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.