Design it, build it, grow it.

Many conferences go for ultra specialization, or talk for beginners. So, it was so nice to go to DIBI (or Design It, Build It) up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne  where the talks suited my specialty so well: I design, do some coding, and am starting up my own business.

Design Usability & content

As an industry, design is changing, and the talks all focused around these three components of design meant that pixel pushing is a secondary skill.

Here are the highlights I took from my favourite speakers:

Brian Suda tells us to “tell one story and one story only” when we’re visualizing data, and asks us to strive to make data more engaging and fun.  He also makes a point of studying usability on colours and other visualization methods. How will his colour graphics reproduce on a kindle?  He then takes weather to make logos, and seismic activity to make art.  Why shouldn’t these things have deeper meaning? Hopefully he shares his svg code with us so we can all play some more!

Jeremy Keith asks us to see the web as one– steering us away from viewing mobile and desktop (of varying sizes) as different beasts, and realizing that we never had control over a website’s size. He asks us to focus on content first, and let go of all this pixel perfect nonsense.  While I agree in theory, I still think branding and styles have a role to play.

Jared Spool challenges us to spend at least 2 hours every 6 weeks watching our users interacting with our designs.  He goes through studies that he’s done that gave surprising results, and we were all on board.  He talked at length about a staircase of knowledge, and making sure getting people from current knowledge to the required knowledge to do what they wanted to do.  He made us think about what happens when we move things around for people and how we turn them into novices once again.  He was by far the funniest most engaging speaker at the conference, it’s just too bad his slides were white text on light green.  Maybe he should have done a 2 hour usability testing on his slides!

Jeffery Zeldman took us on a crazy rollercoaster through the creation of the web and looks closely at how much more important content is.  He said it’s now our responsibility to make sure the content is good, and often times we have to create some initial copy to get the client started. Death to Lorem Ipsum! This is something I already do for most of my clients; I often pre-write, copyedit and lead clients through content structure. We’re both happier that way, and we’ll call in a real copyeditor when necessary. He talked about what it meant to be a web designer these days  and makes it clear that knowing semantic markup for web designers is a fundamental job skill. I totally agree– to work on web design, you should know the basics on how it is going to be built and should be able to say to anyone “this is an h1, h2, ol, etc”.

Build it?

The problem with a two streamed conference is that if you’re interested in all the design talks, you don’t get a chance to see the dev track presentations.  I did go and see Jake Archibald talk about @font-face and learned a lot about how different browsers deal with fonts.  Unfortunately, even though his presentation was brilliant, I was left disheartened by the fact that I’m still going to get flickering and inconsistencies between browsers despite my efforts.

The other great thing about a two track program is that you mix the designers and developers together. While I know some great designers, developers are great to talk to, and usually have the best ideas about making things work.  There’s no question that more of my partnerships are with developers as we have the compatible skills to bring something to life.

Grow it!

We heard from designers and developers on the day, but some of the most useful information often comes from those people that are experts in fields you know little about.  Hearing from FreeAgent‘s founder Roan Lavery was amazing.  I am a huge FreeAgent fan, and hearing about their successful referral programme and the problems you get when you try and keep things simple was great.

I was also impressed with Jonathan Gold, the investment banker from Rivers Capital (who invest in English businesses… Yay local!).  Good on him for coming and telling us straight what they do.  Our industry is notoriously weary of investment bankers, but he seemed genuine and down to earth.

It’s all about getting results.

It turns out it’s most important it is to design and build with care. It seemed less about trying out new technologies and more about the best and most effective ways to stun and impress users without overwhelming them with features.  The combination of business skills with designing and developing show that DIBI is thinking holistically about our professions.  Hopefully this will mean that we will all be more careful to take everything into consideration.  DIBI is highly recommended as a one-day excursion to rejuvenate your enthusiasm for designing building and growing your businesses.  Well done to Gavin Elliott and team for putting on a great conference!


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