Report: FOWD 2011, Day 1

We report from the bleeding edge of web design and round up the best talks of the first day of the Future of Web Design conference

Carsonified are rocking the Future of Web Design in London - and we can reveal it's not all black!

The first conference day of the Future of Web Design kicked off in London today providing tons of inspiration and food for thought by some of the world's leading designers and developers. There also was a second track, presented by members of the .net magazine team, which introduced some excellent "rising star" speakers who aren't a firm fixture on the conference circuit yet.

One of the recurring themes of the day was accessibility, which both Ian Hamilton, senior interaction designer at the BBC, and AbilityNet's Robin Christopherson focused on. Christopherson showcased his experience of using a screenreader and the frustrations of accessing very Flash-heavy sites. He also addressed the new challenges of designing for the TV screen and IP TV, as content services like YouView (formerly known as Project Canvas) are getting ready to launch.

Development concepts

In her talk "10 Development Concepts Designers Should Know", Rachel Andrew described some common pitfalls that occur when designers don't give enough consideration to development processes. "Protect your design from developers!" she urged, warning that designers who don't design for every eventuality on their site leave holes that devs will fill with their own design efforts.

Andrews outlined some concepts that will help designers to understand the development process and argued against the use of captchas to reduce form spam: "Don't make spam a user problem; there are other ways," she said. (Later on, Ian Hamilton also railed against them as an enemy of accessibility.) Among the alternatives Andrew presented were hidden fields: fields on a form that are invisible to the user but visible to bots which will fill them, thus identifying the submission as spam.


Software developer Samuel Bowles, meanwhile, stressed the benefits of working in pairs on a design project. Design suffers from a hero culture, he said, with many designers working for awards, preferring to work alone and revealing work only when it's "ready".

Bowles showed clips from Mad Men that illustrated his points in an entertaining fashion. "Don Draper hasn't got a clue what his process his", he exclaimed, "but designers have to understand the process!" Instead of this scattergun approach, teams should adopt a collaborative process. For further reading on the subject Bowles recommended Pair Programming Illuminated by Laurie Williams and Robert Kessler.

At the same time, over in Track 1, in her practical session on iOS design, Sarah Parmenter advocated creating an Application Definition Statement to prevent scope creep when designing an app. "Ask yourself, what's the single reason for someone using my app?" she said. Parmenter advised creating a one-sentence definition and sticking to it throughout the project. You can read more about her methods in her tutorial "User Interface Design for iPhone Apps".

Words and the web

Etymology might not sound like a promising subject for a conference address but Dan Rubin delivered a surprisingly passionate and engaging talk entitled "The new language of web design". He began by describing a young industry entering maturity and an urgent need to find new words that better describe what we do.

We lack ways to describe so many things that happen on the web, he explained, that we often borrow words from print. However these often confuse more than clarify, he said, pointing to words like 'page' and 'fold' and how they were often misunderstood by clients.

Rather than borrow words from "close siblings" like print, Rubin recommended we look to archaic words that still retain meaning but no longer are in common use. One example was the way the instruction manual for the first Mac resurrected the word 'scroll' and reinvented it as a verb. He also pointed to how the practice of Responsive Architecture had informed the new technique of responsive web design.

"It's important to know where these terms come from so we can understand what they're trying to communicate," Rubin concluded. He urged everyone in the audience to think about situations where clients and colleagues get confused and start creating a new lexicon that can move the industry forward.

The Future of Web Design continues tomorrow.