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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The final — and main conference day — for UXLX saw 450 people from 32 different countries flock to the the Lisbon FIL centre to hear Don Norman, Christian Crumlish, Kristina Halvorson and more.

Beyond User Research: Building an organisational brain — Louis Rosenfeld

The first talk of the day really put a mark on the presentations that would follow. It was a talk about the elephant in the room in practically every design case I currently work on; big companies are usually chopped up in little departments and those departments do NOT communicate with each other. Lou held a strong plea that those departments should start working together in order to create a better user experience and outweigh your competition.

  • Silos —Lou is a consultant in information architecture and visits lots of companies who need his help with getting their act together. Whenever he asks about search analytics, the voice of the user via the callcenter or usability research reports, most busineses have to ask three different departments about these things. There is nobody who connects theses “silos”, as Lou likes to call them. So if there is a Usability Research Silo and a Customer Support Silo, do you think they should be talking to each other? Or at least connect their findings in some way? Hell yes. And this is not only the case with research and analytics departments. Most of the time, the “brand strategy” is created in Silo A and the persona’s for the screen designs are written in Silo B. And these Silos also do not communicate with each other.
    These silos are missing out on the combinatorial effect: together they are better than the sum of both when viewed apart.
    So do we do with these silos? Well, let’s blow them up.
  • Getting there — So how do we blow up these silos? First off, Lou tells us, you have to get out of yours. Visit some other Silos and find out what they know. Work together.

Lou concludes his talk with a few pointers you need to keep in mind when establishing a decision making organ. First off: blue sky it. Ask yourself, if you’re going to build a dicision making apparatus, what would it look like?

Next: Ban loaded terms and crutches from the discussion, like “omniture”, “user testing”, “market research” and so forth, because these words tend to take the discussion on roads your company has been walking on for too long.

And the bottom line: blow up the silos and put people together.
“Companies that integrate their silos of insight will outpace their competitors.

Playful Design/Design for Play  — Christian Crumlish

Play, like design, is both wonderful and available for multiple interpretations – something Christian Crumlish took full advantage of in his wide-ranging talk.

Starting off with the analogy of how print designers bemoaned the web’s lack of control, Crumlish suggests that we should be using the concept of play — its original meaning is ‘to dance’, which is apt as we should be thinking about allowing space. Play gives us masks, the chance to have an assumed identity, and the change to carry out re-imaginings (one entomologist is a dedicated participant in Civil War re-enactments to the point that he brings in era appropriate bugs to attack the troops!).

He gave a quick overview of what makes games work.

  1. Starts with an invitation to begin
  2. Boundaries [magic circle], what will happen
  3. Rules are key — what is fair and what is not?
  4. Goals — what is the end point you’re reaching out for? (Gamification is based largely on this)
  5. Competition — we naturally compete, so that type of environment can help with play. But  it’s not only option — collaboration is also a important alternative (the board game Pandemic is a great example of this). The leaderboard can draw people to that and neglect experience — people also like to work together!

Moving on to playing in the musical design —he believes we  can turn our users into maestros, as an expert Illustrator user is much like a musician! — Crumlish provided a range of analogies (frameworks set up the rules, you need a bit of chaos for creativity, as in jazz). However, for me, his utterly inspired point was that of creating tunable experiences:

You don’t need to create a perfect experience, but instead one that’s tuneable.

A great example of it is Twitter—you keep tuning it to get what you want (more/less). Extending the metaphor that musical ensembles are about “getting in tune” (choosing what key), he suggested that we choose to “ensemble play” in the key of a certain hashtag.

And for those who know anything about Crumlish — he’s known as an avid amateur ukulele player — yes, he finished up the talk with a tune.

Critical Thinking for UX Designers – Stephen Anderson

After sun- and T-shaped thinkers Stephen Anderson decided that it was time to introduce a new type: Z-shaped thinkers. According to him these are people who think beyond the obvious, people that dare to turn the challenge around and take it a step further. “When everyone zigs, zag.” The point that Stephen wants to bring across is that it’s not about the tools, it’s about the thinking process itself.

