An Event Apart Chicago Recap: #aeaCHI Says Orbit is Doing It Right
Anyone who has been to An Event Apart [insert fabulous location here] knows it’s one of the best web design conferences out there, and if you get to go, you are lucky. The speakers are fantastic, the info is valuable and engaging, and you don’t have to worry about anyone wasting your time with lengthy sales pitches or recruiting. People attend this event to share knowledge and enrich the web design and development community.
I remember years ago, when I would leave an event just like this and think, “How the heck am I going to convince my company to do the right things and move in the right direction?” but the past few years, I’ve been so lucky to work for a company like Orbit. We can definitely find areas to improve (we already have a short list), but it’s nice to come back to my desk feeling good about the company I work for – that we’re doing it right.
10 Commandments of Web Design by Jeffery Zeldman‘s (or “Mr. Z” as I lovingly like to call him)
#1 BE ENTERTAINING – By all means, add a little entertainment value into your websites (even in unexpected places). Everything doesn’t have to be so serious all the time. Spinning an error page into something positive will put a little grin on your customers’ faces, and for that they will thank you.
#2 TEST EVERYTHING – There are free testing options out there for you – use them! You don’t have to break the bank, but for God’s sake, make sure you are taking all your users into consideration (and from what we know now, mobile users are much more important than you ever thought before). #gomobileordie #justsaying
#3 ITERATE – Don’t design/dev/launch, then wait three years to make a full, site-wide update. Iterate all the time, enhance what you have in small ways more often, and you will see the benefit of launching in the beta phase. Everything we do is beta, the web is never a finished product. This is one thing we can learn from; by doing smaller maintenance updates, we can essentially have what we need now, instead of waiting for a full redesign.
#4 & #5 SHIP THE PRODUCT & LET PEOPLE TRY IT – Get your product out there on the market. You can keep it to yourselves for years, you can tweak it until you find perfection, but guess what? Someone else is going to beat you to the punch. Get people’s hands on it, and then work to make it better. Also, if no one talks about it, it will die. Be social, get it out there, do outreach, build a community. That’s why Instagram is now worth a billion dollars; it’s about the thriving community who got behind it.
#6 LOVE THE USER & KEEP THE CONTENT SIMPLE – C’mon guys, this is a no-brainer: The. User. Comes. First. Don’t dumb down your content, don’t make mobile users deal with pointless wastes of bandwidth, keep it simple, keep it interesting.
#8-10 MAKE MAGIC, FIND YOUR NICHE, PRIORITIZE & DON’T BE SOMETHING YOU’RE NOT – You’re creative – find that one thing that your app can do magically awesomely well, and do it. Haters are gonna hate, so don’t worry about trying to make everyone happy.
Lea Verou’s Kick@$$ CSS Secrets & No, I’m not going to share them all here.
Don’t worry, you can find them if you Google them. Lea Verou, a Developer Advocate at W3C, is an exceptionally talented and smart human. She shared her insights (and live code examples!) on linear gradients, calc-notations, CSS3 transitions, multi-image style crops done without images, subtle animations, filter effects, Gaussian blurs in browser, transition timing, and more. It’s all out there, and it’s waiting for you to start using it – you just need to think outside the box a little.
At Orbit, we are testing our knowledge base, sharing with the open source community, and finding out what better ways there are to accomplish the image-based solutions of the past.
Jason Santa Maria‘s Spaghetti & Meatballs Process
A lot of agencies, design firms, and individuals have used the waterfall process for many, many years, Orbit included. But more recently we have strayed away from these super strict principles in lots of ways.
For instance, we do a lot of client education, we embrace moodboards and styleguides, we actively work between teams to solve problems to find the best functional solutions, we bring developers to client meetings (as if that is some sort of faux pas!), we have more back and forth than we ever did before during the build.
Jason explained that the waterfall process can put constraints on you, your team, and your design itself. Most of those things can be avoided if you start with some paper, get to sketching, and talk about the story you want to see unfold. Every deliverable doesn’t have to be a pristine pixel-perfect comp, and your process might look more like a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs in the end.
Luke Roblowski’s Talk on the Write/Read Web
Luke Roblowski is the CEO and Co-Founder of Input Factory Inc., an Internet start-up focused on creating big value from micro mobile interactions. I loved the stats in this talk, such as that 70% of mobile users use only their thumb vs. two fingers vs. two hands. His company is really big into ergonomic software design, which takes into account how the human body interacts on different devices.
One of the things I found really interesting was how they try not to use keyboard functionality if not needed in their software because of how difficult and annoying that is for the mobile user. I tried out his example of booking a hotel on the Hotel Tonight App and compared that against Priceline.com mobile and Hotels.com mobile. Wow! There is a huge difference.
At Orbit, we strive to keep the user at the top of our minds and have improved our mobile offering and mobile e-commerce shopping experience, and continually remind ourselves to think about the mobile user before making desktop decisions.
