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UX LIVE 2021: A series of high level learnings

6th December 2021

Last week, I had the chance to attend the UX LIVE conference organised by Tech Circus in London.

It’s been great to finally feel the energy of a live event and connect with peers face-to-face. As always, many interesting and inspiring reflections were shared. Here are my own take-home insights (disclaimer: not a summary) from each talk

1. UXers are amazing people and deserve support by Dr Nick Fine, Senior User Researcher at Crown Commercial Service.

Focusing on the user's needs is important but what about designers’ needs? UX practitioners spend their life advocating for users’ needs, but they, as individuals and a community, have needs too. Needs that need to be discovered and addressed. 

2. COVID is revolutionising the way we do UX research by Josh Lomar, CEO of Amplinate

The majority of UX research is now undertaken remotely. This limits our understanding of the context of our interviewees and, although we do catch glimpses from the background video of a Zoom call e.g. children running around, there is so much that gets missed out of the physical environment in which users interact with the product.

3. Democratise research to raise quality by Ruth D'Arey-Daniel, Course designer & Instructor at UserZoom

Fast-paced environments and inadequately trained researchers make room for biased results and self-fulfilling solution-isms. The antidote is to favour small but thorough and manageable research activities to avoid these outcomes. Also, involve clients in the planning of research activities, to democratise the process whilst educating and mentoring them to appreciate best practice. See The Pygmalion effect.

4. Executing UX strategy for success by Kate Mellor, Lead Designer at Sainsbury's

Working within a client's product development processes often happens in isolation/without a view of the bigger picture. This may lead to pushing solutions that are not commercially or strategically viable or that go against the interests of stakeholders from opposing sides of businesses. Do not shy away from company politics and engage stakeholders to understand what they are being measured on. Reach out to different teams to capture the whole horizon of "views" or "groups" of customers for a more complete picture of the customer you're designing for. Get involved in other meetings to better understand the company at large and to be able to devise a viable value proposition. See talk The End of Navel Gazing by Paul Adams.

5. Think before you build by Marks Hohl, Head of Service Design at J. P. Morgan

One cycle of the double diamond is enough to demonstrate to new-to-design clients what design can do, get their buy-in and build momentum for follow-up work. But more importantly than producing shiny tangible artefacts, focus on building consensus and understanding through participatory design, involving all key stakeholders throughout the process. In fact, do not start the project unless that can happen. And include some training about Design Thinking too with practical exercises and interesting topics. This will engage your stakeholders as they learn about the value of the “designerly” way of tackling problems.

6. Empowering a culture of collaboration through user journey maps by Hannaan Bhatti, Product Designer at Moonpig

User journey maps build common understanding and engagement amongst those crafting them. Always make sure you have a goal before starting, clarifying who will inform and for what reason.

7. UX writing is a new and much needed role by Matt McCrory, UX Writer at Facebook

UX writing allows you to write less and convey more. It's a critical device that helps to solve pain points and reduce, for example, the number of customers needing to seek support. Strategic Writing for UX – Torrey Podmajersky is the Bible.

8. Metrics can improve your life at work heads Jane Austin, CEO at Digitas

Metrics are mostly connected to money in the business world, but they can be used for all sorts of things, such as identifying and prioritising killer features, predicting future trends, tracking your team happiness over time, and spotting areas of improvement.

9. Influence change by understanding and acting on who you want to be by Kim Tang, Product Designer at ASOS

Self-reflection is vital for personal growth. Set yearly reviews to understand who you are and where you want to be. Visualise your goals to motivate you and find moments to reflect on your own behaviours' - both good and bad. Use The Personal Canvas.

10. Learn to use metaphors by Ben Sauer

Metaphors/analogies are not merely the way we express; they are how we think. We often devise wrong solutions because we choose inappropriate metaphors/analogies in the first instance. Spend time to find the best ways to explain concepts, avoiding "lazy metaphors" (e.g. "the new Uber"), or "old metaphors" for things that require new paradigms e.g. “replicating a physical conference virtually”. Read Product Land, Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Obviously Awesome by April Dunford. Train with Ultraspeaking Analogies Rapid Fire. Use The metaphor cheat sheet.

