UXLX report: day 3

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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Day three was a binge of amazing keynote speakers. I definitely expect that everyone’s head was completely filled by the end of the day. Besides the amazing talent that was there, UXLX in its association with the brand new Want Magazine presented clips of the newest videos that were launched that very day with the online magazine itself.

Jakob Nielsen: video

As noted above there were 3 videos during the course of the day. The first was by Jakob Nielsen. The clip selected had Jakob speaking about the state of usability practice today. He discussed how there have been two growth paths for usability professionals, but more importantly stressed that it is non-usability professionals who should be doing more of their own usability testing. This point of multi-disciplinary individuals gets highlighted at the very end of the conference as well.

Peter Merholz: Upgrade Your Mandate: Elevate User Experience Within Your Organization

Peter demonstrated through specific case studies how the following points are the key to success as a user experience professional:

  • Engage across functions
  • Engender empathy
  • Use design tools to define problems
  • Align values & vision
  • Articulate experience principles
  • Build from the outside in

As you can see these points resonate nicely with Luke Wroblewski’s workshop, Panu’s talk and Sarah’s talk from earlier in the conference.

Bill Scott: Designing with Lenses

Bill has been creating structured models for designers for a long time. He created the Yahoo Pattern Library (and word has it he and other former Yahoo cohorts are back at curating it again) and his book Designing Web Interfaces is an amazing resource for applying patterns to web design work. In this instance he showed us how to apply a new structural model to design challenges. This time borrowing from game design instead of architecture he talks to us about lenses as a tool for guiding design decision making.  This in essence was a deeper dive into case studies and specific examples of how to use lenses as design principles. Design principles themselves have been a constant thread throughout the conference.

Dan Saffer: Designing For New Technology

Many of us are beginning to work with new technologies in our day-to-day design practices. Dan wanted to offer his experience with gestural interaction design to express some general learnings that would be practical to any designer regardless of the type of technology the person may be designing for. Before jumping in though he started by defining “new technology” as any technology that is new for those whom you are designing it for and new for you to be designing with.

So help us all out he offered several key considerations when designing with new technologies:

  • It takes a lot more time than you think.
    One of the biggest time hits is that you need to learn the limitations of the new technology within the specific contexts of your project.
  • Prototype to get a sense for how people will behave with this new technology.
  • Help sell it internally & externally. This will actually help you later in figuring out how the new technology can add value to the project.
  • Words matter – How you describe your work will affect how people relate to it.
  • Testing is hit & miss.
    It is difficult to test how people will react and be able to use a disruptive technology.
  • Expectations: People expect things to work the way they have always worked. When this is not true they don’t know what to do.
  • MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable (Raymond Lowey)
  • Pattern Recognition
    People look for patterns to understand in everything they do. New patterns are harder to discover, but once discovered and used often they eventually become old patterns.
  • The “Of Course” factor
    Most companies are looking for a “Wow” factor, but the true win is when someone says, “Of course, this is part of my life.” Thus, never being able to imagine a life without it.
  • Affordances are key. People need to know what they can do and how it will behave. They also need clear signs as to how to know when it is behaving.
  • Metaphors are also key. This is best way to help people understand what it is that is new.
  • Personality: What is the figurative voice of the designed artifacts?
  • Emotion
    If we have an emotional connection we will be most likely to engage and keep it longer.
  • Emotion is almost always found in the small details
  • Emotional resonance
    Some gestures had a weird emotional weight of its own.
    [matches my thoughts about motion aesthetics]
  • Sound Design (big issue)
    Web almost ruined sound design with overkill and inappropriate use.
    Important tool to give personality
  • Meaning
    What is the deepest reason people will use this new product?

Donna Spencer: Design Games slides

Donna took us through a series of game examples that are used to help with the design process. Games are a fun way to get people engaged in the design process without even knowing they are playing games. Playfulness gets us thinking in new ways. She is suggesting we use games because they are fun, engage people, and is a good way to communicate.

After going through a ton of great examples of games to play in a design context, she offered these considerations when playing design games.

  • Determine outcome you want
  • How do you expect it t0 run?
  • What are the rules?
  • What are the outputs?
  • How will everyone be involved?
  • What happens to “winners” & ‘losers’
  • Make sure it isn’t a waste of time? (how will it move to a next step)
  • It’s ok to use existing games and then modify them to fit your goals.