When looking at existing examples Stephen mentions people like Negroponte who dared to embrace the limitations of creating a laptop for children that would at max cost $100. Instead of being blocked by the constraints he managed to turn it around and create a really interesting laptop. Another hero of Stephen is George Lucas. When he started with the Star Wars movies nobody knew how they had to make it, but George Lucas simply said that they had to aim for the result they wanted to have and would find a way to reach it. This way of thinking makes it possible for us as UX designers to really take challenges on and make a difference. But what’s the way to do this?

As an example Stephen gave the audience a simple task. First he asked everybody to “Design a vase.” When people did this he turned the challenge around and showed everybody how you should look at the challenge: “Design a better way for people to enjoy flowers in their home.” This simple task really showed everyone what the right approach is. The question that follows this is whether or not a lot of designers ever get the room to rephrase a challenge like this… often the business has a clear description of what they want and it’s difficult to change things around. But that doesn’t mean we must avoid it. It means we need to understand the importance of it and should try and talk to the right people in the right language. And this is where Leisa Reichelt’s workshop on Strategic UX fits in perfectly.

Z-shaped thinkers…

  • reframe the problem;
  • explore many perspectives
  • synthesize information
  • embrace constraints
  • challenge assumptions
  • appreciate details

… in order to envision unseen opportunities.

Content Strategy — Kristina Halvorson

You know that world of junk that WAL-E lives in, picking up the odd interesting trinket? That’s the way content is these days on the web. Halvorson says that those odd trinkets are the occasional piece of good content she finds in her travels as a content strategist.

With that sobering metaphor in mind, she talked us through the realities of content and content strategy these days:

  • The elephant in the room of any conversation is where the content for a site will come from and how it will be maintained. To make matters worse, web writers are normally brought in far too late into the picture.
  • Content is not copywriting, The content goes into a messy ecosystem, and has a lifecycle.

So what is content strategy? He colleague Melissa Rach has the following definition:

Content strategy helps figure out how content will help you meet your business objectives

Halvorson sums Content strategy  up as plans for the creation, delivery, and governance of content. (Note, it’s a verb, not a noun). Or the below diagram:

She points out that while the field has been around for fifteen years, it’s only been recently that UX has started to pay attention to it, perhaps because it never seemed relevant. Even now she points out that UXers may think they don’t have do deal with workflow and governance. However, they do have to ask the right questions.

  • Demonstrate — hold a mirror up to their pain. She showed an example of  history.com showing Valentines Day content on the 16th of February, and a paralysing data-dump of all categories.
  • Recognize the life cycle of content — there are a whole lot of models as to the hoops content has to jump through, but it’s most important to understand which must be changed regularly, and by who.
  • You need strategy and tactics. As Sun Tzu says in The Art of War “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”
  • Quoting  some well known professionals goes a long way to supporting your arguments.
  • Draw — pictures are good.
  • Envision. Decide the picture you want to aim towards.

Discussing the conundrum of CMS’s (and their somewhat failed promise), she recommends the blog CMS Myth.

The Cross Channel Experience – Nick Finck

Ninety percent of businesses say the cross-channel experience is critical to their business success. Nick Fink talked to us about definitions, methods, tools and examples to help us create a seamless customer/user experience (he believes the names don’t matter as the goal is the same). We need to answer the question: “What is it that we need to do to (sell a bike/let people enjoy a conference)?” and create a seamless experience for our products and services.

Businesses and also UXers tend to think in channels, but customers don’t. They don’t think in the silos that businesses create and perceive one business through different channels or touchpoints. So it’s important to craft a coherent cross-channel experience.

But how can we do this? Of course we need to gather insights on how people use our products and services. We have to pay attention to detail and look for hacks: e.g. what do people add to a product to enhance the experience. And we need to follow the experience through to the last point and learn the business process behind it. Once you’ve gathered the insights you can create a customer journey map, an experience map or a service blueprint, all of which help you to visualize the cross channel experience.

Finck takes Netflix as a good example, because they have matched the different touch points in such a way that the system is pro-active: It knows when you’ve had a problem with its service and proactively compensates you for it. It informs you when it sends a movie or received one back from you and will allow you to engage with its services on any device (iPhone, iPad, TV, laptop, …) This is a sign that Netflix has aligned its stage and backend to serve their audience a seamless experience.

The question of businesses is: ” How do we do this?” We need a strategy.

