Future of Web Design 2011
- Design, iPhone, Personal
- amsterdam, conference, design, fowd, iphone, london, twitter
- 3:27pm on Saturday 14th May, 2011
It’s been a while, but next week I’ll be returning to the British web design conference scene when I attend the Future of Web Design (FOWD) conference in London. It’s a two day, dual-track format with plenty of essential sessions covering the latest and greatest web design and development techniques.
Unfortunately I don’t yet know how many of the talks I’ll be able to attend—I’ll be there manning the recruitment stand for Booking.com, handing out our free schwag and hoping to talk to anyone interested in working for one of the most interesting ecommerce websites around. But in between work chat there are definitely a few sessions that I hope I can see.
Opening Day 1, Aarron Walter of MailChimp presents ‘Transforming Ideas Into Interfaces.’ Aarron’s book, Building Findable Websites, might be a few years old now but it’s still a great primer (or reminder for old hands) of the right way to do things. As UX design lead at MailChimp he is responsible for one of those ubiquitous UX examples that have been cropping up on user psychology slides in the last year: the MailChimp mascot forms part of the header of the site, and gives helpful or humorous advice—or loses his arm if your browser window is opened too wide! Right after Aarron, Carsonified’s Mike Kus talks about ‘Designing for Humans.’ The description of this session is a little vague, but my hope is that it touches at least a little on user psychology and the effect of design decisions on emotional state.
As I have no interest in hearing about WordPress (and really, is that the “future” of web design?) I think the other morning session is worth your time. Rachel Andrew has been writing and speaking about this stuff for longer than most, and if you’re going to work as a designer it really does benefit you to also understand the basic concepts of development. (I actually had a vague idea for a book on this topic, something like “PHP Development for Web Designers” that would cover how to achieve basic tasks with the minimum of programming experience, but as per usual life got in the way.)
At the end of the first day it seems to be de rigeur for the final speaker to step back from practicalities and focus instead of more abstract ideas; it sounds as if Aral Balkan’s ‘Making The New Everyday Things’ talk will fit that bill.
On Day Two, there is an interesting talk by (relative) newcomer Femi Adesina on handling creative block and ‘Enhancing Your Creativity.’ It’s something I’ve always struggled with; although I’m a classic hybrid designer-developer, I find it much easier to churn out a few hours’ code than to spend the same amount of time in Photoshop. I hope this session provides something a little more imaginative than recommending we “go for a walk” or “read a non-design magazine.”
After a mobile-heavy morning in both tracks, John McGarvey presents ‘Copywriting is Design,’ one of 2011’s hot topics for design minds, and something that is easy to overlook in your average design department. At Booking we’re lucky to have on-site copywriters working in the same team as the designers and developers, so content design becomes an integral part of all our projects.
Young Mr Stocks takes to the stage once more to educate the masses on the right time and wrong time to break out that advanced HTML5 and CSS3 bling—it’s not the most inspired session title, but anytime I see Elliot’s name and “solid design principles” in the same sentence you know there’s going to be something good to take away.
The final two talks of the conference interest me for different reasons. Sarah Nelson’s ‘Bullet Proof Communication Techniques: A UX Strategist’s Guide’ takes an interesting direction for a web design conference by tackling the question of effective communication by designers. The wording of the summary seems to want to set up the assumption that designers and UX people are traditionally excluded from decision-making (not the case where I am), but it will be interesting to see how the recommendations fit with our own approach to designer empowerment.
Rounding out the day is Mr Hot Topic 2011. Ethan Marcotte has contrived to be the poster-boy for responsive design this year, so it’s unsurprising that FOWD have chosen to end on that note—I’m somewhat concerned that it is becoming just another buzzword and technique employed by designers without any thought or consideration for their own unique situation or context. We will see what spin Ethan puts on things.
The FOWD iPhone app
I also installed the FOWD iPhone app to see whether it could add anything to the overall conference experience. I was expecting quite a clunky interface considering the app is powered by a white-label provider (MobileRoadie are “a turn-key platform to quickly and inexpensively build mobile apps” apparently), but it’s actually quite pleasant to use (although they should really fix that “London 2010” splash page).
The News panel pulls in tweets tagged with the #FOWD hashtag or @FOWD account name, and is augmented with “Buzz” which seems to be content related to the speakers or sessions. The full schedule for workshops and talks is included (although rather misleadingly entitled “Shows”), with the ability to comment, or add yourself as an attendee, Gowalla-style, for each session. You can connect with either Facebook or Twitter, and the app also provides Facebook or Foursquare geo-checkin integration too, presumably for use during the actual conference.
The Speakers pages, aside from a nice Coverflow faceboard, seem to just replicate the content of the FOWD website, plus the ability to leave comments (hopefully moderated) on individual speakers’ profiles. There is also an Attendees list, presented in the standard iPhone A-Z style; I’m not quite sure how it is populated though—I’m not on it, so it’s not drawn from the actual attendee list, but the number of people in the directory seems too high for them all to be registered users of the app. Clicking on attendee names also does nothing. I tried signing into the app with my Twitter account, which gave me a profile area and some kind of points system, but I still couldn’t figure out how to interact directly with other attendees. Perhaps all will become clear on Tuesday.
Overall it seems like a nice idea and a handy way to augment the backchannel chatter—that is, assuming the wifi stays up for the duration.
Gis a job
As I said earlier, my main reason for being there (and the people paying my bills) is Booking.com, where we are recruiting for web developers and designers, as well as some more specialised positions in SEO, consumer psychology, ecommerce conversion and some mobile stuff. We have a booth right next door to Clock and Microsoft in the main hall, so swing by if you have a burning desire for a free energy drink, custom lanyard, or a selection of branded stationery. I think we also have some iPad/MacBook screen protector/cleaning cloths too, if you’re the grubby-fingered type.
I’ve worked for Booking for several years now, first in Cambridge and, since April this year, at the head office in Amsterdam, and it’s far and away the best job I’ve ever had. The amount of personal responsibility you are given right from the very start is daunting, especially when you realise the scale of the revenue that you are dealing with, but the flat management structure and freedom to fail coupled with a team of brilliant individuals all pulling in the same direction makes each day exciting. Our working practices are different to almost anywhere else you might have worked; user focus is taken to another level, and you can see the effect your own work is having on actual users from Day 1.
So if you’re considering a change of scene, and Amsterdam appeals to you, come and talk to us about our current vacancies. We’re fully prepared to sit down for an impromptu interview if we think you’ve got the right stuff, and we’ll fly you out to visit us in the ‘Dam (including hotel accommodation) for a proper interview too. For an unbiased look at what it’s like to apply for a job with Booking.com, you should read Stuart Frisby’s account of his application and interview process (and Stuart now works alongside me in the Frontend Team).
See you there!
I’m looking forward to meeting up with a few old internet friends this week, and hope to meet even more new people at the booth. If you’re going to be at FOWD, come and say hello—and if you or someone you know is thinking about a career change, be sure to send them my way. :)