Event Recap: PSFK Conference 2015

Last Friday we attended the annual PSFK conference in New York City to observe new trends in digital design and user behavior. Here are the key takeaways:

Better Living Through Big Data
The theme for this year’s conference was “Live, Work, Play Better”, and various panels acknowledged the importance of utilizing big data to come up with more user-centric “human” designs. Dennis Mortensen, founder and CEO of x.ia, explained how his artificially intelligent personal assistant, Amy, emulates the ideal human-like experience by scheduling meetings through e-mail.  With the rise of mobile and IoT devices, data is creating connections not only to our own personal devices, but to one another. As Marcela Sapone, CEO at Alfred, noted, through the power of big data, there is an “overarching cultural acceptance of collaborating and sharing more”.

Digital Design Puts Mobile First
According to Manoush Zomorodi, on average people check their phones around 60 times a day, clocking in at over 2 hours a day. As mobile usage continues to rise, digital designers are starting to put mobile first when it comes to creating user experiences. For instance, boutique hotel CitizenM provides its “Mobile Citizens” with a “mood pad” tablet to control everything from lighting, to room temperature, and even infotainment system in each room. Also putting mobile front and center is Toca Boca, a design studio that makes digital apps for the “mobile-native” kids.

Shared Economy Impacts Design
Another ongoing trend reflected in the design community is the rapid expansion of the shared economy. NeueHouse, for example, is an ambitious startup that aims to become the “Airbnb for the creatives”  by creating shared office spaces designed to cultivate hospitality and design culture.  Similarly, Tactivate is working on creating shared workspace for veterans, furnished with innovative office furniture designed for mobility and collaboration. The aforementioned CitizenM is also pushing for shared office and living space in its hotel design.

Uniting Fashion And Tech With Design
We have long observed the ongoing convergence of fashion and technology, and the design community has seemed to realize its vital role in uniting the two forces as well. Manufacture NY, led by Amanda Parkes, is building a next-gen innovation center—a tech-forward fashion incubator that feels like a design studio— that aims to fuse the language and process of fashion and tech with design.

Image courtesy of PSFK

BMW Partners With Medium On A Sponsored Collection

Medium is partnering up with auto-maker BMW to bring a collection of 100 sponsored posts to Re:form, a design-focused blog nested under the renowned blogging platform. As Medium’s first attempt at generating revenue since its creation in 2012 by Twitter’s former CEO Evan Williams, this sponsorship also offers a new spin on native advertising. Instead of populating the elegantly designed site with BMW advertorials, for now** the partnership simply manifests as two bold and strategically placed “Presented by BMW” logos on each page, with absolutely no other advertising in sight. And rather than measuring impressions and pageviews, Medium will guarantee BMW a total reading time metric measured in minutes.

Such a novel, minimalist approach allows BMW to attach its brand of excellent German engineering to the great reading experience of the flawlessly designed site in the least intrusive way possible, as it utilizing Medium’s celebrated reputation of smart design and high-caliber contributors to elevate BWM’s brand in the design industry. Any brand could slap their logo on a given website and call it a sponsorship, but only when the feel of the sponsored content is aligned with the brand image would such method work effectively and effortlessly.

Native advertising is currently on the rise, but as customers become more familiarized with and therefore, desensitized to branded content, its magic will inevitably start diminishing. Trying out new approaches like this is certainly one way to prevent such diminishing effect from occurring too soon, especially in a market as innovative and capricious as digital advertising.

** Some branded posts on BMW is reportedly in the works according to AdAge, It’d be interesting to see how they perform compared to other posts in the sponsored collection.

Topshop Distributes Runway Looks With Chirp

Topshop has been on the forefront of integrating technology with fashion and sales, but this year the company is looking to one-up itself one more time. For its spring collection, it partnered with Chirp, a software company that transmits image data via subaudible, sonic identifiers. Topshop will set up “Chirp Locations,” where phones can pick up these signals and view exclusive, sometimes behind the scenes footage. The experience will take place at Topshop’s Oxford Circus flagship store in London, where a Chirp and Twitter “garden,” of sorts, has been erected for the event. Consumers at home will be able to see the event through a live stream, and won’t be left out of the action. In addition, all of the makeup products used at the show will be available immediately after the show for pre-order, adding the ever-valuable e-commerce element to the show. 

3DEA’s 3D Printing Pop Up Store

If you think 3D printing is limited to engineers, think again. A new 3D printing pop up shop launched just a few blocks from the Lab in New York, allowing visitors to design and print three dimensional objects in a matter of minutes. While there are some limitations in terms of the materials and design, it’s one of the first instances of consumer-facing 3D printing to date.

Scalable Interfaces And The Web

Designing and developing web apps that are consistently beautiful across devices can be difficult. People access the web through a myriad of devices with varying aspect ratios, resolutions, and pixel densities. Users expect the same experience across their devices. And rightfully so! There is nothing wrong with this expectation. It is what I expect of the sites and services I use. However, achieving this seamless experience is a complicated process.

Content and elements need to rearrange and resize. Which brings up questions: Should you use media queries? Browser sniffing (gross)? Some other solution? How do we best use the available space to deliver our product? This is a question that I’m not going to attempt to answer. I want to talk about user interfaces and the stuff they are made of. More specifically, what is the best way to handle interfaces across a wide range of ever changing screens?

Infinite scalability is the answer. Draw your UI with code and you’ll never have to worry about resizing or blurry interface elements again. I don’t mean SVG because SVG sucks. Yeah, you can do amazing things with SVG, but it ignores one of the key architecture principles of the web. Design your interface with HTML and CSS3. Style the hell out of those semantic tags. CSS3 is slowly adopting nearly all the necessary tools to design beautiful UIs. It already supports things like gradients, shadows, and rounded corners, however, designers know these are not enough.

The way things are now, CSS3 is hardly as powerful of a design tool as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, making images still necessary in many situations. In fact, I admit that I think images will be necessary for a long time to come in order to achieve the maximum level of artistic detail, but we are rapidly approaching a point where CSS alone is good enough to produce beautiful interfaces without sacrificing user experience. And in the end, that’s all that matters, right?

That being said, I am excited for the future. The Adobe Web Team and Canon have already drafted and submitted a proposal to introduce blend modes into browser rendering models. Photoshop plugins that convert layer styles to CSS already exist. This is not just a trend but the start of a new era of web/interface design, where the browser is your canvas and CSS your brush.