, the more likely they are to stick around and do something. But what makes web users happy? Her data show that when people experience a site that makes them feel autonomy (I can do this), control (I feel less anxious), and mastery (I’ve got this down), they feel happier on a site. Put more simply, if a site feels “easy,” a user is likely to feel happy about it. Web designs are built for the client or the company’s sense of what’s important, not what the customer wants or needs. As one user put it, “Most big companies sound like they are talking to themselves about themselves.” We want to feel like a real person is there, not a marketing robot. Pavilscak says we build sites with a natural “voice” that makes a better impression; or as Natalie Downe put it, “design as if we’re friends in real life.”
7. “You can’t always make the interface perfect, but you can make it usable”
Aaron Gustafson showed how we can make web forms and how to make them better for everyone, on big screens and small ones, and for those who can’t see screens at all. My key takeaway was that a few extra bits of detail in the structure of form elements can make a huge accessibility improvement. ARIA labels, of which I admit to being woefully ignorant, are simple and tremendously beneficial for users. Also, was I the last one to know about Web Standards Sherpa? What a tremendous resource!
8. A website should sell a story before a product or service
Content strategist Michelle Salater argued that the key to boosting user engagement or sales is to tell a good narrative. “Story creates the connection between prospects and your company”; it can compel visitors to take action or buy service or product. Salater argues that a good web narrative has three elements: a hook (tap into the wants, needs, desires of your prospect), a solution (show them how you or your product can meet their needs or solve their problem), and character (people or pets that can provide an emotional connection to what you’re offering).
9. Good branding is built with good questions
Christy Harner talked about how she works with clients to create a strong brand. Ultimately, she argues, it’s less about color and splashy logo design, and more about good interviewing. The brand is always tied closely
10. Bermon Painter has the best mustache in North Carolina. He also puts on a hell of a conference.
I mean, you can’t really argue with this, can you?