When creating games Donna suggested the following helpful hints:

  • Make existing stuff more fun/game like
  • By making it silly
  • Creating a sense of urgency through a deadline
  • Add an element of light competition
  • Have instructions

Luke Wroblewski: First Person User Interfaces slides

Luke starts out summarizing the current state of information technologies with the following quote:

“We can get people closer to things they care about through the new technologies that are out there.”

Luke then offers us a history of the user interface of computers that has progressed by hiding more and more of guts of computers moving from punch cards to command line interfaces to graphical user interfaces, the current excitement around natural user interfaces (gestural interfaces) and finally what his talk is about is, what he calls, First Person User Interfaces (FPUI).

What I find interesting in this talk as an interaction designer is his use of the word “abstraction”. The history he gives interprets human interfacing with computers becoming more abstracted from the workings of the computer. But as that happens, what is more interesting as a designer, is the relationship between the human and the activity they want to achieve is becoming less abstracted and more direct.

He goes on to define at length what an FPUI is. It is basically the use of sensors for understanding the user’s position, movement and orientation to then use input usually from a video to overlay data on top of that video stream in near real time to augment what is seemingly the user’s view (through the device). There are earlier systems like GPS Navigation systems for the car that create abstract models of that world and present them as if from the angle of the user. Today though, tools like Yelp Monocle and Google Goggles are creating tremendously interesting tools that overlay their information over screen views of the world as we see it in real time.

This is very early and the uses of the tool are very emergent, but tremendously effective. For example Yelp’s Monocle was meant to be for fun (an Easter Egg) but it has helped increase sustained traffic on their properties by 40-50%. Currently though our biggest issues are around the small screen sizes we are designing this functionality for (it implies a mobile solution) and further how awkward the interaction models are. Really quickly “Point & Scan” becomes a “Nerd here!” marker.

There are solutions in the making, but even these feel a bit extreme to me like heads-up displays and nano-LED displays inside of contact lenses. The one solution that seems pretty helpful and around the corner is using near field technologies like RFID tags as the gesture to engage with them is more subtle than the point & scan required to engage with barcodes.

Eric Reiss – The Web Dogma

Eric did a smart and entertaining job of explaining his 10 Basic Rules or Creating Web Communications. Don’t judge till you get to number 10.

He starts out trying to differentiate between User-centered design and user-driven design. To be honest, I found this part of the talk to be unclear so I’m not sure what he means by driven and how it is difference from centered.

Then he discusses innovation. There are 3 bad reasons to innovate:

  1. to differentiate your product
  2. to be different
  3. to satisfy your ego

But he clearly states that the only reasons to innovate is to solve a problem. Innovation itself though has a lifecycle where it is best done when it starts on the previous efforts of past innovations which have previously been converted into best practices. Best practices though could become habits and innovations can turn into fashion or style which can lead to old-fashioned. I liked this insight a lot. I think it explains how AOL was innovative, but turned into yesterday news to MySpace which is fighting that same fate to Facebook.

With this background he jumps into his Dogma (or set of rules). They are a good set of design principles to be used on any project. I think limiting to the web is unnecessary.

  1. Anything that exists that is not for the end user should be eliminated.
  2. Anything exists only to satisfy the ego of the designer should be eliminated.
    [I don’t think this one is black & white.]
  3. Anything that is irrelevant within the context of the page should be eliminated
  4. Any feature or technique that reduces the visitors ability to navigate freely should be eliminated
  5. Any interactive object that forces the visitor to guess its meaning must be eliminated.
  6. No software, apart from the browser itself, must be required to make things work necessary
    [HTML 5 Advocacy]
  7. Content must be readable first, printable second, downloadable third.
  8. Usability must never be sacrificed for the sake of a style guide.
  9. No visitor must be forced to register or surrender personal data unless the site owner is unable to provide a service or complete a transaction w/o it.
  10. Break any of these rules sooner than do anything else.

He then closed with this wisdom:

“We’re not just here to prevent bad things from happening, but to make wonderful things happen.”

Susan Weinschenk – Neuro Web Design

This talk felt like a short version of her workshop. It was so effective proven by the way everyone referenced her talk throughout social events until the very last moment. I’m sure the jokes are all old to Susan, but for us they were fun banter that just helped reinforce her excellently communicated pitch about the need to design for the realities of the human brain. The crux of the short talk is that we all need to design for all 3 brains (Old, Mid and New) in order to be effective. you can’t only design for one aspect and think you’ve gotten it nailed.

