UX Australia ’10 Report: Day One

Related posts:

Melbourne set out to impress for this year’s UX Australia, held in the beautiful Langham Hotel. Year two of the conference had a feeling of building on the work from the inaugral event with confidence and assurance -  (even if the day began with many recovering from the pre-drinks before).  Some recurring themes of the day were business and design, wicked problems, and the emotional side of user experience, with the community coming to the fore with an active twitter stream and visual notes.

Keynote – The Dawning of the Age of Experience

Jared Spool

Jared Spool's Range of UX Skill

“Saying a website is ‘usable’ is like saying dinner was ‘edible’

Spool kicked off the conference with an entertaining and wide ranging talk (who knew that there were people called chicken sexers?) that covered user experience and business, design knowledge, and ways to create great UX.

He began with a rundown on the iPod/Sundisk/Zune scene (market share 75%, 7%, and 5% respectively), and a breakdown of the reasons – despite the iPod having inferior hardware and a troublesome OS, they have won on their service system (they are the top digital seller of music/third overall, and are the only manufacturer to have service stores) and an attention to brand.

He also touched on similar success stories (Netflix has far overtaken Blockbuster, and attracts new customers largely through their existing ones evangelising it), but more interestingly some failures, to highlight the perils of favouring user experience over business:

  • Big Box Retailer lost 20% of revenue after spending $100k on redesign, took 3 1/2 years to recover.
  • A 1,700 person law firm moved from static HTML to a Sharepoint site – no one could change anything, didn’t bill for a month (~$4m), and employees were near revolt
  • An information site changed the findability from 4 clicks to 1, which would have been good  … except that the site make money on clicks! They had a 40% drop in page views.

Spool also touched on how design decisions can’t always be interrogated, as while research is useful, designers – like chicken sexers, sushi chefs, and midwives – often “just know” solutions through experience (see his related Johnny Holland post on Hands and Brains for talk on this as well). The intriguing suggestion here was that we should maybe consider the idea of UX apprenticeships. This becomes more important when we realise the range of skills involved in UX (see diagram on right).

Spool suggested we ask three questions to find great UX:

  1. Vision – “can everyone on team describe experience of using the design 5 years on?”
  2. Feedback – “in the last 6 wks, have you spent more than 2 hrs, watching someone use your or a competitor’s design?” Studies show that exposure time impacts success
  3. Culture -  “In the last 6 weeks, have you rewarded a team member for creating a major design failure?”. Scott Cook, the CEO of Intuit, holds ‘failure parties‘ – he presents an award to the recipient, teases them for 2 minutes – and then spends the next 28 unpacking what they’ve learned from the project.

and summarised that successful UX:

  • integrates users & business,
  • is learned but not open to introspection,
  • is invisible,
  • is cultural,
  • ….is something we’re still learning how to do (and we’re getting better everyday).

Defining Experience Strategy with UX Designer as Protagonist

Anthony Colfelt

Colfelt gave a number of memorable metaphors for UX design in his presentation, backed up with his work at UX consultancy Different. Beginning with the solar system of UX (currently tech is the sun, circled by the business, which is circled by customer experience), he suggested that to counter this and allow user experience happen earlier in the project management process, UX designers should be like the ultimate protagonist – Arnold Schwartzenegger.

His key takeaways were that experience research should be like a shield (no holes, scientifically implemented) as it could then be used to avoid costly mistakes downstream.

Designing wide in Government: A recipe for doing the design of very, very complex concepts that impact on society

Darren Menachemson

To give a sense of the complexity of designing wide in Government Menachemson started with Horst Rittel’s notion of wicked problems. Menachemson gave insight into what is involved in tackling incredibly complex design spaces (such as systems for dealing with the whole health of a patient over a life time). Wide design starts with wide outcomes requiring us to focus on products and service in the contexts of systems – rather than a micro view (interfaces, interactions, etc). Many of the points resonated with essential service design principles, but a key (differentiating?) aspect  was illustrated through the perspective taken in the Citizen Journey map by the Design Council: the start point is the citizen’s journey in life (from which we can identify and leverage the points of intersection with government), not the citizen’s journey with the government (big big picture!). His tactics? : work collaboratively (but make sure this work is somehow accountable and has influence), stay away from the detail (for as long as possible) and cultivate a tolerance for ambiguity.

