Smashing Conference Oxford 2015


Last week we were lucky enough to find ourselves in beautiful Oxford for Smashing Conference 2015. Here are our impressions.


Last week we were lucky enough to find ourselves in beautiful Oxford for Smashing Conference 2015. The event was held in the historical Oxford Town Hall. A very cool international crowd and excellent speakers lineup made this event rather outstanding, not to mention the venue, which was an eye-feast on its own; and to top it all off, we had bottomless slush-puppies, cupcakes and Nintendo 64 at our chill-out lounge. What else could you wish for?


The content was fantastic and we cannot but share some of our takeaways. Here’s a bit on the talks we loved:

Rachel Ilan

At Pusher we’re currently trying to improve our user research, in order to provide the best possible experience for our customers. Rachel Ilan’s talk “User Research for Designers and Engineers” was particularly relevant to this. Here are some of the notes we took from her excellent talk:

Early testing
Before starting the design process, look at the problem and observe users’ behaviour. A good example of this was the Procter and Gamble Swiffer Mop. In 1994, the director of Corporate New Ventures at Procter & Gamble asked the right question:

There has got to be a better way to clean a floor. Current mops are the cleaning equivalent of the horse drawn carriage – where’s the car?

From observing users cleaning their floors at home, they came up with the Swiffer Mop which went on to take $100 million in sales in the first 4 months. You can read more here.

What questions are users asking themselves

  • What is it?
  • Do I trust you?
  • What are you offering me?
  • How do I get it?

The “what is it?” question is often the most difficult to get right and can often take a few iterations.

Fail early, fail often. Build the right thing.

User Testing

Doing is better than asking; observe them using the product.
Don’t interpret. Observe. Record visually and share with a group to draw conclusions.
Ask open-ended questions; make sure your questions aren’t leading.
Be Dr Freud; question everything probe their answers.
Empathise with the users, photographs to document the test can help people empathise with the user.
Don’t ask people if they like something; it’s an uncomfortable and leading question.

Suggested Software
Pop App helps you transform your scribbles into a prototype.

Tom Giannattasio

Tom, the founder of Macaw, gave a talk on building hybrid desktop apps. Macaw looks and feels just like any other native app you might use and is able to live down in your dock, along with all of your other apps. The only real difference is that it’s built using technologies that we normally only associate with the web. The talk involved delving into how you can get started with building hybrid apps using node-webkit (now known as nw.js) as well as using vDOM and vCSSOM to push the performance of the app to the point where it really does not feel like you’re using anything other than a native app.

Paul Lewis

Paul’s talk, titled “Making a Silky Smooth Web”, looked at how and why we should spend time making what we build as performant as possible. He spoke about what the typical pipeline looks like when making a frame in the browser. It usually involves running some Javascript, applying some styles, calculating some layout, doing some painting and then, finally, compositing. Some of these steps can be cut out entirely to speed up the pipeline making it more likely that you’ll be able to have your next frame made and ready to go within the ~10ms you have to keep things running silky smooth at 60fps.

Peter Bil’ak

Peter’s talk “Rethinking Publishing” was not focussed on development at all, but was different and very thought-provoking. Peter is a Slovakian graphic and typeface designer based in the Netherlands. In the centre of his presentation was his recent project, “Works that Work”, a magazine which aims to rethink publishing paradigms. He discussed such issues as distribution, production and the ratio between advertising and actual content. For example, he showed how social distribution can in fact be a reality. Very cool.


We had an amazing time in Oxford and are looking forward to Smashing Conference in New York. See you there!