2018: A Smashing Year In Review
As we come to the end of 2018, I spoke to some of the Smashing team, to get some thoughts on what the past year has been like for Smashing Magazine. We’re a small and fully remote team, communicating via Slack and Notion. Many of us only work part-time for Smashing, however, in many ways, I think that is one of our strengths.
We’re not just the publishers of an online magazine or conference organizers, we are people who work in the web industry. Among the team, products have been launched, books are being written, conferences have been spoken at, and websites launched that have nothing to do with Smashing Magazine itself. I love that. It stops us being insular, and I hope this helps us to constantly broaden our reach — bringing people together from all over the world to share ideas and inspiration as we all work together to build a better web.
As Editor in Chief of Smashing Magazine, I look after the content that goes out on the online magazine, and also our upcoming print magazine for members. This year, we have published almost every weekday — that represents over 290 articles! That’s a whole lot of content on subjects from privacy and accessibility to CSS and WordPress. While I read every article that goes out, I do not have the expertise to know everything about all of these subjects. I couldn’t do my job without the help of our talented editors who work with individual authors: Alma Hoffmann (Design), Chui Chui Tan (UX Design), Drew McLellan (Coding), Jim Dabell (Mobile), Marko Dugonjić (Typography), Michel Bozgounov (Graphics), and Rey Bango (Coding). Plus thanks to Iris Lješnjanin, Markus Seyfferth, Yana Kirilenko, Cosima Mielke, Andrew Lobo and Ricardo Gimenes for their hard work and efforts.
In Between Timezones
On a personal note, this year has once again involved a lot of travel, as I continue to tour around speaking about new CSS and CSS Layout. That has included talks and workshops for Smashing. In total (with speaking engagements, workshops and CSS Working Group meetings), I have traveled 272,865 kilometers while visiting 45 cities and 15 countries. That amounts to spending 146 days on the road.
Here’s a fun fact: My weekly standup post in our Smashing Slack usually starts with sharing the timezones I’m going to be in that week. Well, next year will involve more travel, and I’ll be bringing my new CSS Layout workshop to San Francisco, Toronto, and New York.
As for the magazine, I hope we can continue to publish great content from authors — those who are experienced writers but also folks writing for the first time. We are very happy to work with you to shape an article for publication. Personally, writing has helped boost my career more than anything else I have done. I love to help other people get started. So, if you have an idea, read this and then send over an outline.
Please don’t hesitate. Some of our most popular posts have been beginner guides to a technology, so don’t feel you need to have solved a big problem, or have some brand new technique in order to contribute. A nice technique, demonstrated and explained well, is worth a lot to someone who has just hit that same issue.
Anyway, enough from me! What were the highlights of the year for everyone else here at Smashing?
Vitaly Friedman: A Transitional Year
2018 was a quite busy and adventurous year for me, with a good number of ups and downs, challenges, surprises, and rewards. I was honored to have had the opportunity to run trainings, workshops and even offer consultancy to the European Parliament, EPAM, OTTO, Sipgate, Axel Springer and Wondrous, among others. I was happy to support dozens of local meet-ups and conferences around the world with the kind help of our Smashing Members.
Earlier this year, I explored how we can improve the level of education for front-end and design. While speaking at universities and schools, I was also teaching to get a sense of what’s required to set up a proper design school. In February, I taught at the New Digital School in Porto, Portugal, for a week, while exploring the state of front-end and responsive interface design in a class of 20 students. In June, I helped dear friends from the Projector Design School in Kyiv, Ukraine, set up Berlin Design Campus, an initiative for Ukrainian students to explore how digital agencies and designers work and live in Berlin. In October, I participated in a week-long co-working co-living campus in Mokrin, Serbia.
Specifically, I was exploring the state of design and front-end in uncommon locations, mostly second- and third-largest cities: Porto and Braga in Portugal (thanks Tiago!), Yerevan in Armenia (thanks Sona and Sargis!), Gdansk in Poland (thanks Patrycja!), Salzburg in Austria (thanks Markus!), Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia (thanks Julia, Daria, Alex, Andrey, Vadim and Alexey!), Split and Labin in Croatia (thanks Toni, Antonio and Domagoj!), Belgrade and Mokrin in Serbia (thanks Tatjana and Marija!), Belfast in Northern Ireland (thanks Tash and Oliver!), Manila in Philippines (thanks Sophia!), Tallinn in Estonia (thanks Artur!).
