UX Australia 2016!

I had the great opportunity of attending UX Australia this year (and visit Melbourne for the first time), woohoo! I thought I’d take some time to share some of what I experienced from a portion of the talks I went to.

Note: audio from the presentations at UX Australia will be posted on their site soon: http://www.uxaustralia.com.au/conferences/uxaustralia-2016

The conference was held at the Grand Hyatt in the CBD. The conference setup was overall very good (wouldn’t be right to not talk about the UX of the space right)? Some presentations that took place in the smaller presentation room were too packed to attend but there were so many good presentations to choose from it was hard to complain.

Let’s talk about coffee for a moment…

If you’re familiar with Australia, you know the country takes its coffee very seriously. For the non-Australian audience, as an example, you can get espresso at McDonald’s. Americans (like me) probably find this shocking. The conference was no different, with barista stations setup everywhere.

Baristas making coffee at UX Australia

Overall the conference had a nice mix of co-design, psychology, fieldwork and research-based talks from a pretty diverse group of people!

Opening Keynote

Denise Jacobs gave the opening Keynote and set a really nice tone for conference discussing Co-creation.

In addition to some of the interactive elements incorporated into her presentation, she talked a lot of what creativity is and how to foster it. She dismissed the myth of the lone creative and offered a constructive template for how we can be creative together that blends, not judging ideas too quickly, being a good listener and introducing elements of play (e.g. improv) to the ideation process. She also pressed that:

“Creativity is about blending different ideas and concepts to make something new.”

Diversity in the form of people is key. A lack of diversity results in a lack of diverse ideas.

Creativity requires listening and Denise took the time to remind us of some essentials in this area. Although they are basic concepts, in practice we’re in such a hurry to make our own points that we often forget.

On being a good listener

  • Over-talking results in muting other people (don’t do it!)
  • Be present, pay attention (listen to what other people are saying)
  • Relax your own agenda

She also touched on implementation vs. experimentation mindset. Any of you who create products from scratch are familiar with the diverge the converge model; same thinking here — don’t be too quick too implement. Live in the experimentation zone for awhile to learn and be in a better position to confidently implement (the expensive part).

Let’s lift each another up

Denise emphasized the importance of making everyone around you look good, which is not only a nice thing to do but creates an environment of trust; this is the only type of environment where people feel safe to share ideas and can truly innovate. She brought up the concept of “plussing” which is a form of critiquing:

Rather than randomly critique a sketch or shoot down an idea, the general rule is that you may only criticize an idea if you also add a constructive suggestion. Hence the name plussing. — Read how Pixar does it

Books Denise Recommends

Steve Portigal: Fieldwork Fundamentals

Steve Portigal gave a great research-focused talk and shared some great personal insights and stories. If you are new to user research, he made some insightful key points — good reminders if you’re skilled at this as well:

  • When writing research questions, identify what the business wants to accomplish (identify what you want to learn)
  • Ask short, open questions then shut up
  • The business question is not the research question
  • The pain point is a symptom of something, find that something (ask why)
  • Transform questions we want answers to into questions to be asked

Leisa Reichelt took some nice handwritten notes.

He also discussed “satisficing” — which is a decision-making strategy that can make your life easier as a researcher and is a term I wasn’t too familiar with.

Satisficing is a decision-making strategy or cognitive heuristic that entails searching through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met.

Louise Basset & Jessica Enders: The UX no one wants to have

Louise Bassett of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre and Jessica Enders of Formulate Information Design delivered some great thinking and insights in their talk about “The UX no one wants to have.”

The discussion description sums it up better than I could:

Family violence survivors often find the justice system traumatic. So how do you design the application form to be accessible and sensitive to the needs of distressed users, while collecting the complex, personal information that courts require?”

The duo discussed some of the challenges associated with doing user research in a highly sensitive area. Jessica also points out during the talk how flexible you must be as a researcher to get the information you need; for example being available for calls with users at anytime, even while on vacation.

One key takeaway: A form can be long if it matches user expectations.

It also helps that users in this case are highly incentivized to fill it out as they are dealing with a difficult situation and need help.

One of the coolest things Jessica shared was the way they visualized their user research, check it out!

User research visualized

Alex Sloley: Value Stories

Alex Sloley — Agile Aficionado gave a fun 10-minute talk on value stories, or what we typically call “user stories.”

One of my favorite opening slides, the Cave Man slide.

It’s all about value

User stories are great but as he points out, there are 14 references to value in the Scrum Guide! Here are a few:

  • Highest possible value
  • Maximizing the value
  • Optimizing the value
  • High-value products
  • Gains value

Alex (and others, which he credits) suggests that perhaps this merits thinking about how we format user stories — to focus more on value, i.e. “value stories.”

