Lessons from The Future of Web Design, day 2

Adding to yesterday’s wrap up of talks from The Future of Web Design NY, several additional trends emerged from the conference on day two:

  1. Simplicity and focus are critical to good web design.
  2. Successful designers and developers are multi disciplinary; they learn skills outside their purview.

Simplicity and focus are critical to good web design.

Aral Balkan emphasized in his user experience presentation that great design focuses on quality, not quantity. Put another way, it’s not the number of features on a web site, but how well they are implemented. Balkan summarized this with a great quote from the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Simplicity also extends to future of web design; Jan Cavan suggested that successful websites years from now will be both simpler and faster. Quick and singularly focused web sites will grow in popularity to meet the explosive growth of mobile web usage (at pace to overtake desktop usage by 2013.)

Mobile was clearly Sarah Parmenter’s focus in her iPhone UI design talk and simplistic design was a core principal. She emphasized to not reinvent the wheel; condense the mobile experience down to as few screens as possible and to the most in demand features.

Jason Pamental touched on simplicity as well during his talk on web strategy, albeit indirectly. In particular, Pamental noted the failure of many design teams to really understand the deeper ‘why’ of what their clients are after, instead plowing reactively into what the client requests on a surface level. To combat this problem Pamental recommended starting off the designer/client relationship with a simple, pared down “discovery” project.

Successful designers and developers are multi disciplinary; they learn skills outside their purview.

This lesson was more inferred instead of directly stated by any one speaker, but this blurring of the lines between distinct web disciplines was inherent in the very FOWD conference schedule of both days. There’s wasn’t a just one track for designers and one for developers, but a mix for everyone. Even the focus within several talks jumped between technical and creative subjects.

Jason Pamental’s presentation focused on this the most explicitly. He emphasized web strategy as almost a third leg, a burgeoning role where an expert isn’t just a specialized designer or developer but more of a generalized “catch all” consultant for a client’s needs. Furthermore, by “getting out of our silo” and educating about ourselves about a wide range of subjects – psychology, business, new technologies – clients are happier which in turn generates better, more fulfilling work in the future.

Matthew Smith also emphasized learning within the confines of his talk on typography. In particular, he pointed out how many in the web community can have great design or technical skills surrounding typography yet are unable to convey this to their clients because they don’t understand fundamentals. In other words, many designers are “technically savvy but live in a box.” Smith stressed taking a break from the code and Photoshop, learning the basics on font shape, weight and texture.