Yesterday I attended Kyan’s Web Expo Guildford. I missed last years, but had resolved to go to this one after seeing the fantastic variety of speakers they’d had.

It was a lovely day. Over the last year or so I have really come to enjoy the more social aspects of conferences. Everyone’s so friendly it’s hard not to, but when I was younger I know I tended to shy away from this and just engage with the talks. I missed out on a lot that way. Talking to your peers is a great way of learning, and not just about the web.

I got to spend some time with fellow Design for Interactive Media student, Claire. I hadn’t seen her since our graduation which seems forever ago now. Caught up with the lovely Lilian, various Kyan folks and met lots of new faces that I hope to see more of.

The talks themselves offered a diverse and interesting overview of different things in our industry. I stayed on the Design track, but was happy to see a few “developer-y” bits spill over into it as it’s important the two disciplines celebrate their sameness-es.

Proof in the Prototype

Kat Kavanagh talked about the importance of prototyping, and did a mini-workshop at the end which really hammered the point home. The exercise was to design 3 player noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) in groups of 3. You really need 3 people to do this as you need to test it.

A lot of people started by trying it with a traditional board – doesn’t work. Try enlarging the board – doesn’t work. Those two steps alone really show how important testing an idea in the early stages is. Imagine if you just assumed that one of those solutions would work, you design and build the game, release it as an app, and then boom, people are mad at you because no one can ever win. You could have solved that back at the beginning if you had just tried it.

Prototyping. Testing. Real users. Real contexts. So important.

A Thousand Words

Paul Foster from Getty Images did a really interesting talk about storytelling and how the requirements from stock images have changed compared to 5+ years ago. I loved seeing the differences in their most popular images and what is becoming more important to people. The key thing seems to be authenticity.

I love this, because I think it’s a symptom of an ever increasingly intangible world and it’s reassuring that people want that connection back. Albeit in a slightly different way. Raw authenticity, from imperfect photographs (leaving moles in faces, loose cropping, mimicking phone camera flashes) creates a stronger bond of trust than it would have even 5 years ago, and that is fascinating to me.

Pixels for the People

Seb Lee-Delisle brought his laser. I wasn’t really going to miss an opportunity to see it a second time. I love that his Pixel Pyros event was born out of experimenting with code to create art. Such a beautiful thing. He also showed us how to draw some squares on a HTML5 canvas and make them behave like a little firework. Again, loved this. Kind of curious to poke at canvas now.

Positive for Conkers

I get a bit put off by the idea of being a jack of all trades, or at least I did until Gavin Strange’s talk.

Gavin’s talk “Positive for Conkers” is one of my favourite talks ever, and it brought the house down. So much energy and inspiration. (There’s a different talk of his here, well worth a watch) We all know life is too short, but here is someone who truly recognises that and is out to be as creative as possible, say yes to as many things as possible and see where that all takes him.

That is terrifying and amazing. It’s really resonated with things I’ve been feeling and thinking over the last couple of months. It was one of my reasons for quitting my job, and since then that kind of energy has been building. In a similar vein I love Elle Luna’s work, and her talk about Finding Your Must is really worth watching, as is Stefan Sagmeister’s The Power of Time Off.

Putting Users First

Frances Berriman talked through the Government Digital Service’s key manifesto for putting users first. The GDS Design Principles should be read by all, it’s really good. I love how tenacious they were about it as well. Gov.uk really is something to stand up and applaud. I saw Ben Terrett and Chris Heathcote talk about the font used on Gov.uk at Ampersand this year, and was blown away by just how far they were going to ensure the best possible experience for everyone.

This really complemented Kat’s prototyping talk as Frances mentioned their initial assumption that most users came from Google. When they realised this wasn’t so, they had to add in browse functionality.

Standing on the Shoulders of CSS Giants

Ben Macgowan ended the day by talking about the different ways of standardising your CSS. This one’s been on my mind all morning, because I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of the three approaches mentioned and have been wanting to nail it down a bit better for a while. OOCSS, BEM and I think SMACSS were discussed, all really interesting but all with their pros and cons. Ben argued for a purist approach, remembering the roots of CSS.

Like Ben I alphabetise my CSS properties. I was a big advocate for it at my last job, and do it without thinking now. It makes reading a stylesheet miles easier, especially if you have to edit someone else’s. It’s easy to see if a property has been set that way. Some people group by property type, but I think that leaves too much room for interpretation and not everyone will do it the same way. Like Ben said, you can’t go wrong with A-Z.

The End

I stayed for a drink and chatted to some more people, but then had to head off to a Goo Goo Dolls gig (where the lights did nearly blind me). All in all a very lovely day. <3