UX London report: day 1

An overview of the first day of the UK’s biggest UX event.

Despite menacing ashclouds, London traffic and the current state of the European economy UX London managed to once again fill a room full of practitioners. 250 fanatics pulled out their Moleskines and Sharpies to pen down a great amount of superb insights from the speakers.

This years event is being organized in The Cumberland, a beautiful hotel near Hyde Park. Over the coming days we’ll be enjoying talks, workshops, lunch discussions and many parties. With also the UX Bookclub, the UPA London UX Clinic and Edward Tufte’s talk it feels like London has become this weeks UX capital.

Design for Engagement – Jesse James Garrett

The day started off with a keynote by Jesse James Garrett. He states that it doesn’t matter whether you design websites, shopping malls or mobile phones. In any case it comes down to designing for people. That’s why he wants to move away from specified terms like webdesign and product design and move towards design thinking. But how do we do that?

Before we can start designing for these many different situations we need to understand what an experience is. Garrett defines it as being subjective, ephemeral and tangible. It’s something that doesn’t exist, but at the same time it does. And it’s in our work as UX practicioners where this becomes important, because in contrast to the design field we design for users. And what we create can’t be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ independent of use. “Use gives meaning to our work.”

So how do you define a good experience? According to Garrett it begins with the notion of engagement. Great experiences, regardless of medium, engage the users. So in order to define experiences we need to get a good overview of the different types of engagement:

  • Engagement of sound
: Music artists ask for the attention of the audience. Their goal is not to make a nice sheet of music, but to create an intangible, ephemeral experience of music. In Garrett’s mind Ludwig von Beethoven was an early version of an experience designer;
  • Engagement of touch
: Tangibility is a powerful thing. You can design stuff so that people really want to touch it;
  • Engagement of smell
: He links this to the novel Perfume;
  • Engagement of taste
: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xizttM_Cbuc
  • Engagement of movement: 
The way something moves and responds is very important in for example game design. The responsiveness of the system has to be well balanced. A game like Halo 3 isn’t realistic in it’s movement, but gives a better feeling than for example: Mirror’s Edge (which made people puke because it moved too realistic);
  • Engagement of body
: Here the example of the Wii comes to mind, where the system draws physical responses from people;
  • Engagement of the heart:
This is all about the love for a product or service. Garrett refers to Donald Norman’s related book ‘Emotional Design’ and the juicer designed by Philippe Starck.

After naming the different types of engagement Garrett continues by mapping these in four different dimensions. According to him you’ve got both external (perception & action) and internal engagements (cognition & emotion)..

Finally he closes his talk by stating that you may not be able to control the capabilities of users within the four realms of engagement, but you can at least try and understand them. Users bring capabilities, constraints and context into the experience.

Search Patterns: The Future of Discovery – Peter Morville

Peter’s talk came to a somewhat slow start but ended up being quite inspiring.

In the first part of his talk, Peter laid out some principal search patterns and placed them in different contexts, such as desktop, mobile and kiosk. These can be found at his Flickr “Search patterns” library.

One of the patterns that received special attention was faceted search. In my humble opinion this is actually more of a browse-pattern than a search one. However Peter pointed out rightly that faceted navigation is one of the most powerful and complex patterns out there today, much underestimated by UX designers. It is hard to do right.

Peter briefly touched upon a couple of important emerging search paradigms.

  • Question and Answer (Like Wolfram Alpha);
  • Helping decision making (Like Hunch);
  • Helping understanding the world (Like Oakland crime spotting);
  • Search by singing (Like Midomi).

Half way, Peter made a switch to search design for emerging media, such as augmented reality. He observed an interesting split between the inspiring but often superficial realm of cross media advertising on one hand, and touch point integration on a deeper, product related level. He mentioned Nike+, Zipcar and Redbox as great examples.
He predicts an interesting combination or even collision between “classical” service design (utilizing service blue prints, et cetera) and user experience design. The outcome is happily uncertain 🙂

Peter closes by admitting that he likes search so much because “it’s so damned hard”. And it is. You really need all disciplines to line up and work together to make for great search. “Use a microscope. Use a telescope. Most importantly, don’t forget to use a kaleidoscope”.

Metrics-Driven Design – Joshua Porter

In the design spectrum you’ve got intuition and data driven design. Intuition driven is mainly about gut feeling and based on previous experiences, which can cause innovative ideas., but it’s also risky. On the other hand you’ve got data driven design, which causes very small but safe improvements. The problem is that not one of these ways of designing will cause a solid base, so you basically have to find a good balance between the two. This is an obvious, but nonetheless good, observation since almost all companies I know don’t have that good balance (which is actually very hard to have).

