A wee trip to UX Scotland

Laura Yarrow
Jun 15 · 8 min read

I’d always heard good things about the conference the good folks at UX Scotland put on each year, and boy were they right! I tentatively submitted a talk to the conference at the end of 2018 thinking that it was way beyond my skill level to speak there, so imagine my surprise when I was accepted to speak at their 2019 conference.

I flew up from the South coast and arrived at 1am on Wednesday morning. I then had a rather wet and windy half-walk, half-run through the city centre wheeling a child’s penguin case behind me and being laughed off the street by some late night revellers, then walking up 8 flights of stairs to my apartment. So I was ready for a bit of TLC by morning. The entire conference from start to end was fantastic, with great organisation from the team, amazing speakers with genuinly insightful talks and topics, and of course fab food. If you want to feel cared for then go to UX Scotland.

It’s hard to pick out my favourite talks as they were all of such a high calibre — we were spoilt for choice! So instead I have picked some of my stand out moments from the conference below:

Opti-Pessimism: design, AI and our uncertain future — Cheryl Platz

I loved this talk, and if anything it taught me that the best way to get your point across is to tell it as a story. Cheryl amused us all with her tales of nearly getting trampled by an elephant on her trip to Africa, and her message that sometimes we need to take a more balanced outlook when considering the impact of our work, and even being more pessimistic to consider the worst case scenarios.

Be pessimistic, because sometimes the worst case scenarios can be life threatening.

If she had balanced her optimism for the trip on the savanahh with some healthy pessimism about what could happen (trampled by an elephant!) she may have been more prepared for the unforseen circumstances. For example, taking a more pessimistic approach when designing experiences such as self driving cars, although some of the edge cases have a very slim chance of happening, could be life saving. As researchers we can mitigate this shortsigntedness with ethnographic research, putting the user first, and considering the human context (and many other interesting tips she had for us all).

And also she got to talk about poo and dung, so what more could you want?!

Poo!

The importance of mapping — Kirsty Joan Sinclair

If anything, it was just good to meet another human being that bloody loves maps as much as I do (I have boxes in the attic of maps of my hometown from various centuries, a dirty little secret of mine). Aside from that, it was a great start to the first day at UXScotland to get “thinking with your hands”, something i’m a huge advocate of. Kirsty gave us some great tips on the kit you will need to create maps on the fly, and then let us loose with the crafting.

Mapping my epic journey to Scotland with the help of post it note storyboarding

As a sidenote, one of my favourite things from Kirsty’s session was her visualisation of the itinerary for the tutorial! I’m going to be using that myself in future.

Visualising the 45 minute session

What is ResearchOps? — Jane Reid and Brigette Metzler

I’ve recently got involved with the ResearchOps movement in Bournemouth and will be helping to run the skills workshop in the coming week, so I was really interested to learn even more about the community and see what was in store for the year ahead. Despite some tech issues they still managed to give a great presentation, and it was lovely to hear Brigette talk about the community she is so passionate about. ResearchOps is a community for people to learn about all the supporting activities that need to happen to empower those in their jobs as researchers. As part of their talk they showed us the Kumo model created for the ResearchOps community — I didn’t know this diagram service existed, so I discovered a great little tool there!

kumu.io

I just want to be believed — Sam Groves

A very humbling session. Sam was from the Ministry of Justice, and talked about her research activities for the online compensation scheme victims of violence, abuse or accidents can claim through. She talked about her challenges of not being able to research with those who had been psychologically scarred by their experiences, because making them relive their experiences would be morally wrong, and unethical. Instead she told us how they used “proxy users” to take part in their research, for example counsellors and therapists who would be able to advise how a vicitim of abuse would react to the information on the screen when applying for compensation. It was a powerful, eye opening and inspiring talk, and I took lots of useful information away about trauma triggers, the right language to use when providing a service for vulnerable people and an insight into the ethical dilemmas that you can face when working with these groups of people.

UX with hard to reach people in easy to reach places — Michael Crabb and Rachel Menzies

A great talk with lots of inspiring take aways — Rachel and Michael are from the University of Dundee, and talked about their great work opening a “User Centre” where specific groups of people were invited in on a regular weekly schedule. Some groups they talked about were those with Aphasia (speech impairments, often after a stroke) and older adults (65+).

The centre has allowed them to not only give these groups space to learn how to use some technologies with their peers, but take part in research and testing sessions with the computing students at the university. One memorable quote from Michael was:

If i’ve learned anything about our older User Centre participants, it’s that they don’t hold back if they want to complain about how something works!

Great to hear that undergrad students (often full of hubris!) are not only being introduced to the concept of user testing early on in their careers, but also having the chance to see their work put to the test in real time by the groups that may very well use the end result one day.

The art of things not done — Sophie Dennis

This was a great way to start day 2 of the conference, with the knowledgeable Sophie talking about what you can and can’t cut without impacting the end user experience you deliver. She went over the project management triangle of time, quality and cost and how you can only really have two of those, at the sacrifice of the other remaining factor. Want to create a high quality project in a short space of time? Well that’s going to increase the cost. Want it to be cheap and fast? Better get comfortable with a lower quality end result, and so on. Sophie also gave a great explanation of the Kano model — something i’ve been meaning to get up to speed on for a while. To my delight we ended on the peak-end rule, and how an experience is just a series of moments. Fabulous stuff.

And how does that make you feel? — Emma Craig

I found myself in Emma’s session as it nicely dovetailed with mine that followed immediately after in the same room. Emma gave an incredibly insightful and useful talk about connecting deeper with your research participants, rather than being satisified with superficial responses. She covered designing for different emotions, giving explanations of different types of emotional response tools, non-violent communication, and of course listening. I loved the idea of “holding the space” — both yours and the research participants. Her example was if someone cries, most peoples immediate response is to hand them a tissue, but this is like saying “I want you to stop doing this, here’s how i’m going to make you stop”. Instead allowing the person to “hold space” and let them sit with their feelings is sometimes the appropriate thing to do.

Emma Craig — non violent communication and understanding emotion

Building a geet canny team — practical leadership: Joanne Richardson and Anna Rzepczynski

This was probably one of my favourite sessions as I found everything Joanne and Anna covered to be immediately useful for my current role. With our team growing and new hires on the horizon, one of our current focuses is on how we’re going to onboard those people. At Orangebus, Anna and Joanne found themselves growing the team from 8 to 32 people in a short space of time, and having to find ways to cope with leading all their new staff. Aside from beautiful slides (I always love a fancy slide deck!) their advice was spot on. Onboarding new employees is hard, and it’s rare to get a good experience. Most are poor, and one of the other attendees compared it to “going on a first date and turning up to find your date has already ordered your meal”. The session took a really creative turn, and we found ourselves making laptops out of boxes, storyboarding some on boarding, and then role playing with the other teams in the session.

Getting crafty at the Orangebus session!

Other bits and bobs

There were so many good bits, it’s hard to fit them all in too one article. Great food. I won a t-shirt. Interesting break out areas. Amazing socials in the evening (with more food and booze!). The stickers! And the incredible venue, what a place to have a conference.

It was just one long, UX themed nerdy party, with all your friends invited. Oh and of course, one penguin suitcase that made an appearance on Thursday to get his photo snapped at the registration desk 😂🐧

If you get the chance to go, definitely do. You won’t regret it!

Laura Yarrow

Written by

UX and tech geek. Observer of humans. Crisp connoisseur. Yarn fondler. Undercover Northerner.

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