Don’t settle for what exists, care enough to push the envelope and design the best solution possible.
Technology and the web are incredibly exciting and yet still so new. Compared to other industries such as banking, mining or automotive it is still in its infancy, and people are doing amazing work to shape it and explore how far it can be stretched. Being so young allows us to try new approaches, make mistakes and discover new design processes and development practices that will help improve what we build.
Events such as Web Directions 2015 help the industry grow by bringing its leaders together to impart their wisdom. After two days, I felt like my head was ready to explode from excitement, learning and ridiculously excessive amounts of coffee. Web Directions challenged my existing development processes, reinforced my inner values and exposed me to a few excitingly new perspectives of thinking.
Cap Watkins, VP of Design at Buzzfeed delivered the conference opening keynote, emphasising a need for developers and designers to work closer than ever before. He introduced us to processes at Buzzfeed whereby designers and developers sit down monthly to work through minor styling bug fixes that would otherwise be de-prioritised. Designers were encouraged to be involved, learn CSS and make contributions to a codebase instead of relying on developers to make these less important changes.
I find Cap’s attitude inspiring. In my own experience I’ve found that collaboration among teams directly leads to an increase in quality.
Developers should also be expanding the breadth of their knowledge. Courtney Hemphill addressed these ideas in her talk on animation algorithms. She encouraged exploring the ways tweaking easing functions adds entirely new dimensions to a design - beyond what a designer would typically achieve.
Addressing these visual animation problems through code and logic we can further integrate design thinking into our process. By integrating knowledge from other disciplines, as developers we become more than just ‘code monkeys’. Instead, we can create fun, exhilarating web experiences. Who doesn’t want to do that?
This year’s code track was a flurry of everything that is cooler than whatever it is you’re currently doing. Programming can sometimes feel like you’re just writing the same lines of CSS over and over again - but the engineering speakers inspired developers to experiment with new methods, libraries and properties - each wielding their own success stories from real world projects.
With the uptake of the Angular and React frameworks as well as modules with ES6, there’s been a shift towards component-based development. Functionally, components have a local scope so that they don’t interfere with one another. This isn’t true for CSS. Mark Dalgleish and Glen Maddern introduced their solution - CSS Modules. This framework uses Webpack to create locally-scoped CSS classes that only apply to the component where they’re referenced. The result is cleaner, modular CSS files and reusable base classes both of which I will be keen to embrace.
An underlying theme of many talks was about how creatives need to think more about the impact of what they’re building. To deeply explore the needs of user groups that are not normally considered. An example - Government. Tom Loosemore talked through rebuilding gov.uk to create a less frustrating online experience. He presented solutions to combine data from multiple sources, removing the need for users to re-enter information already stored away somewhere in a database. Reconceptualising user behaviour addressed key issues in new ways, an approach which extends beyond government.
Developers, on the other hand, simply don’t care enough about the products we’re building. The internet is obese, and we’re all too lazy to fix the problem. Maciej Ceglowski’s challenge is to build websites smaller than Russian literature (which is usually fairly small). Remove the oversized videos, uncompressed images, unnecessarily heavy ads - they're all just bloat. We’re all guilty of ignoring the implications of page load times and need to be thinking more consciously. Give the user critical content first - then stop. Does my user care? No? Then why include it?
Go back to the basics, simplify size, simplify quantity and create a more usable web.
Web Directions was a call-to-arms. The web is fresh, it’s pliable and we can still shape it. I’ve been playing with plenty of ideas I've learned, I intend to keep learning and experimenting with new technologies, new theories and improving my code in the process. Yes, there will always be more to do, but adopting an integrated approach to thinking, improving code and caring about what we build and who we build for will create an enjoyable, exciting internet for people to enjoy. I'm excited to see what direction the industry will take as it continues to grow.
For some more information and thoughts about the conference, read Amy Balsdon's Takeaways from Web Directions 2015.