Conf Recap: UX Australia 2013

This year I was fortunate enough to be invited back to present again (yay!) at this very well-executed regional conference for the Aussie UX community, held in Melbourne and encompassing about 500 attendees. When not rehearsing & speaking (whew!), I attended a range of short and long talks across two parallel tracks. Below are my “top of mind” highlights and notes. Enjoy!

**Note: Slides and audio recordings will be posted online in a few weeks, per the organizers’ announcement. Stay tuned!  If you are interested in my talks, here are Public Dropbox links to PDF files: 

a) Innovating gestural UX

b) Designing with executives


Mel collage 1 flat mini


Main talk highlights

Keynote: Microinteractions
Keynote by Dan Saffer, based upon his fantastic new book titled the same. While wicked problems are undeniably a big deal, so are small moments that encapsulate a rewarding (or frustrating) interaction with a product or service. Think about “signature moments” that extend your brand, and interactions that encompass triggers + rules + feedback + loops/modes. A nice cheat sheet of principles here.

Doing Co-Design
– Involving stakeholders early in the design discovery process is valuable for pragmatic & political reasons
– Also increases probability of innovation with fresh outside perspectives
– Variety of tools (via Liz Sanders) to help sensitize (enable self-reflection), immerse (in the topic space), and generate solutions
– Organizations must be ready to allow users to influence the direction: willing to let users define things, desire for real change, ability to resource it, commitment to follow-through 

More info here (in terms of Service Design tools):

Cultural Probes for UX Project
– Probes are package of artifacts to enable evocative tasks
– Case study of mobile workstyles analysis via Telstra telecom provider
– Trying to understand devices + contexts + tasks employed
– Probe kits involve diaries, cameras, specific sets of tasks with questions on aftermath of task
– Goal is to gather unique insights (beyond user interviews) and build visual evidence of real users/tasks

Here’s a fun flickr compilation of probes:

Behavior Design
– Using Zappos as a model (unique job “non-offer” by offering candidates big $$$ to NOT take a job)
– Create offers and decisions that evoke or capitalize on “cognitive dissonance” of action and expectations
– Consider how to incorporate this into designing products/services, enabling desired behavior

Art of Thought
– About book written by Graham Wallas in 1926
– Describes four stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, revelation, evaluation
– Just like design process, but how to compensate (or charge clients) for “incubation” phase?
– Made the point that clients are really paying for a 24/7 brain that creates value, much of it not explicit, fairly implicit (reminds me of “good design takes time” ;-)

Here’s a nice overview of the 4 stages on Brain Pickings.

Frictionless Navigation
– What does it mean to design a well-crafted navigation system?
– Some critical attributes: optimal location, clarity, proportion
– Speaker showed examples of how web or mobile navigation targets are too small, obscured, minimized, hidden (page/screen navigation controls, progressive disclosure of content & functionality)
– Consider device awareness (variable screen sizes/responsiveness)
– Also consider: rethink navigational elements in gestural world, lazy loading elements, auto-balancing of content that is intelligent per user/role/context/device

Models of Innovation
– Inspired by Dan Hill’s book “Dark Matter”
– Two basic models proposed
– 1) insight-led innovation: based upon standard UCD model of user research studies, evaluating multiple concepts, iterating on feedback, emphasis on observations (empiricist)
– 2) hypothesis-led innovation: drawn from personal frustrating/pains (a “felt difficulty”), similar to Lean models of product creation based upon assumption about generalizing personal pain to validated market (but might be totally wrong!) Lotsa questions: is the market right? is the product right? is the feature right?
– Not a value judgment as to which is better, but good to clarify the positions, arrive at criteria as to which is useful, appropriate given various conditions & outcomes

One Team, One Dream
– How do you fit various cross-disciplinary designers and engineers into a single dedicated team?
– Proposed a 3-part assessment of personalities and working styles
– Three parts are:
a) How do you process information: internally (like to absorb it all together) or externally (like to discover along the way)
b) Orientation to change: explorer (out of box thinker, challenging norms) or developer (like structure, authority, incremental changes)
c) Decision-making approach: person-centric (resolving conflicts, making folks comfortable, relationships) or task-driven (get it done, fix problems, etc.)

Cross-Cultural Gesture Study
Very fascinating look at “pointing” vs “semantic” gestures for controlling TV, comprised of 360 participants from 18 countries. Full study report is here:

New Media, Interactivity & Aesthetics
Fascinating overview of the history and cultures of creating provocative projects that embody the concepts of interaction and expression. Artists engaging with electronic devices and screens to create “something” that elicits emotive and physical reactions–before XBOX Kinect or Nike FuelBand! Everything new is actually quite old…

Someone posted a cool comprehensive sketch note here.

Product Definition via Lean UX & Design Thinking
Great overview with case studies of how Lean UX can be an effective model for generating and evaluating hypotheses, blending with “design thinking” applying rapid iterative prototyping-oriented methods, even remotely across time zones.


Other random thoughts…

The following triggered by various talks and discussions and/or questions by the audience. 

– We now have 3D-printable human prosthetics (arms, hands)–what’s next? Building your own Frankenstein Terminator? Hmm.

– About 3-5 people is the ideal team number for ensuring constructive productive sustainable collaboration. After that things break apart, or at least harder to manage.

– The UX profession has lots of “lies, shams, deceptions” and half-truths/stories we tell ourselves. Need to dig deeper for the truthiness/reality of the practice. For instance, “mobile is not a thing, it’s all just interaction design” or “social is really just a loose confederation of UI patterns”. Hmm. Dubious but interesting.

– Applying “universal design” for touch/gestural UX is important: reduce tolerance for error/mis-fires, requires low physical ergonomic effort, should be flexible across devices/screens

– The experience of a service delivery matters, not just the process of service delivery. Value is emergent and generative, co-creative in the activity.

– Re-designing a massive government website is like any web effort, has extra political stickiness. Focus on components, principles, prototypes. 

– Wearables are hot, makers are king, meetings suck, “good design” requires strong execution from engineering too.


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