What we learned at Pixel Pioneers Belfast

It’s been a while since we last had a large scale design conference here in Belfast. Almost 4 years ago to the date in fact. The previous of note was the fantastic ‘Build’ festival back in November 2013, all thanks to local pioneer Andy McMillan @andymcmillan

We have had a multitude of other events scattered throughout the city over the years like the awesome Design Week and (as mentioned in the previous post) Refresh and Hustle evenings. Yet there’s just nothing quite like a focused large scale web and product design event to peak your excitement in the industry.

Pixel Pioneers Belfast 2017

When we got wind of Pixel Pioneers making their way over to Belfast for the first time, we jumped at the chance to attend.  Not only is it fantastic to support design events like this, but also it’s the hope we ensure their longevity and return in the future (fingers crossed).

Pixel Pioneers is curated by Oliver Lindberg @oliverlindberg, who is a prolific figure within the design industry due to once being the editor of net magazine. A magazine myself and the other designers at i3 Digital are extremely familiar with having been readers since our inaugural days of web design during University many moons ago.

The event itself was held at Belfast’s Waterfront. A venue i3 Digital had the honour of working with to deliver their new website and online experience in 2016. The project won two internationally contested accolades in Kentico’s annual Site of the Year awards. As such the venue was perfect for this event considering it hosted the previously mentioned Build events from 2009-2012.


Retain a ‘beginner’s mind’.

Kicking the day off we had a very familiar face; Chris Murphy @fehler. A renowned figure within creative circle here in Belfast. A passionate educator and mentor who currently leads the Interaction Design provision at The Belfast School of Art. Myself and another designer here at i3 were actually taught by Chris back in our student days. So should just be like old times.

Chris Murphy Pixel Pioneers

We are ALL students and ALWAYS learning no matter at what stage of our career. Instilling the idea that we all should retain a ‘beginner’s mind’ will ensure we as creative people are always be willing to learn and better ourselves.

“if you are the smartest person in the room, find another room”

Additionally, the idea of working within ecosystems that we are unfamiliar with was something we should get involved in. Designing for future devices is a must. It widens our frame of reference and safeguards that we never think about a site as a stand-alone entity. We must always consider the other touch points that our users interact with. Obtaining clarity for each step is extremely important. User experience mapping activities with stakeholders and users is a must. He spoke of purchasing new technology to truly get a feel for their every day use and to better our exposure to them. Only then will we be able to encapsulate good design for these mediums.  Emulators and tools are powerful, but true understanding can only become apparent once you are interacting with your design on REAL devices in REAL scenarios.

Speed and performance; the real issue

Following on we had Harry Roberts @csswizardry covering Website Speed and Performance. Harry a Google Developer Expert, who writes on the subjects of CSS architecture, performance, and scalability at csswizardry.com is a powerhouse of front-end development knowledge. He created the ‘Inverted Triangle’ CSS architecture (ITCSS) which is a standard here at i3 Digital and ensures clean, scalable and maintainable CSS. A fantastic approach and one you should really try to get into if you are producing large CSS files for your projects.

Harry Roberts at Pixel pioneers Belfast 2017

We are aware of many techniques to optimise or speed and performance. Minifying our HTML, CSS and javascript. Enabling gzip compression and making use of CDNs. All of which should be a standard in our current workflow.

These steps are crucial and can have an immense impact on any site. For example, one of Harry’s clients The Trainline reduced latency by 0.3s across their funnel and their revenue increased by an extra £8 million a year. Even the smallest improvement in speed and performance can have a major impact.


Optimising for legacy devices?

Optimising sites and gaining that competitive edge should be the bare minimum on our projects. And while testing and recording our findings we need to be aware that these performance metrics are only applicable to our fibre optic broadband connections using our Macbook. Or on 4G with our latest iPhone.  So we need to stop, and consider “what about those on lesser connections, and legacy devices”? An easy question to totally neglect. And one scenario we can easily take for granted.

For example, India is a nation with a lot of potential and has one of the world’s fastest growing tech companies. However, if we talk about technical advancement, India is considered as the fifth country in the world with the slowest connection speed at 4.6 Mbps (0.575 MB/s). India’s average internet speed is 27% below the global average. Then to make matters worse, imagine this all while using a legacy device. Torture!

Testing on older devices with slower connections is imperative. We can never truly be sure which device people are using at any given time and the strength of the connection. Optimising your site so that it has great performance on these legacy devices, with slow connections will undoubtedly ensure that it will perform well on the newer devices.

Approaching your speed and performance with this mentality will help you to gain a fuller understanding of user’s experiences outside of our bubble. Testing using emulators is a good start, but using the actual device is paramount especially when configuring it to reflect these slow speeds.

“Don’t prioritise your own metrics over your user’s experience”

Stephen Currie w/ Paddy Donnely at Pixel Pioneers Belfast 2017

Image courtesy of @richardwiggins

Stephen Currie - Ux Designer

Stephen is one of our UX & Front-end Designers.
Chat with him at @itsmecurrie

Next up: What we learned at Pixel Pioneers Belfast. (Part 2)

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