UX Scotland – a review

A new, two day conference on user experience – UX Scotland – was a very welcome addition to the conference calendar. I don’t recall such a significant dedicated user experience conference having been held in Scotland before, so I was pleased that I could attend the first day of the conference, held at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. Here are my thoughts on the sessions I attended.

Jeff Gothelf: Better Product Definition with Lean UX and Design Thinking

The conference’s opening keynote was given by Jeff Gothelf (@jboogie), author of the Lean UX book. Jeff’s talk delivered exactly what it promised. Using a series of carefully chosen case studies for illustration, he focused on the problem of concentrating on functionality and features that exist as requirements due to a lack of evidence that they are necessary to the success of the product or service being developed.

His mantra “Requirements are actually assumptions” was familiar to me, echoing the message that comes from Rogers, Sharp and Preece’s classic HCI text “Interaction Design: Beyond Human Computer Interaction.” A key focus of user-centred development is about defining and challenging assumptions (beliefs) and testing claims (expectations) before too much is invested in a development process built on beliefs rather than evidence-based knowledge. Jeff proposed Lean UX as a process that rapidly gets the assumptions a team brings to a project out into the open and formulated as hypotheses (“We believe that x will achieve y. We will know we are successful when z.”)  that can be tested and accepted or rejected.

And, just while I was writing this, Jared Spool was publishing an article on rethinking requirements gathering which underlines neatly the message Jeff gave us.

Stephanie Rieger: Everything Old is New Again

The next speaker was Stephanie Rieger (@stephanierieger), whose talk  took us on an enjoyable reflective journey through the evolution of information and communication technology, and sharing some carefully chosen quotes to illustrate what makes technology successful (or not). She emphasised the observation that successful implementations are often mundane from a technology perspective, yet have significant social impact; “technologies, ecosystems and conditions must align before an invention enters the lives of ‘normal’ people”.

While she talked, I couldn’t help think of The Museum of Lost Interactions, Graham Pullin’s wonderfully playful way of  encouraging Dundee’s interaction design students to understand social and technological change by creating fictitious technologies from times past.

A final quote jumps out of my notes, which I think is attributed to Greg Borenstein: “UX design is about engineering normalcy to allow technological innovation to succeed.”

Martin Belam: Designing ‘The Bottom Half of the Internet’

I’ve been entertained by his twitter feed for some time now, so I was particularly looking forward to hearing Martin Belam (@martinbelam) discuss designing the user experience of commenting functionality, drawing on his experience working with The Guardian and the BBC. He didn’t disappoint, sharing some stories that made me laugh and some that made me shake my head at the behaviour of some commenters.

The takeaway was a set of personas representing stakeholder groups that UX designers need to consider when working on commenting facilities – not just commenters but also article authors, community managers and even API developers – and tips for supporting each group.

Michele Ide Smith: Getting started with Sketchnoting (Workshop)

This was the only hands-on session I attended, and it was an enjoyable introduction to sketchnoting, a technique I’d become aware of through Makayla Lewis sharing her notes via Twitter and then watching the workshop leader Michele Ide Smith (@micheleidesmith) create her own sketchnotes earlier in the day. We had the chance to try out various sketching techniques to gather, relate, classifiy and distinguish information, and I was moderately pleased with my own effort at sketchnoting a 6 minute TED talk.

Sketchnote of the "Build a Tower, Build a Team" TED Talk
My first sketchnote

I came away thinking that it was a great way to focus attention on the speaker throughout the talk, but wondering how I’d manage to balance the artistic embellishment with the data capturing activity necessary to make it all worthwhile. I like drawing, and sketchnotes aren’t too far away from how I currently note-take, so I think I’ll be giving the technique more attention in future as a way of recording knowledge in a way that makes me want to go back and review it. The sharing approach of taking a photo and sharing it on Twitter or Flickr with appropriate (hash)tags – also makes it interesting as a way to get multiple perspectives on the same talk…though, naturally, we did have a philosophical debate at TPG afterwards, about the accessibility implications of a potential trend of commentaries on talks increasingly existing not as blogs, but as aggregated sets of photos of sketchnotes with no text equivalents.

Andrew Zusman: The Sound of One Hand Typing

The only obviously accessibility-focused talk of the day came from Andrew Zusman (@UXAndrew), and addressed the challenge of supporting people with severely limited dexterity, for example people with only one functional hand. While I’d thought the talk might describe a new approach to supporting easier input and interface control, the presentation focused more on giving a rich description of the problem space and throwing down the challenge to the audience of how we might design a better user experience across different platforms for people with limited dexterity.

So we had a good discussion afterwards, which ranged from the potential and limitation of emerging input methods, such as  Swype or even Siri, to the contribution that the new form input elements provided by HTML5 can have in making input easier across different browsers.

Alex Baxevanis: How to Work Well with Developers

The last scheduled talk of the day explored the challenge of UX professionals in productive partnership with developers, so that UX activity can be reflected positively in the system being developed. Alex Baxevanis (@futureshape) discussed why conflicts can emerge between UX-ers and developers and, based on his experiences, presented a list of 10 commandments for better working together. These might seem familiar principles, but are worth restating: mutual trust and respect, empathy, management of priorities and scope, early involvement, understanding of working patterns, clear articulation of deliverables and justification of requests. Recognition of the value of developers as sources of information and experience is worthwhile, as is time taken to learn to code.

Want more?

The UX Scotland Lanyrd page, the @uxscotland twitter feed and #uxscot hashtag will help you find more resources from the talks above and others at UX Scotland 2013. And, if you missed it this year, the dates for 2014 have already been confirmed as 19-20 June! Maybe see you there?


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