EuroIA 09 report: day 1


EuroIA is the primary European Information Architecture conference. In 2011 it took place in Prague, The Czech Republic.

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About 150 UX professionals are gathered in the center of Copenhagen to talk, listen and at EuroIA 09. Johnny was invited to the party to cover the event and bring the good stuff to you. So enjoy the show.

Scott Thomas – The Power of Design

Obama Presidential Campaign website

Obama Presidential Campaign website

The opening keynote was given by Scott Thomas, aka SimpleScott. He was the design director for the Obama Presidential Campaign, which was one of the graphical highlights of the past years. Thisis such an interesting case because of the strong graphical style that was created throughout the entire campaign. One style, one message.

Scott kicked off by saying that this great end result was reached by a lot of nights and very hard work. When listening to him I figured there were two main reasons why it worked out so well:

  1. First of all there was a strong creative team that understood the power of good design and branding: bringing a clear consistent message across. This consistency created a good organized and balanced feeling, which was new… previous campaigns used multiple slogans, graphics styles and didn’t understand the concept of branding.
  2. The other point is: listening to the users. By constantly adapting to what the public was thinking, saying and doing they could create empathy. But more concrete: they checked out analytics… and this helped them find the best balance: should the button be red or blue? Will the copy ‘Own a piece of this historic campaign’ lead to more donations or ‘Last chance to make an impact’?

By combining these two forces: design expertise and user centered design they managed to make a very powerful campaign. And by constantly changing the website they created a story and sparked human emotions and intellect.

Wireframes don’t sell

A good lesson Scott tried to bring across was the power (or lack of it) of wireframes. When working with executives, or in his case politicians, you have to understand their vocabulary…. and wireframes aren’t in it. Where we can visualize an entire website when looking at a wireframe, they see a boring set of boxes. It just doesn’t help to sell the story, they are the floorplanes of UX.

When Scott clicked through his wireframes I noticed an interesting difference between them. In one you saw the functionalities being described, containing stuff like: ‘main feature’ and maybe ‘sign in’. This is a functional wireframe most interaction designers use. But in another wireframe he hit an interesting spot, showing boxes that contained the following words: ‘persuade’, ‘localize’, ‘represent’, ‘educate’ and ‘activate’. What he did in that wireframe is break the page up in different messages and seeing the website as a story. This is a really good approach, showing the strategy of the page.

Cennydd Bowles – The Future of Wayfinding

Wayfinding is one of the most fundamental skills people have. When it fails we are in deep trouble, imagine ambulances getting lost and people arriving late at important meetings. The way we navigate is done in several ways, done with different knowledge. That’s what Cennydd’s talk is all about and a lot of this he explains in his article ‘Wayfinding Through Technology‘.

Beside the topics he addresses in the article he also talks about other interesting stuff:

Cennydd describes the different types of signage around us. He explains how important it is to design these based upon rules, in order to create a consistent use of them. This is so important for the user experience… there are just too many different wayfinding systems and rules to follow.

The different signage types:

  • Identification (‘This is a crossroad’)
  • Directional (‘Go to the left’)
  • Orientional (‘You are here’)
  • Regulatory (‘Stay out’)
  • Vernacular (‘Please use the other door’)

One of the challenges in wayfinding we face is the control of user generated wayfinding: people designing their own maps, with their own logic and rules. There is a beauty in this, but it also creates too much diversity that doesn’t help users.

At the end of the talk Leisa Reichelt made a very interesting comment. She stated that all the modern wayfinding systems focus on the destination, while forgetting the beauty and enjoyable aspect of the journey itself.

