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By: Robert Carpenter | Posted on: 19 Mar 2014


Earlier this month, I attended Smashing Conference, one of Europe's leading conferences on web design and front end development. It took place in Oxford and featured talks by some of the world's leading voices on the web.

There were seventeen talks over two days on a wide variety of subjects. There was a big focus on UX (User Experience), which is something I'm passionate about as I believe usability is the key to a great website. There were also a number of technical talks on everything from image optimization to the latest CSS box model. I've learnt a lot, some of which I've already started put into practice on client websites.

With so many memorable speakers and presentations, it's hard to pick which ones to write about. There were a few stand outs however.

Leveling up with Flexbox

This talk by Zoe Gillenwater was, for me, the most practical and useful. To a non-coder, the term flexbox probably means nothing, but basically it's a new way of laying out content on a web page. It allows for a lot more flexibility and options, and it makes a lot of complicated tasks much easier. It's kind of hard to make it sound sexy if you're not a CSS nerd! However, this is something that will be finding it's way into the code of a lot of our websites in the near future. In fact, I'm already using it to fix a navigation problem we've been having on one client's website.

Psychology and the perfect design

Joe Leech has worked on some of the biggest brands in the world - in his own words, if you've ever booked something online or bought something online, the chances are you've used one of his designs. The main focus of his talk was on user experience and how important it is to match users' expectations of how they think a website should work. This is especially important for websites that require users to complete a series of steps, such as an online shop or a booking website. Inspired by the talk, we will be looking at ways we can use Joe's methodology to improve the user experience across a number of our websites.

The pain of waiting

There were a number of talks about responsive web design, specifically about optimising our designs so that they load more quickly and used less bandwidth. There's nothing worse that waiting for a web page to load and it's something that people tend to get irrationally upset over! We've learnt a lot here about responsive design over the past year and some of the ideas from this conference will hopefully help us bring our work to the next level.

It's all about teamwork

One of the things that struck me about many of the topics covers is how much of it we're already doing here at Granite. For example, one subject that came up in over and over again was how important it is for designers and developers to sit together in the office and work as one team, rather than as separate design teams and development teams that only come together for meetings. We've always worked together as one team and I can't imagine it being any other way. It allows us to collaborate on problem solving much more easily and share ideas as they come into our heads. I really believe we build better websites by working this way.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. It was a fab experience and I'm looking forward to putting some of what I've learnt into practice over the coming months.

Article by Chief Designer, Fiona Dixon.

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