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Brain Food for Your Post-DrupalCon Slump

by Eric Huffman
July 11, 2016

DrupalCon always provides many opportunities to discover new methods and tools, and this year’s conference in New Orleans was no different. Not only was there plenty to take in at all of the sessions and BoFs, but even in less formal encounters, you could expect to find vibrant discussions sharing approaches, successes, and techniques.

And now that it’s been over two months since New Orleans, chances are you might be experiencing a post-conference slump. I’m sure you enthusiastically found ways to use what you learned to improve current projects, and what was once new and exciting is starting to seem routine.

However, DrupalCon is more than sessions covering the latest tools and methods, and fortunately, all presentations are recorded. So, if you’re like me and you gorged on learning the latest tricks (and great food!) while in New Orleans, you can now go back and take in all the inspiring talks that were more theory focused.

Web User Experience in 2020

As a front end developer I’m drawn to sessions from the UX track to help get over my post-conference slump, but I think Web User Experience in 2020 from Drew Gorton would serve as inspiring brain food regardless of your background.

Drew does an excellent job of curating big ideas being discussed about the future digital experience, and presents them as key forces that he feels will change the medium we work in today. He provides practical examples to help illustrate how those forces are creating change, and shares some interesting predictions.

Two areas Drew covers that I found especially intriguing are the shift in focus for hardware, and the future of search when it comes to “commoditized” services on the web.

In his discussion on hardware Drew details how we’re reaching a point where the speed of devices has become “good enough,” and that the future priority will not be speed improvements, but ubiquity. This essentially means we’ll soon start to see common appliances we interact with daily become connected to the web. So how long until we see toasters included in device compatibility requirements? Probably not anytime soon, but the takeaway here is that in the near future we’ll be facing unique user experience challenges as we figure out how we’ll interact with non-traditional, web-connected devices.

Drew points out that the decoupled approach to building websites, where content management systems function as a data service, and the presentation of the content is handled outside of the CMS, will become a necessity as everything around us becomes connected. He reiterates that Drupal is already positioned to support that need, and illustrates this by taking a second look at the Amazon Echo demonstration in the Driesnote. In that example we see a Drupal back end servicing a workflow for a non-traditional web device.

Further, given the rising demand for the content in Drupal websites to be available for non-traditional web interfaces, it will become increasingly important to have experience with decoupling the presentation layer from Drupal.

Other aspects of Drew’s talk I found interesting covered the future of search and social, and how that will affect “commoditized” services on the web. To illustrate these issues Drew uses a favorite local restaurant as an example. He shows the typical detailed sidebar that appears within Google search results for the restaurant as compared to the restaurant’s website.

As expected, the detailed sidebar reveals pertinent information about the establishment in a clear format that is highly usable, even if it’s somewhat devoid of personality. When compared to the website we see that the site is lacking the functionality that the detailed search result provides, such as tap-to-call for the phone number in mobile. The same situation is true when viewing the social media presence for similar services as compared to their websites; the basic details are clearly presented, but personality is restricted by the social platform’s limitations.

The takeaway here is that as we become more dependent on the information curated by the giants of the web it’s going to be important to make sure critical information is accessible to those giants, and equally important that where we have full control over the presentation, the functionality meets, or exceeds the detailed results delivered by the giants.

As Drew put it, to be successful, commoditized services will require partnering with providers who can help them “go deep” in the future web. This also ties back to the necessity of building a web presence that is compatible with non-traditional web-connected devices. A local bakery is going to miss out when their site can’t communicate with the smart toasters of the future!

The increasing necessity to pay attention to how web giants will shape our future digital experience brings up another prediction Drew covers, which is that the open web will remain strong. So while we’ll see web giants introduce new platforms and services, open web communities will continue to demand compliance with standards, which helps maintain an overall balance if one giant becomes too big. This point is illustrated by looking back at the browser wars from 20 years ago. As one giant began to dominate others were able to stay legitimate by embracing the standards we demanded.

There are many other predictions and topics covered in Drew Gortons’ Web User Experience in 2020 presentation, so if you’re looking for some inspiration to help get over a post-DrupalCon slump be sure to check it out, as well as the many other sessions available on the DrupalCon New Orleans website.

Additional Resources
Designing Websites for Everyone | Blog Post
Learn to Create Advanced Theme Settings in Drupal and D8 | Video
Highlights from DrupalCon New Orleans | Blog Post


Meet team member, Eric Huffman

Eric has over a decade of experience working with Drupal as a developer, and site builder starting with Drupal 6 in 2008. His passion lies in designing and building web front ends, but over the years he has also supported programmers and often played a role in bridging back-end and front-end te

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