Future of Web Design London 08


This time last week I was at the 'Future of Web Design' conference (FOWD), listening to some of the most interesting speakers in the field.

I found the first lecture 'Inspiration and Design Trends' by Patrick Mc Neil most interesting, and 'Design sign off in 12 steps' by Larissa Meek the most practical.

##'Inspiration and Design trends' by Patrick Mc Neil

This man predicted the future! Apparently, the up and coming design trends are:

- Brown earthy colours – as a background colour this colour manages to look warm and inviting whist still holding a corporate feel - Pastel colours - in general - Side scrolling - as screen size widens - Using very big titles (especially on blogs), to help people realise at a glance what topics are being discussed. This is clearly demonstrated below:

Problogger screenshot

- Really big forms that fill the entire page with as few fields as possible

##Other trends and suggestions for the future discussed by various speakers are as follows:

- Inspiration should come from everyday life and studies of other topics of interest, not from looking at other peoples websites – how would anything original be discovered then? - An ongoing commitment to discovery is necessary. This is not easy. Looking back in history as well as forward can help too; learning from the great masters about how they managed to connect with their audience. - Add functionality to reduce complexity in design - Realign don’t redesign. Often when larger companies' websites undergo a design change the designer instantly assumes that a total redesign is necessary. Often, features that frequent users to the site know and trust are removed, which then alienates the original customer. - Make time for constant iteration. Just because something is finished one day doesn’t mean it doesn’t need further development in a few months as trends/needs change. This, for me, is crucial and the majority of web design projects don't plan for this at all! I have spoken about this issue previously in my Conversion Rates blog post in the 'Guided Trial and Error' paragraph. - With the functionality of a website don’t try to guess what people want, watch the functionality they are trying to fake and then build it. Daniel Burka from Digg, explains, when Digg was in its early stages there was no option to upload images, soon it became apparent to Daniel that there was a need for this as people started to type in IMG, etc into the submit field. His users were quite obviously telling him that this is what they wanted, so the additional functionality was then added, see below:


##One very good point, concerning type:

The choice of font style (specifically for the body copy on websites) is often left too much in the hands of the coder.

People underestimate the dramatic change that a different font can have on the look of a website – choosing any old sans serif is no longer acceptable!

Obviously we would all love the font we choose to appear on everyone's browser. This however, can not happen.

bad font choices

This set of substitute fonts clearly demonstrates the dramatic difference between them, and they are all the same point size, verdana specifically is very wide.

good bold font choices

When selecting a bold font in particular the example above is a much better solution, the change is barely noticeable.

Technical adjustments that are frequently ignored are kerning and leading, or to you coders out there, tracking and line height (I am currently shaking my head). Giving your text room to breath is important and can significantly improve the legibility of a block of text.

As Jon Hicks points out, type can be improved upon by reducing the kerning by 1px and increasing leading by 1.4px.

##What is a brand?

Forget what you think a brand is and think about what it could be if it was something different. 'Cascadia' is a truck – what does this also sound like it could be? -A new world? Thinking like this really frees up your way of thinking and makes designers feel less restrained in initial design phases.

The much disputed design process:

Patrick Mc Neil suggested finding a range of websites (up to about 25) to show to a client to get some feel of the sort of style they could use. However, this idea was contradicted later on by Larissa Meek, who said that reaching the correct solution with a website was more about a steady ongoing process with a client to work out a style stage by stage. This seems to be an ongoing dispute between designers. Is it best to show one idea that you have come to together or a few designs so that a choice is given? Another speaker also mentioned that clients (as we all know) are sometimes not very visual, and that they need to see what they don't like before they can decide what they do.

Another point that goes against Patrick Mc Neil's suggestion of bringing together good websites and drawing elements from them for your own websites came from one speaker who pointed out that these 'gem's' (as they liked to call them) generally work for the reason that they are good for the specific purpose they have been built for. A good website can not be conjured up by simply putting lots of good elements together.

##Larissa Meeks's Design Sign off in 12 (easy) steps

1. Make friends with your client 2. Ask lots of questions about your clients business objectives 3. Ask questions about the end user 4. Use wire frames as a conversation starter 5. Talk about the style of the design before you begin – produce mood boards – image styles – and style guidelines 6. One design direction will do 7. See it in a browser to start with 8. Prototype is needed – this should be interactive 9. Ask for consolidated feedback from your client 10. Be confident in your work 11. Time will tell (design is a funny business) 12. Make the most of a difficult situation – the key here is not to be over reactive

These steps are useful advice. However, often at Distilled our website projects are smaller with pressured deadlines, so lengthy processes such as mood boards etc are often not feasible. Also, as I mentioned above clients are often not very visual so it is useful to show a few initial concepts. However, that is not to say that as our clients grow in scale these are not points we would consider.

Over all the FOWD conference was very inspiring and thought provoking, I have only touched on what I have discovered, other findings will no doubt soon be evident in my work. :)

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