Between May 15th and 17th, UXLx 2013 takes center stage for me. This will be the third consecutive User Experience Lisbon conference that I’ve attended. The first 2 were increadibly inspiring, tiring, and great fun. I’ve obviously got similar expectations for this year too.
In recent years I’ve talked a lot about the importance of measuring the browser viewport (it’s not as big as you think).
The rapid adoption of responsive web design and the launch of devices with high definition screens where a pixel is no longer a pixel have made measuring and understanding the visible real estate available in the web browser crucial.
We all end up being “damaged” in the end. Some might call it “Senior” or “Experienced”, but eventually most of us end up seeing work-related issues in everything around us.
I can’t use a website without noticing something that could be improved. Actually, it’s rare I use a website and don’t end up giving my poor wife a mini-lecture on UX or usability. Poor thing.
It doesn’t stop with websites. Most of us who work with producing or optimising digital products and services have a “spidey sense” that tingles constantly. Usually with websites, but just as often it could be a coffee machine, a sign, a door, an entire restaurant – any process or interaction is fair game for our enhanced senses.
We’re constantly optimising what we see.
Take a ticket
I went skiing recently at Kungsberget in Sweden. Nice resort that’s a convenient two hours drive or so from Stockholm.
As usual on arrival I needed to sort out ski-hire for the family. We hadn’t pre-booked (my irritation with the web-based booking system would be a blog post of its own) so we needed to queue.
Sweden is the motherland of queueing systems. Swedes are pretty much born with the instinct to look for a little machine in shops and service centres that dispense a little paper ticket with a number on.
Somewhere else in the store they’ll be a display showing a number (or several numbers…) indicating who’s next in line.
The ski-hire shop at Kungsberget, naturally, has a ticket-based queueing system.
But just where do I take a ticket from?
The thing is, it’s hidden. Or rather, it’s not optimised… Once I’d worked out where to get a queueing number from, I hung about for 20 minutes or so waiting for my turn. During that time, everyone – yes, pretty much everyone – did the same as I’d done when I’d arrived.
Walk in. Scan the entire building looking for the dispenser. Fail to find it. Walk up to the counter and ask someone working there where it is. Then they reeled off the same sentence that they’ve probably used thousands of times just this season.
“It’s on the wall outside”.
Ah, the ticket machine is before you even enter the ski-hire shop. Someone probably thought this was a smart way of keeping people outside and out of the way rather than clogging up the small space inside.
Out of sequence
There are several problems with this. The first issue was that when I was approaching the ski-hire shop, my goal was to locate the place for hiring skis. I was scanning and hunting for signs that confirmed that the building was the correct building.
The ski-hire shop was helpfully decorated by a large sign (the most prominent sign on the building) saying exactly what it was. There was then a large (attempting to be helpful) sign on the door saying “entrance”.
It’s only once inside that my attention turned to finding a ticket dispenser. (Because I’m Swedish enough to know that’s how queueing works…). The process though has been designed to work the other way round.
Outside, above the hole in the wall where you could press a button to get a ticket, there was an A4 paper sign with a few words in a relatively small font-size and an arrow pointing downwards to the machine below.
All very low key and a few meters to the left of the nearest entrance. The machine was invisible to me – it suffered from banner blindness. There were other visual signals that were stronger, more relevant, and in the expected palaces.
If the machine is going to be placed outside (which knowing how crowded these places can get it was certainly an idea with good intentions) then we, as users, need to be more effectively marshaled into finding it and using it.
Helping people complete their tasks
The fun thing to do would be to work with them and do some A/B testing. To test different combinations of signage and positioning. Test moving the machine, test putting the “next number” display outside near the ticket machine, etc.
We can then evaluate it all by counting how many times the staff at the ski-hire have to explain to customers where to find the ticket dispenser.
Digital or otherwise, our job is to make sure people can do what they need to do to reach their goal. Digital, analogue, or cross channel. It’s still us, the humble human, that’s central to it all.