“Radical innovation requires both evidence and intuition” – Jane Fulton Suri

So in an attempt to solve the puzzle Porter came up with a Metrics Driven Framework:

  1. Identify Business Objectives/Goals: Make sure you really understand the business objectives, sometimes they are not what they appear;
  2. Map out the UX lifecycle: What specific action do people need to do in order for you to meet your business objectives?
  3. Identify Core Metrics: Metrics fall out of the UX lifecycle. Focus on the biggest and emergent hurdles over time. Current analytics software don’t give good feedback, it is mainly vanity metrics that make you feel good.

One of the things I liked most about Porters talk was his overview of actionable and emergent metrics. Actionable metrics are the type of tests where you measure customer satisfaction over time and I was especially impressed by the cohort analysis. In a cohort analysis you measure success over time for groups of users that entered the service in different time spots. Its a great way to see whether changes done were a success.

Joshua closed with a very profound observation. In order to be successful in using metrics to improve our products, we have to adopt a continuous improvement lifecycle. This lifecycle is based on early release, test, adapt, retest, re-adapt, or….revert.
Joshua proved today that in an environment of creative design, health discussion and evidence based decision making, testing can be great fun.

Designing for Improvisation – Liz Danzico

Liz’s talk on UX London 2010 was equally simple and complex. She made a plea to embrace improvisation in UX design processes, and drew from many examples from music, arts and architecture to make this point. For instance, the way Miles Davis, amongst other artists, has revolutionized musical notation by leaving room for improvisation, thus departing from the very descript notation that was used in the classical days.

She pointed out that improvisation is not primarily about freedom but just as much about constraints. More often than not, these constraints are our own. They regard the use of products, services, and interactions. Liz calls these sets of perceived and culturally accetpted constraints Frames. More and more however, these frames are shifting, and designers need to find ways to design products that allow for improvisation in newly emerging frames.

 To make things a little more tangible and applicable in design practice, Liz stated that improvisation consists of four elements:

  1. It is present and real time. A specific improvisation cannot be rehearsed (however, improvising a lot may give you some practice at it;
  2. It is detectable. There is no pre-knowledge required and improvisation can be easily detected as such;
  3. It is responsive. Improvisation sets new parameters as it is done;
  4. It is additive. Accept all offers, that’s a basic rule that keeps improvisation rolling en growing.

Liz has shown a couple of cases to get to grips on what designing for improvisation can mean. These are the two that we found to be most inspiring:

  • In Drachten, Netherlands, there is a cross-road with no traffic lights, no lanes, no lines on the road. This throws the users of this cross-road back at improvising, measuring each others intentions, giving room, and crossing only when possible. So by removing constraints, people started using their built-in improvisation skills, and traffic safety was ultimately improved.
  • Kickstarter.com is a startup that encourages people to post images or footage of all kinds of initiatives. Visitors may make a pledge to invest in these projects. In this manner, Kickstarter promotes creativity and improvisation.

If there was one point that Liz wanted to get across, is that we as UX designers have to find a better balance in sharing control with consumers over how our designs might be used. If we allow for improvisation and thus help create these new Frames, we can definitely create more meaning and value in the user experiences we design every day.

The Art & Science of Seductive Interactions – Stephen Anderson

“I’m a great app…if people would get to know me.”

How to get to the first base with our users? In his talk, Stephen P. Anderson explored how we seduce users to sign up, interact and engage with the products we design.

If you want to experience a seductive sign-up process, take a look at iLike. ‘Liking’ artists is fun, and after being done with the first page, you want to continue and will click on the ‘see more’ link. While you are being seduced, iLike is collecting data about your taste in music. User and business goals are met. Stephen explained the ingredients that made this work:

  • Feedback loop: instant feedback;
  • Curiosity: what artists will they show me on the next page?
  • Visual imagery: a visually engaging design;
  • Pattern recognition: do the artists shown change based on my choices?
  • Recognition over recall: understanding how to use the site is zero effort.

To keep users engaged, iLike introduced the iLike challenge. By identifying a song, you collect points, beat your own high score, and compare your music knowledge to those of other users. More fun – generating more data. What seduced users this time?

  • Feedback loop;
  • Sensory experience;
  • Status;
  • Appropriate challenges;
  • Need for achievement.

Usability removed friction, but it wasn’t solely usability that made these experiences great. Applying what we know about human psychology increased motivation and made iLike fun.

