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|2nd April 2014
Two weekends ago, a couple of the BLH team literally went back to school. UX Camp London, aptly held in a school in East London, was abuzz with seasoned UXers (user experience practitioners). This unique event had a real camp atmosphere: friendly, fun and relaxed. Even the logo was an invitation to all. Two fir trees flanked the words ‘UX Camp London’ and suggested the day’s theme that, ‘here we will begin to see the forest for the trees.’
UX can be slightly confusing to those not in the industry, but I feel it is an area that everyone is beginning to see as infinitely valuable. This value no longer resides only in the lap of a website developer, but for those leading any organisation, and it is rightly being viewed as an integral instrument to help shape and mould businesses. Good UX can add richness to insight. It helps us to go beyond the face value of what the customer says they want, and allows us to really understand the motivations and emotions that drive them. The ultimate result? Better products and superior strategy.
UX Camp is run in a BarCamp format which plays into the idea of ‘co-creation’. Attendees help create the event. Everybody is welcome to propose a talk at any point throughout the day, which helps to create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. There was a huge sense that the flow and exchange of information was peer to peer, and I was impressed by the amount of knowledge sharing taking place. This is an industry full of passion and it was so refreshing to see presentations given with such honesty. Failings, bad decisions and learning curves were laid bare. The triumphs were equally impressive, and it was intriguing to get real insight into ideas and approaches that are building traction within the ‘UX community’.
At the start of the day, a grid was taped up on a wall in the assembly room. Speakers added cards with ambiguous words like ‘humble pie’ and ‘big ships’ as the only tasters as to what the talk would entail. The discussions ranged from agile design to the life of UX freelancers to what a UX designer does when they wake up one day to find themselves a Product Manager!
A lot of the discussion centred on the role the UX team plays in the wider organisation and seeing the benefits of breaking down silos and getting input from every department. One talk introduced the use of PowerPoint for prototyping, and it showed a wonderfully inventive use of the application. With a few tricks, hyperlinks, and disabled clicking, a PowerPoint file can be transformed into a very believable UX prototype. The advantages are clear. The majority of any organisation will have access to PowerPoint, but not necessarily to wireframing software such as Axure. This allows feedback at every point of development.
Another talk, titled ’Big ships’, shared the experience of moving from a relatively small company into one of the ‘Big Ships’ and the lessons learned from that transition. Various analogies were presented, such as the difficulty of getting a big ship to effectively turn and change direction in a UX sense, and other learning points such as seeing that ‘the crew often speak a different language’ and the importance of speaking that new language.
On the back of the success of Susan Cains’ book ‘Quiet’ you could see that the introvert was now having his or her moment in the sun. One talk centred on the differences between introverts and extroverts working in UX. A show of hands showed that the room was overwhelmingly introverted, with only one brave enough to declare themselves extroverted. Now, as a researcher you may take this as evidence that UXers are predominately introverted, which may not be a surprise given that the traits of an introvert include being a good listener, reflective, empathetic, curious and highly analytical (and modest!). However, I am reluctant to make that assumption as perhaps their predominance was due to the fact that introverts were attracted to this talk, as they have been in many senses the outlier for years in a society that celebrated personality over character.
It was interesting to hear not only how being an introvert affects how one works, but also how one researches. One anecdote told of how there was one tricky individual in a focus group that refused to partake or give their opinion. The moderator was frustrated by her lack of involvement. But when he shifted his approach, the results were powerful. When he asked the participants to write down their ideas as opposed to vocalising them, he found to his surprise that this reluctant woman began furiously writing and filled post-it after post-it with really valuable content, while the rest of the group struggled to compete. In a work environment, it benefits to be conscious of the differences between introverts and extroverts in order to get the most out of research participants and from your team.
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