Some Design/Usability ideas I got from SmartWeb Conference 2014 (Radisson Blu, 2014.09.23)

On September 23, 2014, took place SmartWeb Conference 2014, Bucharest (by Evensys) – „A conference for East-European web designers and developers, bringing you an exquisite lineup of speakers.”.

Speakers at the conference:


Below, some design/usability ideas I got from the conference. (with photos) :)

While the above photo looks like a life philosophy, it’s also the basic philosophy behind the Internet. When you create a web site, you should focus on sending (creating) good quality web site, which follow rules – be conservative in what you create/send. When you are the receiver of other people’s web sites (you surf the web), your browser should be liberal in what it accepts as a valid page (the browser should allow for coding errors). It’s a powerful philosophy – you should try to do your best to follow standards when you create web sites, although you know that the other party accepts also things which don’t follow the standards as required.

These are some of the main actions a person can hove on a web site – publish something (Facebook / blog), look for some information, share with others (email, instant communications), or buy things online.

It’s actually quite simple, and you should think at the above verbs (and similar ones – download / read / collaborate / be inspired / keep in touch / others) when you create a web site.

This is a simple quote, but it’s very powerful. Lots of times, people try a lot and obsess on making sites look the same on various browsers – Chrome, FireFox, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer. The problem is not only the number of browsers, but also the fact that each browser can have lots of versions, and you, as a developer, are aware that your audience uses various browser variants. Thus, common logic says that you should try and test your web site on various browsers and devices, to make sure it looks the same everywhere. So, things generally go like this – you make a web site using advanced technologies and capabilities, and then look for workarounds to make all those great things look great on old browser.

But you could also have a different approach – make your web site using very basic technologies for most of the content and navigation. You can be pretty sure that, by doing this, most browsers, even old (very old?) ones will display most information mostly correct. And then, when you are sure that 80% of the content is accessible to users, build technologies which address only the modern browsers. Thus, you are sure that old browser will show 80% of things (see Pareto’s principle), but you also sure that you can reach modern browsers.

Thus, as the quote above says – you should „support” old browsers (by building web sites with simple technologies), but you should „optimize” for new browsers (by adding new technologies to a simple skeleton).

It’s a shift of paradigm – instead of focusing on „optimizing”, you should focus on „supporting” old browsers (and „optimizing” for new ones).

These two are some very nice examples of writing CSS files. Instead of using #F0F0F0 as a color, you could define a variable called „Light Grey”, and use that one. The presentation gave some examples on things you should write in CSS with natural language names, rather than color codes.

The above list gives some examples on how you can create some content. For example:

  • Create a Google Alert for some key terms in your client’s industry. Whenever some piece of news appears which is related to the business of the client, you have a potential thing to comment / write about on a blog. If Google Alert isn’t working as it should, you might try: Hate the New Google Alerts? Here Are 6 Alternatives / 7 apps to help you replace Google Alerts | VentureBeat | Social | by Yoav Dembak.
  • You can use content which was already made – brochures and anual reports. Other ideas include PPT presentations or other documents for which lots of effort has been put, but now they are ignored.
  • You should find a list of FAQ. Start by asking yourself – „What are some questions which I, as a person not working in this industry, have about my client’s web site?”. Then ask some friends to visit the web site and list the questions which they have (there’s a separate point in the list, just for that). You could also ask the client to provide you with such questions. Then use those questions to create blog posts.
  • Always keep asking „Why?”, to find out more issues which a client might answer with blog posts (comedian Louis C.K. has a very good sketch on „Why?” question, which is remarkably closely related to the point). For example – why do you do your job? Because we think … And why do you think that? Because we believe … And why do you believe that? And so on. Not all the answers are relevant, but with some of them you could create some valid blog posts. Ask lots of „Why?”s and, like in the clip with Louis C.K., „climb” into meta states.
  • You could also look at what the competition is doing, and do things better than them.
  • You can use technology – have a photo / video camera, and make some photos with the employees, with the headquarters. Create some interviews with the people in the company. You can always improve on this, but starting from somewhere is always better than having no material to work upon.

I also have a resource on this issue – „About us” page – how to make it?: Olivian Breda.

These are some typical things which you can use when creating content:

  • You should do some things first (some basic things, some basic information; then work on this and add some more; then work again and add some more; don’t make the initial process very difficult; focus on improving, not on creating perfect things right at the beginning).
  • Beginner guides are a very powerful type of content.
  • Also, have some help for technical things. For a online shop, that’s the purchasing process (how to buy?).
  • You can create a glossary with all the unknown terms on the web site. Each term should have its own page. You should links the terms one to another, and you should link to each term each time you use it on a web page.
  • It’s important for the client to create a mental link with the company, thus having a company history page is useful.
  • Each employee should have a profile page, with three paragraphs – in the first one, the answer to the question „how do you help the client? What’s your role in providing service to the customer?”. The second one should focus (but not too much, just a paragraph) on education / job history. The final one should help the user connect to the person, and, thus, put things like hobbies or something else, very personal. Be human!

How to create content?

  • You should have a publishing schedule (this is related to the second point on the list). It helps if you take major events which occur each year. For example, for an online store it could be things like Black Friday, Christmas, Easter and other big sales events. For a company selling air conditioning, there are some times in a year in which you should answer specific questions (in the winter, perhaps write some articles about some maintenance; in the spring some buying promotions; in the summer some referral contests; in the autumn some big clearance discounts).
  • There are major topics which should be answered by a company on the blog. Find them and use them. Reading some articles on that niche helps a lot.
  • If you create a blog category, make sure your target is a minimum 3 articles for that category.
  • Use deadlines, but not „at the end of the month, you should have 5 articles”, but, much better, „each Friday, a new article, which can be published Monday morning”.

Graphs sell.

Numbers sell also. You should highlight things, if there’s something important, make it very big & impressive.

If you have a horizontal menu which has three elements: Products / Services / About, your homepage should follow the exact same pattern, in the exact same order. Don’t mix things.

Rules (in web design) should be broken (but you should also be aware of this: Creativity is rejected: Teachers and bosses don’t value out-of-the-box thinking.).

You can see all of the photos I took at the conference here.

You can see the official album of the event: SmartWeb Conference.

Activity on Twitter: Twitter / Search – #smartwebconf.

About the conference:

Why Attend ?
Great speakers. Networking. After party.

What will you learn about?
SmartWeb presentations will be covering the need-to-know topics of the moment, such as Responsive Web Design, HTML5 & CSS3, writing CSS the right way, JavaScript, and generally include best practices, tips and tricks and much more.

Who should attend?
SmartWeb is a conference organized for web designers & developers, UX designers, and web entrepreneurs. During the four session program, attendees will discover the latest trends in modern web and mobile development, and meet your peers and great people from web industry.

P.S.: You can read this very same article in Romanian, here:
Câteva idei design / uzabilitate de la conferința SmartWeb 2014 (Radisson Blu, 2014.09.23): Olivian Breda

, and a shorter version of it, for MDs:
Câteva idei design / uzabilitate de la conferința SmartWeb 2014 (Radisson Blu, 2014.09.23) – Cine esti tu, doctore?

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