I had the pleasure recently of traveling to Toronto, ON to attend SmashingConf Toronto, a two-day design and development conference held by Smashing Magazine.

This was the first time a Smashing Conference was held in Toronto, and it had a particularly unique format. Speakers at the conference were strictly told NOT to use slides for their presentations. Instead, they had to get creative with their talks. This led to engaging presentations filled with live drawings, interactive coding sessions, and unique ‘slide’ alternatives.

Every session in the conference had valuable takeaways. Below are highlights of some of the sessions I felt were particularly useful.

Even More CSS Secrets

Presented by Lea Verou

CSS is a powerful tool in web design, and it’s often not utilized to it’s full extent. Lea presented some fascinating effects that can be created with CSS, such as cut-out text over images, variable font weights, and interesting pie charts. I’m excited to utilize some of these tricks on my next project.

Vue and SVG

Presented by Sarah Drasner

Sarah taught us some tips and tricks to animating SVGs using Vue. SVG stands for ‘scalable vector graphic’, and they have a ton of advantages when compared to traditional JPG or PNG images. Sarah was able to start with a design, and walk us through the process of animating individual components. Thanks to this talk, as well as a presentation on SVG icon fonts by Sara Soueidan, I walked away from the conference with a much better understanding of everything SVGs are capable of.

Performance Audits

Presented by Tim Kadlec and Harry Roberts

There were two separate performance talks, each with valuable takeaways. The presenters walked the audience through the process of analyzing website performance. Both started with some tools from webpagetest.org, and showed some unique features of Chrome’s dev tools. They also stressed the importance of choosing third-party resources wisely, as these can often negatively affect your website’s speed. I found these talks particularly valuable, and learned some new tools to analyze and diagnose bottlenecks in website performance.

Applying Psychology and 13 Years of UX to get the Details Right and Leapfrog the Competition

Presented by Joe Leech

Where should a search box go on a website? Where should the shopping cart go? What should happen when you click on the logo? In this talk, Joe explained that our world revolves around certain frameworks and design axioms to make things easier to use. When designers break the typical procedural flow, it can confuse users. He warned that users don’t like change, and we should avoid making large user interface changes all at once.

Design Across Cultures

Presented by Yiying Lu

Yiying Lu is the artist behind Twitter’s famous fail whale. She’s also the illustrator of some new emojis, like the Dumpling emoji. In her talk, she illustrated her process for designing with cultural influences in mind.

Things That Don’t Have a Thing To Do With Graphic Design

Presented by Aaron Draplin

This talk was particularly inspiring, as graphic designer Aaron Draplin shared some ways that graphic design is all around us. He took us through some of his unique work, and showed how it has influenced and inspired many parts of his life, from his backyard to his nephew.

Accessibility Audit Live

Presented by Marcy Sutton

How does a colorblind user see your site? How easily can a blind person navigate your site? Can it be used without a mouse? Is functionality like voice or chat available as a telephone alternative for users that are hearing-impaired? Marcy stressed the importance of accessibility in websites, and walked us through some common design and development mistakes she sees. She covered some basic techniques to improve website accessibility, and some tools to identify potential issues.


In addition to these talks, there were many creative and inspiring moments, from learning lettering and calligraphy with Gemma O’Brien, creating beautiful data visualizations with Nadieh Bremmer, and even programming video games and lasers with Seb Lee-Delisle.

This was my first experience attending such a large design and web-driven conference. I came away with valuable tools, creative insights, and renewed inspiration. I’m thankful to Haley Marketing Group for allowing me to attend, and continuing to invest in employees’ professional development!

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