UX London – Day 1

Earlier in the month I went to the first day of UX London under the theme of Product Design. It’s my first time at this conference and it was one of the best I’ve attended. I’m probably not the only attendee who hadn’t heard of the venue before (The Trinity Laban Building) but as it turns out it this is the colourful, RIBA award winning building just outside Greenwich which was a perfect choice. It was the first sunny day of spring and the unusual step of providing lunch via outdoor street food vans turned out to be a good one!

The speakers were all excellent without exception – there was no one speaking purely with the aim of plugging their newest book, as so many conferences seem to be. And it was refreshing to hear talks about British designs, one of which (Gov.uk) has justly received the Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award.

There were so many useful snippets of information I’ve had to resist a much longer post about everything I learned and instead have tried to summarise the day around a few core areas.

1) Information not content

A minor point but it was interesting to hear the speakers refer to ‘information’ rather than ‘content’, finally breaking down the idea that information is defined by its container.

2) Data driven design / how to manage vast amounts of data

Both Julia Whitney from the BBC and Ben Terrett from the Government Digital Service (GDS) gave case studies on projects involving vast amounts of content across multiple platforms. The BBC Olympics project dealt featured 2500 hours of live coverage across 24 HD streams on mobile, tablet, desktop and TV. The Gov.uk website dealt with an existing repository of information, amalgamating over 2000 government websites into just one.

It was impressive to see the importance of certain methods on projects of this scale and the rigour with which they were applied. Here are some of the methods that both Julia and Ben referred to:

– Use design principles to guide the team:

The BBC design team’s was ‘never miss a moment’ whereas the GDS have well publicised design guidelines publicly available here: https://www.gov.uk/designprinciples

– Avoid fragmentation and create consistency

Establishing design patterns and visual language early on and ensuring consistent interactions across devices was essential for creating an experience that feels familiar.

– Understand context of use / design for how people actually use your product, not how you imagined

Tailor the experience on each device – for example, the BBC team prioritised text based commentary on mobile devices to enable users to catch up discretely in work throughout the day. The BBC are now using the viewing figures from each time of day to influence the design of their Rio coverage. Earlier in the day, Tom Hulme had talked about ‘desire paths’ using urban design as examples of how people will use products or spaces in the way that suits their needs, which isn’t necessarily as intended. Review data, create human stories and be willing to adapt your designs based on what people actually do.

– Only design what you need

The BBC introduced extra features and content as a result of user testing (the Sports Guides for example). Part of the GDS role was to remove information that wasn’t suitable –  they kept information that would only appear on the Gov.uk site and retired information that was readily available elsewhere.

3) Working collaboratively and efficiently

Lean methodology is rapidly becoming the norm for projects of all sizes, and Jeff Gothelf summarised the approach well in his talk. The basic principle is don’t invest too much in something that isn’t proven – he suggested ditching the term ‘requirements’ and replacing it with ‘hypotheses’. This means that each feature can be questioned and validated – only design it if you have a valid purpose, audience and testable outcome. Ben Terret was also a strong advocate of lean methodology – the Gov.uk team work collaboratively, going straight from scamps to browser with minimal use of Photoshop or wireframes.

4) What you can do with data / the internet of things.

This theme was centred around ‘connected things’ – how data we have available can be integrating with physical devices. Both Chris Heathcote’s talk and Claire Rowland’s workshop later in the day covered this exciting topic. Some useful starting points for designing with physical objects came out of the day:

– Think about where the data goes

– Use single serve objects not gizmos – This is something I’ve also heard Bill Buxton advocate at UX-Lx last year.

– Make use of ‘schelling points’ – Where things naturally live and aggregate (again, this is reminiscent of the desire paths mentioned by Tom) e.g. the bedside table, the place for the keys, the phone in the hall.

– Radiators over reflectors – Think about how data makes itself known. Kindles are better for the home because they don’t glow and demand attention like the iPad. Everythinig’s too excited.

– Consider cultural etiquette – Google glasses break cultural etiquette.

– Do it yourself – This topic still in the realm of the innovators; those trying to find meaning and purposes for the technology we have. It’s ok for it to be highly personalised – Chris had created a Kindle app displaying everything he needed to know in the morning on his bedside table – the weather, travel info, his calendar for the day.

– Bears, bats and bees – Think about what input and output devices there are and how they can work together. Input and output devices can be thought about as bears (devices capable of many tasks, like computers); bats (single task devices like Withings scales); and bees (large numbers of tiny sensors that act as the inputs). Use personas and scenarios to help imagine how they can come together to meet users needs.

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