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Web Directions 2015 Recap

19 November 2015

Another year, another Web Directions down. Seven of the Humaans attended this year, along with a wider Perth crowd who successfully Perthed the pants off Sydney and Web Directions in general.

wd15-humaans

It was a great two days with John Allsopp and Rosemary Allsopp (and team) organising a top quality, diverse and friendly conference which included speakers of a very high calibre, a family friendly opening night of vintage theme park fun, excellent catering, much needed good coffee and an after party that allowed us all to mix with the wider WD15 crowd and interact with the speakers.

Compared to last year, we noticed a significant shift towards more product focused design and engineering but ultimately found there was a nice variation between talks and concepts that could all be applied to our day-to-day. Some were high level and technical, while others were more touchy-feely and inspiring. A good but relatable variation by all means if the constant movement between design and engineering was anything to go by. The consistent themes to run through the two days were:

  • To get back to a simpler, more considered web.
  • To break down the silos that divide different roles and foster more collaboration.
  • To always focus on the people who are using our products and interfaces.

Overall it was, as expected, a great experience. We came back to Perth very exhausted but all very motivated to put everything we had learnt into practice. Below, we’ve each outlined a speaker from the event, covering their basic takeaway and what we personally took away. We wish we could have covered them all!

Hacking the Creative Brain – Denise Jacobs@denisejacobs
By Jess Stanley, Project Manager

Denise Jacobs

My first Web Directions and coming from a Project Manager perspective, I was unsure which speakers I would resonate most with. Denise Jacobs shifted my thinking more than any other, she spoke about how to hack the way we use our brains on a daily basis in order to access more of its inherent processing and creative power.

Denise taught us techniques like: working uninterrupted (no emails, social media and phone) for 25 minutes and then using 5 minutes to do whatever the hell I want; having a distracted chair, where if I’m procrastinating or feeling distracted I sit in the chair, away from my desk to embrace the distraction, only ever using my desk when I’m feeling focused, powerful and creative; and the superhero pose… I’m yet to implement this in the office but if you’re feeling low in energy or struggling to access your creativity… stand up… shake it off like Taylor Swift… then give your best superhero pose for 15 seconds — I felt instantly empowered and energised when doing it with Denise during the talk. She was truly inspiring and gave tangible techniques to use in the office to access my creative/focused brain more often.

Everything you need to know about Denise Jacobs is here:denisejacobs.com

Enough lipstick on pigs – Tom Loosemore@tomskitonski
By Jesse Yuen, Front End Developer
Tom Loosemore

I’ve been watching the Gov.uk digital services transformation (as have you… admit it!) with wonder and awe since it kicked off so I was pretty excited to see Tom Loosemore close the conference. Tom is a founding member and now the deputy director of the UK Government’s Digital Service team and along with having a lovely english accent told the inspiring story of digitally overhauling many of the major UK government services.

His team designed a digital government template that the world is slowly cloning and iterating on and it was a exciting to get a sneak peek at some of the prototypes they are currently working on as they evolve their services.

He posed hypothetically: “Imagine we have it in our power to start the world over. [Assuming we keep democracy] How would we do it? How would we run governments? How could we empower the citizen to be in control of their own metadata?”

The UK Digital Service Team has a brilliant blog (https://gds.blog.gov.uk/) where you can learn more about their design processes. A bit closer to home the Design Transformation Office has recently launched which is a big step forward for the Australian government. (https://www.dto.gov.au/).

CSS in the Age of Components – Mark Dalgleish@markdalgleish& Glen Maddern@glenmaddern
By Paul Spencer, Design and Front End Developer

‘CSS in the age of Components’ blew my mind. This was a two part talk led by Mark Dalgleish and Glen Maddern which challenged my perspective on CSS in order to overcome problems of which traditional CSS is unable to successfully solve.

One of the specific problems raised with traditional CSS is the flawed ideology that a page should not have any CSS served unless the page makes use of it. To overcome this problem, Mark and Glen discussed a system in which JavaScript and CSS work side by side to inject what is necessary, constructing everything server side before being delivered to the user. While I grasped most of the information just fine, I had the sense that all I had been exposed to was the tip of the iceberg and when they began delving deeper I felt my mind start to bend just a little bit, in the best way possible.

