Today, we're chatting with Jarijn from Smashing Magazine, a hub for all things web design and development.
We dive into the magazine's playful visual style, explore how it's shaping web development through its workshops, and get a sneak peek into web design trends going into 2024. We also discuss Jarijn's take on generative AI and community engagement strategies.
Read the whole interview to get some smashing insights!
As a tall Dutchie living in the Far East (usually Hong Kong), Jarijn prides himself on having a good overview of things. At Smashing Magazine, Jarijn runs the membership program and helps out with organizing various online and offline events. Whilst he does not per se like breaking things, he does sometimes break things online (yeah those em-dashes), or even his own bones — whilst doing one of the many sports he likes doing.
DesignRush: Could you provide a brief introduction to Smashing Magazine's mission and activities?
Jarijn: Smashing Magazine is a publisher focused on web design and development.
It started as an online magazine in 2006 and has published thousands of articles since. We publish eBooks, organize conferences, run workshops and other events, and manage our community.
Smashing Magazine's website features a distinctive cartoon-like visual style — a unique design solution. Could you share the inspiration behind this creative decision?
Smashing is a friendly, "family" style of organization, and the brand identity follows that.
The distinctive cat comes back a lot in the cartoon-like style that has grown organically and now has a name (Topple), and many variations. Our in-house designer and illustrator Ricardo must have designed more than 10,000 cats over the years!
In your view, what types of websites would benefit most from adopting a similar visual style?
This approach can work well for brands that are friendly and open, and it works especially well if you have content or situations where photography or graphs don’t work or are impossible to include.
On the other hand, it generally doesn’t work well for corporate brands.
How are Smashing Magazine's workshops designed to align with current web development and design trends?
Smashing Magazine offers online workshops in a multiple-day, 2.5-hour-per-day format, and in-person full-day workshops before and after our conferences.
While the content of the workshops can be the same, the format is quite different.
We have found that participants online prefer multiple shorter sessions, so they can choose between two things:
- Do other work or life-related things for the rest of the day
- Do some review or homework between the sessions, learning even more
Smashing workshops tend to focus on learning practical skills that will last for years.
Do you have the data showing how much participants' skills improve after attending your online workshops?
We don’t measure this at the moment, and while we believe it’s fairly difficult to measure (as this will usually be self-reported), we are wondering how other workshop creators do this.
For us, the most important metrics are two factors:
- Participants' happiness, measured via an anonymous survey after the workshop
- Retention — Do they buy other workshops, join conferences, and buy memberships
We score pretty well on both, so we assume the skill levels are going up as well.
Are there any specific web design trends that we should look out for in 2024?
The web is always changing and generally getting better — That’s what makes it such an exciting industry to work in!
As a general rule, we try to focus on "sustainable" development practices, such as accessibility and performance — We hope the hype about Web3 and blockchain is over by now.
As long as we treat AI like a new iteration of software, there are a lot of cool things to be done with it!
Is Smashing Magazine taking advantage of generative AI in its eBooks and workshops?
We aren't using generative AI that much in our work (articles/books/workshops/conferences) yet. We use ChatGPT to help with marketing copy and emails, but not for other tasks.
All our articles are written by experts, and edited by human editors. We don’t expect that to change for now, but who knows?!
When it comes to artwork, we find our in-house illustrations are still better than Midjourney’s.
What are your thoughts on including AI-generated content in education?
For the time being, using fully AI-generated content seems like a bad idea, as we have seen often that it needs expert curation. Because most AI models use outdated data, lots of very recent developments will not be catered to.
Considering Google's renewed interest in forums like Reddit, could you elaborate on how Smashing Magazine engages its community?
Smashing lives because of its community — They read our articles, come to our free online events, and buy our eBooks, workshops, and conferences.
We connect with them via our Slack networks, chats during our events, engagements on social, and our own paid member community.
We provide a fair bit of free content, including articles, newsletters, events, videos, and podcasts, while we also work with other communities to co-promote events, products, and services.
How do you foster community interaction, and which communication channels have proven most effective?
Unfortunately, X (formerly Twitter) is mostly dead.
Smashing Magazine has more than 906,000 followers on this network which used to be a great communication and interaction channel, but not anymore.
Now most of the interaction happens on LinkedIn, and partly via Mastodon. We also manage three Slack communities which are relatively lively.
Finally, we have a good organically grown email list that we use, and is rather effective.
When it comes to catering to our community, we sometimes give away freebies to active members (ranging from tickets to custom illustrations).
What preferences do your readers have regarding content style and format?
When it comes to style, we have three key formatting points:
Since our readers are web professionals, everything needs to be well-designed and developed.
Could you share the motivation behind starting a podcast and the kind of feedback you've observed since its inception?
The Smashing Podcast seemed a logical new channel where we could have longer and more in-depth conversations with people in our industry, besides Smashing Hour interviews.
People generally like the format, and we have a fair number of loyal listeners.
Do you consider podcasts an effective platform for agencies looking to share their expertise in a specific field?
They can be.
There are several successful podcasts in our industry, but they are usually run by people who have various communication channels, including publishing articles and speaking at conferences.
In that sense, they generally aren't running a podcast as a sole action.
We thank Smashing Magazine for this conversation. If you are a web designer or a developer, be sure to check out their website and stay tuned for more of our interviews with industry experts!