Andrea Resmini & Luca Rosati – Bridging Media

In this talk Andrea and Luca started of by showing us a customer journey in 1999, where a guy buys tickets in a store and travels to Copenhagen. His journey isn’t fluid, because of several bad experiences with having to go to a shop for a ticket and having to sort all of his photos. After that they show the same journey, but in 2009. Here you see a more digital approach, where the person buys tickets online and has digital photos. Unfortunately a lot of frustrations remain, with bad functioning touchpoints (mainly digital services)…

And then 2019 through the Sixth Sense concept: a fluid experience with constant feedback. This is the future we are trying to reach. But who designed this? The future is not being designed by UX people. Why aren’t we innovating and creating these kinds of concepts? What’s going wrong? In order to reach this goal Andrea and Luca state that we should become “the connector between different media and different contexts and provides experiential continuity to products and services.” And in order to make that possible they created a manifesto (starting at slide 32):

The Sixth Sense concept

Sabrina Mach, James Page – Effective Ethnography Techniques for Low Budget Projects

Sabrina and James held an interesting talk about etnography. They explained the power of ethnography and especially the fact that you need to do it for a long time, in order to get it right. You really need to immerse yourself with the culture in such a way that it becomes part of you.

One of the biggest problems of etnography is that it takes a lot of time and budget before it generates interesting results. With Webnographer Sabrina and James are trying to set up a tool that can change all this. It basically helps the researcher do research from a central position. He can collect all the data via the web, collecting it directly from the source. It has four important aspects:

  • Digital: self running test run from a central point
  • Conventional: there are meetups where the team gets together
  • Team: the entire team can easily access the incoming research data and make direct changes to the process
  • Concurrent: it’s an ongoing process

But the biggest advantage seams to be the possibility to directly use the incoming data for the design process. And when you have a healthy agile design process you can adept the design when new data comes in.

The main question that the audience had was: is this really low budget? And the answer to that wasn’t necessarily yes. The main advantage of this method is that you spread the cost over a longer period, while you have feedback in between. Which is definitely interesting.

Utopians & Idealists

Another of the presentation was about the different customers you have to design for, who can be utopians or idealists. This basically means they are open for change or prefer stability. If you want to know more about that, I recommend the article Sabrina and James wrote: Utopians & Idealists: Who Can Handle Innovation?

Sylvie Daumal – In the Field: IA Survival Guide in a Hostile Context

How do you sell UX in an organization that doesn’t know anything about it and feels that it is already successful? That was the main question Sylvie had to solve at the company she works for: Razorfish. Here is a list of the main ideas she proposed:

  • Focus on user experience – you will be the only one;
  • In projects you should focus on user journeys, they need your main attention;
  • Explain the user centered approach in your organization. Help people understand the benefits;
  • Organize formal presentations to explain what you do. Split this up in a general presentation with a big group and smaller ones with specific audiences (like account managers);
  • Teach your discipline whenever it’s relevant;
  • The client can be your best friend, meet them as much as possible;
  • The user is one of your most valuable allies, embrace this;
  • Limited budget and time are manageable; zero isn’t;
  • Keep delivering high quality: staying professional with limited means is probably the main challenge.

James Kalbach – Human Factors in Innovation

This talk is about the core of innovation. James starts off by explaining what an innovation is. It basically originates from an invention, which originated from an idea:

  1. Idea: a concept, thought or vision
  2. Invention: physical, proof of concept or hardware
  3. Innovation: social information or software

When looking at Thomas Edison. He came up with the idea of creating better light and invented a light bulb. But his true result was the innovation: bringing electricity into people homes.

Innovation in business contexts is ultimately about the adoption of an invention. A lot of technology driven innovations fail because they never meet a social need. Innovations must be embraced in order to succeed… but who’ll embrace it?

Perceived attributes

When you want to create a true innovation you need to touch certain points:

  • Relative advantage: is it better?
  • Compatibility: is it appropriate? Does it align with what the user wants?
  • Complexity: does it feel good and usable?
  • Triability: can you try before you buy?
  • Observability: is it understandable?

When these are all met you have the potential of achieving innovation, but it still needs to be adopted. And for that James comes up with another list of points that need to be met.

Phases in adoption

  • Knowledge about it
  • Persuasion
  • Decision
  • Implementation
  • Confirmation

Innovation in UX

At the end of the presentation James hits the same spot that Andrea and Luca touched earlier on the day: where are the innovations in the UX world? We are fundamentally about innovation, but we aren’t doing it. Let’s change that.

See you tomorrow

It was a long but rewarding day. I am going to bed.

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

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