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Highlights from Generate 2017

Generate is known as one of the foremost conferences for web design and frontend development, and this year was no different. Over two days, attendees were treated to some truly insightful, engaging and entertaining presentations.

Once again, the Royal Institution provided a prestigious and welcoming venue, with a relaxed, friendly atmosphere all round – a great place to meet like-minded designers and devs.

While picking favourites is tricky, here’s a selection of PR Manager Catherine Grayson and Editor Neal Thoms’ best moments.

Hack to the Future – Seb Lee-Delisle

‘Pixel pyro’ expert Seb certainly knows how to make an entrance. He kick-started the Generate event with lasers, complete with emergency stop button (which did have to be pressed – very exciting) and a fascinating homage to the 80s, capturing the audience’s attention from the beginning. This was a highly energised talk with members of the audience enthusiastically playing laser Asteroids and ‘Clappy Bird’, with a noise-stimulated laser converting claps to flaps.

Seb went on to talk about how he turned some 80s Nintendo Zapper guns into real laser guns for real laser games, incorporating a ‘vape machine’ to allow users to see the beam. From there he talked about moody robots, lunar trails and path mapping, and how the floppy disk has become nothing but a save icon. An absolutely brilliant start to Generate.

The Secret Life of Comedy – Espen Brunborg

One of the best aspects of Generate is how individuality is encouraged. Opening with ‘In the beginning there was only HTML. On the second day God created Flash, he was very hungover at the time’, Espen’s sense of humour won over the crowd almost immediately.

Told via an illustrated backdrop, the moral of Espen’s story was that ‘good designers tell stories’ and that personality is extremely important when it comes to design (but there’s no room for ego). He argued that while design should be ‘fast, universal, intuitive, invisible, user-centric and scientific’, there’s equally room for it to be ‘slow, individual, surprising, impressive, visionary and artistic’.

Espen summarised two unusual and personality-driven advertising campaigns that resulted in measurable success: the Dairy Milk drumming gorilla which resulted in a 10% sales jump, and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Volvo ad (doing the splits between two trucks, naturally) that increased sales by 25%. Summing up, he challenged us to express ourselves with far more personality.

Field-tested Interfaces for the Next Billion – Ally Long

‘The next billion’ refers to the huge influx of new users from emerging economies getting access to connected devices and digital services. Frontend designer and developer Ally Long has been out experiencing this first-hand, witnessing how users in West Africa are exploring the new internet frontier. Compared to the UK, where 90% of people are online, only 22% of sub-Saharan Africa is connected. But this percentage is rapidly rising, thanks to the decreasing costs of low-end smartphones and mobile data.

Ally outlined some key considerations for anyone looking to build an app or UI for emerging markets. It was fascinating to explore these concerns – many of which are completely ignored by western developers. For example, battery power is a very valuable commodity – power outlets and car batteries aren’t always readily available, so users need to conserve charge at all times. This means that optimising power usage is vital – if your app is a battery-sucker, it’s basically unusable.

From a UI design perspective, Ally also offered some surprising revelations. Essentially, users in emerging markets are novices, so gestures that we take for granted, like pinching, are not intuitive. Likewise, scrolling interfaces should be avoided in favour of multiple stages, with a clean, consistent UI and easily-clickable buttons. Plus, the unreliability of mobile networks in emerging economies means that offline functionality, or ‘graceful degradation’, is a must.

Real Work/Life Balance in the Studio – Anton Reppon and Irene Pereyra

Brooklyn-based designers ‘Anton & Irene’ talked about the importance of passion projects alongside client work. Having left a larger, more established agency to set up their own, they decided that they would spend 60% of their time on client work, and 40% on their own personal projects.

Anton talked about his architectural photographer heroes and how one in particular, who seemed to be able to take a photograph of a structure face-on with no perspective, inspired him to try to do the same. This involved photography, a lot of Photoshop, sourcing the original architecture plans, a holiday, and finally the idea to misplace the edited buildings into new landscapes. Before he knew it, his images had gone viral, from CNN to posters in an Airbnb apartment. He didn’t make a penny but it made him incredibly happy, and his work is still of interest to this day.

Irene grew up in a gay commune in Amsterdam, a fascinating subject that drew her back to create her first documentary, ‘One Shared House’. Having never shot a documentary before, she overcame various production issues to incorporate interviews with her mother and others about their experiences. Irene met one of her design idols in Amsterdam who then worked on the film with Anton & Irene, and a 2030 version of the project has now been commissioned.

The moral of the Anton & Irene story is to ‘step out of your comfort zone and do stuff that makes you nervous’. Although they’ve been commissioned for ‘regular work’, their passion projects are the ones that opened the door to more creativity and opportunities to travel the world for brilliant talks like this.

Don’t Trust Your Gut: Prototyping at Netflix – David Aragon

As a streaming service that has to constantly adapt to the whims of its massive customer base, Netflix has a laser-focus on its user experience. This talk from Netflix’s own software engineer and product designer provided some brilliant insight into the staggering amount of research and testing that goes on behind the scenes.

From simple A/B testing of video thumbnails to the extensive prototyping and qualitative research (‘qual’) that lays the foundations for everything else, David laid out the intricate processes Netflix has in place to ensure the optimum experience for users.

But the ultimate message of the talk was that the best implementation of a feature is often not what your intuition suggests. As proven by several votes via show of hands, the gut-feeling of the audience was frequently dead wrong when it came to selecting the most clickable design elements. It’s for this reason that extensive testing, and the prototyping that comes before it, is so invaluable.

Designing Conversations – Giles Colborne

From voice-activated personal assistants to increasingly sophisticated chat bots, it seems like artificial intelligence is making an impact everywhere – something that we only imagined in science fiction a few decades ago. This talk from author Giles Colborne featured crowd-pleasing Star Trek references and much more to make some excellent observations of how AI and ‘conversational interfaces’ are currently being implemented – and how they can be improved.

One very refreshing part of the talk was Giles’ emphasis on the limits of current technology. When a personal assistant makes a sassy quip, only to be revealed as a brainless machine a few seconds later, the user feels a sudden disconnect – a pitfall that can perhaps be avoided by more modest and resourceful conversational interfaces that seek to accomplish tasks simply and elegantly.

Giles drew on psychology to push the subject beyond a pure technical level, emphasising the impact of human emotion on the user experience. Whether for a more complex UI or a simple touch interface, this talk provided a fascinating examination of how conversations between user and design could be built into next-generation experiences.

At the Fasthosts stand

One of the highlights for the Fasthosts team was meeting the delegates to talk about the CloudNX platform, which was also featured in the CreativeBlog article for the event. Not only did we have a very busy stand, we also had two delighted winners of our prize draw.

Congratulations to Heather, winner of the Amazon Echo on Thursday and Anna, winner of the Nintendo Switch on the Friday.

Overall, a fantastic couple of days. We thoroughly enjoyed talking to web professionals about their projects and needs when it comes to hosting innovative content online. Conferences like Generate are outstanding opportunities for us to catch up with existing and potential customers, so keep an eye out for Fasthosts at more events in the near future – we look forward to seeing you!

 

Catherine Grayson's picture

Catherine Grayson

Author Catherine Grayson is Fasthosts’ PR Manager with over 20 years’ experience in marketing, brand management and PR. She has worked in the tech sector for five of those years.