Beyond Tellerrand 2017

The four of us (Charisse, Jan, Paulo & Timur) arrived early for coffee. Right before the first talk in the morning we were welcomed by a very happy DJ. As it turned out later, he embedded snippets of the talks in his songs of vastly different genres in the breaks.

Over the course of the two-day conference there were a bunch of talks and almost all of them are available now on Vimeo. Most of them are quite good and worth watching, but we’ll go into details for the talks that we found to be most insightful, interesting and relevant to us.

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Robin Christopherson / Out with accessibility – In with inclusive design
Vasilis van Gemert / Exclusive Design

Overall, Robin Christopherson’s talk was a nice summary on why inclusive design is important. Not only people who are obvious to think of – the blind, the deaf, etc. – will profit from it, but also the “temporarily disabled” like the inebriated, people in a time crunch or or the temporarily incapacitated (such as those holding a coffee cup). I found it a bit sad to have to use this argument, optimizing for people with impaired vision should be reason enough in itself. But if it helps why not. He also took some time to explain how smartphones were a huge step for blind people and how excited he is about the next technological leap – voice interfaces. He’s so excited about that, he even got a podcast about his Alexa.

A good follow-up on the next day was “Exclusive Design” by Vasilis van Gemert, who turns the notion of inclusive design on its head. It begs the question: what would it be like if the users that are usually just considered as a technical requirement (“is is accessible?”) would be first-class citizen and get to enjoy their version of the user interface? An exclusive design?

Both talks made us feel somewhat ashamed – we admit we’ve got some homework to do in this regards at Small Improvements. We took it as a wake-up call and in fact made it an action item in our design meeting before carrying it over to our PM.

Yves Peters / Type with character(s) – reclaiming control over OpenType fonts

Peters took part in an open letter to Adobe in 2014 for better support of open type. The original implementation of Open Type in InDesign for example was more of a hackathon project than a well-planned interface. They were heard and now Adobe is actively adding better support for these fancy features. Google is also on board, with support for the latest and most exciting features – Variable Fonts. This enables fine-grained control over several variables of fonts: weight, slant, contrast, optical size, etc. This way request sizes can be minimized because you don’t have to deliver each font in a separate file. Second, you gain a lot of flexibility by not being bound to certain weights. Here at Small Improvements we always wished for something between Avenir Next Medium and Avenir Next Regular! He also shared an awesome website (axis-praxis.org) that shows these possibilities.

For now this still seems to be a thing of the future, but we’re hoping it gets the deserved momentum, and maybe we’ll see better support for all browsers pretty soon.

Alla Kholmatova / From Purpose to Patterns

What surprised us the most about this talk was the neutrality of it. Alla presented us with all things regarding design systems, living style guides, modular design and its pros and cons, but from the perspective of a non-biased researcher, not an opinionated “this is how you should do it.” That was pretty refreshing and particularly relevant for us as we’re now in the process of building our own style guide. She presented some case studies like AirBnB and TED, and how those different design systems fall into different ends of the spectrums – strict/loose, modular/integrated, centralized/distributed. As always, when you ask “what’s the best solution?” the most prudent answer is “it depends”. And that’s where it ended, also leaving us wanting to get her book “Design Systems” where she delves much more into detail, in the hopes of getting a deeper understanding of how we should move forward with our own style guide.

See you next year!

To recap, it was a good two days packed with interesting talks and a lot of ideas. It made us wish we’d have more time and resources to bring them all to our teams and to the things we’ve been building. It’s surprising how Beyond Tellerrand manages to have such a solid quality of speakers with subjects ranging from the freshest news in browser capabilities to the always inspiring career of Paula Scher..