Much of the time in the second half of the year was spent with wonderful people at the European Parliament in Brussels, where Nicolas and Manuel were kind enough to invite me to work on refinements and improvements of UIs for election sites, media library, and a few smaller sites. That was quite a bit of traveling, with the absolute worst highlight of the last years being a massively delayed 47-hour trip to the Philippines due to a closed runway at the Manila airport (thanks for bearing with me through this, dear Sophia and the crew!)
Over the course of the year, I have spoken at 17 conferences, and was privileged to meet many — many! — remarkable people. It ended up with conversations I will remember for years to come. Some of these conversations changed me for the better as a person and professional, so I was happy to receive constructive criticism on MCing skills, writing, as well as code and design. I managed to wrap my head around the intricacies of CSS Grid Layout and Service Workers but also spent a lot of time learning about network protocols and the underlying layers of the Internet. I also attended 6 workshops to stay afloat of what’s happening in our industry these days and sharpened up my front-end/UX/communication skills. In September, I was honored to participate in the Mozilla Tech Speakers coaching, along with Ada Rose Edwards and Marc Thiele, mentoring and giving feedback to dozens of new speakers (here’s a review of the event by Havi Hoffman).
In terms of the Smashing Universe, we spent quite a bit of time revising our workflows and streamlining our processes for conferences, books, and the Smashing Membership. With fantastic event management skills of Mariona Ciller, Amanda Tamny Annandale and Charis Rooda, we’ve run 5 conferences this year: in London, San Francisco, Toronto, Freiburg and New York.
For the first time, we experimented with a ’no-slides’ format in Toronto (every speaker presented “live” on stage in front of a large screen shwoing how they build and design — with performance and accessibility audits to live designing/coding/sketching sessions on stage. In fact, that’s the format we are going to continue exploring in 2019.
Editor’s Note: If this format sounds interesting to you, you can watch all of the SmashingConf talks on Vimeo.
After many months of work, we finally published “Smashing Book 6” and “Form Design Patterns” by Adam Silver, but quite a bit of time was spent on the next upcoming books that will be published in the next years. For the Membership, we were able to secure Scott Whitehead and Bruce Lawson to help evolve the Membership program.
On a more personal level, I will vividly remember vacations to Morocco (Marrakesh, Fez and the Sahara desert trip) and Sardinia (Northern part) earlier this year. Also, on a sad note, I’ve moved out from Vilnius, Lithuania, where I’ve resided for the past 3 years.
Overall, I see 2018 as an important “transitional” year which took a lot of time, effort, and hard work. It feels like it’s been a transitional year between how things used to be and what’s coming up next. With this in mind, I couldn’t be more excited to see what 2019 will bring us! Expect a few new books coming up, Smashing Magazine Print edition, four Smashing Conferences (San Francisco, Toronto, Freiburg, New York) and many wonderful Smashing TV sessions!
Markus Seyfferth: Never Stand Still
Change happens everywhere and all the time — in all organizations, agencies, and businesses. If you don’t thrive change on your own, then there comes a time when change takes place on its own and things get out of control.
Looking back on the year 2018, we’ve undergone changes to even better fit the needs of our readers. We published the Smashing Book 6: New Frontiers in Web Design, a book packed into the probably the most beautiful cover that we have had designed so far. It’s a book that sheds light on all kinds of upcoming challenges that await web designers and developers in the near future.
We also published Form Design Patterns, a book that focusses on building all sorts of accessible and resilient web forms, and how to make them pretty (thanks to progressive enhancement) — a book that I personally learned a lot from. We’ve also started working on two new books that we’ll be publishing early next year: “Art Direction on the Web” by Andy Clarke, and “Inclusive Components” by Heydon Pickering. I am eagerly looking forward to holding both of them in my hands!
