DIBI 2011

June 8th and 9th saw the second incarnation of DIBI, a two-track web conference in Newcastle, organized by Gavin Elliott. This year featured thirteen speakers on the conference day, and an afternoon with start-ups the day before.

In this post I will be writing about the design track, as I attended that all day. Some parts will be integral, some interpreted. Let’s get on with it.

Inayaili de Leon’s Mechanical Approach

Inayaili – also known as Yaili (yah-ee-lee) – kicked off the design track talking about the importance about evolving to a more automated approach of writing stylesheets. Using libraries such as jQuery is acceptable for JavaScript developers, but does not translate to the ethics of stylesheets.

Her talk spanned from frameworks to pre-processors and OOCSS. Yet in the end, it was very much about design thinking and that we should focus more on what we are trying to do, instead of being prejudiced about how we do it. One thing she said really stuck with me:

We need to take control so we can shape the tools of the future and not be replaced by them.

Mike Kus’ Importance of the Visual Message

Mike is well-known for his heavily styled, lovely to use websites. He pointed out what he calls the duplicated web; a web where a lot of websites look the same. For this, he posed a few examples of web sites from well known brands. These companies did not invest in a richer experience, whilst their brand is really compatible with it.

But instead of plainly stating that visuals and styling are important, he noted that we need to strike a balance between style and ease of use in a well thought-out design that leads the visitor to the information that they need.

He did a lovely time-lapse of a re-align for Innocent Smoothies as an example of his process, as well as dissected the re-align to explain his motives.

Faruk Ateş on Designing to Where the Web will be

Faruk talked about the importance of moving forward on the web. For this, he feels we should do three things:

  1. Understand the web’s history
  2. Know emerging technologies
  3. Free your mind

He asked us to becoming educated and to experiment. To take a step back, to see if the work we’re doing is going in the right direction.

Every web technology you want to build sites with tomorrow, you should be using today.

Of course he put this in the broader context, where there is a need to serve a larger audience. But there is much to be said about letting go faster of the old in favor of the new.

It is the time to stop thinking about browser versions – who knows Chrome’s version number? – as modern browser adoption is higher than ever.

Brian Suda on Visualizing Data

If you didn’t know this yet, Brian loves data. Brian also loves clarity. Because of this, Brian was able to show us a lot of good and bad ways to visualize data. He took us back a few decades. Back to when the term “data-ink ratio” was coined by Edward Tufte. The data-ink ratio is the amount of data-ink divided by the total ink used to print the graphic.

When visualizing data, you should focus on the message you are trying to convey. The fact that you have a plethora of data points, doesn’t mean you have to create an A0 poster to convey it all. He implores us to tell one story, and one story only. Pick that story and execute it well.

Jeremy Keith’s One Web

For years, leading web designers have been pushing towards a more fluid web. In practice, only a small amount of designers have taken on this approach. This is quite understandable, as web design has somewhat evolved from print design, where the designer had physical guidelines on sizes. Much design on the web is still based on some kind of ‘control’ designers try to force. Yet the landscape is changing.

Jeremy talked about designing from the content outward. About an approach where generalized UI elements and styling serve as a basis. An approach that starts with creating global styles that can be served to all browsers. Styles like general colors, typography, recyclable User Interface elements, etc. Only after that, layout comes into play.

Creating these global styles, based on the content, is how we empower this content. The layout of the page should get dictated by this content. And if we design from the content outward, we can use different techniques towards responsive design and create a good, standardized fallback for older browsers.

If you don’t design for the content you are communicating, people will find other ways to get to that content. They will not use your website, but get your content via Readability or an equivalent service. We need to make sure that content has the highest priority in the design, no matter what way the user approaches it. We have to design for one web.

Also, a very important blast from the past, and definitely an article worth mentioning over, and over, and over again: A Dao of Web Design

Jared Spool’s Escalator of Knowledge

Intuitive design is invisible. Jared made the analogy to Air Conditioning. No one ever walks into a meeting room and exclaims that the AC is at exactly the right setting. We don’t think about the design if it’s working fine. When it’s broken, people start noticing the design.

Intuitive design is personal. It focuses on experience. Intuitive design is when the user’s current knowledge equals necessary target knowledge for use. Jared’s escalator of knowledge is a metaphor where different users’s current knowledge gets juxtaposed against the target knowledge needed to use the subject intuitively.

A great example with which he used the escalator was the kitchen cabinet problem. For just about everyone, their kitchen cabinets are filled in a very intuitive way. If then an ‘amazing designer’ comes along and rearranges everything to be ‘more intuitive’ without the user’s consent or input, this user will have to open just about every cupboard to find what they need. What happened here is that current knowledge got lowered.

To finish up, Jared asked us to watch our users interact with our designs and products. It will make you a better designer. His rule of thumb was at least two hours every six weeks.

Jeffrey Zeldman’s Matured Web

Jeffrey needs no introduction. He talked about the coming of age of our web industry. He commented on how web designers are now doing a lot more than just designing, and that a certain type of holistic thinking is taking root in the community.

A type of thinking that supports a disambiguation between a small screen- and a mobile strategy. A type of thinking that sees the need for continuous improvement. A type of thinking that underlines if design does not serve people, it does not serve business. And last but not least, a type of thinking that is based on clearly defining a problem, before trying to solve it.

His talk was a great wrap-up of the day. It strung together a lot of elements from different talks, as well as highlight the importance for us as a community to come together.

The wrap-up

The second DIBI conference was – to me – a great success. Every single one of the various talks, as well as the get-togethers before and after the conference were great.

I would again like to thank Gavin and the people around him. For the conference, for the lovely food served throughout the day, and of course that important dose of Red Bull at 4PM.