I recently attended UXCampLondon, a BarCamp event focused on topics relevant to the User Experience Design community. This is not the first BarCamp event I have ever attended, but it was the first UXCamp and the first one since living in the UK. This unconference was set up a little differently than some of the others I have been to before, the most notable and enjoyable thing about this event was the quality of the presentations and the presenters were top notch. I know many people came prepared with things they have presented before, or have been developing for a while and you can tell that this preparation made for a better overall event in terms of quality. I did get the feeling that those people who attended the event last year knew what to expect, and this being my first UXCamp, it was still intimidating for a first-timer, even one who has done BarCamps in the past. I was a little nervous about what to present that might be interesting to a group of people I respect and admire.
I attempted to present something to stay in the spirit of the organizers’ wishes for the event, but only one person came to my session on UX and advertising. It was to be a discussion, and I really was not all that prepared so I was relieved there was little interest during the day. I even encouraged the one person who showed up to go to another session, but actually, we spent the 30 minutes chatting about all sorts of interesting things so it was not a wasted opportunity in the end. I am hoping that next year I will have some significant research done on my topic to actually have something to present more formally, now that I understand the format better. There is a reason for the topic, it is the industry where I am currently working, and I hope to have some focus on advertising and UX with my dissertation topic next year.
I have put together a bookshelf of books mentioned at this event on GoodReads. These are just ones that I noticed from the talks that I attended. Some of them I have already read and some have happily ended up on my “to read” list.
- Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
- Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown
- Visual Meetings by David Sibbet
I have also gathered some notes about a few of the sessions I attended.
Communicating and Selling UX Design Deliverables by Jan Srutek
I really appreciated Jan’s presentation on deliverables. I know he mentioned that there was “nothing shocking” here for UX practitioners, but sometimes I think it is good to go back to basics or even to common sense. I am learning at my job all the time, especially when it comes to how I communicate with people using my wireframes, so it is safe to say deliverables are on my mind a lot. I think I am lucky to be working with a major brand on a project that also includes a lot of other agencies outside of ours, all of these things add certain challenges to the documents I create, but gives me some room to build my experience and skills.
One of Jan’s more obvious points was that, “Visual communication is powerful.” I feel that UX practitioners are on the border between the visual and the content-based communication of a project. IAs are here making designs that are “not quite” design decisions, and influencing content that is “not quite” copywriting. Our wireframes need to satisfy the needs of many people along the way.
Those people are all stakeholders, and I liked that Jan suggested the need to include them more in this process. I have actually had positive experiences talking through my wireframes with the client early on, and I do fully endorse this. I think one benefit of working for an advertising agency and doing our client’s digital work is that our direct line to the client is pretty easy, and we’re also in a good position to understand the overall brand message because it’s something that the agency has been doing for many years. Some of the best feedback I have got from my wireframes has been from sitting in a room with the client while going through them. It gives me an opportunity to understand their thinking, and that one on one, real-time feedback is very crucial, especially in early stages of a project.
Jan had some great tips about the deliverables themselves, and I am taking them to heart as a list of things I would like to improve with my own deliverables over time. These things include consistency, communicating priorities, aesthetics (minimalism), making callouts stand out, and including a cover sheet. One comment that stood out to me was that, “Your deliverables will be used when you’re not there to defend them.” I think it’s easy to forget in early stages of creating documents just how influential your deliverables can be to a project’s successes or failures in the future.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to Gamification by Sach S.
I think it was a couple of weeks ago that I realized many of the projects I am currently working on have some sort of game element involved. It is a big part of our main digital work actually, and not surprising, as many brands use the “fun factor” in advertising. User experience is a large part of the creation of games and in game theory, whether it is explicit in the process or not. It became apparent to me during this realization that all of the user journeys I’ve worked on so far have included how a user moves through a game or puzzle, thus understanding a little bit of game theory, or at the very least the user satisfaction of fun, could be a great addition to my personal UX toolkit.
