UX London: People (Day 2)

By: Grant


  • conference
  • ux

Getting started

After a hectic few days prior, the oftentime worry of the dreaded overcome-with-sleepiness-can-the-next-speaker-keep-me-concious concern did hit me as I got on the train for my journey up to East London.

I was brilliantly surprised however, to be privileged enough to park my behind for the journey, offering ample time to remind myself of the speaker lineup, their topics and the afternoon workshops available. Now a bit of a veteran of UX London from previous years, it quickly occurred to me why Day 2s theme appealed so much when the powers that be signed off the purchase of my ticket. The emphasis instantly stood out as refreshingly motivational, and yes, it turned out to be just that…

Walking up to Trinity Laban in Greenwich, the welcoming aroma of a freshly ground brew lifted me, ready to catch up with soon to be arriving Barry Frost and (a decidedly not so perky looking) Pete Lambert for the day ahead.


We made our way to the theatre and having been welcomed by Clearleft’s Andy Budd, Ogilvy & Mather UK Vice-Chairman, Rory Sutherland stepped up to open the talks, his subject: Psychophysics.

With the backdrop of what seemed like just three slides, Rory set up the room and gripped us instantly, his talk apparently spilling out through years of all-encompassing, industry experience with perfect start to end plot, supported by just the right amount of digress to prove his awesomely executed, ad-lib performance.

We journeyed with Rory as he took us through collated perceptions of the human psyche and how consumers can respond so irrationally to traditional marketing angles and just how wrong some approaches were, and still are, when we try to price and market our (clients’) goods. Having remarked on various odd-ball response scenarios, he likened this to a recent Ted video that observed Capuchin monkeys, illogically (and very humorously) rejecting treats for accomplishing tasks, because another participant was receiving a different, but like-for-like treat as a reward. The crux of the talk: mix it up a little. Involve investigative research, wherever and however possible. But don’t just explore the seemingly obvious conclusions; spot what works, look for patterns and apply them elsewhere.

Next up was UX Designer, Sebastian Deterding. With an cynical undertone, Sebastian walked us through a childhood favourite story of his: ‘Momo’, and of how parasitic characters of the plot stole time from their prey (the everyday person). He likened UXers to these parasites, leaving it fully under our remit to ensure our users are allowed to accomplish what they set out to achieve using our products as quickly and efficiently as possible, and to come away feeling gratified and willing to interact when it suits them. With reference to the rise of the Digital Detox and Internet Unplugging, Sebastian comments on the industry’s unapologetic strive for addiction by design. ‘At least the gambling industry has the decency to not publicly brag about it’, he points out, going on to reference the plethora of books instructing how to manipulate users into ever more ready pocket emptiers.

Sebastian goes on to explore the sense of ‘the good life’ and how it is our responsibility to strive to deliver this, but noting that ‘improving on thousands of years of human experience … is extraordinarily difficult’. We need to ‘imagine the impossible’ and to dig much deeper than the tip of the iceberg, to focus on the users we (do and do not) design for rather than just the clients we serve. In summary, we must provide technologies of true well-being.

After a short refuel, we returned to the theatre to be introduced to Southampton home-towner Peter Smart who flew us through his relentless journey of UX betterment (he spends a lot of time in aeroplanes). Illustrating his unequivocal desire to improve all-the-things, Peter recounted a recent, self-imposed project to improve the usabilty of airline tickets, and of how he took over a flight cabin with scribbles on tissues and whatever else he could find that might serve as an impromptu, prototyping medium. He concludes with evidence of the project’s famed success and reminds us that there are things that can be improved all around us, and to keep our eyes peeled for the next big fix.

Next up was Aaron Walter, director of UX at MailChimp. Aaron walked us through the significant (read as total) re-design of the MailChimp UI and of the pitfalls associated with making drastic changes to the ways that their massive user base interacts with the tool. Their aim: to make the UI responsive and much more suited to a collaborative workflow.

Whilst the tale was interesting, if slightly predictable, it was difficult to take much from the project and apply to our work at globaldev. It just seemed a little too easy! As a globaldev UX Designer you have to work with all of these issues and much more, the key challenge being support for thousands of partner brands (and their hacks) that both influence your process and chosen execution. It can be a tough job, but its seriously satisfying once you crack it.

The final speaker of the day brought some heavy research tales to the table. Younghee Jung, nicknamed ‘Chief Dreamer’ at Nokia focused on insights and strategies to avoid the premature reliance on individual research ‘trees’ to prove our hunches and of the considerably beneficial top down approach that is to be mindful of the ‘forest’.

Younghee recounts a recent research project in Asia, describing just how different consumer responses can be in different situations. Indirect, face-to-face and common questionnaires can all give varying answers to the same questions. One example described how a research project involved home visits. Respondents in this situation were so conscious of not offending their guests that their responses were short and non-committal, if actually true at all!

One very successful project took a much more personal angle. The process involved subjects submitting their own ideas for the ideal mobile phone. Younghee and her team found that many respondents felt real ownership over their submissions, discussing ideas at length with friends and family and even wanting to come in to meet the research team to present ideas in person and get their points across, with the hope of achieving the goal of a better, end product.

The key to successful research Younghee presents, is to ensure as the researcher, to draw the underlying response from participants, unmasked by any facade.


Getting ourselves out of a sticky situation
Making sense of situations like this

After some seriously tasty brioche burger-goodness, picked from the array of mobile tucker providers sourced by the organisers, we each took off to our chosen workshop. I opted for some more research insights, something I’d love to undertake more of at globaldev.

The workshop, ‘Reality Shared: Collaborative Research Techniques for Effective Design’ was given by Leisa Reichelt, the got-to-be-crazy-for-not-having-respect-for Head of User Research at the UK Government Digital Service (GDS). As she gave a cheeky, big sell for the department and what it takes on, chiefly all that comes under gov.uk, I couldn’t help but feel a much more than superficial respect for her and what she and her team handles. The insights into their agile processes were just as valuable as the research techniques that she followed up with when we, the participants, got hands on. We went on to discuss the key dos and don’ts of interview techniques, but more productively, how to quickly gain holistic insights from responses and then manipulate them into actionable tasks through categorisation and considered interpretation.

All in all the workshop was a fantastic end to a thoroughly user-centric themed day at probably the most rewarding conference I’ve been to in recent memory. I can’t wait to bring some of the benefits to the team and the resulting changes to our end users.

To mirror Barry Frost’s sentiment, a huge thanks to Clearleft, you surpassed yourselves!

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