Most interesting was the concept that this proposed methodology wasn’t perfect and could very well not be the future, but it is a solution to a problem, which gets the ball rolling. If we were to wait for browsers to solve the problem without this form of innovation, the breakthroughs simply wouldn’t happen; a poignant thought which I commend and had me thinking for days after the talk had finished.

Mind Blown

Build for Speed – Daniel Burka@dburka
By Lee Karolczak, Development Lead

Dan Burka, a design partner at Google Ventures, sought to explain how the Agile development process can be improved through the use of rapid prototyping and more proactive testing.

Agile development is a popular development methodology within our industry. The typical lifecycle of an Agile sprint involves Discovery, Design, Development, Launch, Testing and then repeat.

Using an entertaining real-world example involving a ‘Room Service Robot’ Dan’s presentation “Build for Speed” explained the benefits of adding a five day ‘prototyping’ phase into their project lifecycle. The short five day turnaround sought to ideate, prototype, test and gather useful results prior to any further development. Dan’s team was able to avoid unnecessary workload on the subsequent development phases, utilise more effective tests and in the longer term garner more accurate project results.

This same process could just as easily be implemented in the web industry: especially for web applications providing services to customers. The quick prototyping cycle can ensure a minimum viable product is delivered efficiently and is providing immediate results.

Dan Burka – Build for speed

Algorithms for Animation – Courtney Hemphill@chemphill
By Chris Botman, Web and Mobile Developer

I used to think of animation in UI as attractive but maybe not adding value (never mind the accessibility issues), but Courtney Hemphill’s talk ‘Algorithms for Animation’ was a light-bulb moment for me as she highlighted how physics can make a UI intuitive–think how easily a child picks up an iPad. I was already familiar with some of the technical content Courtney covered from reading Google’s Material design guidelines and even Disney’s principles of animation, but I hadn’t made the connection between the maths and the user experience before: I guess I knew ‘how’, but not ‘why’.

Algorithms for Animation

Highlights: the most math-heavy talk at Web Directions was about emotion and understanding; I learned I like the word ‘jank‘; Courtney answered my (very broad) question about accessibility and animation, pointing us toward Rachel Nabors; and finally, to keep an eye out for the upcoming Web Animations API.

View ‘Automation for Developer Happiness’ Web Directions Slides

Embracing the Network – Patrick Hamann@patrickhamann
By Dan Barrett, Web Developer

My highlight presentation was “Embracing the network” by The Financial Times’ Patrick Hamann. Learning about the newer APIs like ServiceWorkers, which can be used to handle different network conditions, along with Resource Timing APIs to help you figure out the reliability of your site. I’m looking forward to playing with offline sites, background sync, and just embracing the new, more-efficient future.

View ‘Embracing the Network’ Web Directions Slides

The Beauty of Ordinary Design – Brynn Evans @brynn
By Kylie Timpani, Designer

Brynn Evans, UX Designer at Google on Google’s Project Fi, was a definite stand out for me. Brynn talked about the beauty of ‘ordinary design’ and what we can learn from it. According to Brynn, ‘ordinary design’ is the process of using design to solve long standing ‘ordinary’ issues that are ignored in favour of bigger issues. These ordinary issues are usually socially, culturally and politically complex; span a long time; and are generally rooted in providing a service. Brynn provided examples of design interacting with such issues that ranged from designing an easy-to-use website that simplified the immigration process for prospective migrants, to improving the ‘condom experience’ with the aim to motivate more people use them, to developing Hogeweyk, a Truman Show-like facility for those living with Dementia. Ultimately, Brynn pointed out that ‘ordinary design’ can teach us a few things that we should always take into consideration, no matter the issue:

  • Revisit old problems – How can you make something better instead of just accepting it in its original state?
  • Expect users to change and adjust accordingly in an informed way.
  • Integrate online and offline experiences by considering the problem’s realistic context.
  • Own the entire experience without letting bureaucratic stuff get in the way.
  • Your best ideas come from passion, so find it.

I really enjoyed Brynn’s talk because it reminded me that design is not just for the big issues which is something I have been a bit hung up on lately. Design is just as useful to the beautifully ordinary problems that people face everyday and there’s a real beauty in addressing these problems in that it is satisfying, delightful and useful to the ‘real-world’ and in practice.

View ‘The Beauty of Everyday Design’ Web Directions Slides

So, the all new Directions 2016 anyone? 🙂

Humaans and Co at WD15
Humaans and Perth friends at Web Directions 2015 at the iconic Luna Park!

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