Design of the times

Daniel MacEachern
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Go Beyond Pixels conference features web’s heavy hitters

Keynote speaker Jeffrey Zeldman launches the Go Beyond Pixels conference in St. John’s Friday with his keynote speech. — Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

With top industry names like Jeffrey Zeldman, Aarron Walter and Ethan Marcotte, Friday’s Go Beyond Pixels conference in St. John’s was like a one-day music festival, but for web designers.

Instead of bands’ hit songs, conferencegoers heard in-jokes about fonts and failed Internet startups. And when keynote speaker Zeldman mentioned Marcotte’s two-year-old essay on web design, the audience of about 200 web designers and developers in the theatre at Memorial University’s Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation broke out in applause.

Zeldman’s opening remarks Friday morning described the industry moving away from websites crammed full of unsightly links and ads towards ones with content-focused design. That push is coming because of the way people are increasingly accessing the Internet on mobile devices with smaller screens. For users, said Zeldman, that should mean less frustration when accessing, for example, a restaurant’s online menu with flashy features and menus that don’t work on a smartphone.

“There are still way too many websites where, when you go to the phone, either they’ve got a dumbed-down, bad mobile experience, or they’ve got the desktop experience and it doesn’t really work on the phone,” he said. “Hopefully (people) will continue to see more and more, well thought out, streamlined, fast, appropriate experiences for the mobile context.”

The problem, Zeldman said, is that something has to pay for content online, and online advertising — actively seeking people’s attention — can interfere with the content someone is actively looking for. That’s going to mean an increasing reliance on online subscription models and, he hopes, a rethinking of effective design, including for advertising.

“I think the New York Times will continue to experiment with a pay model and see who’s willing to pay and how much,” he said. “I think that can work on the web, although it’s hard because people expect stuff to be free on the web. People will run to the shelter of the iPad, some people like Condé Nast, some traditional publishers, because the pay model works there.”

Zeldman’s own online advertising network, The Deck, is experimenting with a design that displays just one ad at a time, which costs more than the same ad would on a website filled with them. “You can’t miss it because it’s the only ad on the page, and because it’s the only ad on the page, you actually pay attention to it. The Deck only serves design ads and they only run in design publications, but there’s no reason why other markets — if you’re in the medical market, there’s no reason why you couldn’t set up a network of medical magazines that run ads, only one ad per page, for carefully screen medical advertisers, and in that way actually reach an audience that cares about your message.”

Designer Levin Mejia, who organized the conference, said he was pleased by the response for the inaugural edition. “It’s a great turnout. We’ve had some great people from all parts of the world come for this, so 200 is a great number to show how big our design and development community is in the province,” he said, chalking it up to the quality of the roster of speakers. “For its first time, it’s just a complete honour to have the calibre of speakers that we have. Everyone in this community loves what they do, so they all get the inside references and it just goes to show how much people enjoy what they’re doing and the success people are having in their field.”

Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Bruneau Centre for Research, New York Times

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