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RESPOND - Australia’s Exclusive Web Design Conference presented by Web Directions

by Konalee

I was very fortunate to attend Australia’s ‘Responsive Web Design Conference’ two weeks ago. I would argue that responsive layouts have completely revolutionised the way the industry approaches a website build, and on that notion it’s certainly a topic worthy of a dedicated conference. #Respond16 boasted some of the industry's best digital presenters. The speakers included overseas digital greats such as Ethan Marcotte, Sara Souedian and Jen Simmons, as well as local creatives from companies such as Campaign Monitor, Google and Fairfax.

(Konalee pictured above with Sara Souedian)

While the focus of the conference was rather obvious from its title, as a Digital Producer I was still curious as to what sub-topics would be covered and excited about the chance to mingle with digital folk here in Melbourne. The conference breaks provided a great opportunity to chat with developers and designers about their perspective of current trends and debate predictions for the future of web design.
This blog covers a brief summary of the jam-packed two days.

Ethan Marcotte, who coined the term 'responsive design', was the first keynote speaker and his topic covered the laziness in responsive design. He spoke about the design complexities of the 'hamburger' and mentioned that there are a lot of designers that use the hamburger menu as an easy escape for some major IA decisions. Stating “Maybe we have a hamburger problem in the industry?” He continued “Part of the problem is the hamburger symbol has a meaning – it's the Chinese trigram for “sky”. Is it ok to appropriate that? Things do change over time, perhaps it's ok that a particular symbol takes on a new meaning in context. “. I agreed with him when he mentioned that “a lot of hamburger menus are introduced with lots of help text and tips – which is a bad sign. Also while the hamburger menu's icon is simple and clear, the flyout menu can be massive – because we can conceal it, people are often putting too much in there. It's closing the door on the messy cupboard.” Bottom line - Don't avoid the hard stuff – look for opportunities to improve the experience for everyone.

Over the next few sessions, we delved into functional areas of responsive web like accessibility, performance, security and imagery as well as art direction. A few speakers discussed the fact that having responsive grids and frameworks meant that websites in general are starting to look very much alike. Jenn Simmonds motivated us to change that. After all we are ultimately in control. The last session on Day 2 was focused on adaptive design. Karen McGrane summarised, "Adaptive and responsive solutions work together - they're not competitors." Three strategies were discussed:

  • responsive – flexible fluid site that reflows continuously at arbitrary sizes; the flexibility occurs in client-side code

  • adaptive – a bit of a catch-all term for “serving something different”; but typified by serving several fixed width layouts at different breakpoints

  • ot – whole separate site usually served at m-dot-domain-dot-com

These can be compared in terms of URL, content and design as displayed in the image below.

(Karen McGrane discussing the matrix)

If I had to pick a key takeaway it would be the discussion surrounding the topic of performance. Peter Wilson covered this in his keynote and stated that currently it takes 15.2 seconds to fully load an average web page using a fast desktop network connection. He even held an awkward silence to expose the hard truth.

(Peter Wilson holding a pause with a virtual page load - the above loading diagram hasn’t even included JS)

He then proposed that we get rid of the excess baggage and set performance as a high priority when developing our platforms. Peter expressed his concern about the industry being obsessed with adding on possibly unnecessary elements to heighten the UI and UX. He implored that we show empathy to those users who may have a slower connection and are using older hardware, when thinking about our designs.

All-in-all, the conference has left me filled with the motivation to learn more, and now that Friendly has moved to Melbourne I am excited to get involved in the local and booming UX community. I’m also already looking forward to RESPOND 2017!


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