— James Royal-Lawson (@beantin) March 22, 2013
You know that big automatic rotating banner you ordered for your start page? Yeah, that’s right. It’s rubbish.
Between May 16-18 I attended UXLx User Experience Lisbon 2012. It was an intensive 3 days. I took part in 4 workshops, listened to 3 lightning talks, 10 conference talks, published 14 sets of notes, and recorded 6 podcasts. Phew!
And if that wasn’t enough, I met up with dozens of really interesting and clever people and (just like last year) almost talked and thought myself to exhaustion!
Unprecedented access to speakers
One of the excellent things about UXLx is the access you get to the speakers. The workshops
give you one opportunity, but most of them also attend the evening events and stay at the main conference hotel.
During the week I chatted with Dave Gray, Derek Featherstone, Rachel Hinman, Steve Portigal, Joshua Porter, Jesse James Garrett, Andrea Resmini, and Ginny Reddish (plus some of those who held lightning talks).
Notes and Podcasts
During each session I attended I took some notes. Straight after the talk or workshop finished I published them unedited on the unofficial uxlx participants blog so that I could share them with everyone both at the event and those who couldn’t make it.
Per Axbom and I also recorded six podcasts which we recorded live and published straight away, giving you an audio-peek into the events of the week.
In this blog post I’ve gathered together links to all the notes and podcasts I published during the conference.
Tuesday 15th May
Our first episode came from our hotel room at the Trip Oriente. After a bit of a fight with our new microphones and Garageband we eventually got it together and kicked-off our series of on-site podcasts.
Wednesday 16th May
A proper workshop. Filled to the brim with practical, useful, go-home-and-try-them exercises. After hearing so many of last year’s presenters talk about gamestorming, it was great to complete the circle and get some hands-on coaching from Dave
In the day 1 post lunch podcast we talk about David Gray’s Gamestorming session and Peter Morville’s Cross-Channel Strategy workshop.
A lecture at break-neck speed from Indi with 110 slides in the first 65 minutes. There was some excellent stuff in there, including sound advice on interview techniques. “”we are not the target audience”
A run down of the afternoon of the first day of UXLx.
Thursday 17th May
A practical workshop session with Nate guiding us through how you can set up remote user research. Consider how can you be graceful and flexible when your technology breaks – as it will half of the time. Nate was as cool as a cucumber when the tech did break in our session.
After lunch on day 2 we managed to grab Dave Gray for a few minutes to talk about his workshop yesterday and planning workshops in general.
A long session with Derek, but some great accessibility stuff. I think it opened the eyes of a fair few in the audience. Derek described accessibility as extreme usability. If we look at the extreme cases and build to those extremes then everyone else will be somewhere in between.
Friday 18th May
Opening talk of the day. “IAs are planners, organisers and bridge builders, But they are also architects of understanding.”
One of my favourite talks of the conference day. “If your UI designer doesn’t sweat over every single word they add to a screen, you should probably fire them!”
Derek gave a great run through of a context aware conference website. UXLx take note!
“UX is design of anything used by people independent of medium or across media with human experience as an explicit outcome and human engagement as an explicit goal.”
The tiny tasks go to bed and dream of being a top tasks. They then wake up and go down to the web team and demand to be on the start page.
Lean UX: concept -> validate internally -> prototype -> test externally -> learn from user behaviour -> iterate.
The closing presentation from the legend that is Bill Buxton. Difficult to take good notes when you’ve got such a professional and entertaining speaker dancing about enthusiastically in front of you (or on top of you in Gerry McGovern’s case).
Saturday 19th May
The Friday was too busy to fit in the recording of a podcast, so Per and I recorded our 6th and final UX Podcast of the conference from our hotel room on the Saturday morning. We gave a quick review of our 4 top talks from the Friday, chatted to Lynsey and Celine from Paddy Power, and finally a roundup of the entire conference.