I think Sach’s presentation opened up a very lively debate in the room. There is a difference between game theory and just adding a bit of “fun” to things, but I think most people agree that fun can change behavior to a point. There was the additional point that you should try not to change behavior too much, it should be something that people can incorporate into what they do normally.
Sach played a couple of videos worth noting, the first was the “Piano Staircase”, the idea here that making the stairs into something “fun” will get people to use the stairs more frequently. However, somebody did point out that this might still only engage people for a short amount of time, as the novelty will eventually wear off.
The other video I enjoyed was “KLM Surprise”, though I think this also has short shelf life on the “appeal” scale, and KLM does not specifically address game theory in this approach to brand engagement (nor do I think that was their intent). KLM leveraged social media in a way to surprise a few customers with little gifts at the airport based on their travel destinations or personal information from their tweets. Obviously, this is not something that is sustainable over time, it is just a specialized form of advertising for them, but for those few KLM customers that were at the end of the surprises, the promotion may have created a memorable experience for them. In full honesty, anything to make the dire air travel experience a bit more “fun” is something anybody can appreciate.
I agreed with some of the discourse after this presentation that not every example is “true gamification,” but there is value in understanding this from a UX perspective and how we can leverage it in our own projects.
What is UX anyway? UX Models, Traits, and Industry Trends by Stavros Garzonis
There was a small group at this particular session, but I think it appealed to my ongoing journey through trying to understand the thing that I love to do, and actually doing this thing that I love to do. Stavros went through many very familiar diagrams and we had a good discussion among the group about some of the traits that make a UX person.
In the midst of the familiar diagrams, one really stood out to me, first because I had never seen it before, and second because it was the best diagram I have ever seen about what makes up a UX person. I found this diagram in Jason Mesut’s presentation called “Sell Yourself Better”.
This diagram makes me happy.
I love it because I can point to exactly where I am on here, I have a place. I am pretty open about saying that my journey to finally get into a position that I enjoy, and doing a job that I also enjoy has not been an easy one. Last year, trying to find a job and further my career, has been one of the worst year’s of my life, trying to find a place in the world while many factors are eating away at your confidence and self-esteem is difficult to claw your way up out of.
When I first started out as an IA, it was 2002, which now feels like an eternity ago, and what evolved into UX was not full on the radar then. I took a diversion into Library Science, only to find that Information Architecture had changed dramatically in only the few short years I was out of the field. I knew I had a place in there still, and I knew this is where I wanted to be, but trying to communicate this in a portfolio and to recruiters has been difficult. I have walked away from interviews knowing that my portfolio was not “pretty enough,” and I walked away from recruiters just to have them undermine my experience as “too academic.” I stuck with it because perseverance is actually one thing never waned. I am glad I did too because what I think I can bring to this field is a balance of experience, both practical and academic, and I keep adding to both of these personalities every day.
Anyway, I thank Stavros for introducing me to the work that Jason has been doing. I think I will be following him more closely as my career continues to grow. In addition, if you are a UX Practitioner, take Stavros’ survey, I know he will appreciate the feedback from people working in the field now.
Prototyping with Hardware by Alexander Baxevanis
My interest in Arduino was sparked last term when we had a couple of hands on lectures during my Experience Design module. Though I do not see a direct correlation to Arduino and hardware prototyping to my current work, I am interested in learning how to tinker with it more on a personal level. Alex gave some great reasons for UX designers to experiment with Arduino, including the ability to make your own platform, learn some interaction design basics, and to connect with the “real world.” Most of the presentation was an overview on how to get started, and since I had already done this in my course my takeaway from this was that there are other UXers also interested in Arduino. A conversation did spark up after this session about how to present Arduino or hardware prototyping in a way that is more accessible for people who already know the basics, and balance with the people who are new to it. I am not sure anybody in the small group came to any conclusions about this, but that may be an obvious barrier to hardware prototyping and making it accessible to newcomers, while also keeping the momentum going.
Alex has just started a Twitter account and a group for an Arduino UX Club he hopes to get going in the near future. I know I will definitely be watching that space and I would like to see more and play more in this area soon.
