Last week I attended the second edition of the UX Brighton conference. James Page, who I work with at Webnographer, curated the conference and co-organized it with Danny Hope. It was an opportunity to learn about several fields, from Anthropology to Information Architecture (IA) and User Experience (UX) Design. Here is my summary of the talks from that day.
Robin Dunbar – Connecting Anthropology and User Experience
Robin is the Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford. He opened the conference with a talk about the constraints on the digital world.
He explained that humans can only maintain about 150 (Dunbar’s number) personalised and reciprocated communication relationships at a time. Organizations and social groups tend to split above this amount.
According to Robin, the quality of relationships is constrained by: kin versus friendships, language, gender differences, shared traits, religion or sense of humour. We use laughter (shared experiences that trigger endorphin releases) to compensate the small amount of time we spend on social grooming.
He concluded that in the urbanised global world relationships have become fragmented, but he believes that digital world can provide a solution to this challenge. Quoting Robin, “Laughter turns strangers into friends”. How can we make people laugh more together on the web and help them build global friendships? The challenge is on for designers.
Luke Hay’s notes provide a more extensive overview about Robin’s talk.
Andrea Resmini – Pervasive IA and cross-channel user experiences
Andrea who teaches Information Architecture at the University of Borâs in Sweden, talked about the concepts of Pervasive IA and cross-channel user experiences.
He mentioned that users interact with a system with only their goal in mind, regardless the channel. According to Andrea, instead of finding multiple services in one place, they should perceive only one system – cross-channel approach, as Ben Claxton also pointed out.
Correlation (providing seamless integration between concepts of the system) and Place-making (space versus place – the latter is entwined with the social context) are two of the 5 cross-channel heuristics mentioned by Andrea.
He also explained that Pervasive IA relies in the idea of place: to make users feel at home. That idea needs to travel across all channels of the system’s architecture.
Mike Atherton – Beyond the Polar Bear
Mike is an Information Architect, who has been working with the BBC.
His talk, “Beyond the Polar Bear”, shows a new approach to IA that expands from the popular book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web.
According to Mike, the ideas in this book are old and outdated. People don’t think in ‘documents’ (reference to web pages), they picture ‘things’. Design should be bottom-up: start by building a Domain Model of the ‘things’ instead of prototyping.
As he explained, the model should be canonical – every ‘thing’ should have a micro-site of its own. Many people arrive at specific pages through deep-links, and may not start their journey on the homepage.
Boon Yew Chew drew sketchnotes that provide a good overview of Mike’s notions about Domain Driven Design.
Simon Johnson – Dignity Through Design
Simon is a UX consultant that worked with companies such as Vodafone and Sky, on projects from lab-based usability tests to field-based research. He talked about the aging question and dignity through design.
He showed that recent numbers show that people aged 50+ spend more time online than 18-24 year olds, and that they buy and use technology – people aged 55+ own as many iPhones as 24-30 year olds. More stats on this topic can be found at Simon’s blog.
Simon’s idea is that design should be inclusive – opposed to products designed especially for ‘old’ users. They rely on technology, with focus on the core functions – complexity and ‘jargon’ should be kept to a minimum.
The challenge in designing for older users is not on their age – but it is the attitudes and behaviours that we need to design for. Simon concluded that older users have needs just as varied as the needs of younger users. We need to do more than creating only one persona summarising old users’ needs.
John Mildinhall – the ROI of design
John currently works in research at Electronic Ink. His talk focuses on the Return of Investment (ROI) of design.
Using different examples, John showed how the value for money framework (VfM) can be used in this perspective. As he explained, it consists of 3 key factors: Economy – relation between costs and inputs (raw materials); Efficiency – relation between inputs and outputs (product or service); and Effectiveness – relation between outputs and outcomes (improvement rate).
According to John, it is usually hard to convince companies of the value of design, and his examples showed how a design that improves all factors of a process can increase the return.
The project started with the idea of a place where people could think and share ideas. The ideas then expanded into a game-led workshop of cooperation between different areas of business that generate original ideas.
She explained that her motivation was to shift from competitiveness to cooperation, from logic and rationality to imagination, and to increase creativity in a complex and ambiguous environment by requiring more co-creation between different areas in the future. The result, she hopes, will bring new skills and ‘ways of doing’.
Giles Colborne – How does distraction affect design
Giles has been working in usability and user centred design since 1991. He is the author of “Simple and Usable: web mobile and interaction design“. Giles talked about how distractions affect design.
He explained how people are increasingly turning to mobile platforms, which promote distractive situations and multitasking – which is really switching between tasks. As an example, he mentioned the reduction by 20% of traffic accidents during a network failure in the US.
Giles recommended 6 strategies for coping with distractions: minimise distractions (turn off alerts), help focus (in forms highlight the current form field), increase motivation, decrease pressure (fewer choices, and allow choices to be changed later), facilitate recovery (for example in a racing game, it starts a few seconds backwards to allow you to re-orientate yourself), and understand the context of use.
The sketchnotes drawn by Boon Yew Chew also summarise these strategies.
Cennydd Bowles – Designing for the Wider Web
Cennydd was the closing speaker of the day. He is a digital product designer and writer, and author of the book Undercover User Experience Design. He talked about designing for the wider web.
Cennydd’s vision is that design should consider all platforms, not “Normal” versus “Mobile” as it is today.
He then explained that “Design for future devices” is a mindset that should take into account all possible options available on devices – context (static or mobile), inputs (mouse, keyboard, touch), outputs (screen size, pixel dimensions), connectivity (bandwidth, offline web), ecosystems (content shifting, cross-device experiences), design deliverables (prototyping) and design processes (usability testing).
For an expanded view on all the device options mentioned by Cennydd, see Richard Powell’s notes.
I learned a lot from this conference. It allowed me to start looking at the different areas discussed in a new perspective towards UX. I also got the chance to meet experienced professionals in the field, each with their own bits of advice to give.