Clear Thinking

Latest news and opinion from the Clearleft team

On New Adventures in Web Design

Last week half the office descended on Nottingham to partake in what looks to be the final instalment of the #naconf trilogy. With 8 of us attending, the Clearlefties were out in full force, with Rich and Josh manning the Fontdeck stand, Paul and James acting as the #naconf veterans, and myself and Ben who were first-timers.

It was great to be able to say goodbye to such a well-respected and well-organised production, and thankfully this final version didn’t disappoint. Here are some highlights of the day:

The talks

Process

The day started with Jason Santa Maria taking the stage to discuss his own ‘nimble process’ and how important it is in helping him arrive at a creative solution. Using refreshingly honest and bare-boned anecdotes, Jason enforced the idea that — at least in the early stages of design — fidelity and polish should be afterthoughts. Rough sketches, rapid iteration and low-level detail are all proponents in a process where the solution can be sought in a number of ways, long before firing up Photoshop, Fireworks or a even a browser.

Jason’s talk was particularly poignant for us Clearlefties as it closely resembles how we like to work: starting on blank paper and sketching the hell out of a particular design problem (warts and all) long before we give any consideration to the finer details of the design as a whole. This approach might look messy at first, but every scribble reflects applied thought and evolving understanding of the problem, ultimately leading to a better, more considered design solution once fleshed out in its entirety.

Details

On the note of finer details, Jon Tan’s excellent talk on typography was one of my personal favourites. Besides a great stage presence and seamless delivery of his ideas (and a few shout-outs for Rich and Fontdeck), Jon focused on how we use the web for its primary purpose: consuming content, and why it’s so important we design for that content with the respect it deserves.

Elaborating on the ‘billboards’ (impact) and ‘novels’ (immersion) concepts of typography on the web, Jon weaved an excellent narrative by shifting effortlessly between basic typographic requirements such as contrast and saccades to more detailed, practical methods for better web typography. One of those more practical nuggets for all designers out there: When selecting a typeface, the combo: agh! iIl1 0O is a great way to learn how a typeface will deal with some of the harder (and often overlooked) details of the content it communicates.

Collaboration

Another Clearleft favourite was Tyler Mincey’s talk on appropriate tension. Drawing from his experiences as the lead engineer for Apple’s iPod division, Tyler spoke about the need for collaboration in teams, highlighting the fact that simply throwing more people at an issue rarely solves the problem at hand. Instead, Tyler recommended focusing on a problem and accepting its constraints (or moving them as needed) and administering a healthy amount of push and pull amongst project members. By doing so, a team can arrive at a meaningful solution better, faster, and often with better results.

In the afternoon we had the pleasure of watching fellow Brightonian — Seb-lee Deslisle — simultaneously wow the crowd with both his creative, collaborative live coding (on a Commodore64 no less) and his epic delivery that puts many celebrity comedians to shame.

Education

Thiago Pedras, a web designing teacher from Porto, outlined his great process for teaching web design to students by likening his classroom to a lab, and his syllabus to a client’s brief. Using a completely fictitious but highly-coveted award (the Golden Coconut), he tasks his students with delivering a fully-fledged web app over the course of a full term, giving as much ‘real-world’ experience as possible through a classroom environment.

A lot of Thiago’s talk reminded us of the importance of web education and the work Clare and Linda are doing with Code Club, for which our very own Josh does a tonne of volunteer work for.

In closing

The rest of the talks from Stephanie Troeth, Jessica Hische, Wayne Hemingway and Michael Heilemann were all great, but in the interest of keeping this to a quick read, I’ve focused on my highlights.

All in all, the final #naconf was a great time had be all. Hats off to @colly et al for putting on a great event, and here’s to hoping that there is another #naconf — at least in some form — in the near future.