November 28,2023 SmashingConf Antwerp 2023: Participation Report

K. Taki, Art Director
H. Uehara, UI Designer

Between October 9–12th, the SmashingConf Antwerp 2023 was held. On 10-11th, as representatives from Mitsue-Links both myself, Taki, and colleagues attended various talk sessions.

The talk sessions we attended – which totaled 12 with the inclusion of secret speakers – picked up and shared topics related to Figma, global design trends etc.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it had been a long time since I’d attended a conference overseas, but the warm atmosphere of the venue and the interaction with designers from other countries provided me with a lot of inspiration on a wide range of design-related topics.

In this Column, both myself, an Art Director, and my colleague Uehara, a UI Designer, will report on conference themes as well as sessions that left lasting impressions.

The Bourla Theatre, the venue for the conference

What is required of design? (Art Director: Taki)

Based on people's interests and current trends I feel that the environment around us is changing every day. As designers, we’re required to be familiar with the fact that various technological innovations are taking place and that design processes are rapidly changing.
Regarding such rapidly changing trends, there was a session on how designers should best respond.

Session: Trends To Live and Die For

In this session, Claudio Guglieri argued that "to truly understand design trends, we need to pay attention to the macro trends that shape design” with the three important perspectives being: technology / business / audience. While not a design talk itself, I feel session content was very useful from a design perspective. Following are some of the trends from the business perspective.

In business, design works as a multiplier, so a company's positioning and where it is in its lifecycle will affect design. For example, whether the company is long-established company or an innovative disruptor will alter strategies and targeted technologies.

In addition, as bundling and unbundling occur constantly in business, unique value propositions are needed through the implementation of design strategies such as "adopting counter positions" and "focusing on single aspects and keeping them simple".

On the other hand, when a company has a high degree of market recognition, designs must also be somewhat restrained in tone and manner – this ensures a continuation of customer trust and expectations. It was stated that companies need to lead the bundling by deepening connections with customers through the continuous improvement of products and services.

Also, in the context of such bundling, how to differentiate designs in a market that is becoming more uniform was also mentioned. While noting that trends toward integration are inevitable now that AI has begun to develop, a turning point could be for designers to ask themselves what the core of particular brand is and what should it be.

One of the most common requests we receive from our corporate clients is trend-conscious design. While it is of course important to adopt designs that are in tune with the times, it is also essential, for websites and apps, to pursue a consistent corporate identity and brand worldview. In order to consider "what kind of design is appropriate," the session made me realize the importance of creating designs based on in-depth insights and an understanding of trends, including the market, other companies, consumer behavior, as well as corporate brand strategies. I will use the knowledge gained at the conference to support our future design efforts.

Considering the role of designers in the future (UI Designer: Uehara)

After listening to 12 speakers, each with different perspectives on recent UX design and its changing contexts, I felt the word "design" expand beyond conventional meanings. I was also impressed by the many sessions on themes that are hot topics in Japan, such as the rise of AI, design systems, ethical design, and new design tool functions. From among such sessions, I would like to introduce two that focused on the elements that constitute UX design.

Session: Designing a Product with a Point of View

This session by Nick DiLallo included advice on how UX writing affects design.

  • Information design, visual design, and writing. Neither one alone is sufficient; usability and brand value are built through their interaction.
  • Simplicity is the most important element. However, rather than gaining simplicity through the mere reduction of information, products should be optimized for users.

Basically, impressions and usability can change depending on the how textual information is worded. Through this session, I reaffirmed that writing with an awareness of the purpose and target audience is an important element of design.

Session: The Invisible Power of UI Typography

This session, presented by Oliver Schöndorfer, delved into the theme of typography, an essential UI element, and how it can be used for branding without sacrificing functionality in text.

  • Influential typography can lead a project to success. Consideration for accessibility through contrast ratios and font size, as well as the personality of the project can be expressed through letterforms.
  • Consider the conditions under which the UI design will be applied, such as device resolution, dynamic content, and display size, and then select a font that’s strong enough to withstand such conditions.
  • Design with hierarchy levels in mind, considering which elements have high priority for users.

Even in our daily lives, there may be situations where we are unconsciously guided by the power of typography. In the case of websites, to accommodate diverse display sizes etc., it is necessary to handle typography with flexibility in mind.

New features, such as AI and enhanced design tools, are creating an environment in which people can devote more resources to thinking. Going forward, I believe that the role of designers will approach something resembling that of editing - they will need to assess information from a variety of perspectives then draw together design components to deliver optimum solutions.

Through continued analysis and understanding of the design insights we acquired from conference participation, we strive to propose better designs for clients and their end users.

Inside the Conference Venue

Inside the Conference Venue

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