alexandtheweb / blog

The value of folly: the UX Camp Brighton talk that (nearly) was

I very nearly spoke at last month’s excellent UX Camp Brighton. My talk was to focus on the user experience merits of cutting edge, high tech tat.

That’s right. I wanted to defend the sorts of gadgets which beg the question: “You made this… why?”

In the end though, I was felled by an epic cold, foiled by the failure of my demo, and distracted by my volunteering duties at the event. Excuses, excuses. Let’s face it: I mostly just wanted to enjoy the day without having to fret about my own talk. Then there was the pressing matter of participating in assorted banana abuse and three-legged bin bag races with Kat.

Besides, there was already a bounty of clever speakers on offer. Jiri’s talk on designing emotional experiences – complete with awesome slides – introduced me to a few qualitative tools I’d not heard about, such as the Geneva wheel. Kat covered some of the methodologies she used in her MSc dissertation on tablet ergonomics in office environments. Louise shocked, SHOCKED her audience with her Pound Shop Personas. Luis chatted to us about cognitive biases – specifically the adaptation bias. Luke took us on a grand tour of monitoring and analytics tools. Calliope lead an interesting discussion which ended up focusing on the UX of new product development. And the pogonolicious Danny had a packed room for his HyperCard demo.

Right, back to my non-talk. During the last Spring term at Sussex I discovered the work of Mark Hassenzahl, whose work explores the underlying causes of our positive experience with interactive products. Mark has shown that: pleasurable dealings with devices are closely tied to the fulfilment of basic psychological needs; and that products are far better positioned to fulfil those needs – such as competence, the need for popularity and stimulation – when they emphasize their “hedonic quality” over their “pragmatic quality”.

Naturally I took that to mean that when it comes to new digital toys “the more fun and pointless the better”. I set out out to blatantly abuse Mark’s research in my slides by defending a kaleidoscope of recently released, wonderfully pointless gadgets such as Olly, the smelly robot and iRock, the iDevice-charging rocking chair.

UXers are famed for bleeting on about products needing to “solve real problems”. But as with everything, it comes down to your definition of a “problem”. Sometimes a “problem” is simply the insatiable craving for something new, useless and fun.

Here are the slides:

Massive thanks to Patrick for organising a great event. Roll on #uxcb13!

Service embedding lessons from a lone UX designer

Earlier this month I wrapped up my stint as senior designer at Fresh Egg. Nervous and excited as I am about my very new role, it’s time for a quick look back at a varied, rewarding and remarkable 16 months with one of the biggest agencies in the South.

It certainly was varied. I worked with businesses of all sizes across a multitude of sectors. I tackled everything from new product development to large scale site redesigns to minor conversion optimization projects. I juggled expert evaluations, user study facilitation, experience mapping, interactive prototyping and A/B testing. Frazzling, but fun.

What about the remarkable part? Despite the strength of its dev and design teams, Fresh Egg’s business tips more towards its SEO and social media offering. To be fair, two years ago they would have fared pretty badly on any UX maturity scale. When I joined FE it was as its first – and sole – user experience nut. Despite this, I was placed in a position of trust and allowed to introduce a bevy of new ideas and practices. I was given free reign to turn meeting rooms into testing labs, plaster everything with postit notes and inundate the reception desk with a stream of study participants. Above all, I was given opportunity after opportunity to integrate UCD practices into new project pitches. For all of this I give Fresh Egg endless credit.

Trust and open-mindedness within the business were key. But what else was it about Fresh Egg’s culture, people and projects which allowed UX to be embraced as a service offering? Here are a few things which seemed to work, offered as tips to anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation:

  • Quickly find a small but rewarding case study. Hoard the results – particularly positive quantitative results
    Shortly after joining FE I worked with the insight team on a series of A/B tests which compared my design tweaks within a client’s key conversion path. A few days’ work translated into some very positive numbers and we had our first case study as well as a justification for future work.
  • Integrate with existing services
    The UX “sell” for Fresh Egg was fortunately tidy and natural. The SEO services brought the right audience to clients’ sites. Once there, the efforts of the UX and insight teams kept them there.
  • Teach and learn – internally and externally
    Sneaking in short presentations into team meetings went a long way in making others understand the nature of my role. But thanks to Nick, FE’s services director, we also hosted a number of evening community events on UX topics, which educated staff and positioned us as a user-focused agency. Attending and sponsoring UX events helped as well.
  • Piggy back on new projects
    New processes don’t have to seem new to new clients, who should have no reason to believe that user focus isn’t the status quo. Similarly, it’s easier to justify new approaches when working with a new domain or technology (say, mobile).
  • Have a champion
    Needless to say, without the support of Ollie, FE’s head of design and Nick, I doubt I would have made any headway at all.

A final note of reflection: I did leave the Egg with a feeling that I hadn’t given it my all. But to be fair I couldn’t have: my MSc took priority and I stubbornly refused to get anything other than the absolute most out of my expensive education. On a personal level, Fresh Egg was also a massive confidence booster. While my assertiveness and ease have some ways to go, I have Adam and Co to thank for letting me find my voice.

UX Brighton 2012: rounding up the references

The third annual UX Brighton has come and gone, leaving over 300 gorged, happy brains in its wake. The talks were typical of the conference: varied, absorbing, but above all relentlessly focused on quality content. As Jay tweeted: ‘all killer, no filler’.

I was gutted to miss some of the afternoon sessions – uni lectures beckoned – but I did manage to round up some of the references from the earlier talks. They’re ready for hoarding below or available as a shared Evernote notebook.

Alex Wright

Alex’s talk was a whirlwind tour of the web that could have been: ideas for universal networks of human knowledge which didn’t quite come to pass. Alex argued that these unrealised prototypes should not be wholly discounted: they offer us a sense of common history and, given a different context, may yet have their day.

Mark Backler

Mark took us through the practicalities and constraints of designing gestural (and voice) UIs for the Kinect. I’ve been hunting for the visual gesture builder Mark mentioned in his talk but haven’t had any luck! Stay tuned.

Guy Smith-Ferrier

Guy’s talk had all the joy and energy of someone lucky enough to share their most passionate hobby with several hundred strangers. His demo of EPOC’s EEG headset delighted the audience and offered a glimpse into the challenges of designing brain computer interfaces. I did hope he’d fetch volunteers from the audience…

The Emotive EPOC headset Guy used during the demo

Ben Bashford

In a world increasingly filled with intelligent, connected devices, how can we ease the pain of technological adoption and avoid the malady of future shock? Ben argued that the key is empathy – for people and smart gadgets alike.

Edit: with Ben’s help the list above should now be more exhaustive.

If you missed out on the conference completely, don’t fret: all the talks have been recorded. And if you attended and enjoyed yourself, tip your hat to Danny and Emmeline, the tireless power duo behind a great day for the industry.

Page 2 of 7 Previous Next