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UX Cambridge 2015 – Day 2

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UX Cambridge 2015 – Day 2

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Although we missed out on a couple of recent conferences, we couldn’t pass on the UX Cambridge 2015, organised by Software Acumen, „a small team of specialist software events organisers, operating in Cambridge since 2004”. (Source)

We were only able to attend the last two days of the conference, but taking a short trip to the beautiful Cambridge was definitely worth it. The city greeted us with a chilly morning that became a lovely, sunny afternoon (the afterparty BBQ was a bullseye!).

Located in the proximity of the most popular colleges, St. Catharine’s college hosted this year’s conference. You could feel the vibe of knowledge and creativity right from the beginning!

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The Centrality of Design

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The opening keynote by Josh Brewer, a former Principal Designer at Twitter elaborated on the increasing recognition of design in modern world, especially prominent in the business environment. Currently 1 in 10 top tech companies have either co-founded by designers or welcome people with design background into the C-suite. Those companies either develop in-house design-centered teams or buy out design agencies. Business seems to start to get the grasp of the value of user-centered design, however siloed designer won’t achieve anything – great design is a result of collaboration and shared interest in the needs of the users.

Everybody is a UX designer. Developers, marketers, product managers, visual designers, customer service people, business executives. Design has become central, thanks to the passion and evangelism of great UXers.

“To achieve great design, you need great business thinking to effectively invest in design. And you need great engineering to achieve unflagging performance.” John Maeda

After the keynote, we had a short break, which we spent trying to decide which talks and workshops to go to next – difficult to make a decision when they all sounded so great! However, thanks to the organisers, we could spend all future breaks with peers, catching up on the talks we’d missed out on.”

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Search and navigation is a UX topic – Learn how to harness it on any device

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Alex Kudelka & Alex Collin from the conference’s sponsor, Algolia, gave a talk merged with a sales pitch of their software solution. However, it was a pitch worth hearing! How many times have you struggled with irrelevant search results or nervously bounced your legs waiting for the results, complaining that it should be as quick as Google? Search is a major time-consumer, as 88% of all web sessions start with a search engine and the search feature of a website is used by 43% of users on their first visit. If you aggregate this data, even a millisecond saved on the most popular websites would save thousands of hours of users’ time. Amazon’s research proved that 100ms latency in displaying search results would result in 1% drop in sales. These are not pennies!

Algolia’s solution allows companies to merge their API with their databases, whatever they contain and provide extremely fast instant search results and hints, which are supported with a number of hosting servers around the world. French version of Birchbox (online monthly subscription service that sends its subscribers a box of samples of makeup, or other beauty related products) website used Algolia’s search engine to provide an extremely quick display of search results – you’ll get them in the blink of an eye. Implementing it resulted in increasing the average order size by 12% – no matter if you want to search a product, a company, or something else. Algolia provides the effective software so you can just focus on polishing the design of the website and watch your numbers grow!

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Stop trying to paint the hallway through the letterbox! UX techniques that help teams help themselves

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The title of this talk by Chris Atherton provides a very accurate metaphor to everyday work. We spend hours browsing lengthy documents, linear presentations prepared in a portrait format that we tend to use on landscape screens. By the time you get to page 21, you have forgotten the content from pages 1-16.

The cognitive load we take upon our shoulders every day constrains our understanding and prevents us from working effectively. That’s where UX comes to the rescue. As UXers, we’re not just responsible for creating usable interfaces and content. The majority of our work may actually be communicating our philosophy to our work environment – making the team work together, sharing the understanding and making C-suite execs take sharpies and start sketching. We use walls to convey ideas that would take tens of pages to describe. We create visual documents that support recognition over recall and minimize fatigue. We empower our coworkers to take a rest from their screens and build something tangible. Post-its are small, but a combination of them together can make big concepts comprehensible and easy to prioritise. Only effective communications leads to effective design.

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Get your research skills up to speed: an introduction to user research

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Dr Emmanuelle Savarit conducted an interesting tutorial session that allowed beginners to discover and intermediate researchers to establish the knowledge about user research methods. The necessity of collecting and interpreting user insights is a given in the UX world, however we, as researchers, must translate the benefits of conducting it to various stakeholders. We need to make clear that design built with empathy actually saves money – making changes after a software product has been launched may cost up to 100 times more than changes made in the design stage. That’s why we need to conduct proper, reliable research and translate the findings to design and business language. Emmanuelle elaborated on the importance of balancing qualitative and quantitative data – the latter will only allow us to test existing assumptions, while the former will enable us to dive into the world of the user and generate solutions that may emerge from something that initially seems irrelevant.

Good research requires diligent preparation – you need to recruit the right participants, write-up a well thought-out script, and plan all the tools, data collection, and interpretation methods that you’re about to use. Interpreting gathered insights can be tricky – you should involve other people in the process so that they can find cues that you would miss, due to the differences in your character, job role or even your mood that day.

Once you understand your design audience, you need to understand your stakeholders – when passing on your research findings, be mindful about their language, needs and possible doubts that need to be addressed. Being a researcher often demands evangelizing and helping  realise that there are significant problems – there is no better way to do this than to show your stakeholders actual footage. Emmanuelle guarantees it always works.

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Thursday’s cherry on top was the networking time after the conference, accompanied by BBQ, drinks and a short impromptu guided tour by one of the local guys, with the riverside Anchor pub being the finish line. However, knowing that there were more awesome talks to come, we couldn’t have been more impatient for Friday.

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