Experiencing UXNZ 2016 for the first time

Cornelius Rachierius definition of User-Experience

At the UX New Zealand conference this year run by Optimal Workshop, Cornelious Rachierius defined User-Experience as follows:

“User-Experience Design is a methodology that involves end users throughout the creative process to identify, conceptualize and design services or products that are easier to use, learn and remember”

Simplified down, User-Experience is about researching and understanding users pain points and aiming to solve these problems when designing and building products or services.

Over two days, I witnessed over a dozen speakers like Cornelious discuss some of their User-Experience methods, findings from user research by collaborating with different cultures and testing prototypes with different target audiences.

Some of my key take aways from the conference came from the following speakers who have shared their knowledge and insights for me to take onboard and consider applying more into my design and development work:

Ruth Ellison: User Experience Consultant at PwC’s Experience Centre

Ruth Alison giving us an insight how Cognitive Bias influences research.

A speaker on the first day that gave me more insight toUser-Research was Ruth Ellison from PWC Digital.

Ruth discussed the term “Cognitive Bias” and how it influences the answers she gets when talking to people. Cognitive Bias is when a person takes a different route from what they would normally do because of common interference at the time of the situation the person is in. For example when Ruth is talking to a research participant, she may ask a simple question that she is seeking an answer for, but if she presses forward too much and doesn’t allow the customer to think and process what they have been asked, the customer answers too hasty and doesn’t usually give their honest opinion.

Further into the talk, Ruth discussed some small but impactful techniques she applies when getting insight from her user participants to get the right answers she wants. A rule that Ruth applies that stood out to me was:

“List assumptions, be skeptical, especially if everyone agrees with you and remain open.”

Although it can seem like you are getting positive results from your participants when they agree with you, Ruth explained that it can be easy to intimidate people with simple interferences like using leading questions and speaking in a rushed tone rather than being inviting, reassuring and calm when talking to participants in research.

For me this is a great insight on how to use some simple, but effective techniques to get the right answers that can help improve the designs I build in the near future. Because we design to solve problems other people have, it is important for us to get the right answes from people so we can figure out how to make a difference to peoples experiences with technology. This can be done even better through Ruths techniques in open discussions and with research environments where people can feel they are able to participate in and share their thoughts without feeling intimidated to speak.

Ruth explaining some key, yet impactful techniques for user research

Jina Bolton: Lead Designer, Design Systems at Salesforce

A talk I found relevant to my skills came from Jina Bolton. Jina Bolton is a product designer at Salesforce that also has a big involvement in the SASS/CSS world.

In Jinas talk, she had a detailed outline on some rules and ideas people can follow when building up a design pattern library. A design pattern library is an inhouse document that designers or developers can look over when building new interfaces and products to help

  • Keep visual and experience consistency on interfaces.
  • Ensure nothing is repeated that has already been built.
  • Speed up workflow for both experienced and new members in growing teams in the product space.
Jina Bolton explaining what a styleguide is.

In Jinas talk she discusses that a design styleguide is just as important for Front End Developers as it is for UI/UX Designers. A strong quote she referenced from Github that made me realise how important an up to date design guide is for not only consistent visuals, but also for cross collaboration is:

“True collaboration isn’t throwing design over the wall. It’s designers, engineers and the rest of the team sharing the responsibility to build a quality product”

While it is true that design and front end development use different tools and tend to solve different problems at times, this is changing rapidly in the product world. Nowadays front end developers work even closer to designers to provide technical advice early on in projects and to give their feedback on what is possible. If designers didn’t discover any of these roadblocks early in the product cycle, this could create unintended conflict, damage future collaboration and point blame onto both sides.

Having a strong understanding of the technologies that make our designs is a big must to me personally. If we don’t understand the technology that we are using to bring ideas to life, how can we expect to build designs that are not only robust, but are also better planned for future development down the line? Hearing how design styleguides can build better cross collaboration with the technical skills needed in developing our designs has made me feel more confident that maintaining both design and development skills is a big must in todays world. Especially when we rely on developers to help build our ideas and the ideal experience we want and we should be working with them to build the visions we have.

Paul Sherman: Principal Consultant, ShermanUX & Assistant Professor, Kent State UXD

Paul Sherman is an assistant professor at Kent State University and believes that we should be learning early on how to gain better soft skills for the future rather than focusing just on our technical and practical skill set.

Paul discussed how knowing how to use Sketch to make beautiful interfaces or how to use CSS and Javascript to build meaningful interactions is great, none of these are as important as having competent soft skills in the industry. To Paul knowing how to design and build products well with technical software is secondary to being able to work with someone who has the soft skills to:

  • 1) Identify peoples emotions and aspirations.
  • 2) Communicate the information to product and development.
  • 3) Design solutions that successfully engage emotional needs and aspirations.

Software and technology is always changing, it can always be taught. People can always find ways to up skill. However if we are not equipped early on in our careers with the communication skills to observe for assumptions, share and grow our knowledge and engage others into helping design an effective solution, these are much harder to teach later on when already far into our careers.

Hearing how it is not just about the technical and visual skills in design is appealing to me. Too often we get caught up in trying to build meaningful interfaces or learn the latest CSS framework or Javascript library that we forget to keep up with our soft skills to collaborate and share better. As Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf says “validate the proposed solution as efficiently as possible by using customer feedback” and this can achieved well with stronger soft skills than having more technical skills.

Summary:

Overall the conference was an amazing one to finish my conference experiences for 2016. The speakers were all engaging, had relevant topics that covered a variety of issues and engaged the audience — where I even got to stand on stage and tell the conference what I thought was going to happen in the next 5 years to design and User-Experience!

Armed with new learnings and thoughts to apply in my own self learning and work commitments, the digital space of design and development has never looked more exciting hearing from great insightful global speakers and we are only just reaching the surface of it all too.