There is a common misconception that Web Developers are socially awkward geeks who would rather interact with a database then another human being, who snort at an apache server-related joke and race home to play GTA V before the sunlight pierces their pasty developer skin.
Myself and Luke, who look after the web side of things here at Jask, like to think we break that Web Developer stereotype, we happen to think we are pretty cool. For starters I’m more of an Assassins Creed fan and I know for a fact Luke said hello to this girl one time in July. Like I say, cool.
There is one exception we are willing to make – one time, when we are free to geek-out and revel in our passion for the digital world. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Canvas Conference.
If you don’t know about Canvas Conference, it is a one day conference, based in Birmingham, embracing all things web related. Designed for developers, creatives and marketeers it has something for everyone interested in the online world. 2013 was the conference’s second year and it has already grown in size and reputation since last year. So much so there is a London offering in the pipeline.
This years theme covered future ideas for the web, how new technology could be used to communicate effectively and investigating the connected customer. A fantastic line up of speakers were ready and primed to make the day one to remember, with Nokia, Microsoft, Adobe and the Guardian all involved.
The day started with an out of this world bacon sandwich, and when I say bacon sandwich, not your greasy spoon bacon sandwich, oh no, thick butcher quality bacon, ciabatta, gourmet red sauce, the works, I could dedicate a whole post to that sandwich, it was so good, it haunts me… But I digress, lets get back to the point of this, the conference.
Terry Ryan Adobe
The purpose of this talk was to showcase Adobe’s leading in Motion Design, specifically their software ‘Edge’.
Terry himself was very engaging and even managed to take a few swipes at Adobe’s Flash software, cue lots of developers and creatives nodding in agreement. Very clever Mr Ryan, very clever.
Adobe, clearly seeing the Flash format steadily losing its grip on the animation market, have attempted to appease purists by building software that is device friendly, leveraging HTML5 and CSS to do the lifting work, much like Tumult’s ‘Hype‘ does (my preferred weapon of choice). Whilst I agree, hand coding animation is no fun at all, I am left wondering what will be unleashed with this software.
Impressive though the use of CSS filters is, an experienced web designer knows, less is more. Somebody less so who is let loose on this software will believe all filters should be used, taking us back to the awful days of the animated gif-filled website, you know what I’m talking about, check this example (and then work out whether it’s on purpose or not!).
Also, the software is utilising functions not yet supported on modern browsers, with Adobe hoping they will be implemented along the way. Which seems rather presumptuous to me as its the W3C who set the standards with agreement from browser vendors.
If Adobe don’t get there own way, my prediction is an Adobe led Browser
Matt Andrews The Guardian
Then came, what for me and Luke, was the highlight of the day, an insight into how the Guardian rebuilt their massive site to utilise responsive design.
This was no mean feat, analysis showed that there were 279,634 words published a day by journalists, viewed on 322 different browser versions, on 6236 unique devices. No wonder it took one and a half years to sort it!
As well as the insight into the build there were some great takeaway points:
1) Pixel perfect websites are dead. Responsive design means everything must be adaptive and selective based on device and browser. This cannot be replicated on paper and is hard for a client to get out of that thinking if sent down that path.
2) Cutting the Mustard. The technique used by Matt to work out what to load in front of the user. Basically a script to test download times and device types etc… would then deliver a different set of functionality that is geared for those test results.
3) Integrated Workflow. Departments can no longer work independently. UX, design and development must work by each others side. Designer cannot make UX decisions, and UX cannot make developer decisions, responsive is best achieved if working closely on a website.
4) Features over devices. Rather then deliver a website geared towards a device, a website should deliver its content based on what is detected a user can handle. For instance tieing a mobile user to a specific mobile size is not future proof, mobiles get bigger and smaller screen estate.
And to top it off Matt ran a video of four large scale newspaper websites loading on a mobile to see how the Guardian compared. Naturally it passed with flying colours which cannot be said for a certain other newspaper site, which was trying to load its full, 8meg site (for the sake of anonymity will call them the Maily Dail).
Ruth John The Lab at O2
Ruth presented the possibilities with building apps for FirefoxOS. The talk itself was interesting and the case was made that everything needed to build apps for the FirefoxOS were already available.
We were given a demonstration on a developer phone of what could be achieved, though sadly the example phone used is unlikely to make its way to this country.
