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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

SparkUp Conference: What’s New in UX and Web Design

SparkUp Conference

I’ve just come back from SparkUp Conference which is probably the first conference focusing on web development, web design and user experience in Poland. You can find a few words about the conference itself at the end of this post, but my reason for attending the event wasn’t to judge hosts but to catch on with new trends in web design.

I don’t feel like an expert in the area so I expected to hear pretty much new information and learn what we’re doing wrong.

Make it simple

If I wanted to point the only, most important message repeated over and over again at SparkUp it would be: make your design less cluttered. The more things you’re trying to pack into a website the harder it is for user to find what they’re looking for. The more elements you try to stress using visual tricks the harder it is for user to focus on the real goal of the site.

It is the old lesson you can say and you’ll be right. If the world has learned one thing about web design from Google this was the thing. The change we made in just a few years from packed sites competing for our attention to single-purpose sites with clean and simple design is impressive. Yet it appears we need to be told that still after all these years.

Learn how to keep user on site for more than 30 seconds

This is another pretty obvious message, but I’m not surprised at all we heard that. Most sites suck at keeping user’s attention for a minute or so. What more, if I wanted to point the biggest failure of design of this blog it would be exactly this – keeping you, dear readers, on the site for a longer time and making you click something than close tab button. Bounce rate close to 80% is nothing to be proud about.

Anyway it looks like new visitors don’t find here what they’re looking for because it can’t be found easily enough or just named wrongly. For this discussion I just won’t consider my writings can be boring or stupid. But coming back to the point, if we aren’t able to draw attention of visitors during first half of a minute they’re gone and they’re not coming back.

Interesting thing is it works the very same way with mobile applications downloaded to our smartphones. Even though it isn’t a website and the app sits on our device we won’t invest much more of our time.

It’s not always the user who is the king

This one was a bit of surprise for me, but it appears you may want to build a site which is sub-optimal for users but maximizes your other goal, namely advertisement exposure. I never looked at that this way, but to some point this does make sense. This also explains why typical news sites suck so much.

Not everything has to be perfect

We have a number of different browsers. Some of them infamous for their bugs or non-standard behaviors, IE6 being the most notable one. When designing a site we often try to polish every detail. But it appears that the good enough principle works here as well. Users won’t notice that corners aren’t rounded in Internet Explorer or there’s no shadow in Chrome or some graphics aren’t perfectly aligned in Firefox. After all they don’t switch like crazy between different browsers. And they don’t come to your site to judge design but to achieve some goal: find information, buy etc.

Web 2.0 with human face

I pretty much expected to hear a lot of web 2.0 and social media crap thrown at every presentation during the event. And I was positively surprised. Of course there were a lot of social media apps used as examples but it wasn’t pushy at all. That’s natural some of strategies used by social media sites can be used more universally and that’s basically how this content was sold on the conference.


I’d say I expected to hear more novelties and it appeared people keep saying pretty much the same things you already know, if you use some common sense at least. This isn’t a bad news however. You just don’t need to use all new stuff to build a great site.

What more, being a few steps behind may even help you, as not every idea adopted by the industry appears to be great. A good example is using a lot of Flash, which is sometimes credited as overused technology.

About SparkUp Conference

This was the first edition of the event and hosts need to improve a lot. A list of glitches is pretty long: slides were hardly seen (very dark and blurred) despite three projectors in each room, some problems with audio, coughing wifi, not enough snacks during breaks, a very long line for lunch and light on the stage virtually blinding presenters. Even Twitter coverage was poor. But the worst organizational glitch was a lack of host.

There was no one trying to keep the schedule, shouting at people staying too long at breaks, introducing presenters, running with a microphone during Q&A sessions etc. One person for each room would be enough. All these issues can be ascribed as problems of a first version, but AgileCE this year was also version 1.0 and it was organized way better than SparkUp.

Another thing is presentations quality. To be honest I expected more. Not that I complain about caliber of speakers. Actually I’m neither web designer nor web developer so celebrities from that niche are anonymous for me anyway. But I expect people would be prepared to deliver their presentations, and their speech would go rather smoothly. Not that all presentations were mediocre, but a couple of them were definitely below-average.

When I was considering attending AgileCE I had doubts how it would eventually go, but after the conference I’m sure I’ll be there next year. With SparkUp it is the other way around: I thought it was a great idea for an event, but I’m not so sure if I’m going to be there next year.

in: software design

4 comments… add one

  • podly ryszard May 27, 2010, 3:01 am


    About keeping people on the site longer, there’s a great article by Paddy Donnelly called “Life Below 600px”. It’s about a common misconception forcing designers to cram every important element of a page to the top (above 600px). This results in pages that people just glance instead of reading them.

    This is not the case with this blog. You’re doing a great job in keeping the readers interested throughout your articles and they always encourage me to keep reading them to the very end. I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself. Maybe it’s not you, it’s the readers. After all, remember that most people don’t read and don’t listen anymore [ref to: why the world is a mess linked in one of your previous articles ;-)] What I’m getting at is, maybe the problem is not the site itself but all the things outside this site. Maybe you need to attract users that are genuinely interested in your writing and they will stay longer.

    Anyway, thanks for this report from SparkUp. I hope this event will grow and become more professional in the future.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 27, 2010, 5:07 am

    Thanks for warm words, Ryszard. Running a blog requires effort both inside and outside – that’s not a news for me, but one of things I suck at is drawing newcomers’ attention to the point when they start digging deeper. High bounce rate basically proves this.

    The other story is of course with regular readers, like you. I hope there aren’t many people unsubscribing Software Project Management because they don’t like it anymore. Anyway I don’t have any indicator which would raise red light here.

    Making people aware of the blog is a different story and it has little to do with the design thus I’ll just omit it in the discussion.

    My general approach is you can’t blame users/clients/attendees/whoever for what they are and how they act. If people don’t read and don’t learn and what I do is writing and teaching I should try to overcome their behavior and get them interested in reading and learning. At least reading and learning this small piece of knowledge I share on the blog. After all, in terms of audience size, it will be my success too. So no, I don’t think it is a right thing to blame others.

    About SparkUp: I don’t think it needs to grow. There was about 400 people already, while I personally expected 100 or so. Hopefully people standing behind the conference will focus on all the glitches next year – they aren’t that hard to fix.

  • Vicky Stamatopoulou May 31, 2010, 11:54 am

    Well there was one positive thing about you visiting SparkUp… this blog post ;-) Thanks for reporting, it is always interesting reading you, even if I am not regular in commenting, I am reading you regularly , so your content and the package of this blog had worked at least to me. Best regards :-)

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 31, 2010, 12:47 pm

    Thanks Vicky. I didn’t write the post to hear votes of support but I guess it sounds as I needed some. I might try more of that to boost my ego.

    Anyway, regular readers are always appreciated. You, who take effort to drop a comment from time to time, are appreciated even more.

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