  • Break down silos;
  • Different disciplines need to work together and co-create the experience;
  • We need to have a unified vision of what we’re trying to do.

It’s great that Nick Finck talks about the experience beyond the screen, and the theme of breaking down silos is definitely a recurring theme at UXLX (see also Louis Rosenfeld’s talk). As UX’ers we have the skills and tools to help break down the walls, so let’s go out and do it.

Cage Match: Mobile web vs Native Apps — Josh Clark

Let’s get rrrrready to rrrrrrrumbleeeeee!

I was getting really excited when I heard the title of this talk (rescheduled from Jeff Veen because of illness).Josh’s presentation was really set up as a match— from the premise, right through to the imagery of each slide (each with some old skool wrestler, boxer or luchadore in a position that reflects the context). I always like guys who put something “extra”, some delighters, in their presentation.

The presentation is not backed up by statistics or real life examples, but consists of observations and temporary technical restraints that both contenders inhabit.

Josh shows the audience two different commercials. One for the iPhone 4 app “Facetime” in which we see smiling people sharing emotions with each other:

Then he shows us the commercial for the DroidX phone, in which astronauts find a strange device in space. Within this device they find a phone that kinda integrates with the astronauts arm and forms itself into an Android phone. Did I hear a nerdgasm?

The different cultures couldn’t be clearer —  iPhone is about emotion, Android features and technology. So making an app for iPhone or Android can be based on your marketing strategy or the way people would want to use the app.
Then there is the mobile web. “It’s webtastic. Everybody loves her”. That is because you only need to make one app and your done. You have an instant reach of everyone who owns an iPhone or Android phone (Josh briefly addresses Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7, but they are irrelevant to the point).
So, if everything is a match, there has to be a winner, right? No.
There is no winner. Both contenders have their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s comparing apples to oranges.
But Josh has a very strong point of view that in order to be something in the world of mobile devices, you should at least have a mobile website. And on top of a mobile website you could, for example, create an app for your most precious customers; an app that provides them with something handy and unique.
Josh declares a winner that, in my opinion, is no contender in this match, but plays a whole different sport: the API. True, when you have a good API, building a mobile site and native apps is a breeze, but for me, this outcome was a bit disappointing, given the premise of the talk.

  • Apps need an appstore, websites do not.
  • Apps can make money pretty quickly, websites not so.
  • Apps have great UX, websites not so.
  • Apps have to be downloaded, websites work right away.
  • Apps need to be updated manually, websites can be updates as much as you want without having to bug the user.
  • Apps are about doing things, websites are about reference.
  • Apps have great word-of-mouth, websites not so.
  • Apps can speak with each other, websites not.
  • Developing an app is a pain, building a website is not; in fact, prototyping a mobile website is a breeze.

So both have their advantages and weaknesses, no shocker there. But why not make an app that hold a frame which hold a mobile website? These Hybrid apps can work and you would have best of both world… right? Not exactly. The problem with an app is that is has to feel like an app. And an iPhone app feels differently from an Android app. So your mobile website must behave accordingly. Ofcourse this can be resolved by creating two mobile websites.

Ding ding ding! But we want a winner!

The Manual of Detection — Dario Buzzini

For his talk, Dario Buzzini used the detective novel “The Manual of Detection” as a guide to UX practice, backed up with examples from his work at IDEO.

Starting with the poetic (and somewhat provocative) statement: “We designers, we write stories not manuals, we design experiences not procedures, strive for beauty not truth”, he picked 11 quotes from the book that had relevance to UX.