Getting new blood from old stones: How to get new insights from old data

Stephen Cox

Cox shared a different way of thinking about research and how it ties into our everyday work in this fantastic presentation delivered with some great home style video humour. Prompted by a need to bring vendors working on customer research projects up to speed with knowledge already possessed by Westpac, Cox shared how he mined old data (10 years worth!), found new high level insights and patterns and shared them through tools like bare bones personas. Rather than sticking to the status quo of research on a project by project level (tactical) his “insights framework” helps the organisation identify and seek operational and strategic insights from existing and future research data. This was also a call to action for design research vendors to get more strategic with their own expertise – research is cumulative, so start embedding strategic questions within project-level research that can help to inform and develop higher level knowledge.

Design Thinking – Is This Our Ticket to the Big Table?

Iain Barker

Barker started by asking the audience whether many called themselves either Design Thinkers or Service Designers (both only had a few hands raised), a fitting start for a talk that looked at the current business – but not design – darling, “design thinking”. Sharing a number of resources both for and against the argument:

  • the IDEO definition
  • Helen Waters at Design Week 2010 “For now, the business community seems to have the ball, and it’s running with it. But designers can’t afford not to be a part of this conversation”
  • Kevin McCullagh at the Big-Rethink 2010 “There’s something odd going on when business and political leaders flatter design with potentially holding the key to such big and pressing problems, and the design community looks the other way”.
  • The rather concerning statement from Bruce Nussbaum that “CEOs must be designers
  • Don Norman’s “Meanwhile exploit the myth [of design thinking]. Act as if you believe it. Just don’t actually do so.”

Design Thinking and Experience Design - can't we all just get along?

However, backed up with some amazing stats such as that shares in design-led companies outperform others in stock led indices by 200% ) he urged designers to perhaps just do design thinking work, (and be prepared to have to fight for design processes and against indoctoration) even if they’d rather not be called design thinkers.

Design Secrets Revealed

Todd Zaki Warfel

Originally called “the right way to wireframe” this rare behind the scences glimpse of what Ux’er’s do all day was was prompted by the lack of visibility around UX work. Unlike visual designers who show case on sites like dribbble.com or developers using Github, we’ve never seen the wireframes of the likes of JJG or Peter Moriville (though we have now!). Todd Zaki Warfel,  Will Evans, Fred Beecher and Russ Unger took up the challenge – shut up or nut up – to “pull back the Kimono” and expose their work practices.

What we learnt:

  • They never work to requirements (“that’s for monkeys”) – use methods like the task analysis grid instead which put things in context and enforces a prioritisation
  • Sketch, sketch and sketch some more – as a team – do it fast then (live) prototype
  • Pitch and critique at every stage, with clients (practice can be required & as @Sandie_lewis tweeted “critique is about how well a design meets the design goals. Not about what you like or don’t”)

Check out the slides and the 4 minute video of the whole process below or with related videos:

Designing for Biofeedback

Erik Champion and Andrew Dekker

Champion and Dekker’s presentation on their research into biofeedback [academic paper, PDF]was an insightful look into future interfaces. Their study (as well as talking about zombies and psychology, the uncanny, and current biofeedback devices) adapted Half-Life 2 to adapt to skin (sweat) and heartrate feedback from users wearing a glove. The game used the feedback to change the game in a number of ways:

  • The scene was monochromatic with a low heart rate, vivid at faster rate, and red with high stress
  • Deliberately keeping breathing rate slow made the user see through walls.

