Last week as part of the design team, Kurt and I flew down to Grapevine, Texas for the first annual Squares Conference. There was a solid mix of topics discussed which included: design, ux, frontend, development, business, and products.Each speaker shared their experiences as designers and developers, including some lessons that they had learned throughout their work. Here are a few of their thoughts that stuck with me the most:
“Design is for everyone.”
Design should be considered throughout the entire process of building an application or site, not just in the initial phase. Sometimes after building out a design, you may find that the user experience is not flowing how you expected, and you’ll need to rework your original ideas. It’s best to catch these issues as early as possible; having designers that can do front end development definitely speeds up this process, since we can make changes on the fly.
“Experimentation is the best way to learn.”
“If a webpage takes more than how 2 seconds to load, 40% of users will leave the site—this can cost companies large amounts of money.”
Website and application performance shouldn’t be an afterthought; it’s crucial to start thinking about it at the beginning of a project. Some key metrics to keep track of are page weight (kb/mb), start render time, and time until fully loaded. Setting a “performance budget” on things like css files, fonts, and images can help ensure better performance and thus more traffic to your site.
It’s important to know what your company stands for.
For instance, here are some of the axioms our speaker Kyle Kutter’s company (LifeChurch.tv) follows: mission first, why before the what, it’s all about the people, latest doesn’t mean greatest, data has a seat at the table, move fast and follow momentum, innovation happens where passion meets constraints, and simpler is better.
By developing a unique set of beliefs, you help create a company identity and point of view. Knowing what you stand for can help you through difficult decisions and builds concrete reasoning behind the many choices you’ll have to make as a company.
Never stop designing and building, no matter how many times you fail.
The little wins on the side help keep you excited and passionate. It’s important not to build too much at once—set a reasonable scope, build it, and launch it. There is no reason to build features on top of features without even knowing if users will like your product in its most rudimentary form. Launching with too many features can also overwhelm and confuse users, since they are still new to your product; in addition, the larger the feature list, the more costly the initial build.
Smile, get plenty of sleep, and go outside for a walk. You’d be surprised what a simple 20 minute walk outside can do for creativity and productivity.
Styleguides are not only for designers; they provide design guidelines, ui/pattern library, and front-end development code which can act as a good reference for anyone on your team.
It is important to maintain consistent styleguides which keep the documentation current and useful. For projects large and small, component-based styleguides really help developers rapidly prototype with accurate styles.
Don’t throw typography rules out the window just because you’re typesetting on the web.
Too often typography is not given the care it deserves on the web because designers/developers are under the impression that it requires complicated “css hacks”; in fact, there are fairly simple solutions to styles like drop caps, hanging quotes, orphans, and lead-ins. So there’s no excuse for lazy typesetting! Also, paragraph indents do have a place on the web, and it’s for content that is intended to be read all the way through, whereas spaces between paragraphs should be used for content that can be skimmed.
Making mistakes or failing can help you identify problems, learn important lessons, and make you aware of your flaws so that you can avoid or correct them in the future.
When it comes to using Github, version control can really help us feel more at ease about making mistakes. At LaunchPad Lab, we typically make pull requests once a branch is ready to be reviewed and merged in. However, employees over at Github make PRs after the first commit and team members review the code and design more often. They have team discussions and critiques over a branch right in Github which keeps conversations more organized.
“We need to be nimble, provide frequent feedback to our stockholders, and adapt quickly to changing priorities.”
This idea of Agile Development takes time and practice to achieve. The process typically includes steps similar to the following: establishing product requirements, forecasting features, sprint planning meetings (setting goals and estimating potential issues), determining capacity and velocity of your team, executing sprint tasks, regular stand-ups, sprint reviews, and sprint retrospectives. It takes a certain level of diligence to effectively implement Agile Development, but the rewards of adaptability are great.
“Acting honorably, when the world around you does not, is the best advice for aspiring business owners.”
We don’t live in a perfect world, so when things go wrong it’s important to adapt and find positive alternatives. Also, remember to do your research when naming a business—it’s important to search for both domain and trademark availability. You wouldn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on branding only to find out that you have to change your name.
Overall, the conference was a great experience—we learned a lot, met new people, got plenty of swag, played giant Jenga at the after party, and, most importantly, got to eat plenty of delicious Texas BBQ.
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