UXLX report: day 1

UX Lisbon

Three day conference happening in the lovely Lisbon Portugal. The 2012 event will take place from 16 to 18 May.

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UXLX or User Experience Lisbon[i], was the brain child of organizer Bruno Figuierro. Bruno put on an amazing event. It was clear from the moment I stepped off the plane and was greeted by Bruno[ii] (and Donna Spencer) that Bruno was putting out all the stops. His team crafted an experience that was one of the best conferences I have been to.

About UXLX

Getting set for UX-LX

The format of the conference was an interesting one, based on other UX conference experiences, but reconfigured to be all new. The first 2 days were end-capped by 3-hour workshops. These were opportunities to dig deeper into our practices. They were led by some of the best practitioners from around the world. In between the 2 workshops each day were short presentations from presenters who submitted abstracts for review and selection.  The last day was a binge of presentations by thought leaders of user experience. Each one could have been a closing keynote all its own. The nights were always filled with networking opportunities where at any given moment you could hear 4 or 5 languages being spoken around you. With about 25 countries represented from as far away as Australia & Brazil and as near as around the corner, this was truly an international conference.

Lisbon is a beautiful hilly city in the spirit of San Francisco or Rome. It had 7 hills like both with great views here and there. It felt much more like San Francisco with a big pay, long bridges (even 1 modeled after the Golden Gate) steep hills, and trolly cars that take you up and around them. Of course, it had an energy and culture all its own.

The night before the event, there was an ice breaker of wine tasting and fado (the local music of Lisbon). It was a first chance for people to start making people. I can say that the people I met that night, even though there were just a few, stuck with me. It was a nice touch with little fan fare.

Day 1

Luke Wroblewski (@lukewdesign): Influencing Strategy by Design

Luke’s workshop was one of my favorites of the conference. It was less a workshop than a great seminar on what it takes to influence strategy as a designer being a designer. This leads to Luke’s core thesis is that designers do not need to become business people to influence strategy, but our skills and thought models are a great complement and add value to the business strategy side as designers being designers.

  • Don’t be a victim. Take responsibility and be ready to respond to needs as they arise. This will put you in a position to influence through co-ownership.
  • “Leadership is not a position; it is action.” Donald McGannon
  • Designer’s unique thinking processes is a wonderful complement to business analytical processes. This is best underscored by 2 dichotomies:
    • Risk averse vs. Failure open
    • Deductive/Inductive vs. Abduction (or referencing the past vs. looking to [& envisioning] the future)
  • Design’s core competencies break down to: insights, synthesis, means and meaning
  • Translated to pattern recognition, storytelling, visual communication and Empathy
  • There are so many data sources out there for designers to access and then use to tell stories with the goal of visualizing to create empathy.
  • Business looks for incremental growth. Design creates geometric and exponential growth.
  • It is important to enter the conversation and create artifacts at the right level of the problem being worked on. “Where you start the conversation is where it is going to stay.”
  • Framing: Design redefines the challenges facing the organization.
  • Problem Solving:  Design finds new opportunities by solving existing problems.
  • Function & Form: Design makes things work better.
  • Style: Design: Design is the gateway to be hip & cool.
  • No conscious design: Design value isn’t recognized. This attitude fosters design by default – however things come out is fine, because there are more important issues to deal with.
  • We are in a world of metrics. We need to stop being scared of data and embrace data and understand that we have the power as designers to bring life to data in new ways that business people can’t as they are mostly locked into the visual & limitations of Excel.
  • A high percentage of the hard work of having influence is being able to present with confidence.

I would say that one of the flaws of Luke’s presentation is his lack of understanding of the audience he is speaking to. It was even clear during the question and answer that some people were overwhelmed by an expectation of having to be expert visual designers, as Luke’s examples were a brilliant master class in visual communication. Most usability professionals, information architects and even many interaction designers are not formally trained or otherwise have experience in visual communication of this sort. I would further argue that many are even further on the continuum of Deductive/Inductive to Abductive thinkers than business people. They use scientific methods as grounding to the work they do. This dichotomy became dramatically apparent among the different speakers. Scrolling through the #uxlx twitterstream can give you insights to this.

Marcos Silva – How NUIs are changing HCI

I was very excited going into this talk, but must admit I came out less than thrilled. From the title I expected us to be told we have to do a serious re-think about older HCI principles in order to design for NUIs and that NUIs themselves are challenging HCI principles even more generally. I’m still waiting for the big challenge to Fitts Law. But this didn’t happen. Instead we were just given a history of interfaces and what NUIs were and why we should care. While the speaker only had 20 minutes, he did not use his time wisely to make a case for or teach his audience anything they either don’t already know or couldn’t figure out quite simply for themselves.

The one major take away I got out of this talk that I didn’t go in with is how the nature of gestural interfaces means that much of the interaction model is hidden and it is up to us all to share what we know and learn to others in order to make it work. While I never said it that way before, it has been noticed by myself and many others the Apple way of putting in subtle instructions of using their products in the very commercials that cause us to buy them.

Conference issue

Timing was a big struggle.Yes, we were late a lot, but what the problem really was about is that there is no slack so that this struggle with time could be better managed. In this case on Wednesday I was not able to make it into the second 20min. talk and because I left the room I was in I couldn’t go to the talk that was in the room I was supposed to be in.

