UX Brighton 2019 – ‘Crafting Design’

November 8, 2019 2:51 pm

UX Brighton 2019 – ‘Crafting Design’



Last week marked the annual UX Brighton conference, with a theme of ‘Crafting design’. One of our UX Practitioners, Jason Baxter seized the opportunity to go down to Brighton and attend the event. This year’s conference focused on expanding the audience’s understanding and skills needed to build a fluid and rewarding user experience, elevating the importance of good design in the UX process. 

Held at the historic Brighton Dome Concert Hall, the event attracted an audience of UX’ers at all levels, from students to senior managers. It boasted an impressive roster of 8 speakers who covered a variety of topics, from designing Artificial Intelligence to Workplace Culture. In this article, we will summarise a few of the key talks that really resonated with us.

Martyn Reding – Joining the Dots

Martyn Reding, a thought leader in design kicked off the event with his talk ‘Joining the Dots’ which explored UX’s position in the grand scheme of design history. The talk emphasised that UX is still very young in comparison to other design principles, and implored the audience to investigate other areas of design that have been around for much longer (e.g. Interior design, Industrial Design, and Book Design) to learn from them, and to inform creativity in product design. 

[An example of logo’s for Beats (2015) being inspired by old design practices from 1971]

Martyn’s talk also explored the do’s and don’ts of design and encouraged the audience not to limit their colleagues/employee’s creativity with a rigid set of rules, but to use structure as a means of informing innovation. 

As the first talk wrapped up, Martyn left us with an inspiring quote from Marshall McLuhan:

“We look at the present through the rear-view mirror, and march backwards into the future.”

Emily Sappington – Designing with Artificial Intelligence

Next up, Emily Sappington gave her take on ‘Designing with Artificial Intelligence’ products. Having designed AI at various companies (e.g. Microsoft Cortana, Cortex Scout, Babylon Health), she covered how incorporating AI into existing design can prevent disappointment, alienation, or fear, and promote trustworthiness and ensure the product feels human-like and magical.

Emily explained that AI is inspired by human intelligence, and when designing products, technologists should be inspired by human behaviour (e.g. natural gestures) in order to create a fluid end-product. Furthermore, Emily covered key best practices for anyone thinking of developing an AI product, mainly using voice products as examples of this:

1) Setting Expectations:

Expectations are key when creating an AI product, if a product under-delivers then this can lead to users abandoning the product. Therefore, it is key to set realistic expectations, which can be done as simply as labelling it a ‘Beta’ product.

2) Responsiveness:

Emily drew parallels to the ‘Is it alive/Awake’ concept here. Humans often measure intelligence by testing responsiveness and if you (or a product) don’t respond quickly then you’re perceived as unintelligent. Therefore, it is important to get the basic commands on an AI product right, so that users perceive the product to be intelligent, and trust it to meet their needs.

3) Competency:

A product can be responsive, but that doesn’t necessarily make it competent. Emily explained that a product is only competent when users can achieve basic tasks, and can engage it in conversation. Emily once again drew comparisons to human intelligence by citing a psychological study where students rated their peer’s intelligence. Students rated peers more intelligent if they confidently maintained eye-contact when discussing topics. This posed the question of ‘What is the eye-contact moment in your product?’, which could be delivering the simplest processes in an intelligent manner.

4) Taking a gentle approach:

When developing an AI product, it’s good to be thoughtful and cooperative, the best delivery of AI is making users feel smart and competent and saves them time and effort. This will empower users and let them use their brains for what they do best, but offer some support along the way.

5) Users try to break things:

In the example of a voice product, users have a much broader expectation of what they can say to it. Therefore, ensure that you prepare answers for strange questions that people might ask. Have fun with this and dazzle users in unexpected ways, for example by implementing humour.

[Good voice design is about creating an illusion that the product is not ‘Failing’]

Ben Sauer – Principles of Voice Design

With Ruby Steel cancelling her talk last minute, Ben Sauer (Brighton local) jumped at the opportunity to give a talk on the ‘Principles of Voice Design’ in his hometown. Ben started his talk by explaining that voice is the most error prone medium in design, as it is so exposed to the environment, and hard to control. However, offered some practical advice into being part of a voice-filled future.

Ben highlighted 3 key use cases for voice products early on in the talk. Those cases are:

1) Dedicated to Conversation:

This product works best as a conversational application, for example Woebot, an app dedicated to intelligent mood tracking, and a form of Cognitive Behavioural therapy.

2) Consumer Channels:

These products augment customer experience in existing channels, for example the KLM messenger, which increases accessibility and assists users by asking questions such as ‘How much luggage do you have?’ and providing answers to FAQs.

3) In-app Conversation:

These products are designed to solve edge cases and are designed around these. An example of these could be a touch screen device that uses voice to ensure accessibility.

[The Three Cases for Conversation – Ben Sauer]

Ben continued to explain that in order to create a successful voice product, you also need to identify gaps in the market, and defined 4 key ‘Opportunity lenses’ that can be used to discover these:

1) Customer Service:

Existing customer services can be used to actually start listening to conversations, and to work out what services would be best supported by voice technology.

2) User Research:

Conducting research helps you understand what people are doing outside of the ‘touch-points’. It helps you to discover unknown behaviours and identify what people are currently doing on your platform, and most importantly, what they are trying to do.

3) Branding and Creative:

Making voice interactive videos to show off your new brands and get an insight into consumer responses. A company currently doing this are HBO.

4) The Future:

If consumer behaviour is changing rapidly, then it is important to observe the secondary order effects of that. For example, if people use voice at home for basic customer needs, then they will soon expect to use it for more complex interactions. Hypothesising what these could be can help you identify a clear direction for the product.

