Smith & Jones do Future of Web Design London

Blueleaf's UX Director Chris Jones reports from the Future of Web Design conference in London, where he and MD Rob Smith spent a couple of days delivering a workshop and presentation. 

Over to Chris

The Future of Web Design (FOWD) conferences are run each year in London, New York and San Francisco and are well-respected (and attended) by both clients and agency people alike. I've had the honour of speaking at previous London and New York events, so we were especially chuffed to be asked to run a full day workshop at this year's London conference.

Monday – Workshop day

Myself and Rob chose "Humanising the Ecommerce Experience" as our subject and aimed to share a range of techniques and experiences from the work that we do with retailers. We had a group of around 25 sign up for the workshop; a really good mix of people in client-side roles and agency roles, such as designers and developers.

The day started badly, which may seem like an odd thing to admit, but there was a good reason. We wanted to give our delegates first-hand experience of what poor UX feels like. We arrived 5 minutes late for the workshop, having left a title slide on the screen saying "Advanced HTML & CSS Workshop". We were purposely disorganised and vague for the first few seconds (it came strangely natural to us), before confessing quickly that it was a bit of a set-up.

The point we were making was that it can be an uncomfortable experience when you arrive on a website that's messy, inconsistent, badly designed or just plain slow. We ran a short session to discover how it had made our "users" feel – uncomfortable, confused, panicky and even angry was the consensus. It's an old platitude, but it reminded us all that you only get one chance to make a first impression, whether that's online or in the real world.

We ran a number of sessions during the day, all looking at how we can better understand our users, how they behave, what they're trying to achieve and of course, how to design better ecommerce experiences that deliver great results. These varied from a run through of the process we use at Blueleaf, to sessions on user testing and where we think retail will be in 5 years time. 

The two most revealing sessions were on customer journeys and a virtual walk through a traditional store. We divided the delegates up into small teams and gave them each an ecommerce retailer to consider the customer journey for. Retailers varied from ASOS to and each group spent time looking at how customers shop for their retailer's products, both online and offline, before creating a customer journey. They then took it in turns to present their findings and the top three things they'd do to improve customers' experience, whether that be website improvements or ways of linking up physical stores with digital.

Our final session involved taking the delegates through a traditional store to see what we can learn about ecommerce sites, from how they're laid out. We considered aspects such as how special offer products are often the first thing you see on entering the store, how the milk and bread are at the back of supermarkets and how impulse purchases are next to the checkout. It was a really engaging, unpredictable session that generated a lot of interesting insight for how we design ecommerce sites.

Tuesday – Conference day

Our second day at FOWD was a two-track conference, with each speaker presenting for around 40 minutes. It's a great mix of designers, client-side presenters and a few curve balls thrown in there.

We ran our own presentation as a debate between myself and Rob, entitled "Is ecommerce an art or a science?" We took deliberately opposed stances on whether design or data is more important when creating ecommerce websites, before involving the audience for their opinions.

We then held a very scientific vote (otherwise known as a clapometer), to find out which of us had won. It was actually great to see that it was essentially a draw, with as many people cheering for design as for data. This proved our point nicely, that actually, creating effective ecommerce websites is about both. Extensive research, data and user testing give a sound foundation for UX and design, and lead to ecommerce sites that deliver real results. In summary, data makes us better designers.

Whether you work for an agency or a retailer, FOWD is a great conference and we look forward to hopefully speaking at future events.