Written by Jotham Oakley
Jun 02, 2015

UX London

We sent our UX Chief Jotham along to the second day of this year’s UX London.

Wiser by the minute

It was great to be at UX London last week, I can honestly say it was a seriously impressive event! Jam packed with brilliant talks and workshops, from a very high standard of speakers. I felt as if I was getting wiser by the minute! 

Here’s a few lessons that I learned:

1. Great design is cultivated by great organisational culture

A consistent theme throughout the day was the importance of a company-wide user-centred ethos. It can't just be the design team that values the user’s experience of the product you’re building. The entire organisation needs a culture that values the quality of the user experience. 

As a UX designer, I think we do this at Brightec really well. Whether it's the management team or the development team, there’s an atmosphere in the office that wants to put the end user first. This is really important, if you want to achieve any kind of meaningful quality in your products. 

The ultimate analogy of this concept came in a brilliant talk from Kim Goodwin, a well respected UX designer, currently working with PatientsLikeMe. 

She explained that all Disneyland employees, regardless of their job role, are called ‘cast members’. All of them wear a costume whether they are the Mickey Mouse mascot, the guy who serves coffee, or the guy who sweeps the streets. All of them are a ‘part of the show’. The whole team is responsible for the user’s experience of that park. 

Whilst it may not be as immediately visible as the ‘cast members’ in the Disneyland analogy, the whole team in an App Design agency is equally responsible for the quality of the product that the user receives when they download the app from the store.

All of this flows nicely into something that Stephen Anderson said in the opening talk of the day:“Quality is a bar that we all set, it is not a feature to be tracked on JIRA”.

He was alluding to the the dangers of simply having quality as an expendable item on a checklist. It must go deeper than that, it must be set and maintained by the whole organisation. 

"the entire organisation needs a culture that values the quality of the user experience"

2. Humans need rules

One of the more practical themes of the day, was based around how to ensure excellent project critiques.

At some point, everyone has been in a situation where the design you’ve been working on is being ‘critiqued’ by a client or a colleague. The comments focus on a tiny, relatively insignificant detail in the corner of the wireframe, whilst ignoring or completely forgetting to talk about the gaping hole in the app’s core UX. 

It seems we humans are easily distracted by anything that looks vaguely pretty, at the expense of nearly everything else. We need guidelines and frameworks to work within. 

Project goals need to be determined at the outset and meeting agendas need to be defined before we get stuck in a conversation we don’t need to be in. 

The fly can stay on the wall, it’s harmless, but the elephant in the room is becoming increasingly extinct and you need to address the issue before moving on to the smaller details. 

3. Subjective views need to go through objective filters

We need to learn that at the end of the day, our personal preference is not that important. 

What does matter is the end user. Does your design decision benefit them? Maybe you don’t like the colour red, but you’ve been given the job of creating an app for Man Utd fans, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to get over it. 

When it comes to the crunch, the user is always the most important factor in your design decision. The client’s opinion is of course important (and hopefully they know their target audience), but everyone has personal preferences and we need to learn to keep them to ourselves, unless they line up with what’s best for the user. 

This is an important concept to practice when you’re in a group setting, and lots of people are giving their differing opinions. We need to learn to be less defensive over our own ideas, in favour of the bigger, more objective picture. It’s okay for someone else to come up with the winning idea. It's not about the person who came up with it, it's about the idea that now exists as a result of that conversation. 

This is something I’ve learnt to exercise across other creative fields. I do a lot of songwriting with a lot of different people. One principal I always try to put down right from the word ‘go’ is that ‘the song always wins’. 

If that means you go a whole writing session without your ideas getting used, but the song is better as a result, then that’s good. It doesn’t matter if the other guy came up with all the killer melodies or lyrics, because you’re focused on the song, not on yourself. 

It’s a humbling concept to practice. However, not only does it almost always means that the creative outcome is better, but it also means everyone involved is able to work better together.

"at the end of the day, our personal preference is not that important"

4. Research, Research, Research

One of the most fascinating talks of the day came from Cecilia Weckstrom, the head of LEGO.com. 

She gave an incredibly in depth explanation of the research process at the LEGO group, including several very tangible examples of how their research had let to a design change. 

When developing LEGO.com, the team at LEGO wanted to ensure that their design decisions were in line with the behaviour and expectation of their target audience. They showed various elements of the design to focus groups and gained invaluable information about their user. Comments made by the children and the parents in those sessions changed (or at least affected) the details of the design at almost every level.

From the iconography, to the language used in the section titles; LEGO.com has evolved to best suit those who use it. 

First hand knowledge of the target audience is invaluable, and infinitely trumps our preconceptions about them. 

5. The wider UX community is epic

I could have written up tonnes more but in the interest of keeping this relatively succinct, I finish with this:

On a less applicable note, I was once again blown away by the community at the event. The number of people at the event who had travelled from all over Europe and even America was staggering, and everyone was happy to chat and mill about over a coffee or a burger. 

You can’t really put a price on the inspiration that you receive just by being in such a large crowd of like-minded people, all striving for excellence in your shared field. 

I will be going next year, no question.