A review of the Front-end Design Conference

Fellow cadet Greg and I recently attended the Front-end Design Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. This year marked the 6th anniversary of the conference, but for us it was a brand new experience. It was wonderful to see developers and designers from across the country, many of whom I personally admired, including Chris Coyier of CSS Tricks and Jonathan Snook of SMACCS fame. The conference consisted of a small group, which made it much more personal and intimate, and we had several opportunities to talk to the speakers.

Despite attending the same conference and hearing the same talks, Greg and I naturally got different things out of it. For me, the highlight of the conference was learning tools and tips that would help me become a better developer and designer. So below, I’d like to tell you about some of my key takeaways and favorite moments.

Path to Performance

The topic of performance can be a tricky one, and one that we tend to ignore. Katie Kovalcin covered the importance of pushing performance as a necessity while scoping out a project. Why is this important? Larger sites with long loading times can be pricey for some of your mobile users who happen to be on a not-so-great network. There’s even a great tool out there to let you know how much it costs for a user to use your site on mobile networks around the world, check it out at http://whatdoesmysitecost.com.

If you’re having trouble selling your client on the importance of performance, there’s a few things you can do. First is to get insight into the performance of your client’s competitor. If they’re being outperformed, chances are they’ll want to do something about it. Also, using words like “speed” and “fast” can also help reinforce the message. For instance, you could start by saying “we’ll provide you with a fast responsive and immersive online experience.” This way you’re not over-selling performance, but still getting across the idea that it’s important to be fast. Performance discussions don’t need to happen in the middle of the project either. The proposal is the most crucial conversation. Let’s get the project manager involved in the conversation.

Designers can open source

We often associate the open source community with developers sharing and contributing ideas and building products through code. We often don’t think of designers as contributors. Garth Braithwaite covered a few topics in regard to open source design in his talk. He bought up a lot of great points about the benefits of open sourcing design work and how to do open source work as a designer.

First of all, he acknowledged why open source can be hard. “Think back to school, everyone hated group projects.” And he’s right. Doing work of any kind as a group can be a difficult challenge and one that we like to ignore.

Over the years, designers have also gotten the wrong idea that there’s no place for them in open source. However, the truth is “developers could use some help in open source software.” To be quite honest, a lot of great open source projects fail due to flawed UI or UX. This is where we as designers can step in and help. In addition to UI and UX, designers can make an impact through something as simple as crafting a unique logo or branding element that will help bring the product to life.