The tag line for Up Front 2015 (Manchester) was simply: A front-end conference for anyone who makes for the web. Education is a continual process so, as part of my professional development, this looked like the ideal place to find out who else does “stuff”, why they do it, how they do it and can I learn from them?
The schedule included 8 guest speakers offering talks on a variety of subjects (n.b. the blurb has been copied from the conference schedule):
Atomic Design – Brad Frost
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the web community create style tiles, element collages, style guides, pattern libraries, and a slew of other tools in order to break interfaces down to their atomic elements. Our interfaces are going more places than ever before, so this shift is essential to help us better understand what our websites consist of in order for us create smart, scalable, maintainable designs. This session will introduce atomic design, a methodology for creating robust design systems. We’ll cover how to apply atomic design to implement your very own design system in order to set you, your organization and clients up for success.
Jumping Into Front-End Testing – Alicia Sedlock
The front-end workflow has gotten wildly complex. CSS preprocessors and task runners are some of our new favorite things, but other tools and techniques, such as testing, haven’t gotten as much love lately. Testing your front-end code can be a timesaver and saving grace on complex applications and writing tests has become a crucial piece of the front-end developer’s workflow. We’ll talk about why you should be testing your code, the variety of tests you can write, what each variety is best suited for, testing tools and frameworks, and how to approach writing tests.
The Disconnected Ensemble: Scattered Clouds, Underground – Soledad Penadés
Leave the routers and repeaters, the cabling and the splitters all behind. Just bring those phones, and let’s go underground. Let’s sit on a train and play music, left to our own devices, with our own devices.
Faster mobile websites – Dean Hume
Developers understand the need for fast, smooth websites – but how do you apply this to a mobile website and the vast amount of mobile devices out there? This talk is aimed at all developers that build websites and will dive into basic and advanced web performance techniques – there is something for everyone! The talk also covers free tools that developers can use to test and profile the performance of their mobile websites.
The Internet of Browsers – Ben Foxall
Browsers do more than just presenting content – they can also allow us to collect data from the environment. We’ll look at what information we can gather using the web platform, and what kinds of things that we can do by considering the physical situation in which we use our devices.
Web Typography You Could Be Doing Now – Richard Rutter
It’s time to get your typographic skills right up to the cutting edge of what is practical and desirable on the web right now. This talk with introduce the tricky decisions around font choice and font pairing, the important part typography has to play within responsive design, and the tricks highly skilled typographers have been using for decades and see them applied to the web.
Games Console Browsers – Anna Debenham
With 19% of people in the UK accessing the internet using a game console, it’s time to look beyond desktop, mobile and tablet browsers. Browsing the internet on a game console presents us with new challenges, such as designing for the 10-foot UI, and building sites that could be interacted with using voice, gesture, a second-screen, or using a d-pad or a smart watch.
It may all sound a bit far-fetched, but considering how your site will be used by people using console browsers will not only benefit your current users, but also prepare you for the oncoming zombie-apocalypse of internet-enabled devices.
Design Decisions Through the Lens of Performance – Yesenia Perez-Cruz
We design sites for a myriad of devices with varying connection speeds. More and more, we’re discovering the importance of fast page speed. Even 100 millisecond delays in load times negatively impact user experience and conversions. The problem is, making a site fast and lightweight is often at odds with other design goals—like creating visually immersive experiences or meeting all of an organization’s rich-media ad requirements.
While a stripped ¬down site with no images, set entirely in Arial, is certainly going to be light, it’s not going to accomplish all of our client’s business goals. In this talk, we’ll discuss how we can make smarter design decisions, from the beginning of a project, to ensure that our sites perform well. Some topics Yesenia will discuss are optimizing typography and UI, and how to get clients on board.
What were the key points from the conference?
The speakers appeared to overlap on some themes but this did not detract from the overall content.
Brad’s talk was not just about atomic design – it was more about working together with customers to achieve their goals: “Collaboration and communication trumps deliverables”. Collaboration does not end with the customers – need involvement with all parties in the build process too.
Dean and Yesenia were keen advocates on making performance the primary measure of success. Yesenia in particular advised setting aside a performance budget at the start of the project. She also mentioned it is ok to make mistakes – it’s how we learn!
Alicia’s talk was on a subject that is difficult to sell – testing! Often backend code is tested with little thought about the UI. Unit tests, Integration tests and Regression tests are all applicable to the Front End with many tools available on the market place. A point to note is that integration tests link well with user stories.
Soledad’s talk showed that an enthusiasm for doing “fun stuff” can have a positive social impact. She demonstrated how using one phone and a mini peer to peer network of the other phones in a room could have positive uses in under developed countries e.g. one person in a village can get the upgrade and then share with others in the village rather than say 50 individuals repeating the exercise. This could save a considerable amount of resource amongst a large collective suffering shortage.
Richard was a very accomplished speaker who delivered an entertaining and informative talk about a topic I have never given due consideration to in the past. Richard stepped through the decisions making process for identifying a set of typefaces for one of his customers. A point to note is that “What works” is relatively subjective but there are techniques to show compatible typefaces from different families can work together to ensure usability.
Anna was a crowd favourite – a positive mix of topic and her dry sense of humour. The one main point that interested me was the growing numbers of users who now browse through their games consoles. In particular, low income families are more likely to own a games console rather than a PC. There are also a growing number of users who use their televisions for browsing. Optimisation is important. When designing pages, think about the device the pages will be viewed on. Think about the audience and their behaviours.
I have left Ben until last, even though he appeared in the middle of the order, because his talk was the most engaging – in fact I didn’t take any notes! Ben had everyone in the room use their phones to connect to a web site he created for this demo. He was able to read the geo-location properties of each individual’s phone and send different noises to each phone based on their location in the room. He conducted a wave of noise across the room with his arm. It was a bit of “smoke and mirrors” but illustrated in the most effective way – he had the attention of every person in the room – that people matter and we can make a change, one person at a time, by what we put on the web.