UX Lisbon, the good, the bad and the down right awesome

Back in May, Hive IT sent the bulk of its UX team to Lisbon for 3 days of workshops and 1 day of talks at UXLx. Rather than give you a day-by-day run down, I thought I’d jot down the stuff that we brought home with us.

The Preface

We’ve all done it, gone to a conference because 1) it looks cool, 2) it’s a day or two out of the office, and 3) a distant hope of learning new stuff. But honestly, how often does point 3 actually happen? From personal experience it often goes like this…

My as-is list for attending tech based conferences

So it was pretty refreshing (and hopefully reassuring for our awesome employer) that UXLx was a very different experience and that’s what I’m going to talk to you about here. I’m going to talk about the stuff we took away with us, and have already starting using to make us better as User Experience designers, and the tools and techniques we plan to use in the future.

So, let’s start with the bad….

The week of the 22nd of May was a belter for most of Europe weather-wise. Even Helsinki was warmer than Lisbon. So, whilst the promise of sunshine may have helped in choosing the location for our week of UX inspiration, let’s just say pretty much anywhere else was warmer. *Disclaimer, I’m assuming it was colder in Siberia — but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The good

Now there was lots of good, there really was, from the venue to the range of speakers, etc. — and of course the content, but I’ll talk about that later. At this point I would like to refer you to point 5 on my “as-is list for attending tech based conferences”…

Food, glorious food! There was lots of it, I mean LOTS of it!

The downright awesome

Now we get to the meat of it. There really is too much to cover in one blog post, I’m hoping that talking about the weather and pictures of food will have kept you going this far.

We spent a full day with Jess McMullin. Jess does loads of work with Canadian public sector and other organisations, using human-centred design and innovation to tackle some really important problems. He also works from home in what looked like a really cool treehouse (life goals!). The day was all about keeping service design lean and some techniques in order to do that. Below is a very short list of the things we took away with us…

  1. Table top customer journey mapping — A physical and tactile way of mapping customer journeys. For me, this is so much more immersive than starting with post-it notes on a wall. Whilst the latter has always worked well, it takes quite a bit of time. The former means we can really engage clients and stakeholders, and they can take part in mapping their own journey. Finally, taking a short video of that journey means we can share it easily.
  2. Lean journey maps, “jobs to be done” and rapid sketching — Taking the different stages of your table top user journey map and getting them up on a wall seemed all pretty straightforward and familiar, as it’s similar to what we do as a team now. What I loved about this technique was being able to start sketching for each stage of the journey. I think as UXers, we are sometimes too cautions when looking at solutions before ALL the research has been done but getting ideas out of people’s heads at this stage proved really fruitful. In this case, we were sketching against the “jobs to be done” for each stage of the journey. I’m not going to go over “jobs to be done” here, a quick search on Twitter will show you there is a lot of controversy about it. But to cut a long discussion short, we have already used this journey mapping and rapid sketching technique for one of our Tech4Good projects and got an awful lot done in a very short space of time.
  3. The Delivery Foundations Bedrock Model
Helping make improvements, one slide at a time

Our trip to Lisbon landed right in the middle of a Discovery project we were conducting with the Department for Education (DfE) here in the UK, and boy did this resonate. So much so that it helped our Principal head of UX and fellow Lisbonite Martin Smith to form our recommendations to the DfE. I think this may have been the biggest thing we took away from the session and it’s actually been used as inspiration to help part of the UK government do things better for their users.

There was Jenga, lots of Jenga, but mostly a whole different perspective on designing for people and spaces

Alastair Somerville’s approach to design really resonated with me and the rest of the team. Alastair is a sensory design consultant who focuses on digital and physical human-centred design. We started the day by going for a “mindfulness walk” literally going for a walk with no intention apart from to do just that. Whilst walking, our only task was to take in the sounds, smells, sights and any other sensory encounters and just observe. It was an amazing introduction to discovering the many thresholds that people encounter in everyday life, to understanding that perception is as important as perspective when designing for people encountering multiple layers of information through augmented and virtual reality technologies.

It’s so easy for those who work in Digital to get blinkered by the confines of the online realm, but as digital itself infiltrates more and more aspects of our physical world, we left this session feeling equipped now more that ever to be able to start designing, not just for digital interfaces, but the spaces which our users inhabit whilst using those interfaces.

That’s me, far right, letting other people do the talking for once

Finally I want to talk about the session we had with Dan Lockton. Dan is Assistant Professor and Chair of Design Studies at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and founder and director of the Imaginaries Lab, a new research group.

I had some idea of what to expect from Dan’s workshop, based on his awesome talk from the day before. But actually going through the process of designing using new metaphors was brilliant, and has stuck with me as an ideation tool, and something I really want to use again in the future. In this example, we as a team randomly picked “Doing your tax return” and “patterns in brickwork” just to see if the process worked for two things you wouldn’t normally see any similarities for.

In short, the process still worked. But not only that; we flipped the “Doing your tax return” into “How we would like to be able to our tax return”, and by picking out the features of patterns in brickwork we somehow, in the space of about 30 minutes, managed to design a future tax system that was modular, recognisable, structured and manageable (all with the added gamification of it being called “tax craft” but I have to credit my fellow design team member Allan for that one!).

Finally…

It’s not often that I get to use the word “enriching” in its truest sense. But I’m pretty sure I can speak for our team when I say that’s what UXLx was. I’ve only covered a small percentage of the week here. I’m pretty sure I would have lost you after the doughnut picture if I’d gone on much longer. This is also only my highlights, we did split up as a team over the week so we could cover more. But it’s safe to say that my “to-be” list of attending a tech based conference has been met and UXLx will definitely be the benchmark for the future.

My “to-be” list of attending a tech based conference