Voice is a fantastic way to start an interaction with a customer. This is because you can compress a lot of micro-interactions that we have in a simple task into a sentence. For example, think about the number of interactions you minimise by asking your voice device to play a song:

[A Flow Chart demonstrating the compression of interactions through Voice Products]

When designing conversations it is best to write them out and read them aloud to ensure that they make sense. Furthermore, you should think about your FAQ page. Consider how much of that is an appropriate length for a voice to read out. If the answers to these questions are too long, it is important to design with that in mind in the future.

Ben also covered ‘failing gracefully’. When designing voice, it is easy to focus on the ‘Happy path’. However, we find that people do put serious things into chat-bots etc. Therefore, do not launch a product that does not account for negative things that happen in real life. Real life examples of these could be mental health chat-bots that can’t deal with suicidal behaviour. Alternatively, chat-bots on financial services that can’t deal with people falling victims of scams.

Lastly, Ben shared 4 conversational maxims theorised by Paul Grice. These principles explore trends that we follow in everyday conversations which can be applied to voice design. If you are interested in reading more about Paul Grice’s conversational theory, follow the link here.

Nat Buckley – Good design is a team effort

Last but certainly not least we will cover Nat Buckley’s talk on the importance of teamwork in business. This can relate to a wider audience than just design agencies. Nat started the talk by describing her experiences working at Bulb, a green energy company that has grown hugely in the past year, resulting in them having to restructure their team dynamic. 

Nat explained the concept of ‘Psychological Safety’ to the audience. Psychological safety is when you can admit that you don’t know something to your colleagues. You can make mistakes and learn from them. You can take risks, because if they don’t pay off, your team will have your back. All of this together means that you can truly be yourself at work, and not have to pretend to be someone else, which results in more effective collaboration.

Furthermore, Nat covered 4 key tips for every individual to start acting on:

1) Receive feedback graciously:

Without getting defensive or argumentative, this is a real opportunity to get people to open up to you. When somebody offers you feedback they are taking a risk on you and if you accept it, you will become closer as you start to understand their way of thinking. Slow everything down and ask lots of questions about their constructive criticism to get over that initial feeling of defensiveness.

2) Admit when you’re wrong:

The cost of mistakes get higher and higher with every rank-up in position or promotion. Any time you talk about the work that you do, try to talk about things that haven’t gone well. This could be anything from mistakes that you made or information that you didn’t get there on time. It will help you grow as a person and is an opportunity to give feedback to your colleagues.

3) Disagree, and then commit:

There will be times in any workplace when you disagree with something. This could be a job that you don’t want to do, or a plan that you don’t want to follow. However, it is vital to show up 100% and give the project your all. This shows respect and will make your colleagues feel valued, which means they will always listen to you in the future.

4) Help everyone be heard:

If you are in meetings, ensure to set out a clear agenda beforehand. This gives colleagues the opportunity to prepare for it beforehand. If you are not the organiser then ask them to send out an agenda. Furthermore, if you have people joining meetings remotely, then it’s important to give them the opportunity to speak up. Finally, if you’re running a workshop then give individuals a specific role. This will give them the chance to write something down and share this with the group from a unique position.

So, you’ve read about what you should be doing as an individual, but what can everyone do to create an awesome workplace culture:

1) Set expectations:

Write down what you expect from each other. This could be shared values. Review these values regularly as they might change as the company grows. It is rare that the company’s values will be the same as when it first started.

2) Make space for feedback:

Work in pairs, if you feel like you are coming out of it with ideas or feeling inspired then try to replicate this. Have days where you talk to colleagues that you wouldn’t usually. Try to understand their role, and talk about the work that people didn’t realise you were doing!

3) Share and celebrate:

Make sure people can see what else is going on in the business. For example, at SimpleUsability, we have an all hands meeting every Monday morning. This gives everyone the opportunity to share what they’re up to, and ask for any support they might need from colleagues.

4) Reflect:

Running reviews involving other people can really help you to improve your processes. This could be done in a super low-key way. For example, going out for coffee with colleagues and talking about recent projects, or even 121’s.

Overall, this talk really inspired us, providing an insight into what makes a healthy work environment. It was comforting to see that we already implement these best practices at SimpleUsability, and encourages us to keep up the good work. 

Honourable Mentions

Of course, the talks didn’t stop here, the other speakers did an amazing job and have earned a well deserved honourable mention in today’s article:

  • Carmen Brion gave a talk on ‘The value of Design Thinking for product teams’. An amazing talk which focused on the mindset and framework leading to innovation in design teams. 
  • Brendan Kearns gave his talk on ‘Vision vs Iteration’. This talk covered the constant demand for new features and how to break out of endless cycles of iteration.
  • Dr. Nick Fine talked about ‘Scientific Design’. The importance of evidence based thinking (something we are familiar with here at SimpleUsability) which helps teams to enhance their creativity rather than stifle it with biased thinking.
  • Lastly, Liz Citron gave her talk on ‘Rolling with the punches’. Focusing on our individual wellbeing, this talk highlighted how to stay positive and flexible under pressure, helping us to handle life’s ups and downs. 

Concluding Remarks

Altogether, UX Brighton 2019 was an outstanding event that left the audience feeling electric. The audience buzzing to share what they had learned with their teams at headquarters, and to put these concepts into practice in the workplace. 

A big thank you to Danny Hope for once again being an awesome host for the event, and we will be sure to maintain a presence in the lovely city of Brighton in the years to come.