The Future of Wayfinding by Cennydd Boyles
I joked a bit at the event on Twitter that if I were to create an UXCampLondon drinking game it would include any time anybody mentioned or showed the tube map during a presentation. It is not a coincidence that UX people are interested in maps and wayfinding, it is a “real-word” metaphor for what a lot of us do with digital information. Wayfinding is not a new topic in the field, but newer technologies and user habits have changed how we approach it, and that means we need to adapt our techniques. After Cennydd’s initial overview some of the more interesting points I pulled from his session were:
- How GPS technology has changed wayfinding – personally, for as much as I rely on my GPS on my iPhone, the aging phone fails me most time when I need it in London. Cennydd mentioned that it “still needs a layer of human processing.” I agree.
- The user as a destination – we are seeing this more with services like Foursquare or Gowalla, checkin based applications are giving our friends a real-time synopsis of where we are in the world.
- Real-World Digital – or as Cennydd explained it, “creating an API between the real and digital worlds.” I especially liked this concept and I think it relates directly to what I have heard others talk about when referring to “ubiquitous computing.”
- Ethics – and of course the balance of privacy and convenience. This has been shaping for a while and I think it will evolve in years to come. User Experience designers should understand the ethics and the implications of anything we are designing for our users, not just wayfinding or geo-location tools.
- Wayfinding Skills – with a general question, “are we going to lose our own ability to wayfind?” I personally see the potential for this happening. The ability to use maps or locate your way around a transport system is a learned skill like any.
The very day of UXCampLondon I did have an interesting wayfinding experience on my way home that got me thinking about a lot of the points of this presentation. As usual, I was one of the last people to leave the pub, and I tend to be a bit braver about trying to find my way home via unknown routes. I think the one thing that is good and bad about having a GPS or a smartphone is it does give the user a sense of security (knowing they can rely on it to help them out of a sticky situation) which can also a false sense of security (they are not thinking of potential systematic failures before they happen).
I knew I would probably need to take a bus home, what I did not anticipate was that it would take me an hour to find the correct stop. It also took a combination of using my iPhone and physical maps. The limitations to using my phone include a flaky and slow loading GPS, and the fact that I do not want my phone out of my pocket as I am wandering around unfamiliar streets and neighborhoods, this surely risks my personal safety. But the limitations to relying on signage is that it’s often not clear, especially when there’s high concentrations of bus stops in some areas. Actually one usability flaw I noticed on bus stop maps was that none of them included a “you are here” arrow, that would have been extremely helpful since I normally knew what street the stop I wanted was on, but not which direction that street was from the one I was standing near. The City of London does have a number of streetside maps. These are very helpful, but they are very general so I had to use a combination of streetside maps and bus information to navigate my way around unfamiliar streets after midnight.
This was the first time I took the night bus home to where I live now, and of course, it was complicated and painful because I had no prior knowledge of where I was or where I needed to be to get the correct buses. It wasn’t impossible, and it probably wasn’t the most ideal way to find my way home, but I have some knowledge now that will help me next time. I was also completely aware that I was relying on nearly every one of the bullet points that Cennydd addressed in his presentation as I was navigating the various tools I had available to me along the way.
Cennydd has a great list of resources, and credits to his presentation, worth a look and a bookmark.
When can we do it again?
Of course, there are always great things going on that you inevitably miss, and there was one session in particular I wish I had attended, a discussion on UX Design and education. My course colleague even came up to me at the end of the day and said I probably would have enjoyed the conversation and dialog there. It is relevant to my life right now and I do have many opinions about it, hopefully that is one topic that continues in the future. I did write up of my thoughts on this topic on my personal blog before I began the course at Kingston. I should revisit this at some point, maybe toward the end of my degree, but I do have mixed feelings about higher education now that I have started another degree.
I cannot wait to revisit all of these topics though, and see what new ones are around the corner by the next event. Thanks to the organizers for a fantastic and enlightening day.
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