Susan Weinschank (@thebrainlady): Designing Usable and Persuasive Websites

This was a beautiful master class on the psychology of behavior. Susan never missed a beat in telling us the great story of the mind. She separated the mind into 3 simple units of understanding: New, Mid and Old and explained what each meant and how we could be taking advantage of the strengths of each to create more usable artifacts, but to also create artifacts that are more persuasive. She did caution that not all uses of this information is ethical, so it is up to each designer to figure out how to use this information.

I really appreciated that Susan started out with the dichotomy of issues in design that deal with “can do” vs. those that deal with “will do”. She did underscore that sometimes design decisions can lead to both and further that sometimes they are in opposition with each other.

Then Susan listed different core behaviors of people and how we can optimize our designs for them:

  • People don’t want to work or think more than they have to
  • Progressive disclosure: only display what you need now, but have easy access to what is need (with easy ways out without loosing context)
  • Path of least resistance: users will always choose the path that feels easiest.
  • Examples: We always like examples.
  • Affordances: We interact with things when we can tell what it is we can do.
  • Only the features they need (and nothing more).
  • Defaults: We like when others make decisions for us, or fill in the obvious data (so long as we can override).

Visual Systems

  • Color can be used for imply associations (but be careful about color blindness)
  • Don’t use colors like red & blue that don’t work well together because they are on opposite sides of the light spectrum.
  • Grouping through use of white space. Nearness implies association while distance implies disassociation.
  • To make icons more recognizable use the canonical perspective (always from the top a little and from the side)


  • Most standard fonts are just as readable whether serifed or not, normal case or all caps are equally readable. Size is more important. Too small is bad, for everyone.
  • Things are hard to read on a screen (backlit like LCD and OLED) because of the higher luminescence.
  • Break it up into chunks
  • Use proper fonts at proper sizes.
  • White background with high contrast color/shades
  • Oh! And make the content worth it!
  • Line length: People read faster with longer line length, but prefer shorter.
  • Keep density (aka clutter) to a minimum.
  • People CANNOT multitask regardless of age. Everyone takes a productivity hit when attempting to multitask.
  • Human memory is fallible, complicated and reconstructed.
  • Chunk things
  • Give strong landmarks and other contextual markers
  • Group things into 3 to 4 items.

We Are Social

  • We look for social validation
  • Will look to peers before making decisions


  • We will do activities when there is a perceived sense of debt.
  • Bonding: We prefer to do things synchronously with others in person.
  • It is inconclusive whether or not really being in person matters across all types of online social activity, but synchronicity definitely matters.
  • Laughing releases hormones that make us feel good. (Typing LOL doesn’t work.)
  • Strong ties/weak ties:
  • There are a maximum number (like less than 7) of people in your network (who ARE near you) who can be strong ties.
  • Weak ties can have 1000’s
  • Mirror Neurons
  • You feel similar effects watching someone do something as doing it yourself.


  • Inattention Blindness: People are blind to the things they are not paying attention to.
  • Tendency not to notice when things change outside of our visual field
  • Need to make it quite obvious that things have changed.
  • Ways to get people’s attention:
  • Cyan/magenta
  • Big words
  • Use fun & novelty: pay attention to what is fun & novel
  • Things that are different stand out
  • People are easily distracted
  • People Crave Information
  • Dopamine Loop: Dopamine causes us to look for things.
  • We wouldn’t look for food if we didn’t have dopamine
  • Searching for information creates more dopamine which causes us to want to look for more information (the loop)
  • We want more choices to keep searching. However, this leads to paradox of choice:
  • We want more choices
  • However when we are given too many choices we act less often
  • When searching we need feedback to corroborate requests happen.
  • Unconscious Processing
  • Commitment
  • Get people to make small commitments and then loyalty grows and kicks in to allow for bigger commitments and stronger loyalty.
  • Emotional events get processed differently than unemotional events.
  • The Old Brain reacts to the big 3: food, sex and safety
  • Using appropriate imagery and contexts can be very persuasive.
  • Advertising has been doing this for years.
  • Scarcity: When we perceive something to be scarce we begin to crave it.
  • Habits are very powerful. They tend to hold across different contexts.
  • Being used to turning on a light switch as up is hard to unlearn.

Framing & Anchoring

  • This is a type of suggestion that sets in motion a specific type of meaning. 
This is probably one of the most powerful forms of persuasion because it is unconscious and because it usually works best with enough critical mass of people involved.
  • People make mistakes. Be ready for it, in all its contexts.
  • Use confirmations if the consequences are severe.
  • If you know it’s an error then correct it for them.
  • If the task is error prone then have people do things one at a time.
  • You make mistakes too:
  • Iterate your design.
  • Test your designs.
  • Susan uses http://usertesting.com to pilot her scenarios for in person tests.


It holds 5 liters of beer with a tap on the bottom.....

The networking party w/ 2m beers

On the 1st night of the conference we had a great party at a local micro-brewery right next to the event. They had the above “draft pitchers”. Beer was flowin’ for sure.

[i]Lisbon was originally called Luxboa and so they still use the abbreviation LX. Seriously, it was everywhere in the city.

[ii] I was an invited workshop leader for the conference.

Set up picture by Pedro Moura Pinheiro , beer picture by Dave Malouf / CC BY-NC 2.0

David Malouf

Professor of Interaction Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design

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