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

Founding principles

Quite a number of Monday evenings this year were spent working alongside Big Motive as a design coach on the Catalyst Co-Founders programme.

For those with even an inkling of a product idea, Co-Founders offers invaluable early validation (or otherwise), outcomes can be entry on to fully-fledged incubation programmes, a pivot on the original idea, or abandonment. The latter outcome can still be termed a ’successful’ outcome. Some folks who could have poured months or years of their lives into something that simply had no inherent value learn the harsh truth much earlier than they otherwise would.

Based firmly around the d.School design thinking model, and led by Big Motive, Co-Founders takes small teams through a process which forces them to examine the essence of a product idea. Using tried-and-tested tools a set of tools, they deconstruct the problem they are trying to solve, then reconstruct their solution with greater clarity and objectivity. It may have its critics (and let’s be clear that all successful frameworks and processes do) but design thinking, when fully committed to by stakeholders and teams, the process simply delivers.

I’ve been amazed at the resilience and inventiveness of the individuals and teams. Participants tend to be full-time professionals, with an idea they just can’t let go of. It may or may not be related to their day jobs; but in each case they want to find out if their idea can play out in practice the way they have developed it in their heads. Watching teams go from being at a loss to what they can possibly do next, to becoming resourceful and forceful in progressing their product idea is so rewarding.

I’m not overly familiar with Yogi Bhajan, but my word is he a great source of quotes:

“If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.”

I have lectured and coached increasingly over the last five years, and I’ll vouch for this. In many cases, I’ll agree to these engagements because – selfishly – I know how much I will get out of it personally. I’ve been integrating design thinking techniques into client work, and more recently in Puppet, for the last decade. But teaching it, and seeing the enlightenment it brings, continues to inspire me.

Looking back at the year of 2018, I’m filled with a lot of gratitude for all kinds of experiences. Yogi Bhajan has my back again:

“An attitude of gratitude brings great things.”

I attempt to surface this very feeling in all that I do, again for selfish reasons. Gratitude is, I believe, the most sustaining and affirming feeling available to us. We can encourage it and cultivate it. Working with Big Motive is a pleasure and I’m thankful to them for inviting me in as one of the coaches.

Running the UX Belfast meetup has provided me with a number of transformative encounters during the year, not least with attendees who come from all manner of organisations and businesses. Book authors we have spoken with have been utterly fantastic in terms of the amount of time they have been prepared to lend to offer to a small group of designers perhaps halfway around the world. The insights and knowledge they have been prepared to share with us has been similarly impressive.

Most recently, Jorge Arango was particularly inspiring while talking about his book ‘Living in Information’. He has since become another key individual I follow and look up to as I continue to develop as a designer and a professional. I heartily commend his newsletter and blog for its sheer quality of content. And of course the book itself. In keeping with the original topic of this post, here’s a piece from Jorge in November 2018 where he puts forward a model for teaching (and learning).

I’ll cut this short of a comprehensive 2018 retrospective. Suffice to say it was another year in which I was conscious of growing and developing. Thank you to everyone who offered me inspiration in the last twelve months, whether in person, in writing or on video. The experiences of 2018 have given me ideas and new inspiration for 2019. You can’t ask for more from a professional year.

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.

Voice interface is still overpromising and underdelivering

Cortana speakerAround 15 years ago Flash technology was in the ascendancy. One of the odd conventions to emerge at the time was the ‘Flash intro’. Very often, to build your anticipation for the website awaiting you, you would be entertained with what was essentially an opening title sequence. And if you were really unlucky, on the other side of it was a website fully rendered in Flash.

What you wanted was content; what you got was an extended journey through a designer’s ego trip (and yes I should know, I was one of those designers). The basic premise of a Flash-built website was that tricking out the interface would make for a better user experience. That assumption turned out to be wrong.

With Siri, Alexa et al entering our lives, our interfaces now have personalities. If a digital misunderstands our requests we are likely to learn about it through a witty quip. TV ads featuring virtual assistants often make a particular show of droll one-liners emanating from the device.

But as Neilsen Norman Group research shows, voice interfaces are falling far short of user expectations. It seems that priorities need to be reassessed.

