Early morning, September 12 2016. Two Indivirtuals are running around the beautiful city of Freiburg im Breisgau. We - Robin Bes and Niels Jongerden - are in Germany because of the Smashing Conference 2016! These are two days with interesting talks about web design ahead of us, so we took the opportunity to give our legs a stretch. After all the 2016 Damloop is in one week time and it is not a bad thing to run some extra miles in preparation. At the time we pass the event venue it’s still quiet, but once we return for the conference we know it will be packed with fellow web designers and developers.
The conference was in the splendid Historisches Kaufhaus in the Altstadt. Lucky for us it was only a 5 minute walk from our hotel, but an old building does have its letdowns as well, which the high temperatures (30C) made very clear. Because Smashing Magazine hosted the conference for the 10th time there was an anniversary theme with cake, a chocolate fountain and a kazoo for all the attendants. We all played our kazoo for a kickoff and surprisingly it sounded as if we we’re all professional kazoo players…
Time for talks
To quote the first speaker, we saw some ‘Vague but exciting’ talks during the first day. One of the highlights was Soundslice, a platform that offers sheet music for students and teachers. It has a unique concept and intuitive user interface. Also Nathan Curtis’ talk about design systems was impressive. He told us about the advantages and challenges to achieve cohesive design in large scale companies and gave some great examples. On Wednesday we will join his workshop so we can learn more about this. In other talks we saw a lot of dazzling code snippets and we learned that css now offers tons of new possibilities to color texts and add effects to web pages. Looking forward to use those!
Meanwhile we were getting to know the other attendees by playing some table fussball. The score so far: Indivirtual 1 Germany 1. At the end of day one we all went to the Freiburg Planetarium for an exciting look at the stars and the milky way, accompanied with specialties from the local breweries.
The second day promised even more talks about design, but kicked off with the mystery speaker who was so thrilled about the frontend of the new Smashing Magazine redesign that she kept on talking for two talks! Their new website seems to be full with lessons learned, so it must be a great example. We needed coffee badly now!
During the rest of the day we were shown a casestudy from fellow countryman Polle de Maagt about KLM, who find ways to connect to their customers on the channels that the customer uses. In this particular case people could book a flight with Facebook Messenger. Thus, building a special KLM-booking app becomes irrelevant, because customers won’t actually install an app that they use only once or twice per year. Actually, on average, people only use 5 or 6 apps on a frequent basis and that is about 10% of the number of apps installed.
Once more it was made clear to us that website performance is about how the user perceives the performance and not the metrics. For instance if you know that an action succeeds 99 out of 100 times, you can present a success notification without actually having made the server call. For 99% of your users the website will be faster.
After the last speaker had left the stage we headed out for an organised ghost tour of Freiburgs graveyards. A great way to learn something about the city and see some places that we otherwise probably wouldn’t. The guide did match up to the best speakers on the conference with his convincing way of telling stories. Quite an actor (with his lantern).
On Wednesday there were workshops and we were there to learn about scalable design systems. Nathan Curtis had a talk on the conference and that proved to be a sneak preview of what was awaiting us. He told us how to make use of the power of living styleguides to implement design systems and how to get support from stakeholders. Though his focus was primarily on large scale companies, we can see this methodology working for some of our customers as well. The goal of this technique is to give the customer a consistent experience through multiple channels or websites. We are eager to let our customers cut up their printed websites in components!
Wrapping up and heading home
It were three interesting days with many talks and enthusiastic professionals. Maybe a bit too many code snippets for us designers, but the variety in speakers provided us with some new insights as well. But now it was time for us to head home and go practice everything we’ve learned!