11. Empathising with the other is key to maximise our outcome by Trenton Moss, Founder of Sterka

When engaged in any communications such as meetings: 

  • Consider in what way your behaviour may impact others negatively e.g. interrupting 
  • Assume the best intentions behind the other person’s bad behaviour e.g. they’re going through a breakup, to enable you to empathise with them.
  • Understand each other’s objectives and find the “sweet spot” between these for a win-win outcome. See The Thomas Kilmann Model (TKI) - Conflict & Challenge.

12. Set ongoing research to feel the pulse of the people by Mike Brown, Head of Design at Reed

Weekly rounds of user research are possible. You just need to reduce the scope, e.g. do one day of research with one designer, one researcher and five users. By doing so, you can quickly test hypotheses and maintain an ongoing "touch" with your users to help product development to stay "on track" with user needs.

13. UX designers and product owners are two complementary roles by Eden Lazaness, Online Customer Experience Director at Cambridge University Press

UX Designers and Product owners do not need to hate each other as they are two complementary roles. The former are idealists; they gravitate closer to the user and, therefore, truly understand them. The latter talk to customers only indirectly but are more realistic and create the roadmap and briefs. You need both to deliver value and quality experiences.

14. Take time to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses to learn how to invest in your future and that of your design team by Jason Mesut, Founder at Resonant

It's OK to be open about our ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, against the "toxic positivity" culture we enforce at work. Take some time to reflect on who you really are, what makes you feel better, and what skills you want to learn to progress your career. Visual tools available at https://medium.com/shapingdesign and UX Spectrum. Read Why UX, UI, CX, IA, IxD, and Other Sorts of Design Are Dumb

15. Craftscaling by the master: Tim Caynes, Experience Design Director here/Foolproof (furniture)

Our design studio is like Trainspotting, but with sun. No but really you need DesignOps and great leaders if you want to keep up with rapid studio growth and make good things happen.

16. Inspiring is more important than upskilling by Sandra Gonzalez, Founder and Director of UX for Change

It isn't teaching to code that's needed to youngsters, but to inspire them to become digital makers. Also create balanced teams of juniors and seniors to mix fresh thinking with a clear vision.

17. Break down the divide between client and consultant by Daria Lanz, Principal Experience Consultant at Inviqa

When you see clients as stakeholders, you want to impress them, whereas it's easier and healthier to work as if we are permanent members of their team. This entails being vulnerable and transparent about "the mess in the backstage" and setting boundaries (no-meeting zones, response and preparation times, agency days, etc.) - without making room for exceptions. Also, establish the bigger picture and understand your role and that of others within it to make things happen - be sympathetic to the organisation's capabilities and learn to deliver within the space of what's realistically achievable for them.

18. Beyond demographics by Renato Verdugo, User Experience Researcher at Youtube’s Culture Lab

Diversity and inclusion are achieved not simply by involving marginalised groups for feedback but by co-developing products throughout all development phases - from conceptualisation to launch. Pillars, principles and actions help guide the research in theoretical, ethical and practical terms to ensure best practices for all teams. Do not simply synthesise results as bullet points, but instead celebrate your users and humanise the insights they shared with you.

19. Good ethics is everyone's effort by Edyta Jawirek, Product and Strategic Designer at Ethical Design Advocate

It's good to have a champion for “ethics” but really we should all take responsibility to bring ethics into our work. For example, by creating meaningful moments of friction, e.g., only allowing debit cards in a gambling website or blocking the ability to exceed the monthly limit set. Watch The Social Dilemma. Read The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff, Ruined by Design by Mike Monteiro and Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles

20. Ecosystem design by Yolanda Martin, Director of Platform Ecosystem Design at Kaluza

As products evolve in complexity, we need to start thinking about the bigger picture of the ecosystem or platform in which our company operates. Tools at Platform Design Toolkit

That’s all folks - and I’ve only scratched the surface of each talk! Very inspiring couple of days, great work from Luke Reed, Isobel Crawford, and the rest of Tech Circus’ team as well as all the volunteers who put together another great #uxlive conference.

See you at the next one!

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