  • She urged us to maintain a relationship to research old and new by stating clearly, “Technology changes but we actually don’t.”
  • Some of the great insights follow:
  • We are very open to suggestion through the use of framing and anchoring.
  • We make a great deal of decisions based on “social elevation”. This is where a person will be effected by peers who are clearly human over edited content that clearly states quality differences of options.
  • Things that are scarce are more attractive. For example, a cookie in a jar by itself tastes better than a cookie that comes from a jar that is full.
  • Listening to a story about emotion engages the neurons related to that emotion. For example, telling a story about human pain may make you wince as if you have suffered the same wound.
  • Pictures that include elements of our primal needs (food, danger and sexuality) are better at grabbing and retaining our attention. Pictures of people generally are powerful. It helps even more if they are attractive and in some way relate to you.

Larry Constantine – Design for User Performance

Larry started out by stating his background, which is primarily focused on mission critical systems. He admits that it is a bit different than what his peers do.

For Larry User Interface design, user experience design and even experience design were all interaction design. And he defined interaction design (the only speaker who actually took on interaction design in this way) as “How users interact with the designed artifacts in the context of their activities.” Further he is not focused on users, but more specifically on their performance. He is not user-centered by activity-centered in a similar fashion as how Donald Norman declared a few years ago when he said, “Focus upon humans detracts from support for the activities themselves.” The discussion that followed led to the need to “pay attention to the contexts in which activities take place.”

The rest of the talk tried to center on how to do this work by using “model-driven design” where the use of abstract models based on some kind of “sound theory” are used to represent data that is captured. The steps of the method are capture, carry, organize, explore, evaluate and trace. The objects of the system are stated as tool, actor, purpose, rule, community.

These can then be organized in one of three ways:

Roles < > Transformation < > Outcome
Activity < > Action < > Operation

Purpose < > Goal < > Condition.

What ends up mattering most for the interaction designer are the activities, the level of participation in that activity and the level of performance. These all come together to create maps & profiles.

The combined methods run though the following process:

  • Model Driven Inquiry
  • Structured & Visual brainstorming
  • Compile, organize
  • Focused, efficient, limited field inquiry
  • Rinse, repeat
  • Large scale architectural models
  • Design

Larry then summarized his entire talk down to the following:

  • Don’t put users at the center
  • Support human activities
  • Use models
  • Use the power of abstraction

Jared Spool – The Dawning of the Age of Experience

Jared started out his talk making it clear to everyone that CEOs get it. They know that something is different and looked at 2 amazing examples of success based on total experience design: Apple and Netflix.

He then outlined the following points that through his research of successful experience design as a means for achieving successful business goals. A lot of what he states is mentioned throughout the above presentations but no single presentation put all of these together.

  1. You have to equally understand the customer (or user) and the business
  2. Really good experience design is learned but not open to introspection.
    He related a story about research he did regarding the Wall Street Journal and then hearing a creative director separately without any methodical research come up with the same conclusions and executed on them effectively. The creative director in question was not able to describe how they achieved their design. They could explain why, but not how they got to why.
  3. Good design when it’s done well is invisible.
    He then asked the question, how do you do a portfolio of invisible success?
  4. Experience design is multidisciplinary people doing multidisciplinary tasks.
    There are less people in organizations taking on more activities.
  5. There is a coherent vision that everyone can agree to and relate equally to others in and out of the organization.
  6. Everyone has access to getting direct feedback regarding their products and services.
    Has everyone seen someone use the design in the last six weeks? It is not the number of users that makes a difference as much as the number of hours each team member is exposed to direct user feedback.
  7. The culture of the organization rewards failure in a big and positive way.

Jared gave everyone his usual performance complete with humor and wit and closed the conference with the reality that we are all still learning about this stuff every day.


UX-LX was definitely a very successful first time conference. I hope that Bruno Figueiredo, who organized the conference single-handedly, decides to make this an annual event. It was definitely worthy to belong among the must-see user experience conferences of the spring season. The venue was great, the content was well curated and the diversity of the sold out crowd were on target.

Header photograph by Pedro Moura Pinheiro

David Malouf

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

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