This year I had the honour of co-hosting the annual UX New Zealand conference — the largest event of its kind in New Zealand. Over the course of three days, it brought together researchers, designers, managers, and just about anyone else interested in improving the experiences people have with their products and services.
Turns out that in a country of just over 4.5 million, there’s quite a few of us…
Unsurprisingly, UX New Zealand attracts a wide range of people. From those who research, write, design and develop, through to those who plan, evaluate and manage (not counting those who wear many of these hats at once).
While most of the audience travelled to Wellington from various parts of the country, there was a fair group who made their way from all across the globe, including Australia, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, United States & Hong Kong.
As far as the attendee experience level is concerned, it’s as much of a mix as you’d expect from an event of this scale.
There’s a humbling buzz that comes from realising that while you’re sitting in a room where no two people are the same, you’re all united around a common goal.
A world of ideas
In terms of the UX New Zealand lineup, it’s as diverse as the attendees themselves. This year we had the joy of hosting speakers from — among others, Google, Twitter, Atlassian and Zendesk, along with a great range of homegrown talent. While it’s always a treat to listen to the perspectives of those coming from some of the world’s most influential companies, I appreciate the focus the event puts on creating a space for less experienced speakers to share their ideas on the big stage.
For me, two standout local acts this year included Kah Chan from Flick Electric Co., who talked about the the importance of crafting language in UX, as well as Dave Hockly from Springload, who works just up the road (as you do in New Zealand), who shared his enthusiasm for measuring the impacts of our design changes after they’ve gone live.
This year UX New Zealand delivered a satisfying amount of practical, hands-on learnings, intertwined with bigger philosophical ideas.
Most notably, Michael Palmyre blew the audience away with his closing keynote, asking the audience “Are we using design to make the world a less valuable place?”. He questioned how we define value, shifting attention from economic value to the ethics of designing for social good, urging the audience to “refuse to do bad work”. I recommend reading more about Michael’s ideas here.
If I could leave you with one thought, it would be this image from Ian Howard’s talk, on adding positive friction to digital experiences. Using the idea of “flowers on roundabouts”, he illustrated how a focus on purely functional design can starve our work of the creativity and delight that makes it truly unique and memorable.
His redesign of the classic game of Snakes & Ladders showed the risks of removing positive complexity from design, leaving, well…
…a lot to be desired.
Good vibes all around
If you’ve ever watched a Taika Waititi film (perhaps most recently Thor: Ragnarok), you’re probably familiar with down-to-earth, honest and quintessentially kiwi humor that permeates throughout his films. This positive and welcoming sensibility is something you quickly notice when you spend time in New Zealand.
UX New Zealand is no different. It all feels pretty effortless and casual. There are lego trading games, bingo, cookies filled with UX fortunes and a range of activities that make the whole event fun and engaging. After three days, I left feeling satisfied socially and professionally, having met some great people and learnt a lot along the way.
The welcoming and easy going vibe lends itself to creating new connections. International speakers mix and mingle with students and less experienced attendees in the speakers lounge, while peers from across the private and public sectors share their practices and learnings. There’s a good dose of kindness and humanity in the room that comes from bringing together a bunch of empathetic people who “genuinely give a shit”.
The other 362 days a year
Working as a User Researcher in New Zealand has its challenges. While rich and vibrant online communities, podcasts, blogs & courses make it accessible and easy to feel like you’re part of a global community, it’s often harder to relate to much of the great work happening abroad. Perhaps that’s the reason why local UX communities are so active.
There’s a variety of events and meet-ups that keep ticking along throughout the year. Local community-organized events such as the UX Wellington meet up or the Wellington Content Strategy Group thrive on sharing practices and learning from one-another, and are growing in popularity every year.
Whatever way you look at it, UX New Zealand is a unique event.
Geographically, it’s a great excuse to go on a holiday, combining work with pleasure (and some pretty incredible sights). In terms of professional development, diversity is always a great thing. It helps to inform our own work and build some much needed empathy for the different areas of user experience. Lastly, socially — who wouldn’t want some cool new friends down in New Zealand? It makes it much easier to visit again next time. 😎
Personally, I’d love to see UX New Zealand continue to focus on showcasing case studies from all around the world, promoting best practices and new ways of working. As the home of the public sector, Wellington could benefit from speakers willing to share innovative approaches to tackling user experience at a government level.
With the tech sector growing fast in New Zealand, I’m excited to see what next year brings.
That’s a wrap!
That’s all from us here at UX New Zealand! Special thanks to Optimal Workshop for making this event happen every year and being such a strong supporter of the local UX community.
See you next year!
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