Tests shows that gamers preferred the biometric version of the game. Champion and Dekker suggested that future applications for this include gaming, meditative purposes, and even public spaces.

Beyond Frustration: 3 Levels of Happy Design

How much happiness can you design in? Dana Chisnell urged designers to think about designing for happiness. In a presentation similar to her UX Mag article of the same name, she outlined what she considered her 3 levels of happy design:

  1. Pleasure – a pleasing awareness, the of course, relationships, satisfying. Don Normal calls this visceral. She suggests that they have ‘treats’ [or Easter Eggs] and are thoughtful, and gives http://tripit.com , http://mint.com , and Virgin America as examples.
  2. Flow – Understanding, contentment, time stops – immersion, key strengths emphasised, trust
  3. Meaning - reflectiveness, commitment, belonging, contributing, making a difference (part of something bigger than you) – examples include http://zipcar.com

Change Agents at Object Gallery: A multi-disciplinary experiment in interactive physical installation design

David Gravina

Changing Agents project

Change Agents project

Can design change the world? Yes, but not without a road map and some tools. Gravina shared the public kick off of Digital Eskimo’s new Change Agent’s project (building on the theme of wicked problems introduced by Darren earlier) – the goal is to create an open source & free to share toolkit to help designers tackle the big issues. Digital Eskimo attempted a public form of collaboration with other designers via installations at Object Gallery and then ACMI. It turns out that post-it notes are a big hit for gathering ideas even in a gallery context! Gravina reflected on the opportunities and pitfalls of trying to engage people in big ideas in such public spaces and the dangers of giving people free reign with texters! While the ideas people contributed to the physical installations were intriguing, the real results were in getting other designers and architects on board the Change Agents project.

101 things I (should have) learned in interaction design school – the sequal

In the follow up to the hilarious-but-strangely-informative UX Australia 2009 talk (where they took rules from Matthew Frederick’s book 101 Things I Learned at Architecture School and attempted to apply them to interaction design), Morris and Morphett upped the ante in every way possible …. from a DIY (!) money grabbing machine on stage, to a host of 101 Things books to work from (now architecture, film, fashion, business, and culinary school), a Windows 7 app user-testing-from-hell session, and numerous mentions of the trials and tribulations of their http://ux101.com site.

Chaos reigned at UX Australia when Matt and Shane took to the stage ....

That said, most of the rules pulled from other design disciplines, ranging from customer allergies to studio locations proved fairly easy to translate:

  • #77 from 101 Culinary: A customer’s allergy is a chef’s problem. Translation: know your users test a lot.
  • #45 from 101 Film : Studio or Remote (for locations). Translation: testing in the field versus testing in a controlled environment
  • #63 from 101 Film : Help the audience keep track of your characters (have original, pointed names). Translation: don’t have a flat unprioritised visual hierarchy;  think of user paths and  anoint landmark pages to  help people through your site.

Jared image by mssuec

Matt and Shane images by wheelyweb and NathanaelB

Penny Hagen

Penny is a Design Strategist with over 10 years experience in interactive technologies having designed or produced a range of online and interactive community projects in Australia and New Zealand. She specialises in social change projects and recently completed her PhD in participatory design methods for social technologies at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Vicky Teinaki

An England-based Kiwi, Vicky is doing a PhD at Northumbria University into how designers can better talk about touch and products. When not researching or keeping Johnny Holland running, she does the odd bit of web development, pretends her TV licence money goes only to Steven Moffatt shows, and tweets prolifically about all of the above as @vickytnz.

4 comments on this article

  1. Thanks for the excellent write up Vicky & Penny!

  2. Wow Penny and Vicky, that is a fantastic summary! Now I feel like I went to the sessions I missed out on :-) thankyou!

  3. Pingback: Report on UX Australia 2010 Conference « Erik Champion

  4. Pingback: Enquiring Minds Want to Know » Blog Archive » Interesting links for August 31st