UX London: Platforms

By: Andrew


  • conference
  • ux

This year I was lucky enough to attend the third day of UX London which focused on ‘Platforms’. With an impressive line up of speakers here’s a break down of the talks with links to their slides where available;

Scott Jenson - The Physical Web

Scott Jenson set the benchmark high to begin with, discussing his thoughts on The Physical Web and how having devices around us that communicate independently with each other could lead to a utopian dream of lights turning on automatically as you enter a room, TV’s knowing what and when you want to watch them and the kettle having a cup of tea ready for you when you get home. In contrast to this if the user experience isn’t properly designed for then it could easily lead to a distopian nightmare of stumbling around in the dark, fighting with basic items to get them to work as intended or as Scott relayed a story of his bluetooth headphone waking his wife up while he was in a different room.

Stephanie Rieger - Beyond Progressive Enhancement

Stephanie Rieger followed with her take on life when connected devices and networks are as ubiquitous as electricity is now. The argument of native apps vs the open web and how we should apply progressive enhancement to technologies generally so that everyone regardless of the device they are using can access information and the quality of the experience is enhanced from there.

I did like Stephanie’s analogy of an escalator being a progressively enhanced staircase whereby if the electricity fails then you can still use it to accomplish the act of moving between levels and that fundamentally we can create digital experiences but we’re never 100% sure who is accessing the information, where they are or with what device so we should design with these limitations in mind. Lastly some people just do crazy stuff that you can’t plan for in a UX meeting…. like using an iPad as your main camera ;-)

Rob Boynes & Ben Sauer - “I HATE THIS… ★★★★★” How EVO evolved the digital magazine - and why it resulted in a revolution

Rob Boynes & Ben Sauer gave an interesting case study on how they redesigned Evo magazine for the iPad and the trials and tribulations that went with it. I agreed with many of the points as I used to subscribe to a lot of magazines prior to getting the first iPad. I cancelled all of my paper subscriptions and now only subscribe to a couple of digital ones through Apple’s Newsstand.

For me this is because publishers haven’t embraced digital content making them a poor experience to read. Most are very large (500MB+) PDF scans of the paper version using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite which take a long time to download, flash each page in a progressive scan of low res to high res, full of adverts, just as expensive as their paper counterparts despite the reduction in materials/distribution costs and offer no benefits to viewing content on web sites. There are a handful of exceptions, I feel that Wired and Empire magazine have tried to incorporate audio and video elements that add to the experience and offer benefits over paper but they are few and far between.

Rob and Ben’s experiences were similar and the award winning redesign they did for Evo was met with mixed reviews with critics loving it but some users saying despite a responsive layout, dynamic content and a more frequent publishing schedule it had been denegrated to a glorified website.

Carla Diana - Making Meaning In An Internet Of Things derived from Chicago talk

Carla Diana spoke about her role as a ‘Maker Futurist’ a job description I’m hoping to achieve by wrapping myself in tinfoil. Her presentation ‘Making Meaning In An Internet Of Things’ focussed on the convergence of robotics, sensors, object tagging, wireless communication and broadband to make things aware of their context and provide beneficial feedback to the user.

She went on to explain that as technological costs come down it will be very easy to put a sensor in almost everything but is that really the direction we want to go in and what problems could it cause? Carla then highlighted some existing products such as toilets and cutlery that really provide very little benefit by having sensors etc in.

Dan Hill - Designing how cities happen (after the internet)

All of the talks were very interesting but the highlight of the day for me was Dan Hill’s talk about considering UX on the grand scale of cities. I have an interest in architecture anyway and it was refreshing that UX was mentioned as a subset of general good design away from a computer screen. It was thought provoking to think of how design choices can make the residents of a city travel more efficiently with choices about how transport networks are designed and implemented, living in a happier way by having democratic input into how their city can evolve with stories on how social media was used in Finland by residents to organise street food festivals in an almost Flash mob way.

Lane Halley’s workshop called The Collaborative UX Designer’s Toolbox

For the afternoon I attended Lane Halley’s workshop, primarily as I’m a Visual UX Designer working in an Agile environment.

She covered various techniques including; Persona’s, ‘Six-up’, Customer Conversations, Wireframe Walkthroughs, Opportunity Statements and Project Briefs as methods to help designing in an incremental way, aid communication with other team members and have an idea of the user whose problems they are looking to solve during the Sprint helping the team work towards a common goal.

My biggest take home from the afternoon though was the concept of ‘design debt’ which accrues during various Sprints but is often overlooked unlike code debt. The idea was discussed that every so often it’s good to do a design/UX audit every so often to clear up any inaccuracies across a platform.

Some of the resources from Lane’s workshop can be found in the following places;

So all in all a very good day with lots to ponder. Many thanks to Clearleft for a very well organsed conference and GlobalDev for letting me out for the day.

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