At the end of last year, we did something that we usually wouldn’t do because it would be too much of a risk. We launched a fully redesigned site: we migrated the entire magazine, the Job Board, and our Smashing Shop onto a new platform, and also launched our Membership initiative to reduce advertising on the site and to make Smashing more independent from ads in the long run. All of this took place at the same time. Was it worth it? A definite “Yes!” We’ve seen a noticeable uptrend in our analytics and many positive outcomes. At around mid-2018, we had already crossed the 1,000 members mark, and we look forward to breaking the next big mark in the next year (always with the long-term goal of getting fully independent within the next three years)!
That’s right; Smashing Membership continues to evolve. In the upcoming months, we’ll be introducing a new print magazine for our Members — something that is both visually appealing and also most useful to read. Rachel will be building the print magazine mostly with print.css, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how this will turn out and whether we can reuse some of it for our upcoming books!
And that’s not the only sort of change that is still ongoing at Smashing. We also tried a new live coding and design conference format at this year’s SmashingConf in Toronto; we thought that the old format had gotten a bit too much of the same, something that makes SmashingConf a bit too similar with what others already do. After all, we want to run conferences that contain content that we ourselves find most useful and interesting, and the new live format brings precisely that! It did take quite a bit of a risk though, and we’re thrilled that it turned out to be a tremendous success! So we are going to double down with this new format in the next year.
Last but not least, we also moved our smashingconf.com site to Netlify just recently, but that happened mostly in the background, so if no one really noticed the change, I guess that’s a good thing.
Yes, 2018 was a year full of transitions, but I guess you never can afford to stand still anyway? ;-)
Bruce Lawson: Joining The Team
Before the end of the first year of Smashing Membership, we reached a thousand members — thank you so much, everyone! Those extra-special people who were with us for the whole year received a little thank you in the post.
I joined Scott in October, which allowed us to increase the number of Smashing TV webinars (which are free to Members and Smashing Members, of course). We’ve had sessions on coding Machine Learning, Designing with Ethics, the State of the Web in South-East Asia, and statistical techniques for collecting user data without compromising privacy. (All are recorded and available to members, if you have FOMO!)
When we set up Membership, we promised that it would be an inclusive place where lesser-heard voices (in addition to big names) would be beamed straight to your living room/ home office/ sauna over Smashing TV. While we’ve been speaking at other non-Smashing events, we’ve watched other sessions from lesser-known talents in our industry. With only $5 to $9 a month, your Membership subscription allows us to bring you even greater content, pay all our contributors fairly, and reduce advertising on the site.
Next year, we’ll be increasing the number of webinars again. Lined up is a course on how to make Progressive Web Apps, Internationalization, Semantic HTML, Houdini, as well as a monthly show hosted by me and Vitaly with industry guests. We sincerely hope you’ll join us!
Amanda Annandale: A Year Of Firsts
2018 was a year of firsts, new cities, new attendees, new speakers, and even a couple new formats. We had more than a few challenges in store, but if you have any experience with the Smashing Team, you’ll know that we thrive on challenges.
We started the year in London (our first time in the capital city and the first time in England in a couple of years). The sold-out conference took place in LSO’s St. Luke’s Church, and bathed in sunlight. This performance-based conference brought in a new crowd of attendees and speakers — all discussing why Performance Matters, the common pitfalls, and the tips and tricks for improving the day to day user experience. With Una Kravets and Patrick Hamman as MCs, the experience was new and empowering.
In April, the Smashing team headed back to San Francisco. The weather was wonderful as we returned to the bay, with 14 speakers, 8 workshops, and nearly 500 attendees. Held at the Palace of Fine Arts, Mina Markham walked us through the process of redesigning Slack, while Joe Leech broke down the process of “Designing Powerful User Experiences With Psychology.” We toured the area, competed with each other at the arcade, and came together to find new ways to solve new processes and challenges.
A couple of months later, SmashingConf experimented with its boldest change: no slides! All of the presenters, from Aaron Draplin to Rachel Andrew, tossed out their ‘normal’ presentation format and showed the attendees how they work. The experience was enlightening, showing how similar we all are in our work processes in some ways, while approaching things from an entirely different angle in others. In fact, we loved it so much that we’ve decided 2019 should be the year of No Slides!
The end of the summer is when Smashing goes home. Set on the foothills of the Black Forest, at the infamous Markethall, SmashingConf came back to Freiburg, Germany with 14 speakers. Chui Chui Tan spoke about Designing for Global Audiences while Josh Clark talked about Design in the Era of the Algorithm. In addition, we had a new experience adding community lightning talks to our program. No matter what changes though, there’s nothing like hosting SmashingConf Freiburg and bringing people to our home.