A little less conversation

As part of a project last year I began designing for command line interface. With no previous experience, a terminal window or console can be a daunting place. Initially I was puzzled why user prompts and feedback in this world were so clinical and abrupt. Why would command line users not want to be addressed in a more human fashion? The answer lies in task efficiency.

Command line interface evolved from single-line dialogue between two human teleprinter operators. Over time, one end of the human-human dialogue became a computer, and the conventions remained. These interfaces provide users a more efficient method of performing tasks. In short, command line users are just like the rest of us: that is, trying to perform a lot of tasks in as short a time as possible, without surplus dialogue or clutter getting in the way.

This method of working is totally in keeping with our tendency towards ever more concise communication. Email is on the wane due to the long, unwieldy threads it encourages. The rise of chat apps such as Slack is due in large part to the tendency towards more concise messages. We’re making less mobile calls, opting instead for text messages using abbreviations, acronyms and emojis.

Many rivers to cross

As designers we are not always trying to mimic a conversation. We are creating an exchange which delivers for the user as efficiently as possible. To re-cast all human-computer interactions as conversations is to misunderstand our relationship with machines and devices.

The obstacles to success with voice UI are many. Users need to think more than once about the commands they give. They are required to speak in a manner that often isn’t natural for them. Even relatively simple queries may need to be broken down into smaller questions before reaching anything like the right answers.

When barriers are placed between a user and the outcomes they want the end result is predictable: they will simply opt out. A report from The Information suggests that only 2% of Alexa speakers have been used to make a purchase from Amazon in 2018. Additionally, 90% of the people who try to make a purchase through Alexa don’t try again.

We are still some distance away from the dream that voice UI promised. Perhaps this is voice’s Flash period, where the user needs to work hard to access the content they want. And I’m willing to bet that most frustrated users would be willing to trade every ounce of their virtual assistant’s sassy responses for just a little more efficiency.

The fact is that voice UI is still pretty hard work, no matter how hard Siri or Alexa try to entertain us.

UX Scotland 2018

One of the UK’s premier UX conferences once again delivered the goods in 2018, with an impressive roster of speakers and talks. As ever with conferences put together by the team at Software Acumen, the scope and remit of the schedule pushed the boundaries of the subject matter over three days.

I was reprising my role as a speaker, with a session outlining some of my work at Puppet on day one of the conference. From then on, I was able to relax and take in some fantastic education and information from the assorted collection of practitioners.

Highlights were difficult to pinpont, and in many ways it seems unfair to do so. That said, with up to 3 concurrent tracks, the number of talks to take in was limited, so here’s what I managed.

Soren Engelbrecht
How to create a user-centered ‘digital ecosystem’ across devices

Adrian Howard
The User Experience of Management

Gregg Bernstein
Be more certain: a practical approach to research practice

Llara Geddes
Leveraging customer service expertise to improve UX
(no slides available)

Jessica Cameron
Statistics for UX professionals

Honorable mention: Chris Taylor
We need to talk about data

So those were my talk highlights. Delightfully, my talk managed to make others’ shortlist of highlights, and I’m going to blow my own trumpet here and link to them.

Gavin Anderson of the Univeristy of Edinburgh offered summary of my talk was extremely gratifying, in that he picked out some points and themes that I hadn’t even planned in the talk. Thank you, Gavin. https://website-programme-blog.is.ed.ac.uk/ux-scotland-2018-write-up/

I also managed to sneak into Cole AD‘s shortlist of highlights http://cole-ad.co.uk/ux-scotland-conference/

Something else I was happy to be able to do this year was set up a series of shared Google docs to crowdsources notes. While the uptake on these was low (very low…), I was happy to do it, having benefitted from Vicky Teinaki‘s initiative in 2016. Fwiw my notes are available from here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1kMuFdzOO0FJErEIz6n-DcdlKPS7cM-fp55MKg89M5hw/edit?usp=sharing

I’ll be back at the conference. Certainly as a participant, and if I’m fortunate, as a contributor. The lineup never fails to deliver practical insights and ‘a-ha’ moments. Kudos to Software Acumen for another quality year.