In what I thought was a genius exercise, Stephen asked the audience to spend 60 sec brainstorming what we know about people. We know quite a bit: people are curious, lazy,visual learners, seek out patterns, and don’t like to make choices, but like choice. But, are you using these observations in your designs?

People’s curiosity and need for belonging are powerful motivators. Stephen shared how his sons will always go for the HotWheels mystery car – you will only find out what you got after you bought it.. LinkedIn seduces us to sign up for a ‘Pro’ account by showing that someone from Apple checked out our profile – and we desperately need to find out if it was the UX HR person, begging us to join the team. Invitation-only private betas are seducing us using social proof. Factors such as reputation, rewards, status and limited duration encourage participation, e.g. to leave co-workers feedback on Rypple.com.

Stephen finished off by pointing out the delighters that make us love dopplr: how the logo colours change based on where you’ve been, comparing personal velocities, and the annual report you receive for free. A gift.
Gifting was applied by all attendees at UX London, as we traded Stephen’s Mental Notes cards. If you want to know about how to design seductive interactions, check out www.getmentalnotes.com or read Stephen’s earlier articles for Johnny.

Experiencing Comics – Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud squeezed his knowledge about comics into 45 minutes to discuss how people experience this visual medium.
A powerful concept of comics are the spaces in-between – people fill the ‘gaps’ between the frames with meaning, interpret and add context. To illustrate this, Scott gave research by Russian cinematographer Koulechov as an example.  Comics are a way of arranging images to tell a story – cartoons are a way of seeing and communicating the world.

Especially faces, and the emotions we detect in them, influence what sense we make of a sequence of images. All emotional expressions are based on the main 6 emotions, eg combining anger and joy creates cruelty. Comic artists know this, and it’s these simple but unknown facts that add to our visual literacy. An underdeveloped literacy, as Scott pointed out.

How can we get people to feel immersed in a story? Books fill our world by filling our field of view, focusing our attention. But is the metaphor of the book, the page, the right way to create immersive comics on the web? Before there was print, adjacent moments were always adjacent spaces. Print changed visual storytelling, and in different media, we still apply print constraints and formats.
Since the 1990s, Scott has been exploring treating the screen not as a page, but as a window, through which we look at a bigger canvas. While there is interesting work playing with this concept, the page is dominating the comics we read on digital devices. However, in the mobile space alternatives are evolving.

The major questions still lie ahead: is the page paradigm an artifact of an era long gone or a solution to our own time-place linked thinking? What is at the absolute core of a cartoon in terms of illustration, animation and narrative character? Will discovering this core change the way we look at and design for other media? I guess time will tell. In the meantime, check out Scott’s TED talk and this brilliant sketch note animation by RSAnimate.

Scott McCload at TED

Making Movies is Hard Fun: Building Tools for Telling Stories – Michael Johnson

Then finally, the Pixar Guy. Well chosen by the UX London organization to close this massive first day, this talk featured lots of sketches, clips and other art work. The aim of the presentation was to give a glimpse of how a Pixar movie comes about.

Michael left it up to the audience to draw parallels between the Pixar methodology of making stellar feature films, and our day-to-day UX work. And there was plenty to work with.

Michael painted the picture of a playful but ambitious organization. Pixar is a “director driven” organization. Still, producers are there to be the adult.

A pixar movie is built up out of three basic levels that are detailed one at a time:

  1. Design a believable world;
  2. Design compelling characters;
  3. Tell a story.

Now if there are problems on a certain level, say there are doubts on the actions of a certain character, people at Pixar go up a level and check the character design.

A useful strategy on gaining influence in the 1,100+ employee organization, is to take a two-way approach: convince the politically important higher management of the quality of your work,  and at the same time, service the end users on the work-floor extremely well. The middle management, often a difficult group to convince, will then follow.

Michael pitched a large number of quotes by Pixarians. Some of the best were:

  • Quality is the best business plan;
  • I want to fail as quickly as possible. 
(This refers to smart iteration. Feedback should be timely and actionable.)
  • At Pixar, art is a team sport.

top image: conorwithonen

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.

Pieter Jongerius

Johanna Kollmann

Johanna Kollmann is a Senior UX consultant at EMC Consulting in London. Her background is in Information Design and Human-Computer Interaction, and one of her main interests is how UX designers collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams. When she's don’t organising or attending barcamps, hackdays or other geeky events, Johanna can be found at gigs or on her mission to find the best espresso in town.

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