  1. On Shadowing — it’s not about being unremarkable but appearing as if you’re meant to be there (like a shadow)
    In relation to skills needed in a job — you need to have more than one in order to seem as if you should be there!
  2. On Language — As an investigator, you need to know how to talk the right languages, objects have memory, too.
    Surgery situation — the nurse is touching the patient’s hand not only to comfort them, but also to measure anaesthetic. realised in surgery situation that the gadget for the nurse with stylus would eventually be used just with thumb!
  3. On Leads — follow them, to let them go.
    Often your first idea may be the best, but it can’t be your only one. IDEO has a parking lot for ideas on their whiteboards, so that designers get their ideas out and move on.
  4. On Documentation — most is for the wishing well, not a file .
    Buzzini stressed that should be actionable (echoing Dan Brown’s talk on documentation the day before).
  5. On Nemeses — important to find your opposites.
    IDEO create partner teams for projects (apps etc) where both sit and work together. Can be difficult but helpful.
  6. On Bluffing — If you’re caught in a lie, lie again.
    “Designers Lie. [laughter] Designers *sometimes* lie”. Sometimes your clients don’t need to know the truth so much as get a feel for an approximation. IDEO made a physical obstacle course for phone provider to show the hurdles customers had to go through to get a contract. The client got it. [Don Norman later commented that marketers lie and thus are successful. Designers are too honest for their own good!]
  7. On interrogation—the process begins long before you are alone in a room together. By then, you should already know your answers.
    User research starts before talking — what people say is very different from what they do. Buzzini once interviewed a woman with limited dexterity who said that she had no problem opening pill jars. How she opened them? “I cut it open, how else would you do it?”
  8. Cryptology — be careful what you dig up, it’s yours.
    Designers haven’t helped people with banking, making it hard for them to understand what happens with their money. Banksimple is using diagrams to help with that.
  9. On Solutions — a good detective tries to know everything, a great one knows just enough to see him through to the end.
    In UX, this is about prototyping — you just have to choose and work smart. A good example for prototyping is Liveview App that lets you send a screencast to an iOS device
  10. On Dream Detection — be careful to check whether what you’ve seen is real or a fallacy.
    Check exactly who it is you’re designing for.

Living With Complexity — Don Norman

In his keynote speech “Living With Complexity” (based on the book of the same name), Don Norman urged the audience to understand the difference between the complicated and complex, think about where the complexity is in any system, and to think signifiers, not affordances. Some of his findings were:

  1. Life is complex
    Or more importantly, complexity (vs simple)  is not the same as being complicated (i.e. difficult, vs understandable) — ordering a Korean meal is complex but understandable, rows of light switches simple but complicated.
  2. Tools must match life
    We adapt ourselves if the result is worth it, be it organising our rooms to power points or learning the violin. However, a hack is a sure sign that there’s a problem and a workaround. While in the past he’d have said to use affordances for this, he now prefers the word signifiers, as designers signify activity.
  3. Understanding not simplicity
    People with messy desks can often find things they need quicker than those who stow it away because their storage mental model is more visible. Another example is some London street crossings — with their messages repeated in different ways (signs, road markings, traffic lights), they’re not simple, but similarly easy to ignore the redundant signs.
    Norman showed that people’s preference for complexity
  4. It’s all about design
    The biggest enemy of design is needless complexity (encouraged by marketers, critics, and simple minded thinking).
    He suggests to make it activity based (rather than human centred)— a great example is the Logitech Harmony Remote, which rather than try to be an all-in-one remote instead allows you to do the actions you would like to on each device — and make it come together seamlessly (e.g. as iTunes or Kindle does).

Another interesting tip he provided was to think about where the complexity occurs in a product system (aka Tesler’s Law of the Conservation of Complexity). For example, with coffee machines, in a manual it occurs with the user (making the coffee), a semi-automatic in the machine, a pod model in the packaging.

He finally echoed other speakers such as Halvorson with his reminder that it doesn’t matter if a design is bad unless it starts to affect sales.


Full Set of UX Cards

By the end of the day, most people had managed to collect most (if not all) of their UX Trump Cards (apparently Bill Buxton and Robert Hockman Jnr were particularly hard to find) and Mental Notes mini-sets. While the fabulous location was a given, UXLX excelled in running a tight ship — speakers were kept to time so the four rooms never got out of sync, a common problem with conferences — and a line up of quality speakers. It’d be great to see some more local/European speakers (a prime example was how Netflix — a service that isn’t available in Europe— was used as a case study several times), but given the diverse crowd, hopefully some will cross the line from participant to speaker next year.

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.

Miranda de Groot

Miranda de Groot is a User Experience Specialist & Evangelist at ReedBusiness.

Patrick Sanwikarja

Patrick Sanwikarja is an interaction designer at Fabrique Communication and Design in Delft, The Netherlands. He wants to make the future happen by designing it.

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.

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