Smashing Conf Oxford 2016

I love conferences. The chance to listen and speak to so many like-minded people and discuss challenges, solutions and latest trends always fills me with inspiration and power to continue fighting for a better web. The latest one I attended, Smashing Conf, couldn’t have been held in a better place. Oxford – one of the most popular academic towns in the whole world. The atmosphere of tradition, ever-present vibe of education and great minds carried throughout my whole trip.

Smashing Magazine – no need to introduce that brand in the modern digital industry. The biggest minds, the smartest tricks and tips have been leading the front-end and design industry for years now and the popularity of their events only prove so.

Talk slides are shared on the event’s website. See the slides and videos

The first day of the conference started off with a talk by Aarron Walter – the UX Director at MailChimp, a product that I truly love. He shared his experience in building design teams and he knows his stuff – the UX team from MailChimp is considered one the best in the whole industry. It was great to hear the story, but such a shame I didn’t get to speak to Aarron! Maybe next time.

The thing that separates art from design is service. Design has a mandate to serve people.
- Aarron Walter

From the design point of view, the main theme that emerged naturally from the talks was Atomic Design – a methodology of building design systems from ground up. Jina Bolton from Salesforce in her Living Design Systems talk and Alla Kholmatova have presented their approach and challenges they faced when building usable and scalable systems. Designing pages is a waste of time, because in order to experiment, you need a design that is going to be modular and easily scalable down and up. Design systems such as Lightning Design System or GOV.UK’s Design Patterns are providing many benefits, the biggest one of them being the need to maintain consistency and “marginal degradation” (introduced by brilliant Mark Boulton) of your experience across many pages, websites or touchpoints.

Lightning Design System by Salesforce

Lightning Design System by Salesforce

The technical part of the conference, represented by Christopher Wright, Vasilis van Gemert and Vitaly Friedman, among many others, touched on the latest trends and challenges in front-end design. CSS have been designed to simplify the process of styling and to empower coders to take their websites to the next level quickly. When media queries were introduced, the effect started to become the opposite – styling has become troublesome, the barriers of entry for new coders have raised, but the world was in dire need of effective responsive design. A couple of speakers suggested to look beyond media queries or JavaScript and harness techniques such as CSS columns or Flexbox to build adaptive designs that don’t rely on breakpoints.

Flexbox was also one of the topics discussed during the workshop I attended - “Responsive design, clever tricks & techniques” with Vitaly Friedman, founder of the Smashing Magazine. Thursday was a hell of a day! I learned that ‘responsiveness’ doesn’t necessarily mean adaptation for different screen widths, but also accessibility, understanding context, website performance on slower connections, adapting existing design patterns to specific needs etc. Packed with tons of actionable advice, clever workflow and tech solutions, all wrapped in Vitaly’s fun and engaging facilitation, it was a great workshop which definitely inspired me to find myself more challenges and learn to code.

The conference itself was almost seamlessly organised, with perfectly balanced content, so that both designers and developers could learn something new in their specialisation, as well as broaden their horizons. Awesome 3 days that I will remember for a long time and I hope I will meet some of the attendees again and see how they implemented the knowledge gained in their real-life projects.

Big props for the Smashing Magazine team for pulling this off!