UX Week 2018: Tools we can use

A new way to build personas, and how to communicate with stressed students

Thanks to the UCISA bursary scheme, I was lucky enough to attend UX Week 2018 in San Francisco.

The best thing about going to conferences is meeting and learning from lots of lovely people who are trying to do the same things I try do to. UX Week surrounded me with HUNDREDS of such lovelies, from all over the world, for 4 full-on days of talks, workshops and social events. It was big, bright and — in the best possible way — exhausting!

The other best thing about going to conferences is picking up new ideas and methods I can apply in my work. UX Week certainly lived up to its fantastic reputation for delivering ‘new tools you can put to use immediately’: I took so many notes that I’m going to have split up my write up across several blog posts…

I’ll start with the ideas that lodged themselves the deepest; the ones my jetlagged brain still churns through at 3am.

Ditch the demographics: segment users by thinking style

For prospective applicants, instead of Lower GPO / Higher GPO / Older Student / Low-Income, Indi proposed Passionate About The Topic / Means To An End / Looking Forward To The University Experience / Exploring Paths.

Indi Young proposed this new way of building personas in her workshop Paying Better Attention to the Problem.

The idea stuck with me because I’ve really struggled with persona-building. Also because, marvellously, one of her slides covered the thinking styles of university applicants, making it instantly relatable.

During the UofG UX project, I don’t think it ever occurred to us to categorise our users as anything other than students at different levels of study, and staff in different job families. But when it came to assembling our ‘Digital Life’ interview findings into personas, we found it almost impossible to generalise within these broad categories.

Worse than that, in hindsight I see that personas based on these categories wouldn’t actually help me! I produce internally-facing content for our current students and staff, much of it quite technical. When I’m rewriting — for example — the instructions for connecting to campus Wi-Fi, how can I consider the need of First Year UGs vs. Final Year PGRs vs. Professional Services Staff? They all just need to get connected!

But what about the needs of Help, This Is My First Smartphone vs. I Got This, Just Tell Me The Settings? Now there are two groups I can work for 😃

I’ve made up these thinking styles, but I fully intend to go back through the interviews we’ve done so far (you know, when I’ve got a spare month…) to identify our users’ real ones.

More tips for demographic-free persona building:

  • No photos: Sophie Dennis has observed “One client used a photo of a young blonde-haired woman. That persona would get dismissed as ‘The Blonde.’”
  • Use gender-neutral names, or no names at all, and write bios in the first person
  • Phrase the thinking styles so that users would be happy to identify with them
  • Understand that one person can switch between multiple thinking styles depending on the circumstances

Empathy = listening

Indi also went into great and fascinating detail on the concepts of cognitive bias, empathy, separating the problem space from the solution space, and how a UX designer should aim to be ‘woke’:

  • Try not to fall prey to cognitive bias
  • Recognise what systemic bias is
  • Aim for more goals than only ROI
  • Avoid using demographics to refer to a user
  • Be aware that your own culture is one of many

Communicating with brains in survival mode

An early contender for my favourite talk of the week was Laura E. Hall’s on Caring for Players in Real World Spaces and Beyond: Lessons from Escape Room Games.

I’m a huge fan of online puzzle and room escape games, and loved hearing about Laura’s work designing real-world ones.

For starters there were so many crossovers between escape room game design and web design: the need to manage users’ cognitive load, minimise stressors, and communicate story or message, and the importance of accessibility.

Further, I’m writing this during UofG’s registration and enrolment period: one of the most stressful and most digital-centric times of the year for students. If we could apply Laura’s ideas on how to communicate with the brain when it’s in survival mode, maybe we could smooth this out…

I highly recommend watching the whole of Laura’s 34min talk below, or for just the ‘survival mode’ chunk start at 15mins in.

Phew

All this just from 1 talk and 1 workshop?! More soon…in the meantime, you can watch many of the other talks at the official conference recap.