The typical user story

as a <type of user> // who
I want <some goal> //what
so that <some reason> //why

How we might adjust to focus on value

so that <some reason> //why
as a <type of user> // who
i want <some goal> //what

so that <some reason> //why
i want <some goal> //what
as a <type of user> // who

Value delivered vs. jobs to be done — stories

Alex cites a couple more examples from others.


identify the <value>
inject the <features>
spot the <examples>

  • Chris Matts, Feature Injection


when <situation>
I want to <motivation>
so I can <expected outcome>

  • Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School

Freya Elliot: The Psychology of waiting

Freya gave one of my favorite talks about the psychology of waiting. It was so interesting because it had such a strong psychological focus and some really interesting tidbits such as:

  • We all have internal wait clocks, which turn out — are very easy to reset. For example, when we’re in a restaurant, we all know roughly when our food should arrive. If it starts to take too long we get antsy. However, our wait clocks can be reset when the waiter places cutlery on the table in preparation for our meal.
  • Mirrors in elevators exist because they appear to make the time go by faster, not because time actually goes by faster.
  • Hold music is designed specifically to reduce the amount of time you think you’re waiting but Freya mentions that most people find hold music infuriating rather than relaxing and science has proven that it can actually make you sick!
The eight psychological factors of waiting

The eight psychological factors of waiting

  1. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time
  2. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits
  3. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits
  4. Anxiety makes the wait seem longer
  5. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits
  6. People want to get started
  7. The more valuable the service, the longer you will wait
  8. Solo waits feel longer than the group

It’s very interesting to think about how these factors translate to the digital world. Reminds me of an article I read recently about how some interfaces introduce an “artificial waiting” pattern into their interfaces to imply security and safety.

Read about it here, here’s a snippet.

Rory Horne: Testing for learnability

Rory shared some great information on how to scale usability testing to truly understand results, especially when it comes to learning curves. In this example, he shares learning curve results for turning a clock on and off.

One neat takeaway was learning about the System Usability Scale (SUS). Is this the right time to say it’s a great way to “suss out learnings?”

System Usability Scale Described

The System Usability Scale (SUS) provides a “quick and dirty”, reliable tool for measuring the usability. It consists of a 10 item questionnaire with five response options for respondents; from Strongly agree to Strongly disagree. Originally created by John Brooke in 1986, it allows you to evaluate a wide variety of products and services, including hardware, software, mobile devices, websites and applications.

System Usability Scale outputs can take many shapes and forms, but above is a neat representation I found. The tasks that participants were scored on are as follows:

  1. Locate a perpendicular parking space using the automatic parking assist feature.
  2. Locate a parallel space using the automatic parking assist feature
  3. Park in an open parallel using the automatic parking assist feature
  4. Cancel automatic parking assist session
  5. Initiate an exit parking maneuver session

Ruth Ellison: The researcher’s blind spot: 6 cognitive biases we shouldn’t ignore in research

Oh wow, what a great talk! As someone who does user research as part of their job but is not 100% focused on user-testing as a profession, this was a great reminder of biases to keep in mind when doing research. Selection bias is one of my favorites as it has such a great potential to impact the rest of the research and overall project.

The biases!

Definitions from Wikipedia.

  • Cognitive Bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Individuals create their own “subjective social reality” from their perception of the input.
  • Selection bias is the selection of individuals, groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed. It is sometimes referred to as the selection effect.
  • Confirmation bias is the the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.
  • Anchoring Bias or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions. During decision making, anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments.
  • Clustering Illusion is the tendency to erroneously consider the inevitable “streaks” or “clusters” arising in small samples from random distributions to be non-random. The illusion is caused by a human tendency to under-predict the amount of variability likely to appear in a small sample of random or semi-random data.
  • Reporting Bias is defined as “selective revealing or suppression of information” by subjects (for example about past medical history, smoking, sexual experiences).
Ruth Ellison

Ruth leaves us with the last slide below when discussing Blind Spot bias, which is the cognitive bias of recognizing the impact of biases on the judgement of others, while failing to see the impact of biases on one’s own judgment. A bias, within a bias, within biases — how can you not love this stuff? 😂

Become more rational, one tip for being more self-aware of your own biases!

Closing Keynote

The closing keynote was given by the accomplished Patricia Moore. It was very moving to most and troubling to some. While I won’t go into detail here, you can listen to it when it’s posted on the UX Australia Website. If you’re curious now, you can dig down into this Twitter account to see some conversation about it.

In the meantime, here are some great hand-sketched notes from Justin Cheong! https://twitter.com/jcfiction

I’ll leave you with some of the amazing food I ate in Melbourne. 😋