Awwwards Conference Learnin's


Ann Wood

on 12/10/2018

A few weeks ago, I had the INCREDIBLE opportunity to attend the Awwwards Digital Thinkers Conference in New York City. I learned a ton, met some pretty rad people, and got to explore one of my favorite cities.

Awwwards is an online platform where anyone can submit their digital work for grading by a selected jury, with awards handed out such as “site of the day”, “developer award”, and “site of the year”. It’s one of my favorite resources for digital design inspiration–you should check it out! They also host national and international conferences every year, with the most recent one being in NYC. I took the plunge, signed up, and made a solo trip out of it. I learned so much about our ever changing industry, and was able to bring that knowledge back here to VIA.

There were some incredible speakers at the conference, including Dan Mall from SuperFriendly, Lior Pinco from Wix, Khoi Vinh from Adobe, Gene Lee from Mailchimp, the list goes on. While each speaker focussed on a different topic, I was able to pick out some overarching themes from the sum of the talks.

Digital Thinkers Conference themes

  • The current landscape and future of AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), MR (mixed reality), all the R’s
  • Intertwining emotion with new technology
  • The value of the human experience
  • Not being afraid to push the conventional limits

We know that the digital world is always changing. We’re now having conversations with bots (Siri, Alexa, etc.), using AR to place IKEA furniture in our homes, there are fashionable AR glasses with the ability to order Ubers–it’s hard to keep up. It was mind blowing to hear about all of the new technology and the changing landscape, but I thought it was even more incredible to hear about how we as designers have the power to create the experiences that allow this technology to be relevant and drive us forward.

Val Head, Design Evangelist at Adobe, claims that the biggest barrier to AR is the lack of UX design. She and many other speakers claimed that by crafting a familiar, innately human experience, people will be more apt to make use of new technology. People don’t want truly new and innovative things, they want the familiar done differently.

Michelle Cortese, VR Product Designer at Facebook, had similar things to say. She told us how instead of relying on communication tools, like words, in our designs, we should be focussing on making use of natural actions. For example, she told us how she was working on a VR landscape and how she wanted to let users know they could take photos inside the environment. Instead of making a notification with the text “take photo”, she told us how she was exploring the use of people’s hands ‘framing’ an image to take a photo. It’s an idea that works across context and cultures, and connects back to a unifying, natural experience that we all understand.

Paul Hamilton, Designer at UsTwo, gave an interesting talk about the future of seamless technology. He argued that since the rise of counterculture in the 1960’s, there’s been a shift towards individualism versus the human experience. These days, we love how we can order books off Amazon, right? Well, what about the old school experience of picking books off the shelf at bookstores? Feeling the embossing of the front cover, skimming through the table of contents–it all adds up to a tactile experience. While the advantage of services like Amazon can’t be denied, Paul argues that we need to be weary of friction reducing design. Culture and humanness should be at the top of our radar as designers, and we should be thinking about the long term effects of our designs in society.

Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree are my new favorite power couple. They’re a rockstar design couple that shake up the world and question everything. They’ve created branding projects, art directed all kinds of photoshoots, and created some of the most fun and unique compositions I’ve ever seen. The main takeaway of their talk: don’t be afraid to be weird. If things are too perfect, they become easily forgettable. I have mad respect for their ability to turn conventions on their head. Please check out their work, you won’t be disappointed! Much love for them <3

It wouldn’t be an Awwwards event if there wasn’t a talk on web design trends! Lior Pinco, Design Director at Wix, presented us with a list of design trends he saw gathering more weight going into 2019. Interestingly, he said that a lot of the trends we see are trickled down from the fashion industry, whether it be color, texture, etc. A lot of the trends he mentioned intertwine with the accessibility of new technology.

Wix Web Design Trends

  • Cinema 4d: new ways of incorporating 3-d into nav, scrolling animations, etc.
  • New matter: creation and interaction of new textures and forms
  • Exposed mechanics: clay sculpture and mechanics, showing workings underneath
  • VR: bringing VR to the web, altering how we perceive the world
  • Generation Z: specifically the less religiously inclined generation z, and the acceptance of religious motifs
  • Environment: the use of textures and materials

I could go on and on about the value of attending conferences. I learned so much from the conference itself and met many wonderful people, but I also had the trip of a lifetime in New York City. I highly, highly recommend attending at least one!

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