05.28.2015

DrupalCon LA - A Designer's Perspective

Oh, man. After coming back from DrupalCon Los Angeles with my team at ThinkShout, my brain still hurts… but in a good way. You know, in that same way you feel after binge watching Dr. Who on Netflix leading up to the season finale where The Doctor and Clara… oops. No spoilers. Point being: it’s a feeling of intense brain explosion followed by inspiration and motivation to get up and kick some ass.

Besides attending some fantastic design and UX sessions, I also presented my own session about designing on a budget and led a BoF about design and prototyping in Drupal. I made a lot of awesome new friends and reconnected with some old ones as well.

All in all, it was a great conference and LA was a fantastic host city. My team from ThinkShout and I covered a lot of ground - we found some great bars and restaurants, including my favorite stop, Grand Central Market (where I had an amazing octopus tostada from La Tostaderia).

But anyway, you’re not here to read about bars and restaurants in LA. Let’s talk Design at DrupalCon.

One thing that’s really impressed me about DrupalCon is just how much the breadth of UX and Design content has expanded over the last few years. This was my fourth DrupalCon: my first was 2011 in Chicago, followed by ‘13 in Portland and ‘14 in Austin. I was excited to see there were several sessions in the UX and Design track this year that were less technical, and more about design thinking and problem solving. Personally, I enjoy these kind of talks because I tend to walk away with some new insights into my own process. Design is not the same thing as Front End Development, and DrupalCon is finally realizing and embracing this.

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Common Design Themes from DrupalCon LA

Attending DrupalCon is a great way to get your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the Drupal community. I’ve noticed a lot of changing trends in the years since my first DrupalCon, starting with the prevalence of responsive design. In the first DrupalCon session I gave in Portland in 2013, only about half the room raised their hands when I asked how many had worked on a responsive Drupal site. This year, nearly everyone raised their hand when I asked the same question. At this point, responsive design is implicit when designing a new Drupal site.

Here are some other design and UX trends from this year’s DrupalCon:

  1. People are applying design thinking about much more than how a website looks. Megan Erin Miller, a designer at Stanford University, gave a fantastic talk about using Service Design to design end-to-end experiences. According to Erin, “designing a website is not just about designing good user experience. It’s about designing new processes, new identities, and new partnerships.” I couldn’t agree more. Erin compared the process of building a website to designing a theme park. When you go to a theme park, your experience isn’t just about what happens when you ride the roller coaster. A good theme park experience starts when you see an ad on TV or get an email offer and book your trip online or over the phone. When you get to the theme park, your whole experience is planned and designed, from the moment you walk in the gate, to when you queue up in line for the roller coaster, and on to dining and buying souvenirs. As designers, we should be thinking of our websites as products and how our users interact with these products from all possible channels, and not just what browser they’re using on what device. I’m always looking for new perspectives for my personal design process, and I hope to use some service design techniques in my client work.

  2. Components, components, and more components! Just as the topic of “responsive design” dominated DrupalCon’s design sessions in years past, this year’s hot topic was component-based design. As websites and web apps get more complex and responsive, design needs to be streamlined and simplified. One way we can do that is to design modularly. Gone are the days of creating unique layouts for every page on a website (phew!). Instead, we need to be creating design systems that can be applied efficiently across the entire responsive website. Two great component-based design sessions from DrupalCon LA were, “The New Design Workflow,” and “To The Pattern Lab!” In addition to these sessions, I also attended a very informative BoF about CSS Style Guides lead by the one and only John Albin Wilkins. At ThinkShout, we already take a component-based approach to design, but I certainly learned some great new ideas and techniques!

  3. Longform Storytelling is the new black. As Drupal shifts its focus towards publishing and news, content creators are embracing rich longform articles and stories. According to Kristina Bjoran and Courtney Clark of Forum One, “People generally learn more and remember more when more of their senses are engaged by a story. Stories that include images get about twice the engagement as text-only stories. Stories told with visual elements are instantly captivating. The more senses that are engaged, the more emotions will be engaged and the more memorable the experience will be.” We are including longform content features in many of our new client’s websites at ThinkShout, and it was really great to hear how other industry leaders do it successfully as well.

Design, Drupal, and the Future

Each year, the Drupal Association puts more thought into diversifying the session lineup, and it shows. There was a very conscious effort to get more design and UX content, as well as speakers from diverse experiences and backgrounds. To that, I say “Huzzah!” As someone who’s been designing Drupal sites for many years now, it’s great to see the design process being treated as more than just “making it look pretty.” Design and UX is now a core component of DrupalCon, and I’m proud to have helped along the way.

After a week of learning and sharing new ideas, meeting amazing people, and eating some darn good Mexican food, my brain is full and my heart is heavy. I can’t wait to see you all next year!

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