New Adventures 2019 | Part One
Our responsibility to the future of the web
Last week a few members of our team attended the awesome New Adventures Conference here in our hometown of Nottingham. Having had a well earned break, NACONF returned to our city with a bang! Bringing two days of brilliant workshops and a conference day to the stunning Albert Hall.
The theme for this year's conference focused around digital experiences and how they are forming in new ways, requiring us as designers, developers and users to think smarter and be more efficient and collaborative in our approach. Both Jamie and Jimi spent time at two respective workshops whilst I was able to spend the day at the conference - here I’ll review the stand out parts of the day.
The conference morning kicked off with the inspiring Jeremy Keith breaking down web design. He looked to past traditions formed within typography and graphic design and linked our design experiences to those borrowed from the world of architecture.
Are we designers, architects, engineers or builders?
Jeremy referred to the skill of architects and how we have used influential ideas from the medium to inform pattern language, grid systems and responsive design to “tame the wildness of the web”. That in actuality, we are all builders: builders of a landing page, a full website and of course, the builders of the World Wide Web. We are responsible for something much more than the little corner of the web we work on; everything we do influences something greater…
The inspiring speaker Clare Sutcliffe MBE (a true leader in the idea of that “something greater”) spent time breaking down the passion and experience that the New Adventure conference had given her in the past. She’s the founder of Code Club - a movement to get children coding in after school clubs world wide. She referenced her experiences of starting a business which made substantial changes across the globe. Her classes teach a new generation the importance of the web, making it her and her teams’ approach to inspire the next problem solvers, inventors and world changers.
After a number of speakers throughout the morning the theme of the day became more apparent. We had the amazing Jess walk us through the importance of hot desking and integrating development and design teams for greater working practices. Along with Brendan Dawes showing off some of his brilliant data visualisation pieces and letting us see into his “digital cupboard” - proving all ideas are good but you may not need them just yet.
Next up was the wonderful Helen Joy (a personal favourite of mine!) Helen is a User Researcher and she explained the importance of getting to know your user in depth; expanding on our responsibility to get to know the user, their needs, problems that they may face and how they access the web. A lot of this we knew but it shocked me to find out how guilty we all are of making assumptions on our users. We have to learn to take a step back and remember that we are the digitally privileged and not all of our users have the same advantage that we do.
We work in spaces with the latest equipment, have access to the latest browsers, shiny Macbooks and super fast internet. We need to learn that for the most part, our users have a very different experience with the web - whether that be the equipment they use or their personal confidence when getting online.
Helen quite rightly posed the question “Whose design is it anyway?” As creators of digital products we think we’ve got it covered. We spend time creating user journeys and mapping our users every possible move, but she asks “do we really know our users at all?” It's our responsibility as creators to work with our users to find out what they need. I found this talk rather emotional - thinking back to all the times I’ve made an assumption over actually seeking the answers - and finding out that the things we deem as small changes can actually be life-changing to our users.
Towards the end of the event Ethan Marcotte summarised the day and its theme with his deep dive into the ethics, moral and political use of the web. How the web is really shaping the world we live in and how we, as designers and developers, are there to bridge the gap. Our work is changing at a rapid pace. Will we become subsequent to these changes and as creators will we be needed at all in the future? He then made the point that we are in charge not only of our own destiny, but also the future of the web as a whole. What do we need to do to make change? What work do we really want to be producing.
The day in some ways made myself and others around me feel a little like we’d been told off. Are we responsible for the web being a dark place and for the exploitation of its users? Not directly of course but the big wheel that we are all part of can be blamed. On reflection the event left me feeling very privileged (digitally) and hopeful for the future of web. As an agency, I feel we have the power to make change as small as it may be, it all adds up.