To kick off this blog, I wanted to bring back a post I wrote a little over a year ago for my previous company. Periodically, I'll be bringing back some older content I've written that I hope can be helpful to those interested.

You can see the full original post here or continue below. Enjoy!


In early November, I attended the An Event Apart Conference in San Francisco, which brought together the biggest names in web design and development to deep dive into topics such as code, content, usability, and design.

This experience broadened my perspective and has allowed me to understand more effective ways to approach design and development to solve complex problems.

Here are a few takeaways from the conference:

Design For Performance

Too often, we design for an ideal user. We wish that all our users would have incredibly fast technology that supports cool interactive user experiences. However, when users find themselves with outdated technology or digital delays, their experience suffers if we only design for the ideal.

The user focuses on what their devices can deliver based on how we’ve designed and developed the experience. Problems with poor performance lead to high bounce rates, poor first impressions, and overall negative experiences. As designers, we should ensure that people receive an enjoyable and useful experience.

One way to combat poor performance in a designer’s process is by setting performance goals and budgets, according to Yesenia Perez-Cruz. In her talk, Design Direction through the Lens of Performance, she said that to consider performance, set it as one of the main goals in your project. This sets the tone and helps the team regardless of function to agree upon.

Setting a specific performance budget for the goal is even more important as it helps guide design and development in a tangible way. Examples could include browser-based budgets with page weights no more than 350kb or load times under 8 seconds on a sub-3G connection.

Incorporating performance goals into design processes makes design decisions easier.

Designing for Crisis

We design for the ideal when we’re thinking about the state of our users. It’s a glorious day when our users know exactly what to do when they land on a website or a screen in a mobile app. But what happens when we don’t consider users in crisis?

These are the users who are trying to access a site to help them find a place to live immediately since their home just foreclosed. Or, these are the users who are trying to lock down their online social presence because their lives were just threatened.

At Inflection, this is something we’re trying to tackle with the services that our products provide. Our products help those who just had their identity stolen, assist job seekers, and provide identity protection tools. We want to make sure that users in various states can do what they need to even in stressful circumstances.

As Eric Meyers shared in his talk, Designing for Crisis, empathy is required for designers to provide better solutions for users in crisis. By considering what edge cases for our users and bringing them back to the conversation can help us better consider solutions that can help everyone.

Meyers expresses that if we can help the scared user, the normal users won’t have any trouble at all. One way to incorporate designing for crisis is through user testing. Providing less than ideal situations (but warning your participant first) of a design, such as making the screen a bit blurry or time limit, and testing this can help reveal what your users need without having 100% focus.

Additionally, if your product impacts a user in any way, for example, finding critical information such as hospital websites, creating a crisis persona will be helpful. This allows designers to be strategic rather than reactive to “edge cases.”

Designing Content in Context

Lastly, our ideal users are the ones who just know. They understand the complexities of the problems we’re solving because, well, we’re solving it for them. So whatever solution we make, they already know how to decipher and end up with the right answer by themselves. However, as much as we’d love for that to be true, that would make our lives and jobs way too easy.

In his talk, Content in Context is King, Derek Featherstone expresses that designing content in context is key to getting the right messaging and right solution to users (ideal or not). We should use the tools made available to us by understanding the complexities and constraints of our technologies and problems. Considering what types of paths people are coming to sites (your user flows) and how to dynamically match what the user should be experiencing helps the user gather an better understanding of what to do and how to do it.

One solution is to create Context Maps that shows content priority over time in relation to a user’s device, location, and proximity. Featherstone also challenges us to think about how content changes with various variables such as state of mind, location, proximity, activity and more. Being able to understand and consider these variables for our users helps us design better solutions.

All in all, as designers, we’re naturally problem solvers. Regardless of what tools we use, we find innovative ways to solve really hard problems. However, to become a better problem solver, we have to understand the variety of constraints that are part of the problems we and our users face everyday.

For more information on the event and talks, check out Tyler Childs’ GitHub for his notes and recaps.