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Indigo Tree at Frontier Conference 2016

Indigo Tree recently attended the first ever Frontier Conference held in London. The event was a mix of design & development, with some great insight into current development trends, some excellent how-tos, personal experiences of some up-and-coming brands and talks that made us think, especially about the future of the web.

Opening Keynote: Aral Balkan — The Matrix Inverted

Aral Balkan from ind.ie always offers a fresh perspective on where the web is at the moment. What he has to say is always to raise awareness and offer some hope so that we’ll be empowered to do things differently.

Aral started by saying that most of us use Facebook, Google and other services on a daily basis to share pictures, videos and thoughts with our friends and colleagues. But what does Facebook get out of it? Facebook wants to use this data to influence the services we get. To do that, Facebook creates a simulation of you in order to predict your behaviour, your relationships, your emotions.

That’s pretty scary.

Not Using ‘Users’

The aim of this simulation is to exploit & manipulate your behaviour. “The trouble with data is that you get enough data about a thing, and it’s starts approaching the thing itself”. Data is not about people, it is people.

Aral argues that we shouldn’t use the term “Users” so freely, because it dehumanises the subject. It’s a far smaller step to go from “user” to “dumb user” – because it’s already “the other”, not us. Perhaps we need to remove that dichotomy to prevent danger to ourselves and others.

There’s been a lot of talk about introducing some sort of “Digital Rights” law. But Aral argues that there are already laws that protect an individual, “human rights”, which protect the self. But what is the nature of the “Self” in digital age? It’s not just you, but it’s things that are an extension of your biological self. For example, we now delegate much of what we used to remember or store in our minds into our devices. So in the digital age, these human rights should also protect what’s on our digital devices, which are part of our “self”.

Without that, surveillance becomes an assualt on the self.

What is “The Matrix”? It’s where people live in a virtual space, but are being physically farmed. Today Aral argues that we live in a tangiblespace, but are being farmed in a virtual space. It’s not about our bodies, our minds that are being offered to the highest bidder.

How do we go forward from here?

As well as regulating these large organisations, and legislation so that people – and their content- is respected, we can create alternatives. For example, we can use systems that are peer-to-peer. Instead of sending everything to Facebook, and facebook sharing that data with our intended recipient, we can use technology to just share it with our friend. This can eliminate the “man in the middle” which can be used to exploit people. We can create a world where we own our technology, instead of the other way around.

“What is the future I want to live in?”

 

It’s in our interests to build a future built on reason, rights, justice & democracy.

Web Typography – Richard Rutter

Richard Rutter, one of the founding members of ClearLeft, is writing a new book on web typography. As part of the project he’s collected type specimens from far and wide. He took us through a huge amount of samples showing how the typography affects the mood of the piece of work being presented.

Richard maintains that most of the web is still unreadable, uninviting, because of poor typography, usually an uninspiring sans serif font in grey on a black background.

He quoted Jon Tan as saying that there are only 2 mediums which involve reading: billboards and novels: that is to say, something that’s built for impact, and something that’s designed for immersion. When we start thinking about the reason for our type, then we get a better idea of what typeface would be appropriate.

There’s not enough seduction on the web …

 

Richard stated that good quality typography is responsible for greater engagement.

Good typography puts you in a good mood.

Choosing a typeface means you can have an impact before it’s even read. What you use conveys tone, trust, and preconcieved ideas about the article which can encourage people to read it. Richard used an example of an article about rape whose titles were set in a very unsettling typeface. This complemented the subject matter very well.

Typography can be called “Multi-sensory” because these visual signals communicate to our amygdala, where instinct comes from. In fact, one person who had conducted a series of tests on this very subject said “I can make crisps taste saltier” by asking the subjects looking at a certain typeface when they eat the crisp.

Type taps into a complex library of associations: When you’ve seen a font you build a profile of where you first saw it, how you felt when you did. That’s why typefaces can feel “Spanish” “American” etc.

What do you want your type to be?

Do you want to be youthful, secure, a hipster? Use your type to make a statement. “Let the world know what you stand for”. We can connect with our audiences spirit & personality, and develop a relationship with the person who’s using it.

“Good design is first about making people want to read.”

 

Richard concluded by showing how good typograhy can be set on small screens as well as large – but because the context has changed type can be adjusted. People browsing websites on their mobiles hold the screen close to their face, so when we recalculate font sizes we can take that into account.

There’s also a way, by using the vw unit in CSS, to make sure our layouts are still relevant when someone rotates their device.

Above all, when it comes to typefaces, we shouldn’t be “reverential, dogmatic, or ordinary.”

Flexbox Today — Zoe Gyllenwater

Designer & Developer Zoe from Booking.com took us through some typical use cases for flexbox on small items, and describes how using Flexbox improves the UI for visitors that have it on their browsers, whilst it degrades gracefully for older browsers

“It’s about learning when to use [Flexbox], and steps that work within real-world constraints.

Question 1: When Should I use Flexbox? We can visit the site caniuse.com to check but that list is “nearly always irrelevant”. Because Flexbox is progressive enhancement it doesn’t look too bad on small UI elements when it’s not supported. In any case, there’s 97% coverage in browsers today. Booking.com continue to support ie7/8, which means that they use floats and absolutes to position much of their elements, but use Flexbox as an enhancement.

Question 2: Do I need my content to dictate size / content or should my design dictate? Zoe said that “Flexbox is mega-useful when content is unknown and variable, or readability is a top priority.” This benefit notwithstanding, we shouldn’t use flexbox because we can – we need to have a reason for it.

“there was no reason to keep it consistently ugly for all users”

… “Things always look a little bit different on the web, anyway.”

Sidetracked – John Summerton

John Summerton started Sidetracked as a side-project that he never really imagined would take off. But it’s been incredibly successful. John started the blog because of his love of travel and exploration, which would, if successful enough, go to a printed edition.

Because the blog quickly became very successful with a large readership, he now publishes 4 issues of the printed magazine each year.

John realised quite quickly that releasing an online magazine didn’t work – the site got a lovely traffic spike when the new articles were all released together which was gone in 24hrs and never seen again. Online, drip feeding proved to bring in more consistent traffic.

“It’s critical to give credit where credit is due – at every stage in the process.”

Live Coding Across Hundreds of Devices – Ben Foxall

The somewhat madcap JavaScript developer Ben got us to visit a URL where we could all contribute to the code being written. As soon as someone updated the code, it would show on our devices too, without the need for a refresh.

Using this tool, Ben plugged a MIDI controller into his laptop, and in a few lines of code got notes playing on all of our devices with a diagram of it’s waveform showing on the page.

this was pretty awesome demonstration of what’s possible with pusher web service and a few lines of code.

Next Ben demonstrated that you can use this to create a Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality environment for an enhanced experience.

That’s a Wrap

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To conclude the day, Dean Taylor talked about the UI of toilet doors (and other things) and Ruth John utilised HTML5 Canvas api to demonstrate street VJ artistry.

Frontier Conference was an excellent opportunity to see what’s out there, refresh our skills and network with others at the very edge of the web.

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