Generate Conference speaker lectern

7 things I learned at GenerateConf London 2018

Between 20–21 September 2018 I attended GenerateConf London, ‘the conference for web designers’. The conference had a lot to offer, from design psychology (Trine Falbe) to the creator of a powerful JavaScript library (Ricardo Cabello, three.js), there really was something for everyone in web design and front-end development.

It’s worth noting that as a recently graduated UX Designer and Front-end developer my level of knowledge will vary from some readers of this article. If you were at the conference and think I missed anything let me know on Twitter @harry_ronchetti.


Summary

1. Social media domination isn’t just for pretty girls… it’s for nerds too!
2. Storytelling is how you get a relationship
3. You’ve got 3x more style than you thought
4. PWAs are the future but they need to be on FIRE
5. Users pay for your website, but you’ll never see the profits
6. XR is on the web, and it’s awesome
7. Design systems are just as important as products


1. Social media domination isn’t just for pretty girls… it’s for nerds too!

Sara Parmenter opened day 1 with a topic you might not expect to see at a web designer conference: digital marketing. She reminded us that social media platforms are just websites with immense amounts of live content. A few statistics she shared:

Facebook

  • Facebook pages featuring lots of video content grow 49% faster
  • On Facebook live videos get 6x more engagement than normal videos
  • 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound so think about subtitles
  • New algorithm means non ‘meaningful’ posts that aren’t related to a page’s purpose are intentionally shown to less users (e.g. if Apple started a poll about women’s clothes)

Instagram

  • Instagram now has 800million monthly users and 700 million daily users… that’s 3x Twitter!
  • Instagram posts with hashtags get wider audiences and 11 is the optimal number of hashtags to use on a post
  • On Instagram your Facebook friends’ content is promoted over accounts you’re not as connected with

Overall, ‘Consumers are 92% more likely to trust recommendations over advertising when it comes to purchasing decisions’ so Sara encouraged us to engage with users and build trust.


2. Storytelling is how you get a relationship

A relationship… with your users of course! Hope no one scrolled in search of a new partner. On day 2 of the conference speaker Laura Yarrow explained how storytelling causes ‘neural coupling’, a process that aligns the story teller’s and listeners’ brains together for improved comprehension. Metaphors and analogies help synchronize teller and listener brains by coupling details with things they already know (e.g. if someone said ‘he had leathery hands’ you’d instantly think about what leather feels like and know exactly what the teller means).

Laura outlined the benefits of storytelling in user research and Sara Parmenter (point 1) touched on why it’s great for social media. I can see the benefits in any form of content design, better comprehension is never a bad thing!

Bruce Lawson: ‘Shokunin of the Web’

3. You’ve got 3x more style than you thought

Towards the end of day 1 Cassidy Williams inspired the audience with a live coding session on how to make CSS art using mostly ::before and ::after selectors. I’ve used pseudo selectors many times before but until the session I’d never seen how valuable they can be when minimising mark-up. Every element has a ::before and ::after; which, means you can do 3 times the style with the same HTML. For example, the site a.singlediv.com demonstrates how much can be created from just one HTML div element!

Earlier in the day Steven Roberts also demonstrated how intricate CSS animations can be and shared a good principle that animations should ‘inform and delight’ (not just create a busy screen).


4. PWAs are the future but they need to be on FIRE

I’m not sure about you but I’m very excited about PWAs (Progressive Web Apps), the thought that websites can have offline capabilities and deliver similar experiences similar to native apps is awesome. On day 2 Google’s Conor McGann spoke about how companies like ASDA, Debenhams and BMW have produced outstanding PWAs with AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages).

After a bit of research, I’m not sure about AMP, I feel it gives developers a get out of jail free card from low performant websites. However, your page is served by Google CDN that you could never compete with on speed. Having said this, I love an acronym Conor mentioned. PWAs should be:

  • Fast
  • Integrated
  • Reliable
  • Engaging

All of this may seem obvious but it’s clear native apps out compete PWAs because there so much less waiting time. It’s the ‘engaging’ part of the acronym we need to work on, if we can match the smooth experience native apps offer then users may think twice before wasting more storage space with a native app that does the same job as a good PWA.


5. Users pay for your website, but you’ll never see the profits

Bruce Lawson opened day 2 with a talk on web standards and explained how your JavaScript heavy site costs users more data… which costs them money. For users with mobile contracts this isn’t as much of an issue but for pay as you go customers (most developing continents) every KB counts because users won’t have to top up as fast!

If that’s not enough, Bruce also explained that as of August 2018 Chrome for Android now disables JavaScript on connections slower than 2G, so don’t use JavaScript to do the job of HTML or users may see an empty page.

Marpi Marcinowski: ‘Building Worlds’

6. XR is on the web, and it’s awesome

XR (meaning virtual reality and/or augmented reality) used to be a native or custom device only experience but since the introduction of WebVR (+ three.js and WebGL) there have been many fascinating creations. Speakers Marpi Marcinowski and Ricardo Cabello both demoed some of their own. To see examples, check out their personal sites, I’m sure you’ll be as blown away as I was:

Marpi Marcinowski:
marpi.pl

Ricardo Cabello:
ricardocabello.com

In addition, Alexandra Etienne told us there is a dedicated AR JavaScript library on the way named AR.js. Overall, new developments in this space are extremely exciting but they’re still far from competing with devices like the Oculus Rift. Still, the future looks promising!


7. Design systems are just as important as products

As a Senior Design Specialist at InVision, Andrew Godfrey (day 2 speaker) works with some of the top design teams in the world to understand how they operate and why. His talk focused on why many design systems fail and shared numerous tips on improving them.

Before new/first versions of a design system:

  • Define system boundaries
  • Outline who will indirectly use your design system and how
  • Outline which products will use your design systems
  • What design systems came before your design system?
  • Don’t wait for components

Create different versions for each department, they’ll use it for different things! Consider:

  • Marketing
  • Product
  • Design
  • Development

Questions users might ask about your system (consider):

  • How do I add a new standard?
  • When will my component become available?
  • What’s the correct version?
  • How do I access the new version?
  • How do I use a standard?
  • Who owns the design system?

In conclusion, Andrew said: ‘It’s not a project, it’s a PRODUCT!’ and recommended doing code audits to check which components are being used the most and why. Also, ‘culture surrounds a design system, so review it and get feedback’.

Conclusion

Overall, I thought the conference was amazing. For a young professional like myself meeting speakers and other attendees with such enthusiasm was extremely motivating.

There were so many brilliant talks over the 2 days, so it was hard to squeeze them into one blog article! Another highlight for me was Sara Soueidan demonstrating insane knowledge of CSS3 by discussing ways of achieving min/max font sizes, user-queries, CSS masks and CSS variables (not SASS!). For more information check out her site at: sarasoueidan.com

I’d highly recommend the conference to anyone in web design or development because of the depth speakers went into new developments and the range of subject areas covered. Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed!

Link to blog post on hedgehog lab blog