Talk Web Design 2014

08 May 2014

I had been looking forward to this conference for a while and TalkWD was definitely worth the wait. A big thank you to David and Prisca for bringing it together.

Here are some notes I scrawled onto a napkin:

Pui-Ling Lau - Journey to the Web

Pui spoke about her background, experience on the MA and her achievements since, which many of us were inspired by. I was impressed to see how well her thesis project site has performed.

There was some advice for attendees: Build up your portfolio, keep trying, learning and doing, go to conferences, and write your experiments—Pui has a ‘lab work’ section on her site which catalogues difficult problems and their solutions.

Kaelig - bridging the gap between developers and designers with Sass

Kaelig gave an insight into how the Guardian development team use Sass to create a common language between designers and developers. A lot of it was over my head but has inspired me to keep going with Sass.

Variable names are decided between designers and developers, and breakpoints are given names which everyone can relate to. I found their approach to media queries is interesting—using mixins to include breakpoints:

Adam Onishi - The modern front-end developer toolkit

The front end is big… really big. There are lots of tools and that’s great, people have different preferences and tools can be useful for different jobs.

Adam discussed the tools he finds useful: Sublime Text and plugins (Emmet, Git among others), Ghostlab for syncing browsers across many devices, boilerplates, frameworks, pre-processors and network link conditioner (mac), a tool for simulating different network connection speeds.

The key takeaway for me was that developers do not need to learn all of the tools, rather learn things as we build websites. Oh, and use Github!

Laura Kalbag - All the mistakes I’ve made as a freelance designer

Laura gave a very open, honest talk packed with advice for freelancers:

Set up projects with a 50% retainer and billing every other week for work completed. Contracts are really important, Andy Clarke’s contract killer is a good place to start. Never give your personal mobile number to clients. Give justifications for your decisions, this will help pre-empt problems and stops clients nit-picking. Get an address for the client so you can chase late invoices. Most importantly we don’t need to be competitive with one another—share with others, and learn from others.

Nicklas de León Persson - The asynchronous team — remote working the right way

This talk was about remote work and its benefits.

The brain is easily distracted—it takes less effort to mindlessly surf the web than to focus on work. It takes an average of 15 minutes to get in the zone—consider the number of distractions in an average 8 hour day in the office. Meetings, while useful at times, can be incredibly wasteful. The key thing to consider when working from home is keep everything online and be transparent. “Document everything you are doing as if you are about to get hit by a bus.”

Ben Foxall - Multi-device interactions with the web

I loved this talk despite most of the technical details being over my head. Benjamin used some Javascript libraries to sync images across our devices and collected data about our screen sizes. I really enjoy these interactive talks and credit to Ben for getting everything working.

Kilian Bochnig, Victor Johansson & Zassa Kavuma - Chüne, the Clearleft Graduate Internship Programme 2013 - ft Andy Budd

Three interns from different backgrounds were given a brief and three months to create a product, resulting in Chune. It was great to see how they used their different strengths to work together and build something quite impressive. The Clearleft internship looks like a great opportunity for students, and it is paid.

Peter Gasston - Understand when you can, fake it when you can’t

Peter covered a number of annoyances on the web and how developers should avoid making poor decisions which annoy users.

It is easy to forget that we are building websites for people who aren’t like us. We need to have empathy for our users. So much can be learnt by watching other people use the web. We should not assume that we know what’s best for the user.

Empathy is important when working with others. You can be technically excellent but ultimately ineffective if you cannot communicate well. The nature of development has really changed over the last few years: Developers need to work with designers, business people and users to create good websites, so having empathy is key.

Panel Q&A - Session

Some of the speakers gathered to answer our questions and to give advice:

  • Specialise—do one thing really well, turn away low value work that will not add to your portfolio and will likely keep you trapped in similar work.
  • Learn to say no, its very easy to get a huge workload so you need to turn things down.
  • Don’t underestimate yourself and abilities based on number of followers etc.
  • Cover letter advice: Proof read for typos, only keep relevant jobs in there, avoid mentioning tools (especially Word and Excel!), don’t include bar graphs with varying levels of skill.
  • CV: keep it small—preferably 1/2 sides.
  • Create a great portfolio, this is more important than a CV.
  • A prospective employer wants to see how you think and how you code. Give examples of your work and contribute to projects on Github.
  • You aren’t being employed for the person you are now but for the person you will become.