When Keyla and I heard that the Awwwards Conference was going to be in Amsterdam, we knew we had to go. We previously attended the Awwwards Conference in LA and knew we could expect great speakers and meet new friends. What we didn't expect was to have the best coffee in the world, or see the largest and most diverse collection of bikes. Thanks to Underbelly’s focus on growth, we were able to attend; now we want to share what we learned with you.
The talks that really stood out to me were the ones that touched on ideas and practices that could easily apply to my work, as well as improve myself as a designer. One topic that really caught my attention was perceived speed, this was a topic that both Raisa Cuevas and Peter Smart touched on. Audiences nowadays have a very short attention span (8 seconds in 2013), and if sites take too long to load, users will quit what they are doing and leave the website altogether. Designers can improve perceived speed via thoughtful design. When loading a page, think about the critical parts that should load first, and then lazy load the rest; This is especially important for users who live in regions with slower internet speeds. Be intentional with loading states and include animated loading sequences in prototypes and take the time to give your input on how speed perception is implemented. Can you provide helpful, contextual information while users wait for content to load?
Ida Aalen’s talk on designers reviewing code was another favorite of mine. She talked through the process developers go through to review code and stressed that designers should and could effortlessly implement with their own work by involving their peers in the design process. While there might be a fear that doing so will turn into a “design by committee,” it is a practice that, when done correctly, reduces risk, promotes a culture of collaboration and openness, and improves the overall end product. I have found great success when opening up my designs to feedback from non-designers on my team–specifically the non-designers who will also be working on the project. You’re able to get different perspectives that you might have not gained from designers, and it allows the rest of the team to have more ownership in the product since they have been involved from the very beginning. Ida laid out some guidelines for how to implement design reviews and not fall into “design by committee”, which you can read in her Smashing Magazine post here.
As I listened to speaker after speaker, a common theme kept sticking out to me. Ideas can’t be fully realized without the proper room to grow. Sometimes this means reserving time to explore, at times it means redefining priorities, and sometimes it just means simply jumping into it.
One of the first speakers that got me thinking about this was Peter Smart. He spoke about Fantasy’s focus of thinking beyond the ordinary. As designers, it’s easy to get caught up in the convention. You can feel safe knowing that convention works, but it would be a disservice to our clients to not meet their unique needs and challenges. Begin by setting proper expectations with your clients. Help the client understand that you need time to explore to see how to stretch ideas, find where they break and build them to their full potential. I think David Vogel put it best, “If you want something new, you have to make room outside the norm.”
Personally, it’s hard for me to start something new. I can easily get overwhelmed with the possibilities and trying to decide where to start. The best part about giving yourself time to explore is that you don’t have to have expectations yet. You can just jump into the problem and start making ideas. One of my favorite sentiments — shared by Andy Thelander — “It’s hard to make decisions on an empty page.” Don’t worry about the details yet, just start by exploring. Start with making messes and then come back later to see if they are worth cleaning up and presenting.
During our time in Amsterdam, we were able to meet some of the fantastic speakers like Pablo Stanley, have conversations with designers from all over the world, and walk the streets of a beautiful city. It was inspiring to see what other agencies are up to and how they tackle problems with different perspectives. On top of that exploring, Amsterdam helped us stay curious through the cobblestone streets, the peaceful canals, and the incredible museums.
What conferences are you planning to attend this year? Let us know on Twitter!