And finally, we ended the year in the city that never sleeps — and lived up to the name! In New York City, we had 14 speakers, 8 workshops, a packed speaker panel, a couple of retro parties, and events that kept everyone busy for four days. Smashing challenged the sold-out audience with an engaging group of speakers from John Maeda to Debbie Millman and Sara Soueidan. No matter how many times we go back, the experiences always change us in a way.
But, then again, that’s how the Smashing team always feels at the end of a season: challenged, moved, and driven. We’ve learned from over 30 speakers, met over 1500 attendees, flown to 5 cities, eaten lots of incredible food, and had countless wonderful experiences. Now, the team is ready to create, improve, and progress to see what 2019 has in store for us!
Marc Thiele: Moving Closer Together
If you ask me, I think that this year went by really quickly. When I look back, I see five Smashing conferences, which took place in London, San Francisco, Toronto, Freiburg and New York, as well as many improvements which we’ve achieved in the background.
Editor’s note: Marc has taken photos of many of our conferences, you can find the albums on his Flickr account.
When I say background, I mean that maybe readers, attendees or folks who visit Smashing Magazine don’t even recognize the work we do behind the curtains. Of course, there are final products that are presented in the articles published on Smashing Magazine, the Smashing Books, or projects that have been brought to your attention via Smashing TV or while attending a Smashing conference or workshops, but there is a small team of people who work hard to continue improving workflows and experiences for our cherished customers. What you often don’t see is see the messy middle and the bumpy journey we are on — from talking about a new idea to the final product. There actually is a lot of work, a lot of failure, and many discussions and conversations involved.
From the end of April onwards, we had many meetings and conversations to see where we can improve the work that we do. Defining clear roles and tasks, checking how the many different parts of the Smashing Universe can grow closer together, and also looking for new, exciting ideas to bring to life. There are also many new faces on board of the Smashing boat — fresh energy to move forward — and I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of their passion and input. Expect the quality you know from the magazine and the events and an even better Smashing Membership, Smashing TV, and maybe the one or other new idea.
So, when I personally speak about 2018, I tend to say that this year was not too good and felt strange for a reason that I can’t really grab and describe. Perhaps it is the overall mood and spirit that comes from what you see when you turn on the news, read the newspaper in the morning or talk to your neighbor? All I know is that it is important to stay positive and have a positive look into the future. I ran three very successful beyond tellerrand shows in Munich, Dusseldorf and Berlin, and I’ve seen the success we had with all the Smashing conferences and the improvements we’ve accomplished for the overall Smashing experience.
My wish for the upcoming new year: let’s meet — even more. Let’s share ideas and what we’ve learned. Let’s not just meet on the web, but in real life. It is wonderful to teach and share and to see other people taking what they’ve learned from you and take it further to create, inspire and teach others with it. One more thing that also is important: Stay curious and ask questions. Never fear to ask a question as you “might look stupid asking.” If you have a question, then it’s stupid not to ask.
With this, I wish everyone a wonderful journey over to 2019 and I am looking forward to meeting you in 2019!
Alma Hoffmann: Reflections
Working at Smashing Magazine has been a very rewarding experience. Each time one of the articles I have edited gets published, I think I am happier than the authors.
One article, in particular, that was very meaningful to me was written by Trine Falbe and titled “Ethical Design The Practical Getting-Started Guide.” We all talk about ethical design, but not often we are provided with a way to get started. It is a good article to reflect upon as the current year ends and the new starts.
Thank you, Smashing, for keeping me around!
A Truly Smashing Year
Reading all of this certainly makes me proud to be part of the Smashing team. At the heart of everything Smashing, is an absolute focus on you, our readers, members, and conference attendees. We hope that the things we do demonstrate that, and we are always happy to listen and to learn when we get it wrong!
I’m excited for the things we will be sharing in 2019, and along with all of the team I am always happy to hear your feedback. What can we do better? What do you want to learn? How can we help? We will be opening up a survey for some more formal feedback early in 2019, but our door (or email inbox at least) is always open!