Aarron Walter’s Just Enough Research Approach
Aarron Walter, the Director of User Experience at MailChimp, enlightened us on how he solved the crisis he was having of data overload. If you can put all your qualitative and quantitative data into one searchable database that can be used by everyone to solve problems, you are going to build a stronger company that can learn from itself.
Be a steward to your team, and offer shareable, searchable, and easy-to-access research tools. This will strengthen the connections between teams and support a general culture of inquiry.
Here are Orbit, we spend time weekly and monthly sharing our ideas, questions, skills, and critiques in order to evolve the culture and knowledge base. Band together; your company will be more successful for it.
Ethan Marcotte: The control we thought we had over the web was an illusion.
Ethan Marcotte is the author of Responsive Web Design and is very passionate about web teams reducing their footprint, page weight, and kilobyte budget on their projects. Without noticing it, many companies have been launching sites without thinking about how much of an impact they are making on mobile users or users who do not have good internet connections. We need to embrace the flexibility of a full spectrum of devices.
At Orbit, we use an adaptive responsive approach and educate our clients on how the mobile experience should be just as easy to use as the desktop experience. We don’t want to bloat the mobile experience just so the pages are prettier.
Jeremy Keith played the mandolin!
The pace of change in our industry is relentless – it’s a little overwhelming! Jeremy Keith played the mandolin for us to calm our nerves, but he also had lots interesting tidbits to share with us about keeping everything on the web readable, guessable, hackable, and easy for the user. He reminded us to remember the processes and tools that stood the test of the time.
He also enlightened us about a service called opendevicelab.com and chicagoopendevicelab.com that will help you save some money on testing and allows you to see your sites on all the devices! Also, if you can’t have all the fancy things you want because of browser support, please use conditional loading (especially in the case of third party widgets) so that the appropriate people get the appropriate material. Make sure things are built in a futurefriend.ly way!
Adrian Holovaty: Awesomely Empathetic UI Samples
Adrian Holovaty, Co-creator of Django, reminded us to be thoughtful and empathetic to our users. I honestly really loved this portion because it was fun, casual, and interesting to see all the examples he had collected from all over the web. What we need to remember is to anticipate problems users might have before they have them, insert suggestions where they might be helpful, and where applicable, we should be providing comfort and familiarity in our designs.
For instance, if you are an international company and you post your business hours, why not include the current time for your user (depending on their IP location) so they know not to call you in the middle of the night their time. Here’s a site where you can see these littlebigdetails.
Brad Frost: Smart, Scalable, Maintainable Web Patterns
Not only does Brad Frost (mobile web strategist/front end designer from Atomic Design) have great hair [#sexybeast] but he also has a great handle on his methodology for creating scalable design systems. We have more devices to consider now than ever before, so we better have some sort of flexible plan in place to set our company and clients up for success. Check out pattern-lab.info to see Brad’s work in action.
At Orbit, we can improve our process by creating styleguides that are more robust, dynamic, and maintenance-friendly, but guess what? That’s in the works!
Karen McGrane: Good Content Transcends Platform
Karen McGrane, author of Content Strategy for Mobile, got up on stage and cracked the whip. She explained how disruptive technology will evolve with or without you. By 2015, more people will access the internet via mobile devices than on traditional computers, so Stop. Avoiding. Mobile. It’s happening now, and you better get on board or you are going to be left in the dust.
20% of Americans: no internet access at all
35% of Americans: no internet at home
55% of Americans use only their mobile phone to browse the internet
Also: write better. C’mon people – don’t write simpler and clearer for mobile users, and then leave your poor desktop users to wade through the beast that is your content. Cut it down to the essentials; that’s what everyone wants.
If you need some pointers on writing for the web, you can check out our very own Andy Crestodina’s Book, Content Chemistry! We also host Wine & Web nights here at Orbit Media Studios where you could learn a lot about content writing and strategy.
Kristina Halvorson: The Content is NOT for Us!
Kristina Halvorson, the author of Content Strategy for the Web, may have been my favorite speaker just for her spunk and use of animated gifs. She shared her personal experiences working with big, corporate clients who needed more of a “Content Therapist” than a “Content Strategist,” and it really hit home in terms of client frustration during the content creation. It doesn’t have to be a battle!
Here at Orbit, on every project, we invite all the people to a kickoff meeting, make sure everyone is aligned on how things work, bring up timing issues, agendas, and overlapping responsibilities, and that keeps everyone accountable, including us.
Jared Spool: Great Business Models are Intentional
Jared Spool, founder of User Interface Engineering, really struck a chord with me with his explanation of intentional experience design. He charted out the experience people had during an in-store purchase or product repair and documented at what points people had good or bad feelings during that trip. It’s such a simple thing to map out and evaluate, but I had never seen anyone do that before.
I immediately want to chart out the whole Orbit process from signed proposal to project close to find ways to give them (you!) a better experience. Talk about some design conference inspiration…time to get busy.