I attended UX Bristol on Friday. I know that strictly speaking I don’t work in user experience, but I keep noticing what they are doing and I wanted to know more.
One of the broader themes of the conference was how UX is branching out to become way more than just wire-framing websites. The flip side of this, and perhaps further evidence that this is true, is that people like me start peaking in, to learn how we can apply UX ideas and methods to our work.
My interest and awareness of UX has grown from learning about design thinking. I wanted to see what else I could find that would help me back at work and I was not disappointed. I was also curious to see what it’s like being a novice again in the conference environment and to see how different sectors approach running a conference.
Maybe I’m exaggerating (I am prone to that) but I think this was the best conference experience I’ve ever had. When I go to conferences in the Learning & Development sector, the most memorable bits come from networking, but in reality that means meeting up with old friends, more than making new ones. So what was different about UX Bristol?
Firstly it’s not for profit. They do have sponsors, but they aren’t in your face. The money they make off the back of the event is used to fund Bristol Usability Group meet-ups throughout the year. That creates a slightly different atmosphere, that and the fact that half the audience were in shorts and t-shirts.
The main difference was the format of the event. It focused on workshops, proper ones too, where we actually did stuff. We had a brief intro from the organisers (no keynote speakers) then straight into the first of three one hour workshops.
I went for “Research Techniques – Getting out of the Building” with John Waterworth. I don’t need to recap it for you because all of the slides were up on Slideshare before the session, which ought to be the norm for conferences really.
A few of the things that stood out to me were:
- research in pairs
- look for contradictions between what people say they want or like and what they do
- the power of observation – ask them to show you how they do it
- active listening
- softening and re-phrasing the 5 why’s to make them less aggressive
- leaving silence at the end of responses to encourage interviewees to open up more
It was a good reminder of the value of getting out there and talking to your users, something that was highlighted recently with the Towards Maturity learner audits that Craig Taylor has championed. The challenge for the workshop was to plan and carry out an interview with someone on our table on any subject we liked.
In my interview I set out to try to answer the question “why do people prefer to go on traditional classroom based courses rather than independent self directed learning?” The responses gave me some ideas about how I might need to fine tune the Love Learning approach. But my main take away from this session is to try running informal interviews at lunchtime in our staff restaurants to find out more about what people think about learning.
The second session I attended, run by Sonja and Sharon from Valuable Content, was “Think Like a Content Strategist”. They even brought along an artist, Lizzie Everard, who produced a live graphic of the session which you can see below. I’ve said before that Love Learning is a content marketing approach to learning, so I knew this session would be useful. It was better than that though, each table was tasked with creating a content strategy for a real business in Bristol. The founders of Bristol’s new cycling community cafe, Roll for the Soul, were there in person to explain their concept and the challenge they faced in engaging the highly fragmented cycling market in Bristol.
Each table was given a persona from real interviews and we had to brainstorm different types of content to try to appeal to them. This was all nicely structured and led to lots of good discussion and creation on the table. The fact that it might actually be of some real world use gave the session credibility and meaning beyond the average case study. Here’s a storify of the visual outputs.
Live sketches by @lizzieeverard during the Valuable Content session at #UXBristol 2013
They also talked about the value of persuading internal experts to find their blogging voice. This helps provide authentic sustainable content to feed the “content generation monster”. Some of their clients even have a “no blog, no bonus” rule – can’t wait to suggest that one on Monday morning! I’m looking forward to reading more in their e-book. I plan to use the ideas from this session to work on tailoring content for the different personas I expect to find in the interviews I mentioned earlier. This should lead to the Love Learning campaign becoming more sophisticated.
The third and final workshop I attended was “Getting UX Stuff Done” with Sophie Dennis. The premise here was that when time/cost become an issue, reduce the scope not the quality.
In this workshop we had to make decisions about what features to include when creating a fictional local news site. Each person on the table had a feature; personalisation, platform, design, commenting, categories etc. Each feature had four levels of sophistication, which increased in cost accordingly. We had to plot our feature on a graph using the Kano model. It’s a method for figuring out which features people care about, which features will delight them and which missing features will disappoint them. I need to read up more about this here are some of the links that were shared. It’s very practical tool, one that I suspect most learning management system providers have never heard of. This slideshare isn’t from the session but it explains the Kano model nicely.
This was also the first session I hear the term “Peak-End-Rule” after this session it cropped up at least three more times before the end of the day, so there must be something in it! Basically it states that we remember the best bit, the worst bit and the last bit of any experience more strongly than the rest of it. The example given was that at Disneyland, most people spend a lot of time waiting around queuing for rides, but they don’t remember that bit afterwards only the excitement of the rides and probably how expensive the food was, they also keep the gift shop open until the last person has left the park so nobody is ever disappointed before they leave.
Below is a TED talk by Daniel Kahneman, who is credited with coming up with the theory, which goes into more detail.
I need to read up on both these ideas some more before I apply them, but I can see them being useful in some projects.
Further reading on the Kano model:
After the workshops they reconfigured the rooms because the remainder of the day was made up of short 15 minute and finally 5 minute talks. I really enjoyed the talk from Oli Shaw on using Probes and Trojan Mice. This was about different ways to define and frame the problem, to make sure you are tackling the right problem and, if you are working in a team, the same problem.
One really good idea was to get everyone in the design team to write a mission statement right at the start about what the group was trying to achieve. Ask them to read out their mission statements so they can hear what the rest of the team are thinking, then re write them as shorter elevator pitches and read them out again before finally re-writing them as tweets.
The idea being that people start to converge on the same most important aspects of the problem before they start work on it. I’d like to try this out for a design workshop we’re doing on orientation for new starters. Another useful idea from Oli’s session was probing discussions to boost creativity – if no one is coming up with ideas you suggest something really awful to stimulate some e.g. the group can’t agree on where to go for lunch so you suggest McDonalds and they soon come up with something better. This idea was similar to the theme of the final lightning talk called “how to give the worst lightning talk ever”. In this talk they even used this technique for recruiting their PA!
I haven’t even mentioned Hello Lampost, or the cider and cream teas mid way through the afternoon which were all awesome!
So I think I got a lot out of this conference, more than most learning focused conferences. I probably spoke to less people than the average L&D event, but I still met some very interesting people and had some great conversations. Seeing the conference experience through the eyes of a newbie is really useful and reinforced my belief that conference organisers must do more to help connect people. You shouldn’t force everyone to interact, but you should create novel ways to make it easier for people who want to be sociable, but who may be a little bit shy.
The final insight came from one of the conversations I had and it was around the sustainability of conferences. The carbon footprint of the average conference is pretty big, no one talks about it, but you’re encouraging hundreds of people to travel further that normal and creating a lot of waste. Pulling together so many people and not capitalising on their collective skills and intelligence is immensely wasteful. Conferences should be about interaction not lecture.