UX Belfast 2019 is go

UX Belfast 2019 got off to a tremendous start with two prominent practitioners of human-centred design.

Kate O’Neill, author of Tech Humanist, joined us from New York, taking questions from the Belfast audience and expanding on the ideas put forward in her book.

Rebecca Walsh CEng gave us valuable insights on the discipline of service design, and the work that she and Big Motive are involved with.

Both guests highlighted how UX and CX are only subsets of the larger concern of human-centred design. As Kate has put it: “a dignified, respectful relationship with all the human stakeholders in the economy goes a long way toward creating a sustainable, successful future for us all”.

On a personal note, it’s been gratifying to watch UX Belfast grow from its bookclub roots into a regular fixture in the Belfast design calendar. Much more challenging and stimulating content is planned throughout for 2019. Sign up for updates at uxbelfast.org

Thanks to all who came along, to Kate and Rebecca, and to Puppet Belfast once again for their hospitality in such an ideal venue.

The selected charity this time was Code Your Future. Learn more and donate at codeyourfuture.io

Top 5 books 2018

A little late maybe, a handful of books I took a lot of enjoyment from during last year. This is a general list, rather than strictly professional but I’ll make no apology for that 🙂

Technically Wrong

Sara Wachter-Boettcher

One of two books on my list which are selections from the UX Belfast meetup. Technically Wrong is a catalogue of technology failures, highlighting where ethics and basic human standards are often absent from the tools and services we create. While publication preceded the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story, Facebook is firmly in the book’s sights, along with many other luminaries in the world of social media. This is a short but alarming read, and one I would suggest as essential for anyone working in technology today.

Humble Consulting

Edgar H. Schein

A relevant read for any number of professions and disciplines. The author emphesises the need of asking basic, fundamental questions about purpose and – most importantly – creating a culture where this is welcomed. Schein presents humility as a strength in approaching complex challenges, and as something which nurtures the kind of collaborative relationships required to achieve breakthroughs and desired outcomes. Lots of case studies are offered from a distinguished 40+ year career consulting with organizations large and small, by a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Living in Information

Jorge Arango

Another selection for UX Belfast. Jorge Arango is a qualified architect who made the move into Information Architecture. He presents a thoughtful but powerful call to action for technologists to make better choices about the ‘places’ we create with online services and tools. Drawing parallels with physical spaces, Jorge urges us to build sustainable, nurturing places which are capable of benefitting society as a whole. The book is one of a number published this year that attempt to stimulate debate around ethics in technology, and how those ethics work their way into our creations.

The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst

Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall

In a nutshell, the true story of a man slowly going mad while attempting to fake a solo circumnavigation of the globe. Crowhurst was a fantasist who managed to get enough to buy into his self-delusion to the point where he couldn’t turn back – literally and figuratively. The book documents Crowhurst’s journey from keeping accurate logs, to faking position and logs, and ultimately into hopeless rambling as the pressure of maintaining a lie to the world overwhelmed him. Both tragic and riveting.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

Paul Tremblay

First point: this book has a terrible, pulpy title which belies the subtleties of the storytelling. Paul Tremblay has a distinctive skill of being able to suggest weird and unsettling events, without describing them in detail. What actually occurs is open to the reader’s interpretation. But what we are left with is a compelling drama of a family trying to deal with tragic, highly unnatural (and possibly supernatural) events. Genuinely haunting.


That’s a cross-section of everything I got through during 2018, tempting though it would be to focus on professionally-related books only. As a compulsive book-buyer, I was forced to begin recording all of the books that were in the waiting list. Prompted by this, for a couple of years I’ve been tracking my reading on Trello. That system is worth a full separate post!

UX Belfast, October 2018

October’s UX Belfast saw the mesmerising Jorge Arango take questions and talk us through his new book ‘Living in Information’ – a compelling mix of practical advice and thoughtful reflection on the responsibility of designers to create what Jorge terms ‘generative’ online environments.

To thank Jorge for his time, the meetup made a donation to his selected charity, The Long Now Foundation. For more information visit http://longnow.org

Puppet Belfast once again provided food and drink in what was our largest meetup to date.

Plans are afoot to evolve UX Belfast to better serve and represent the UX community in Belfast, offering talks and insights into the work of local professionals while keeping one eye firmly on books, learning, and professional development.

UX Belfast meetup, May 2018

The Belfast UX bookclub meetups continue, and 30 May gathering had author Sara Wachter-Boettcher taking questions and providing insights on ’Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech’.

Images from UX Belfast meetup, May 2018
Images from UX Belfast meetup, May 2018

This marked the twentieth UX Belfast meetup I’ve organised and, significantly, the best attended. A partnership with Women in Tech Belfast for the evening contributed hugely to that milestone. That said, interest in the group is rising rapidly, with over 220 members on the Meetup.com page at time of writing.

Sara’s book made Fast Company’s Top 10 Business & Leadership books of 2017, and Wired’s Top Tech books of 2017. Although a relatively short read, Sara has managed to gather a shocking number of case studies and examples where technology might be successfully delivering ‘engagement’ with users but letting humans, even society, down in the process.

Further information on the book, as well as Sara’s work as an independent content and UX consultant, can be found at her website http://www.sarawb.com.

Huge thanks to partners for the evening, Women in Tech BFS. Thanks also to PuppetBelfast for providing the great venue and refreshments, Slice app for the copious amounts of pizza and to WW Norton UK for discounts and copies of the book to give away.

To thank Sara for her time, a donation has been made to local charity, WomensTec. For more information visit http://www.womenstec.org

UX Bookclub Belfast, Feb 2018

This time round we had Donna Lichaw (@dlichaw) talking about her book The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products that People Love.

Donna has a background in screenwriting, and carried over the idea of mapping out story from the world of film as she transitioned into products. In the book we’re offered examples from film & TV (Back to the Future and Breaking Bad fwiw), then examples of how that transposes to design.

The storymapping model ©2018 Donna Lichaw

The storymap always follows this pattern (above), the challenge is then to populate the story with the most critical elements of the user experience. N.B. Although Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ is referenced, that isn’t the central model or focus of the book.

Examples of effective application of the technique included Donna’s own experience with FitCounter, where rate of retention during onboarding doubled, despite extending signup from 5 to 15 steps! Another example given is the signup experience of Twitter during it’s major growth period.

During Q&A Donna suggested storymapping was another tool that could work alongside more traditional methods; in practice I anticipate it will take significant buy-in from an early stage, right across the team. Potentially it might impinge or negate completely many accepted UX practices. For instance, some terms that Donna makes use of might be a formula for ambiguity in the UX vs agile conundrum, not least the definition of “stories” itself.

That said, Donna didn’t get caught up in semantics; the book is simply advocating for increased shared understanding, using story – in a holistic sense – as the agent to establish clarity for project goals. It’s a relatively short read, and makes a compelling case for storymapping to bring something fresh to product discussions. It’s but a short step away from experience mapping and traditional user stories; a consolidation of disparate elements under the banner of story.

If you have time, this is an excellent video of Donna’s presentation at Mind The Product in London, 2016.

Check the resources Donna has provided on her website.

Donna Lichaw appears at UX Bookclub Belfast

A quick history of UX Bookclub Belfast: started around 10 years ago and hosted by an agency named Front. They were acquired by Monotype in 2012 at which point myself and few others took up as organizers, until early 2016 when it ran out of suitable venues… and interest. FF to late 2017 and we held the first rebooted bookclub (now with added Meetup.com!)