UX in the City: Manchester 2019

March 28, 2019 5:04 pm

UX in the City: Manchester 2019

This year we attended UX in the City: Manchester 2019, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Standing out from the crowd as a ‘hands-on’, practical User Experience and Design conference in its 3rd year of running, we knew it was an event that we could not miss out on.

This year’s event was heavily research focused (a thumbs up from us!) UX Researchers, Designers, Service Designers, Developers, and anyone trying to push UX forward in their organisation, grouped together to jump into the wonderful world of User Experience.

Split over two days, ‘thestudio’ hosted workshops, case studies, tutorials, and hands-on sessions that allowed us to immerse ourselves in topics of interest. Below is an overview of just some of the sessions that we attended.

Planning impactful user research

Copyright of John Waterworth

The two-day event kicked off with a hands-on workshop about planning impactful user research. John Waterworth (dxw digital) who ran the session, described it as a ‘how to’ on ‘levelling up’ your research plan.

Impactful user research allows teams and organisations to have a profound understanding of users, therefore creating better services for them. To create impactful user research, John emphasised the importance of getting everyone in the project team involved in planning. Getting colleagues in other departments to help come up with the research questions, will also make sure that the research aligns with the business goals.

To gather interest in the rest of the business whilst the research is underway, make sure to share this research plan. When distributing the research plan, keep it simple and to one page, e.g. “we’re doing [research method] with [these users] to find out [research question]”.

Having the research fully visible throughout the whole organisation is crucial to getting everyone (from Stakeholders, to departments that haven’t been involved) on board. This will ultimately mean that when the research is over, your findings are going to be more easily received because everyone will know what has been going on and why, therefore making sure the research has an impact.

Mapping user’s mental models

“User empathy before design.”

Our next session was hosted by Mariana Morris, a Freelance UX Consultant. Mariana shared with us how to effectively map users’ mental models and got us working in teams to build upon our existing research skill set. Mental models are a person’s thought processes and ‘template’ of how they perceive the world around them. Aligning users’ mental models with UX design can ensure the user experience of the products or services feels more intuitive.

As always in UX, Mariana explained that the number one place to start mental model mapping is by conducting research and in-depth interviews with users, to understand their mental models and how they go about perceiving the world. Getting into the users’ mind allows you to grasp how they expect the system to work. By mapping out triggers —> behaviours —> and user goals, you can ensure that you’re placing user empathy at the centre of design.

Hands-on ethnography primer

“Immerse yourself. You can’t really empathise with people if you can’t see what’s going on.”

To finish off day 1, Laura Yarrow from Experience UX took us through a workshop exploring ethnographic research and its origin. She described ethnography as a subgroup of anthropology and as the intersect between art and science. Describing us as ‘explorers’ of the world rather than ‘researchers’, we were tasked with honing our observation skills in our local environment.

The key to thorough ethnographic research, we learnt, was to apply several concepts and principles alongside your observations.

  • Observe without judgement. Get rid of your preconceived perceptions, feelings and judgements.
  • Look at what isn’t in environment. What’s missing? What isn’t being said? These are things you might not have normally noticed that may contribute to your findings around your research question.
  • Apply different lenses to your observation. What is the culture? The artefacts in the space?
  • Visuals, sounds, smells. How are these influencing what you’re observing?
  • Last but not least, find a way to look at things differently by asking oxymoron questions e.g. “How can this ordinary item be so interesting?” This will allow you to see something that is ‘normal’, in a way that may be more relevant and fascinating, possibly revealing a use or purpose that can help you answer your research question.

Also, don’t forget to let your research be driven by the actual research question itself. It can be all too easy in a naturalistic environment to get distracted by superfluous information and details. Ask yourself, is this relevant to the research? Whilst there’s always an element of being flexible, don’t forget what you’re there for.

Collaborative problem solving

Day two’s workshops started with a collaborative problem-solving session from Llara Geddes and Olivia Gruetter from User Conversion. In their company, they had found that developing solutions individually could take one person 2 or 3 hours. However, by reworking their ideating process, they eventually arrived at the collaborative approach. With this approach, ideas were generated at a much quicker speed and efficiency, moving the projects along and resulting in happier clients.

They shared the optimised process and explained the most effective way to ideate is to meet in groups of 2-3 people that can bring different insights and views to the table from different departments (e.g. a UX researcher, data analyst, and developer) then consider the problem from each of these angles. When it comes to creating solutions, Crazy-8’s (a design tool) where each person quickly sketches potential solutions within a time limit and shares them with the group, are the best way to generate lots of varied ideas without wasting too much time on an initial ideation that may not work as well.

The lost art of task modelling

After lunch, Jesmond Allen took us through the ‘lost art’ of task modelling.

Task models are created by conducting qualitative research with users to find out the tasks they expect to be able to do on your website, and the order they expect to do them in. This then acts as an enabler to communicate user needs, and align the user journey with users’ expectations, therefore placing users before systems and processes.

Jesmond also shared insight into what happens if you disrupt these tasks, and how to incorporate this when creating your task models. When a person is interrupted during task completion, they usually experience the Zeigarnik effect. In design terms this is when a user gets interrupted mid-task which creates ‘psychic tension’. This tension can trigger feelings of stress, which makes users determined to overcome the interruption and complete the task they came to complete. This could be for example, arriving on a website to purchase a t-shirt, but being interrupted by a pop up asking you to subscribe to their emails. This creates ‘psychic tension’, which causes you to quickly exit the pop-up and return to the page so you can complete the t-shirt purchase.

Jesmond explained how incorporating this technique when creating your task models can encourage users to finish what they started on your website. However, we’d recommend you use this this technique in moderation, as intentionally stressing users out risks creating an unpleasant user experience.

The power of storytelling in UX design

Finally, Mark Cruth of Teal Mavericks LLC, delivered a fully interactive session on how important storytelling is not only for UX design, but he also gave a history of how it has always been important to humanity and our survival as a species. Mark took us through the backbones of a solid story: a character (the user), the challenge (problem), the journey and learning, and finally the resolution (or solution). Within this storytelling framework, it’s important to consider the underlying message you want to be heard, and how important detail is to allow the audience to be immersed in the story itself. This makes the story more impactful and relatable.

We find that storytelling is something that can be used throughout the research process. Whether you are creating your tasks for the research or sharing stories of how the research has gone, having a solid story is going to be much more powerful for the research than without. You can read more about our experience here.

Take away

Overall, the two days were highly informative, and we really enjoyed the interactivity of the sessions. It was great to meet with such a strong community of UX-ers and develop our skills even further. We can’t wait to apply what we learnt, and hopefully we’ll return in 2020!