Hannah Wolfe Ghost
The Ghost blogging platform is a newcomer to the arena and Hannah did a great job explaining the history and reason behind it all. An informative rundown of her involvement and the building blocks used to get the platform to where it is now.
Utilising Node.js and using a streamlined UX delivery, it will be interesting to see where Ghost goes to next as it seeks to fill the void WordPress has left since becoming a CMS in its own right.
Martin Beeby Microsoft
My main concern with this talk was keeping Luke under control, all we needed was a Kanye West style stage intrusion as Luke spat out his disdain for all things Microsoft. Though we agreed we were both tempted to ask if they were deliberately trying to hold back the web community with its to-ing and fro-ing with rendering engines etc…
The talk was based on human interaction and if the traditional website was dead. To give Martin credit, he captured the imagination with some of the possibilities as well as identifying with the current user interaction problems.
The case was made that building sites for humans was tricky as humans are complex and you can’t always second guess actions. We were taken through traditional user inputs (keyboard, mouse) and their limitations, then to current technologies (touch) and what is round the corner (speech, gestures).
We were left with the question, how can we use them? Which is actually somewhat more profound then first thought. If people are moving away from traditional website viewing, we have to engage and relearn a user and their attitude as well s their lifestyle to find a way to build a web that compliments everyday life. Phew!
Alice Bartlett Berg
Alice stepped up to inform us of the work Berg had and will be doing. The focus was on Berg Cloud and the Little Printer which both could be heralding a new phase of technology and everyday life.
Berg Cloud was designed to do all the thinking and processing, which could then be connected to every day devices to fulfil tasks, like the Little Printer. They will be shipping out Dev Boards which could be used to connect any kind of device to, and using the Berg Cloud it could be programmed to automate tasks… Its like every sci-fi film you’ve ever seen!
Harry Hurst Qubit
As someone who love a bit of UX design I was looking forward to this talk a fair bit. Harry gave us an insight into site personalisation.
Today marketers are looking for ways to sell, personalisation is huge, gearing a website up to be a personal journey for the user is making big waves currently.
How to deliver it in a way that engages the user and leaving them thinking that they are the only customer the site has, is a complex and difficult science. Some takeaways from the talk:
- Be less robotic, more like a real shop experience
- Give visitors a warm welcome
- Push people to engage with your content
- Highlight page functionality to make things simple to follow for the user
- Create a sense of urgency (how many items are left etc…)
Mark Wheatley Nokia
Next up was Nokia, and their experience in creating ‘Mix Radio’. This was another fascinating insight into they build and execution of the Nokia eld service.
What was great about Marks talk was how honest he was with the companies failings. The service they offered previously tanked, massively. Everywhere except India! The reasoning seemed to be that users didn’t like jumping through hoops, two lengthy a sign up process and users will be turned off.
Take away any barrier that will lose you users – it has to be simple. A lesson that was learned the hard way.
So why is the new service so much better? Why is it more of a success? Because the user has ownership, with adaptive playlists and Party Mixes, the user feels more empowered and do not feel pushed into a certain area.
The future may be playlists based on mood or activity (motion controlled).
Dave Birss Additive
Last up was Dave from Additive. A guy you would describe as tenacious but clearly, with the success of his ad company, he knows his stuff.
The talk focused on ‘is digital dead?’. The simple answer is no, but it has morphed into a different kind of beast.
Advertising is always about humans, not the different channels you use. It must be adapted. Digital once stood alone as a channel, it now has been absorbed into every other channel and now sits as a valid utility in any campaign.
The point was made that many companies don’t know what to do with the digital medium because those companies have people running them that have grown in the industry without digital. They are now trying to apply traditional thinking into the digital work and very often they do not translate. It won’t be until the next generation take hold of it that we will be free of old world thinking and herald a different age of advertising.
A big prediction Dave made was that the Social bubble will burst. There is a lie that you need to talk constantly to generate conversation. The focus should always be quality over quantity. Will we see social media usage fall? Will people get tired of constant chatter? Watch this space…
Another big point was that channels aren’t separate they are all connected. Marketers need to understand a users journey and challenge assumptions.
The talks were done, and there was enough time for us to join the ‘after party’. A beer, good conversation about web stuff, it was crazy!
A great day, with some interesting talks. My one disappointment was that there were not enough freebies, I do love a freebie.
So thats our one day out of the year, time to get back to changing the world one web app at a time.